BBC History Magazine - Over the Alps

October 16, 2009 12:33 by Sam

Our latest instalment is here:

Nightrider (lone crusaders in a dangerous world)

October 13, 2009 17:54 by Sam

We are in Italy having survived the Alps... just. It was physically some of the hardest days I ever have ever known especially crossing the Col de la Travasette with my elephant-like bike (heavily loaded with its four panniers!) - I will defintely tell that story in a blog or two when I have mentally recovered. But for now I will go back to Vaison La Romaine and our journey until we split and rode on alone to our respective possible Hannibal passes.

Ben reading an odd but excellent book at the top of the old city of Vaison la Romaine with the towers of Mont Ventoux in the distance. (Michel Houellebecq's the possibility of an island. Ben is finding an appropriate quote but for now - )

Vaison La Romaine was a fantastic town and we were sad to leave it, however the ride to Chatillion en Diois was one of the most memorable rides I have ever had. It was hard, this was the beginning of the alps proper so there was no avoiding going uphill. It was also spectacular as the mountains grew and grew as we crawled our way over them and each one loomed larger than the last. It was also dark for some of the ride as we began at 5pm with 100km to ride! This was unavoidable, filming always takes priority and we are making sure we do not miss any of Hannibal's trail even if it means riding at odd hours. However once we reached a col at about 10pm and knew that there was 25km of downhill to the campsite, we rolled in the dark with silence, a full moon to guide us and towering, ominous mountains for company. It was a stunning unforgetable hour of riding, which ended at a deserted campsite with our poor photographer Zissi waiting for us wondering what we could possibly be doing cycling out at that time of night.

Darkness falls in the lower Alps

The next day we rode throughthe Gorge de Gats. This is possibly the place where Hannibal was ambushed by the locals whom he surprised by taking their battlements at night - they had gone off to their villages for the night to have a good sleep we seems like a pretty odd thing to do when you have just ambushed the biggest army ever yet to cross the Alps and they are really quite pissed off and waiting for an opportunity to destroy you. But this is the way things happened according to the ancient historians. So Hannibal did destroy them from their own battlements but with heavy losses and they did regroup and attack him as he tried to get the rest of his army up the gorge but Hannibal saved the day riding down and scattering the enemy. We did some fantastic filming here, it is a spectacular gorge with sheer cliffs either side and really is a perfect site for an ambush. Our riding began late with a big climb out of the gorge, taking us further into the Alps and after a desperate search for sustenance, which we eventually found at an extremely odd cafe, which looked more like someones front room and we were served by the French equivalent of the hill billies from Deliverance - however they make very good hot chocolate! We rode on up through Mens to La Mure, more spectacular cycling but we were a bit shocked to hear that we had been riding along a cliff edge for a lot of the time we just couldn't see it! But we did see a car driving straight at us and we all took evasive action thinking he hadn't seen our not very blazing head torches but he was just turning left. After this scare Zissi very kindly escorted us to our next stop. We have been through some stunning towns in France, the vast majority have been beautiful to ride through but La Mure is, unfortunately just like it sounds..

Racing down the Alps - excited that we were briefly going down not up! (Zissi Kausch)

Approaching the Gorge (Zissi Kausch)

Sam getting ready to ambush Hannibal (Zissi Kausch)

Zissi catches us warming up in the Gorge (Zissi Kausch)

Climbing out of the Gorge de Gats (Zissi Kausch)

As we rode on the next day and the Alps got steeper and the riding harder. A motorbike cannonball run equivalent came past us the other way in what looked like an official race on public roads. They came close to taking us out on many occasions, hence for health and safety we had to stop here for a long coffee break!

Sidecars too (Zissi Kausch)

We also knew we were to split company this day which meant we all had a sense of foreboading - this wasn't all emotional, after all it was only a day or two! More we have come to rely heavily on each for drafting - sitting behind each other as we cycle - it saves a lot of energy! The split was made at the base of Col du Galibier - Ben unfortunately for him had to go over this 2645 metre tour de France special, Danny and I much more fortunately rolled south - 30 km downhill all the way to a day off in Briancon!

Ben feeding up to get himself over Col du Galibier (Zissi Kausch)

Ben goes left, Danny and Sam right....(Zissi Kausch)


Thanks again to Zissi for all of the great photos!

BBC History Magazine - Crossing the Rhone

October 9, 2009 15:06 by Sam

Our next instalment for the BBC History Magazine is here:

Have a look if you feel like a more historical read!

Cutson, Big Brother and the end of Episode 2

October 2, 2009 16:53 by Sam

The relaxtion in Russan is coming to an end. Tomorrow we cycle on to confront the alps after 3 great days rest...

After Danny's confessional blog in which he outlined his inexplicable anger I feel it necessary to respond to aid in understanding this as well as how 3 brothers work when living in each others pockets.

