Tag Archives: Bike

Cycle to work: Why pollute when you can pedal with a plethora of positives?

With the clocks changing I’ve had the opportunity for a few longer evening rides this week, altering my route home from work to take in more of the Norfolk countryside. I’m really hoping the two glorious days we’ve just had aren’t the sum of our 2016 summer; fingers crossed there’s more good weather to come.

You have lots of time to ponder things whilst you’re pedalling peacefully past pleasant panoramas. I’m sure the roads are getting busier, and the fumes from traffic worse. It made me wonder yet again why more people don’t use a bicycle to get around? There are so many benefits that come from regular cycling, and using your bike to get around often doesn’t take any longer that the same trip by car.

I start my day with a 7.5km ride to work, often with a break for a few minutes at a quiet spot to contemplate the day ahead and organise my thoughts.

Pause for thought on the way to work

Pause for thought on the way to work

Getting to work on my bike takes about 24 minutes. It could be quicker but I prefer to take a more roundabout route to avoid traffic and pollution on the inner ring road. Driving to work, which I very occasionally do, takes the same time or longer to cover a shorter distance, and leaves me feeling thoroughly wound up from sitting in traffic. I know I’m more used to cycling long distances, but it really doesn’t take very long to become accustomed to a self propelled method of transport.

A quick search on the Interweb has revealed that a few years ago the average commuting distance to work in England and Wales was around 15km. I’m not sure why Scotland didn’t get a mention, maybe Scottish commutes are convoluted due to other factors such as the threat of ambush by wild haggis. 15km, which is just over 9 miles, isn’t  very far, and as that’s the average there are an awful lot of people who commute a far shorter distance.

I was trying to think of why people don’t cycle to work, or even walk, instead choosing to use their car instead. Maybe they don’t want to arrive at work a bit sweaty, or with helmet hair, or are scared of cycling due to bad driving. The first two are often easily solved as many work places now have showers you can use, and to be honest a 25 minute cycle doesn’t generate that much unpleasantness, especially during the winter months when it’s colder. If you’re worried about your hair, well…lucky you…a lot of people don’t have much, and frankly there are probably more important things to worry about.

I do however understand people who are nervous about cycling due to the amount of traffic, and bad driving, as it can be intimidating and scary if you’re not used to it. However the only way to overcome such fears is to give it a go and build up your confidence, with a bit of defensive cycling thrown in to make sure you’re seen and drivers don’t try something stupid. Incidentally I in no way condone stupid cycling; riders should obey the rules of the road just like car drivers.

Maybe it’s better to focus on the benefits of using your bicycle, rather than what might put you off. There are so many positives to getting on you bike and leaving the car behind. I’ve compiled a bit of a list, which is by no means exhaustive, of the reasons to take up cycling, especially for that daily commute.

