top of page
a blog by Chris Barrow

Day 5 of the Asto Clinic "Everest challenge" - Big Climbs, Long Descents and Large Omelettes

After the usual morning routine at Chez Turnock, we are introducing a completely new environment into our cycling challenge today.

The bikes are loaded into our hire car and we begin a 65 km drive north, along the Var valley, to the town of Puget-Théniers, where we manage to find a daytime parking space, in spite of the Sunday market and, after enjoying some fresh fruit from a market stall, we begin our cycling day.

Today is mainly about the climb - after much discussion of options, Steve has pointed out that we can enjoy a complete change of scenery here if we ascend to the ski-resort of Valberg by climbing a straight 37 km along the awesome Gorges du Cians - towering red rocks and a tough ascent of some 1,300 meters (pretty much 4,000 feet in one go).

That will also give us the opportunity to return via the Gorges de Daluis and enjoy an epic descent.

Ever the one for a challenge, off we set back down the valley for aa few kilometres and then a sharp left turn off the main road and we immediately start climbing.

For those who are familiar, I don’t have to tell you what the climb feels like - and especially because this one starts with some of the steeper inclines and settles down much later.

After 4 very challenging days in the saddle, my capabilities are now tested to the limit and Steve is very patient with me as I take 5-minute “breathers” every few kilometres - dismount, stretch, hydrate and wait for my lungs to stop heaving for more air.

Then - begin again, the slow progress, lowest gear, fast peddling, turn by turn, progress.

For the cognoscenti, we eventually complete a Category HC climb in 4 hours and 39 minutes, with an average speed of 5.9 km/h - for the less well informed - very hard, very slow - but, given that I use the expression “pace not race” with clients most weeks of my life - the advice has seldom been so relevant.

Time again to pay tribute to the person I’ve now christened as my “cycling coach”, Steve Turnock, who could manage this climb much faster and is constantly keeping an eye on me and suggesting tips and techniques that can assist.

I remember many years ago, running a marathon with a friend whose fitness wasn’t right on the day, and our expected time of 4 hours 30 minutes became a 6-hour finish. I discovered how painful it can be to run slower than you are capable of - and I know that Steve is experiencing the same with me.

After around 30 km (and with most of the climb completed, we arrive in the very small village of Beuil and the local gas station, Le Relais du Mercantour. Probably as a result of looking at the state I’m in, Steve calls for lunch - and a request for “omelette and chips” with a Coke results in a feast fit for kings.

A packed omelette, accompanied by a selection of local cheeses, fresh salad and warm bread - and then, just when we thought we had enough, the “chips” in question are actually roast potatoes covered in a light paprika. This genuinely would have fed a peleton - but we tuck in and I quickly realise that I need there refuelling more than I thought.

Did I mention the crepe with lemon juice that we ordered over coffee?

We are at altitude now and the snow capped mountain peaks are not very far at all above us. The temperature has dropped quite a bit - and yet a group of locals play boules across the road in a gravel parking lot and chat as they play - a Sunday afternoon catch up.

Fed and watered, we complete the final few kilometres into Valberg and quickly realise that Steve made an inspired lunch stop choice, as this ski resort is almost completely closed out of season.

A breather, a photograph standing on snow in the centre of town - and then it’s time to begin the second theme of our day - the descent.

You’ll remember that a few days ago, we were caught in a very scary storm, with freezing hail, thunder and lightning.

So I’m not at all happy when the thunder starts rolling around the mountains as we begin, a light rain starts to fall, but looking across the valley we can see ominous clouds and the view west is obliterated by a massive rainstorm that is lumbering towards us.

We realise that the storm is heading east towards us but also slightly north - and that if we can get a shift on, we might just race ahead of the oncoming deluge.

So we are off, downhill in the rain, the roads becoming more and more slippery, frozen fingers gripping the brakes and, by the way, all the gear on - waterproof jackets and whatever else we can find.

It takes us about a half hour to make the huge switchback descent down to Guillaumes and by the time we hit the valley floor (although we have much more descending ahead of us) I’m very cold and tired.

Steve has an amazing (to me) ability to withstand the cold and he now insists that I add his jacket to my own and so I complete the rest of our upcoming descent of the Gorges de Daluis double-bagged and as insulated as I can be.

By now, the rain has gone, the roads are dry and so we can “go for it” on this final and very long descent of the day - winding our way though a series of narrow road tunnels, with all lights on, and marvelling at the sheer drops to our side and the spectacular rock formations that seem to reach far down and far above us.

It’s no surprise at all that the whole day we have been passed by motorcyclists as well as the drivers of convertible cars, who must regard this route as very special for road skills as well as scenery - what it must be like during high season I can only wonder.

The final leg of our journey takes us all the way down the gorge to the astonishing Citadelle d'Entrevaux, and from there it’s a straight run back along the Var valley to our car park. This final 10 km or so is huge fun - it’s a mainly flat and straight main road and, in spite of our struggles during the day, Steve asks me to tuck in behind him and I draft with him at high speed all the way to Puget-Théniers, where we both punch the air in triumph as we enter the town.

Job done for today:

80 km, 4 hrs 29 mins, 1,487 metres = 4,878 feet.

Which brings our overall total for the trip so far to 25,165 feet climbed in 5 days - we are now just 3,865 feet short of our Everest target.

After the long drive back to Chez Turnock we are both feeling very grubby - but after a very quick shower and turnaround, we enjoy a smashing evening in Vence, dining al fresco in style and chatting (as always) about today - and what tomorrow might bring.

Nearly there. I keep reminding myself why we are doing this......


In the summer of 2022 my life stopped. I was frightened, confused and I felt so alone.

I thought I was a monster and that something terrible was happening to me. I couldn’t go on any longer with the horrible thoughts constantly running through my mind but I was afraid of what would happen to me if I told anyone. The thoughts became so unbearable that I was afraid to do anything and I could no longer go to work or leave the house. All my daily tasks became nightmares to complete and I could barely get out of bed in the morning.

Eventually, I sought help from my doctor and was told there would be a long waiting list for any cognitive behavioural therapy. I could not wait any longer as I was just so lost and afraid. Then I came across Asto clinics when searching for help on an OCD charity webpage. After, reading all of the information and reading the stories from Steve and Karen, I instantly knew that Asto might be able to help me.

I nervously contacted the clinic and was provided with support from Sue who answered all of my queries and made me feel safe and hopeful that I could get help.

Following an initial 1-1 assessment with Dr Costas Papageorgiou, to ensure the course would be suitable for me, I was invited to join the course. A few weeks later I received a copy of the book ‘Overcoming Obsessive Compulsive Disorder’, used as a reference throughout the course and a handwritten note from Sue that instantly made me feel welcome and that there were people who could help me overcome the pain I was going through.

The course involved a two hour meeting over zoom once a week for 12 weeks. I was nervous about being in a group setting over Zoom but meeting ten other people who were also suffering with OCD helped me to realise I was not alone and that I was not going crazy. Having the opportunity to talk to the other people on the course allowed us to share our experiences and discuss how we had got on over the week with trying out the techniques we had learnt.

Joining the course was the best decision I ever made! Dr Papageorgiou is an amazing therapist and the help he provided saved my life. The techniques I have learnt will stay with me forever. I still have a way to go with defeating the OCD bully, but since completing the course I have been able to get my life back and have since returned to work.

I will forever be grateful for the help Costas, Karen, Sue and Steve have provided. They were the light at the end of a very dark tunnel. My advice for anyone who is considering enrolling onto the course would be to go for it! I would definitely recommend this course to anyone suffering with OCD.


24th January 2023

152 views0 comments


bottom of page