We haven't lived all together for more than a week or two at a time for 15 years so to be all together again, doing absolutely everything together is challenging - riding, filming, eating, even campsite showers are often communal! We can even hear each other sleeping/snoring through our tents, for Danny you only need to be within a kilometre or so! We feel we get on extremely well but at times it can at times be surprisingly hard especially when you throw in physical exhastion from cycling and mental strain from being in front of the camera.

Danny is defintely the most emotional of the brothers, hence he was the first to show his emotions in this blog and justifiably sympathy always follows when someone admits their faults. Poor Danny hasn't done any long distance riding like this before and it is draining in all ways. Its good that Danny can admit his anger but that doesn't seem to stop it occuring so what are Ben and I to do?

It was hard to find a photo of this topic - maybe this will do?

Anyway...We had a week till we met the crew again in Arles, 350km away so we felt that the best thing to do was cycle fast, get there and relax. However, day 1 was terrible - a head wind known as the Mistral drove us nearly backwards and French drivers are shocking! You would think being a huge cycling nation they would be good to us on our bikes but they skimmed our panniers all day and we really missed the Spanish who were amazingly curtious to us when we were riding.  This reminds me - As we were packing up our bikes at our campsite in Ampurias, two gardeners stopped their small utility vehicle to tell us that they said they were very proud of us and impressed by us attempting such a long ride for a cultural cause rather than sitting on the sofa and doing nothing! This actually left us feeling quite guilty as we had given their fellow workers the remains of the pig.....

Windfarms - not good places for cycling!

Back to day 1 and we were wondering whether we would get any days off after cycling against the wind and the French all day. As dusk fell and we found ourselves 60km short of our destination we were aided by David of Fuella who guided us out of the windy valley and to a town called Durban Colombiers. The place we stayed at was odd but great - in the shadow of a ruined chateau - the proprietor was an old man who seemed incapable of moving his eyes from his computer screen, he was also suspiciously protective of his internet password and made sure no one could see his monitor. We came to the conclusion that he was either halfway to finding a cure for cancer or had a mammoth collection of porn

The next few days we rode on and enjoyed some of the best cycling we have had - small lanes winding through acres of vineyards, medieval hill top towns like Pezenas, Sommieres, Uzes. Ben's heart rate sat at 160+ most of one day, we are still not sure whether it was the volumes of coffees and coke he was drinking, maybe the religious guy who tried to convert us in Narbonnes got his heart racing (we told him we were Jewish then Muslim but nothing put him off!) or maybe he was genuinely ill. Danny cut his finger on Ben's leatherman, cutty cut cut!!

Vineyards - beautiful riding!

Pezenas - classic medieval town

We finished up here in Russan, a tiny authentic French town where we have recouped fully with wanders to the boulangerie in the mornings and touristy visists to places like the Pont du Gard - along of course with regular sleeps and big meals provided by our parents- Its excellent to be 30+ and still be taken care of!

Wood Family go to Arles

Statistics for Episode 2 - 879km Saguntum to Russan, Total Kms ridden 1440, Crashes 9 (Danny 7 Ben 1, Sam 1 - all minor and mostly when the bikes were not moving)

Tomorrow we ride on to Arles and Episode 3 begins as we cross the Rhone, hopefully on some sort of raft we will construct ourselves!

How sweet it is to be reclined

September 22, 2009 16:18 by Sam

A long day’s ride started with a stop after 3 kms at a possible ancient monument to the two Scipios, who were killed by Hasdrubal, Hannibal's brother. After a lengthy argument between Sam and Danny over its origins, which could have been caused by the fact that the stop was for something other than coffee - all of course recorded on film for posterity, normal service continued with a long ride ahead from Tarragona to Canet de Mar, north of Barcelona.

We rode through resort after resort, sticking to the beach promenades, trying as long as we could to avoid the busy roads which run into Barcelona however much too soon they ran out and there was no choice but to cycle a line, sticking to the shoulder of the road when there was one and duck as trucks thundered by....

Danny stocking up on essential healthy supplies at the beach before the highway onslaught

We arrived late but to an excellent dinner cooked by director Robin who has kindly cooked us pasta for our arrival on many late evenings - an essential part of the diet if you want to survive 10 weeks cycling.

Director Robin issuing orders to the crew

An early start and an essential 3km mark stop, coffee. Unfortunately Hannibal didn’t really do much around Barcelona! However once on the road proper we cut across country heading for Ampurias, a great Greek, then Roman city on the north coast of Spain.

It got a bit hilly and as we got to the highest point in the area a very floppy eared tired looking dog ran out onto the road looking quite lost... Our cameraman John quickly befriended him - Luckily the dog had a collar with a phone number and after more than 10 calls we found out that the dog was indeed lost and had been for 3 days, the owners were definitely useless and found it difficult to commit to even coming to get the dog. We meanwhile were negotiating with the rest of the crew to delay our descent to Ampurias to save the was getting quite tense but eventually a balance was struck and a decision made. The owners committed to coming for the dog and we left him with water, tied up but quite comfortable. John kept in close contact with the owners, ringing every five minutes until he confirmed they had him safe and sound.