In no particular order…

  1. It’s actually faster  okay, not all the time, and it depends on your route and the traffic, but that’s certainly the case with my morning ride to work. If you live in a town or city and drive to work you’re likely to be stationary for a lot of the trip, whereas on your bike your moving for much more of the journey. So you’re saving time by cycling!
  2. You can eat more – this is one of my personal favourites as I love eating. Pedalling to work every day burns off several hundred calories, which I very much enjoy replacing with the occasional bacon roll, or cake off the tea trolley that comes around at 15.00 each day and which I have great trouble resisting. Guilt free eating really is a lot of fun, and quite handy around Easter time; busy consuming an egg as I write this.
  3. Lose weight  it’s really easy to lose a few pounds each week through cycling. I struggle with this one slightly as I’m really into to benefit number 2, and keep having to add another few kilometres onto my evening ride to burn off that unexpected jaffa cake or sausage roll. If you have any sort of willpower you’ll find the pounds falling off. Also, after exercise your body will continue to burn fat at an increased rate for a short time, even after you’ve stopped pedalling, which has got to be a good thing when you’re tucking into a post ride doughnut.
  4. Be healthier – there are countless health benefits associated with cycling, from a better immune system, to increased brain power, as well as a healthier heart and lungs, better bowels and a reduced risk of cancer. Allegedly it can make you cleverer as well, due to increased blood flow to the brain and boosted hippocampus development, although I’m not convinced it’s had much of an impact on me; I’ll ask my colleagues at work, I’m sure they’ll be kind….maybe I’ll just skip that one. As a result a bit of pedalling will also reduce the risk of degenerative brain disorders such as Alzheimers. Finally cycling a decent distance each week can apparently also improve your sex life, although I suspect that really depends on your saddle; make sure you choose a good saddle, very important.
  5. Look younger and live longer – cycling increases your circulation and thus delivers oxygen and important nutrients more effectively around your body. Exercise of any sort also helps flush out toxins (it’s a good way of getting rid of a hangover). I just read that it can boost collagen production which helps reduce wrinkles and heal wounds, the latter being quite handy for me as I’m always banging my pedals against my shins or calf muscles. You’ll also live longer due to all the points mentioned in 4.
  6. Be happier, and less stressed, sleep better and be less tired – I’ve grouped these together as they often go hand in hand. Exercise of any kind releases endorphins which makes you happier. Time on your bike where you only need to focus on pedalling can reduce your stress levels, especially after a hard day in the office. A decent ride will tire you out so you’re more likely to sleep better, and exercise can actually wake you up which I find always helps in the morning.
  7. Less pollution an obvious one, as by cycling to work you’re not adding to exhaust fumes which do all sorts of bad things both to people’s health, as well as the environment. With climate change getting higher on everyone’s list of priorities this will become more and more important, especially after people read the latest predictions about sea level rises and the need to reduce emissions drastically. This is one of the most important benefits for me, as I’m getting quite sick of breathing in fumes and am very concerned over the dangers posed by fossil fuel burning induced climate change. The more people who cycle the less pollution they’ll be, so get on your bike!
  8. Avoid pollution – by taking the road less travelled to work, or using a cycle path if you’re lucky enough to have one, you’ll get to breathe in cleaner air. Even if you have to use main roads apparently you breathe in less fumes as a cyclist compared with a driver, which surprised me, but is down to being at the edge of the road and not directly behind an exhaust pipe.
  9. Encourage more cycle friendly routes – the more people who cycle the more there’s an argument for money to be spent on cycle paths and cycle friendly routes. This has got to be good for everyone as it’ll mean safer cycling, and fewer cyclists on the roads ‘annoying’ drivers. Likewise the more people that cycle the more used to cyclists drivers should get, and the more tolerant they’ll be, hopefully.
  10. Less traffic – in line with the above point more people cycling equals fewer cars, which in turn means fewer traffic jams and fewer accidents, as well as a reduced requirement for road mending, meaning everyone can go about their business more quickly and less angrily.
  11. Time to think – we lead such busy lives these days, often always connected to social media or otherwise contactable by phone or text. Putting your phone away and going for a pedal gives you time to contemplate whatever you need to contemplate. I often find myself entering an almost meditative state whilst cycling, and studies have shown it can increase your creativity. It’s also gives you a bit of playtime each day, and we don’t play enough these days; playing isn’t just for children!
  12. Increase your motivation – as with any exercise you’ll feel more motivated after going for a bike ride. Exercise can give you a bit of a high, which is one of the reasons people can get addicted to it. So pedalling to work should make you more productive at work, and more motivated to get off your backside at home and do those things you keep meaning to do, like go on adventures.
  13. Learn to appreciate the weather – Modern life means we’re often completely cut off from nature and the outdoors, shuffling from car to office to home and spending as little time as possible exposed to external elements. I don’t think humans were meant to be inside all the time. This is probably one of the reasons people get ill both mentally and physically, with more allergies and suchlike. If you cycle in all weathers you really love it when there’s sunny and warm day, but likewise I have learned to embrace the rain; it can be a lot of fun splashing through puddles – that playtime thing again, try it. The only weather I don’t particularly get on with on a bike is the wind; headwinds can be soul destroying if they go for too long, and I have had a lot of arguments with whichever deity I blame at the time for sending a headwind my way; I mostly blame Loki.
  14. Better communities – in a car I don’t get to say hello to people, or exchange smiles and waves. In fact people are more likely to swear at fellow commuters when they’re driving, or give them ‘the bird’. Each morning on my bike I say hello to people walking or cycling the other way, generally the same people each day, and feel better for it. A smile given, and received in turn, can really make you feel better. You can make new friends too, who knows who you might meet!
  15. Improve in other sports – regular cycling builds muscle, makes you fitter aerobically, and is good for the joints, so it can really help with other sports you participate in. Although don’t assume it’ll make you a good runner. Running hurts. I don’t know how anyone really enjoys running, unless its over an obstacle course with lots of mud and rivers to jump in.
  16. Raise money for charity – a long cycle challenge can be an excellent way to raise money for your favourite charity, as I have discovered when raising money for the Big C. Just be careful what you agree to; might have accidentally said I thought a tandem bike ride from Cambridge to Norwich would be a good idea, really not sure it is but it’ll be fun whatever.

There are no doubt plenty of other benefits that are worthy of a mention. What do you think? Anything I’ve missed which you think is a real positive produced by pedalling?

I’ll finish with a few photo’s from my cycle home through the Norfolk countryside today. It was ‘bootiful’ and I saw my first Swallow of the year which seems a bit early, perhaps not?

And please consider using a bike rather than a car for your commute to work, or to take the kids to school. Got to be better for everyone 🙂

 

Are you awake yet?

I’m not entirely sure where I’m going with this blog, but bear with me. I guess this post might upset a few people.

Always thougBear with me - ht this is a funny expression

Always thought this is a funny expression

‘You’re waking up,’ or ‘you’re awake now,’ is an expression I’ve seen used a few times recently, and which has been addressed to me several times over the last few years. I sometimes think it’s a bit odd, and slightly insulting as it suggests one has been ignorant and maybe selfish in the past, however perhaps that’s spot on.

I was pondering this on my way to work this morning. I try to pause on my daily cycle commute, in a quiet spot, to contemplate the day ahead, go over anything that’s worrying me, or just to relax in the presence of nature before heading to the office. Forcing myself to stop for a few minutes puts me in a better frame of mind for the day ahead, and I’m lucky enough to have some pretty countryside to pedal through on my route in.

This morning was beautiful, with birds singing, the air clean and fresh, and Blackthorn blossom all over the place. A few days ago the same route looked like this, still captivating but slightly chillier.

At the moment it feels like we might be on the brink of a big shift in thinking, a radical evolution in common consciousness, as people re-evaluate their priorities around wealth, happiness, security and sustainability. At least this is what I’m hoping, and am encouraged to believe as I read similar posts and comments from around the world, or talk with friends who think the same thing. I guess in the Western world we’re fortunate to be in a stable and wealthy enough position, compared to a lot of other places on the planet anyway, to have the luxury of contemplating such things, however unless the majority have this shift in perceptions, regardless of personal circumstances, I can’t see how in the medium to long-term the human race isn’t doomed to extinction, along with a lot of other species on Earth. A lot of the stuff we think is important at the moment, really isn’t, in the grander scheme of things, for example #firstworldproblems

Over the past couple of weeks several scientific sources, including NASA, have reported on how global temperature averages have risen extraordinarily, with the hottest January on record experienced in the Arctic, oceans warming up, sea and glacial ice melting at rapid rates, mass coral die offs due to bleaching, and graphs indicating the temperature rises are likely to continue. This is all pretty bad Ju-Ju, as it looks like these temperature increases are locked in, so we’ll see sea levels rise over the next century, swamping coastal cities and causing huge population migrations inland; bye-bye London and New York, just two of the cities that’ll be impacted. It’s probably too late to do anything about this, despite the Paris COP21 agreement, as the changes we’re seeing are a bit of a vicious circle; warming oceans mean less CO2 is absorbed, melting ice means there’s less about to reflect heat back into the atmosphere and space, permafrost melting releases more Greenhouse gases, Jet Stream disruptions and continuing El-Nino effects lead to more frequent violent storms; I could go on.

I mentioned the Paris COP21 agreement, and am hopeful this will have a positive impact, however I remain deeply suspicious that those in charge, and the fossil fuel industries that are under threat from Green initiatives, won’t comply with the targets that have been set, or that they’ll find excuses to bend the rules, all for the sake of profit; there are already challenges to it going on in the States, and who knows what happens in China. Even if we hit the targets it’s looking increasingly likely we won’t avert some of the dramatic changes being predicted. Fingers crossed the last dozen or so years, or even one hundred, have just been a blip.

If I was a conspiracy theorist I might suggest that the world’s elite actually want it this way. Maybe they’ve realised the planet is in for a tough time ahead, and the best thing to do to ensure their survival is to make hay whilst the sun shines, at the expense of 99.9% of the rest of the planet. Maybe they’re hoping a big plague will come along and wipe out the excess population that’s causing the rapid use of available resources, harmful pollution, and habitat destruction. Maybe that’s why governments keep getting involved in, and seemingly escalating, conflicts in the Middle East, to ensure things remain unstable and in the hope of provoking more widespread conflict they can profit from in the short-term, and in the long-term by there being fewer people around.

Thankfully I’m not really a conspiracy theorist, and simply don’t believe that the world’s top 0.1% either get on well enough, are organised or intelligent enough, or can keep secrets well enough in the age of social media, to pull something like that off. Does make you think though.

One does not simply...

One does not simply…

One thing that does seem evident is that this shift in consciousness needs to continue, away from materialism and how much one earns or owns being the measure of one’s worth, back to family, community and life’s experiences being what people set their stall by. It feels like we need to change our sense of entitlement on what’s available for us to take and use, and what we take for granted every day. Technological progress isn’t always a good thing if it means we’re creating more junk for people to buy that they don’t really need, and which will end up filling landfill sites in a few years. I mean who the f*ck needs to toothbrush that has a bluetooth connection…#extremecivilisation

I’m hoping that we’ll see more people start to really question their day-to-day practices. Do I really need to make that car journey, or could I walk or use a bike? Could I avoid buying that packaged meal or bottle of drink and find non-packaged alternatives instead, that may well be cheaper anyway? Do I need to take a flight to go on holiday? Do I need to need to use baby-wipes that take years to degrade and pollute our seas, or could I use a cloth and wash it? Same with disposable nappys, which the human race got on perfectly fine without for millennia? The list of questions can go on for a long time.