John with floppy eared dog, who was very glad to see a friendly face, especially one who feeds him chorizo,

We descended fast and visited a great Iberian site - Ullastret, a massive walled fortress which I imagine Hannibal, as he was quite sensible would have ignored on his march north.

In most of our photos when we are not filming or riding we seem to be eating!

We arrived at the campsite which was quite reminiscent of the Shining, rows and rows of cabins, toilet blocks and tent sites with no one in them and everything being closed up for the end of the season.

Ampurias was excellent, Hannibal may or may not have visited there but the city was thriving at the time and they definitely feared his coming as they built bigger walls when they knew he was marching up the coast. Ampurias is a fantastic ruin - separate Greek and Roman cities, right on the coast with a huge ancient pier and a quality mosaic which has an inscription - 'how sweet it is to be reclined' in the dining room which would have had, in technical terms, those nice couches you always imagine Romans lying back on as they eat grapes....the local tv also turned up for an interview, and Ben said a lot of things he maybe shouldn't have - luckily in English and if you watch the tv clip you may pick them out!

Sam interviewing the local expert archaeologist Marta Santos Retolaza of the Museum of Archaeology at Ampurias

Next stop the Pyrenees as we escape Spain.....

Saguntum and the end of Episode 1

September 16, 2009 13:41 by Sam

On the walls of Saguntum

Saguntum was the final stop for Episode 1 and it was a fitting one. As we rode into the gates we were greeted by a screaming guard who Danny took a particular dislike too, which was fair enough. However it is a great castle and we filmed all around it - Danny interviewed the local expert who was very nervous but put in a good performance. Ben did an excellent piece to camera which finished with him pointing and staring down the potential viewers (there are about 10 so far including Mum and the tennis girls). After a long morning of filming which went surprisingly well we searched for lunch - we first sat at one place Casa Eugenio, run solo by Eugenio, we sat for 30 mins and gave up, then we were refused entry to one place due to our bikes, another was full and by the time we got to the last restuarant in town it was shutting - after little breakfast and 4pm approaching everyone was getting quite cutty ie angry. Luckily a supermarket was found and normality restored and we were back on our bikes by 4:30...

Looking up at the castle while Sam does a PTC.

Danny interviewing the local expert


We rode aiming to get as far north as possible, knowing we had to be at the Ebro the following afternoon -150km north of Saguntum. We made it to Benicassim where conveniently there was a bikie convention who seeing us in our primary colours on our push bikes wolf whistled. We did find a very good campsite with a very nice receptionist. We spent our first night alone, the crew had gone on ahead and luckily were able to watch Troy in spanish which was almost as good as it is in english.

The next morning we got on our bikes early and rode on and without any filming to do made it to the campsite in very good time.  We thoroughly enjoyed relaxations by the beach and looked forward - with eager anticipation for our legs' sakes - to the next day which was our rest day......


Episode 1 ends with 561km ridden, 3 punctures, 76 coffees (Danny accounting for around 50 %), 7 1/2 hours of footage...


An authentic send off and a brutal first days cycling…..

September 8, 2009 16:00 by Sam

Our final night of comfort before getting on the bike for the next 10 weeks was spent with the Carthaginian society of Cartegena. We arrived at San Remo restaurant to a raucous greeting from around 40 Carthaginian warriors in full armour.

They shouted and screamed for us as we entered the building (of course prompted by the camera!) They really didn’t have a clue who we were and were a bit surprised to have three randoms in odd coloured shirts turn up to their dress up party. However they were brilliant company and it was quite an honour for the 3 of us to interview Hannibal, Hasdrubal and Mago themselves!

The next morning we flew out of Cartagena at 11am after being sent off in style again by the Carthaginian society and things were going to plan…… Thanks again to all those who turned up in the morning and for the great dinner the night before especially to Antonio president of the society.

The first day was supposed to be a 90km ride through pretty southern Spain to warm us into the long journey ahead. However 10 hours later we were still on the road, had ridden through some of the worst tourist traps and were wondering whether we would ever get to the campsite…..our technology which we were relying so heavily on, the GPS systems had led us far astray, something we only realised later that night when we found we had gone in loops and in fact rode closer to 150kms regularly in completely the wrong direction. We straggled into camp after the sun was well down and all of us felt the pain as well as great apprehension at the ride ahead…

The research goes on....

August 26, 2009 06:13 by Sam

Professor Dexter Hoyos

August 21, 2009 05:33 by Sam

I had lunch with Professor Dexter Hoyos yesterday at Sydney University. We discussed Hannibal's route over the alps. He knows by far the most about our topic of anyone we have talked to yet and was kind enough to look through our work and made many excellent suggestions. We will defintely be using him as our expert consultant!

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About the authors

Danny, Ben and Sam Wood are three brothers who followed in the footsteps of three ancient Carthaginian brothers Hannibal, Hasdrubal and Mago. They cycled from Cartagena, Spain to Zama, Tunisia - the route that Hannibal and his army took over 2200 years ago. Along the way they filmed a documentary which was aired on BBC4 in July and August 2010.


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