I saw San Francisco has banned the sale of one use plastic bottles, a simple and brave step in the right direction, that’ll no doubt upset a few people but is the right thing to do. Hopefully that’ll happen in more places. I’ve said this before in a blog, but I wonder if in 50 or 100 years time people will look back with incredulity at our generation(s), at how wasteful we were? How could we have thought that making something for a one-time-only use was a good idea? Or burning fossil fuels at the expense of people’s health and the environment was acceptable?

It seems evident we can’t really trust those in charge; the politicians with their short-term and vote seeking agendas (not all of them I admit, but a significant proportion), the ‘captains’ of certain industries that are only driven by profit, the deluded individuals trying to convince people that nothing is really wrong.

But people are waking up to these issues and the fact we can’t continue on this unsustainable path anymore. The mass shift in consciousness is happening, although it’s still got a way to go. The only way we can make things happen and create a better world, is by making our own changes, and encouraging others to do so, and by making those in charge or in positions of power realise we won’t just stand by and let them plunge our world, and the world of future generations, into an abyss.

It’d be great if this blog woke up just a few people, who in turn woke up a few more, along with 1000’s of others looking for positive change. I’d love to hear about people making changes in their own lives for the positive, and how they’re pushing back versus the ‘establishment’ to make them realise we won’t sit idly by.

Are you awake yet?

P.S. If you don’t here from me for a while it’s probably because the aliens, who are the ones really in charge, hence why the planet is being stripped, have kidnapped me and are no doubt inserting probes as you read this. Bonuit. #conspiracytheoryalert

 

Strange things did happen here

If you go down to the woods today…you might see something odd; me falling off a slackline. Slacklining was originally invented by climbers, but has developed a wider appeal over the last few years, and is definitely up there on my list of self propelled sports. Learning to walk across a 2 inch wide piece of webbing is proving pretty tricky, but great fun, and gets me out into the woods at the weekend which can’t be a bad thing. I can only manage about 5 metres without falling off at the moment, however I’m sure controlled bouncing and backflips are only a few weeks away. Travelling Lobster has already attained a much higher level of competence, however I think that’s due to a lower centre of gravity and more limbs; basically he’s cheating.

Lobster demonstrating how to walk a slackline in Bacton Woods

Lobster demonstrating how to walk a slackline in Bacton Woods

There are allegedly several benefits to be enjoyed from slacklining, including better balance and posture, improved core strength and concentration, and perhaps even a reduction in your chances of ankle or knee injuries when participating in other sports, which can’t be a bad thing. One can enter an almost meditative state whilst walking the line, as you’re only concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other, and getting to the tree at the other end. Unfortunately my meditative state is usually broken after a few seconds as I tumble off. It’s also pretty hilarious, which helps – laughing is good for the soul. I’ve been learning with a friend, who incidentally is far better than me; the inadvertent monkey noises, arm windmilling, intense expressions of concentration and frequent bouts of swearing are all cause for much hilarity. I’m not sure what people out for a walk in the woods think, must look and sound a bit strange, but I’d throughly recommend it as a cheap, fun, and non environmentally harming activity. Of course you’ll need a bit of patience, but one can look forward to feats such as those being shown off by the individuals in this YouTube clip (I’ve got a way to go yet):

There are loads of YouTube videos you can watch on slacklining, with some pretty amazing stunts, including some people riding bikes over them which I’ll have to try at some point; maybe not with all my panniers on though.

Talking of cycling, two cool things this week, the first being I had my first ever go on a tandem bicycle. There’s a vague plan afoot, with a friend from work, to ride from Cambridge to Norwich on a tandem, raising money for charity. I was slightly dubious of this idea to begin with, especially as my fellow tandem rider hasn’t actually ridden a bike for 25 years, however the initial feasibility study has proven successful, so watch this space.

The second cool cycling thing this week is tickets have gone on sale for this years Cycle Touring Festival in Lancashire. I went to the first one last year, which also marked the start point for my 6 month European cycle tour, and can thoroughly recommend it for meeting like-minded individuals who don’t think you’re a bit strange to go off pedalling for weeks, months, or in some cases years, living off what you can pack on your bike. My friend Tony, who with his wife Gill pedalled around the coast of Britain in 2014, following a similar route to mine from 2013, recently wrote an entertaining blog post about the festival and its attendees – http://www.gillandtony.co.uk/its-a-tribal-thing/

You can get tickets for the festival via their website here: http://cycletouringfestival.co.uk

I should probably explain the title of this blog post. Usually I find coming up with a title for a blog pretty easy, but for some reason I’m failing tonight. I’m going to stick with the lyrics from a song I’ve had stuck in my head for the last few days, ever since watching Mockingjay Part 1, which I really enjoyed and very much lived up to the books. ‘Strange things did happen here’ is quite apt in many ways, as lots of strange things do happen, some of which I’ve described above.

And now on to the not so good strange things. Five dead sperm whales have been found on the East coast of England over the last few days, having beached themselves, probably because they got lost in the North Sea where their sonar doesn’t work too well. The North Sea is too shallow for them compared with their normal ranges, meaning they get lost, and if they beach themselves on a sand bank they suffer cardiovascular collapse and organ failure; not a very nice way to go. Sadly this isn’t an uncommon event on our coastline, but I’m hoping it wasn’t caused by humans in this instance; maybe just the whales getting lost whilst chasing their squid prey, rather than getting confused by sounds in the sea originating from us, or becoming ill from a build up of toxins and beaching themselves (PCBs, plastic, radiation etc). I really don’t want to see any more pictures of people taking selfies with dead whales, or as I saw earlier today someone attacking the carcass to claim teeth as trophies; people are pretty awful sometimes.

This week we’ve continued to see strange weather patterns afflicting much of the world, with freezing temperatures in parts of South East Asia that don’t often go below 10’C, massive snow storms hitting the East coast of North America, and now the UK is beset by more gales and wet weather; although we have it lucky in comparison, at least most of us have central heating. The frankly worrying weather patterns are again caused by hot air being drawn up over the Arctic, including Greenland, forcing cold air south, disrupting the Jet Stream and turning weather normal for this type of year on its head in many areas. This will no doubt melt more glaciers and contribute to sea level rises in the season when these glaciers should be expanding. Reading the science behind this, the culprit is again the human race, due to unchecked CO2 emissions causing global warming in places that really don’t need to be warmed, and thus climate change. It seems obvious we’re in for rough times as the climate further destabilises, although who knows, maybe it’s just a blip; the evidence doesn’t seem to back up a blip though, with CO2 levels at their highest in 3 million years*, causing temperature rises that are warming our atmosphere and seas with devastating consequences.

*http://robertscribbler.com/2016/01/26/arctic-heatwave-drives-deadly-asian-cold-snap/

On the subject of CO2 emissions, the low fuel prices we’re seeing at the moment can’t be a good thing can they? A massive increase in oil production, from tapping shale reserves (fracking) has driven prices down, which in turn must have lead to an increase in use, with demand still rising in China and other fast developing countries. Wouldn’t it have been better to keep prices high, by increasing taxes? This would in turn:

  • Show down consumption, meaning reserves would last for longer. It’s not like we’re sustainably farming oil. We don’t plant a new crop every year and thus replace reserves; once it’s gone it’s gone, with some of the alternatives such as Biofuels having equally damaging consequences for the environment.
  • Limit CO2 emissions from cars, planes etc, and thus help with meeting targets set in the Paris COP21 agreement
  • Increase tax revenue that could then be spent on good stuff, like researching and implementing alternative clean energy sources (fusion, renewables), the NHS, or feeding and homing the homeless

I don’t claim to understand all the economics behind the oil price changes, but it seems to be driven by human greed yet again, as well as politics; wealth and politics won’t matter much if we  don’t have a planet we’re able to live on. Can we at least, as I think Stephen Hawking recently said, avoid completely destroying Earth until we have invented viable space travel and are able to colonise other planets; although quite why the human ‘plague’ should be inflicted on other worlds I don’t know, not until we mend our ways slightly anyway.

I’ll pause there on the doom and gloom front, but you have to admit it’s pretty strange how we seem driven as a race to ultimately destroy ourselves? I read a blog today where the author used the phrase ‘challenge our sense of entitlement’. This really struck a chord with me; I think we need to really challenge our sense of entitlement to what we take for granted; excess consumerism, driving a car, burning fuel, waste, our place in the Earth’s ecosystem etc.

I’ll finish with a few humorous, or in the case of the latter touching strange things.

  • Trout tickling. How on Earth was that ever invented?  Did someone just randomly get in a river one day and approach fish with rather strange intentions? This was one of the topics we contemplated whilst slacklining in the woods, and is something I think I need to try at some point. If you don’t know what it is there are videos on YouTube.
  • Ferret Legging. This is the sport where contestants put ferrets down their trousers and see how long they can keep them there. The custom allegedly arose in Yorkshire, which perhaps explains a lot, with individuals trying to hide there poaching activities by keeping these furry and sharp toothed creatures hidden down their trousers; sounds hazardous to me.
  • Cheese rolling. This is another bizarre British tradition, which takes place at Cooper’s Hill in Gloucester. Locals started racing rounds of Double Gloucester cheese down the hill, and now people come from all around the world to participate. This has apparently been going on for hundreds of years, however it sounds like something the Victorians would have invented to me, as was for example Morris Dancing, another odd but entertaining pastime. I think I might right a blog just on odd British pastimes.
  • The performance artist Marina and Ulay reunite: I saw this video a while ago, and remembered it the other day. I challenge anyone not to be moved by it.

The animals of Cycling Europe

From the Arctic tundra of northern Norway, to hot arid climes of Spain, and the varied landscapes of Eastern Europe, I came across a variety of flora and fauna as I pedalled my way around Europe this summer. Whilst some of the animals were too quick to be photographed, such as the Black Woodpecker I saw in France, or just to fast as was the case with the hares in Sweden, I did manage to capture a few on camera; mostly dogs and cats as they tended to make their presence known, whilst in search of fuss or food.

In the far North there wasn’t initially a lot to be seen, aside from a few friendly trolls lurking around Nordkapp.

On the road South to Honningsvag I was pleased to see reindeer, but reminded of Scandinavia’s penchant for hunting at the hostel where I was staying.

I came across more reindeer and a couple of living  moose on my way to Finland and Sweden, and was constantly accompanied by the sounds of birds singing, as the snow thawed and Spring arrived.

I was of course always accompanied by an animal of sorts, Travelling Lobster, and I shouldn’t forget that I am also classified as part of the Animal Kingdom. I couldn’t have done without my ‘jovial’ companion, even if he wasn’t one for doing much pedalling.

Travelling Lobster modelling a catalogue pose in Sweden

Travelling Lobster modelling a catalogue pose in Sweden

The Lobster had a fondness for cows. I’m really not sure why, however it could be to do with his addiction to chocolate, and realisation that cows are integral to its manufacture. It was he that ate all the chocolate I was forced to buy to feed this addiction…honest.

Has anyone else found that some cows get quite excited when you cycle past them? I quite often found they’d follow me as I pedalled past their field, and that they’d sometimes break into a run to keep up. This happened to me a lot on my cycle tour in Scotland in 2013, and I’m wondering if it’s something to do with my red panniers.

As well as cows I encountered lots of goats on my way around Europe, more so in the South where herds sometimes blocked the road, and sometimes on campsites where they were used as environmentally friendly lawnmowers; don’t leave your washing out near them though.

Birds were often to far away to get a good picture, or moving to quickly, however wildfowl proved more easier to photograph, especially when they wanted food.

I lost count of the number of birds of prey I spotted, ranging from huge numbers of buzzards, to Black Kites, massive eagles where I couldn’t be definite on the species, countless Kestrels, and soaring falcons. They were often being mobbed by gangs of crows intent of driving them off; crows a long with pigeons were a constant feature around Europe. Birds of prey weren’t the most lethal of feathered friend I came across, although thankfully I only saw a sign warning of the dangers of the following.

Pretty sure flying sheep don't count as birds, but a worrying development nonetheless

Pretty sure flying sheep don’t count as birds, but a worrying development nonetheless

Yep, sheep, I really hope they don’t evolve wings, no one would be safe. I encountered many sheep ambushes on my tour around the coast of Britain in 2013, and became convinced they were after me and possess some kind of hive intelligence, with a grand conspiracy in play. I came across many more sheep in Europe, however they weren’t quite as vicious as their British cousins.

On the dangerous animal front there isn’t much to report. The only bears I saw were on signs, stuffed, or statues thereof, and although I visited a wolf sanctuary I didn’t see any as they were all asleep.

I guess the most alarming animals of the whole trip were the dogs encountered in Greece, Turkey and Eastern Europe in general. Often wild or feral, they would chase me, snarling and barking. My scariest experience of the whole tour was being surrounded by a pack of 7 or 8 growling feral dogs in the hills outside Thessaloniki. On the flip side I came across a lot of friendly hounds, who were more than happy to say hello and stick their noses in my panniers looking for snacks.

Cats were also a common feature along the way, especially further South. They’d often arrive to inspect my tent and panniers, or to just say hello and settle down beside me in the sunshine.

Horse drawn vehicles became more common in parts of Eastern Europe, however I happened upon many equine beasts elsewhere.

On the farm animal front, I met a few when staying with friends on their farm in the Ardeche, a wonderful break on my tour that I’ll always remember.

And then there were a few exotic or miscellaneous beasts, or imaginary creatures, that I came across.

Finally here are a couple of nice landscape shots, although really I could do a whole series of blog posts just show-casing some of the amazing panoramas I pedalled past.

Poppies in France, not far from Paris

Poppies in France, not far from Paris

Spain also had some stunning countryside

Spain also had some stunning countryside

All these pictures were taken using the camera on my iPhone 6. I considered taking my Canon digital SLR, however it’s just another piece of baggage and thing that I could potentially lose or get stolen, so decided against it in the end; good decision I think.

Still thinking about ideas for my next cycle tour adventure; likely to be a series of shorter expeditions I suspect, to fit around work, but looking forward to whatever they will be next year – for starters mountain biking around some bothies in Scotland has got to be a good plan.

Cycling Europe – bike and kit review

I couldn’t tell you how much all the kit I took with me around Europe for six months weighed, maybe 35 kg, including my bike, I don’t think I ever weighed it. There was certainly quite a lot of ‘gubbins’ involved, making me slightly jealous of the ultralight tourers I encountered with nothing but a sawn-off toothbrush and a credit card for comfort, however not as much as I’ve seen some people take with them.

The following is a review of some of the kit I toured with. It’s worth mentioning that, aside from a few maps, I finished pedalling around Europe with all the kit I started with, apart from one Icebreaker base layer which disintegrated somewhere in Spain.

Travelling Lobster even made it back, although he still needs a wash; a more erstwhile travelling companion I could not have asked for, despite his lack of assistance in the pedalling department, or any department aside from sightseeing and chocolate eating.

Travelling Lobster helping with tour prep

Travelling Lobster helping with tour prep

The Bike
–> Oxford Bike Works – Expedition Bike
Here are a few photos of the bike, christened Smaug, in transit on the way to Nordkapp, then on to Tarifa, followed by Istanbul, before returning back to the UK.

Smaug is based on the Expedition Bike design from Oxford Bike Works, with a few custom tweaks such as the addition of a dynamo hub, as well as a Brooks saddle. I wanted something simple, strong, and reliable, and was not disappointed. Richard from Oxford Bike Works did a great job with the specification, in partnership with Tom Allen of http://tomsbiketrip.com renown.

The steel frame proved resilient, using Reynolds 525 tubing. Some people use aluminium frames when touring, however I prefer the additional strength from steel, even if it is heavier, and the fact you can weld it back together again if it does break; aluminium doesn’t take too kindly to a welding torch. I wouldn’t go near carbon on any part of a touring frame. I also chose the colour red, as everyone knows a red bike goes faster, and that, along with the fact it flew up and down mountains and breathed fire, led to the name Smaug.

I changed the rear cassette and chain twice, once in France on the way to Tarifa, and once upon my return to the UK, so not bad considering that’s over 10,200 miles. I also had to replace the chain set (front rings) once back in the UK. The Schwalbe Marathon plus tyres performed admirably, as you’d expect, although I did suffer from more punctures than on my previous long tour around the coast of Britain. I think the punctures may have been more down to a duff batch of inner tubes, or more likely my impatience whilst mending them. I had to change my tyres once in the South of France, to a set of Malamuts which although larger did the job, and once upon my return to the UK; the rear tyre only just made it back.

The Shimano brakes were great, and simple to change when I needed to. I had to swap the cartridge shoe inserts for brake blocks at one point, as I couldn’t find any replacement inserts, however I was glad of the simple set up, and that I didn’t have to fiddle around with disc brakes. I’ve also heard disc brakes put more strain on your wheels, due to their stopping power which can cause more spoke breakages; I hate spoke breakages so more than happy to forego the extra stopping power and complexity.

Brooks saddle - perhaps the most important part of the bike

Brooks saddle – perhaps the most important part of the bike

Perhaps the most important feature on a touring bike is the saddle. I started with a gel saddle, however soon found this became uncomfortable after long days in the saddle, and caused chafing; gel saddles may be great for a commuting but I would not recommend them for long distance touring. I swapped it for a Brooks B17 in Sweden, which took until Spain to wear in, but proved an excellent choice with no more complaints. I suspect this Brooks saddle will last me a very long time, and will almost certainly move between bikes.

My favourite gadget had to be my SP Dynamo Hub, which did a fantastic job of charging my Garmin GPS and iPhone, as well as powering the fantastically bright Luxos from light. I sometimes wonder if bike lights are getting a little too bright, to the point where they pose a danger to drivers by blinding them, however the Luxos does have a dip and full beam setting, and it was great on the occasions I had cycle at night, especially on the last stretch to Dieppe in the early hours of the morning.

Only two problems over the course of six months, the first being several spokes that all broke at once, and the second being the bike stand. The spoke breakages resulted from the gears being knocked out of alignment during the plane flight, meaning the chain slipped off the top rear ring, and slid down in between the cassette and spokes, chewing several of them up; luckily I wasn’t far from a decent bike shop. I should mention that I had no problems with the rims; Rigida Sputnik 26” (559), 36H, Schrader valve. If I had to choose a vital component of a touring bike, aside from the saddle, it would be the wheels. After having numerous problems with my factory built wheels on my Bike around Britain tour (different bike), I’d always go for hand-built wheels where they use decent spokes (factory built often use shoddy spokes). With such a heavy bike, due to all the luggage, wheel strength is massively important if you want to avoid mechanical issues. I was also happy with 26 inch wheels, rather than going for 700cc size. 26 inch might be slower, however that doesn’t particularly matter when you’re touring on a heavy bike, and there are two distinct advantages; increased wheel strength and ease of finding replacements.

Bike stand attachment deformed over time

Bike stand attachment deformed over time

The bike stand itself was great, however the point at which it attached the bike deformed over time, and eventually made it unusable, probably due to the weight. I think you can attach it slightly differently to the bike, by fitting the clamp over the top of the chain stay tubes, which would probably increase durability, however I might go with one of those clip on bike stands next time. I definitely missed having a stand after it broke, however I wouldn’t say it’s a vital component of a touring set up, as you can usually find somewhere to lean your machine.

Other points:

  • Ergon GP1 BioKork lock-on grips were comfortable, spreading the weight across my palms, however I’d think twice about wearing gel cycling gloves with them. After while they caused me significant pain and actually damaged my hands; the combination doesn’t work, and once I removed my gloves the pain and nerve damage went away. I swapped the standard bar ends for longer versions, which I prefer as it gives me more alternatives grip wise, and more to pull on when I’m standing up on the pedals going up hills; probably do that too much.
  • Tubus racks proved excellent, with no breakages to report, unlike the Blackburn racks I used on by Bike around Britain tour.
  • Using Shimano PD-M324, combination SPD/flat pedals gave me a choice between clipping in, or riding unclipped occasionally for a change, or when I changed into trainers for a bit. My Shimano MT71 cycling shoes were an excellent choice, and comfy to walk around in off the bike.
  • Never go without mud-guards on a cycling tour, I really valued mine; they save on laundry bills and a wet behind.
  • I chose to use security skewers for my wheels, to minimise the chance of theft. I think this is a good idea, however remained nervous throughout the tour of losing the security allen key!
  • I added an extra bottle cage for my stove fuel bottle, bringing the total to 3 cages on the bike. This proved a very good idea, as I had to drink vast amounts in the hotter countries, so was glad of two water bottles, and further bottles stuck through the webbing over my rear rack.
  • I liked the little touches such as the brass bell.
Brass bell still ringing clearly after 6 months on the road

Brass bell still ringing clearly after 6 months on the road

You can find the full specification of the Expedition Bike on the Oxford Bike Works website here: http://www.oxfordbikeworks.co.uk/expedition/

Overall I’m extremely happy with my choice of bike for the Cycle Europe tour. It coped with 6 months on the road, covering over 10,200 miles in all sorts of conditions; snow and freezing temperatures in Scandinavia, rain, weeks of hot weather with temperatures exceeding 40′ Celsius, all sorts really. I wanted something that could contend with rough trails and tree root ambushes, for example through woodland or up and down mountains, as well as road riding, and this machine rose to the task. I’m sure it will continue to serve me well on future tours, although I have just noticed a few rust spots on the front handle bars I’ll have to deal with; wear and tear to be expected.

One last point to mention. This bike could be regarded as expensive, although not versus some road bikes, however I chose to pay more because at the time I could afford to, and wanted a quality build. You don’t however have to buy an expensive machine to tour on, a second-hand mountain bike will do. The most important thing is getting out there, giving it a go, and enjoying an adventure on the road. There’s absolutely loads of advice on the Internet on how to achieve this; send me an email or leave a comment if you can’t find it and I’ll do my best point you in the right direction. The hardest bit is setting off, the rest just happens 🙂

Panniers
–> Ortlieb front and rear classic panniers
No issues with these. They’re the same ones I used on my Bike around Britain tour in 2013, and they’re still going strong. I’ve only ever had to replace one bolt, and although they have a few nicks and small holes in them I think they’ll last for years yet. Ortlieb panniers are fully waterproof, which is a real bonus in wet conditions, however the only downside is stuff sweats in them when it’s hot, meaning things can get a bit smelly, or smellier; still wouldn’t choose anything else though. I also used a 35 litre Ortlieb dry bag, on the top of my rear rack, which I stuck my tent, spare shoes, hammock and other bits and pieces in.

Bike lock
–> D-Lock and Kryptonite Kryptoflex cable – effective security but a bit heavy. Some would say a lock is unnecessary with a heavy touring bike, however I wouldn’t go without, especially when travelling solo.

Camping and misc stuff
–> Hilleberg Akto Tent
My Hilleberg Akto Tent is the same one I used on my tour around the coast of Britain in 2013, and several times since then, and is still going strong. I’ve re-waterproofed it once, which also helps with UV resistance, and it didn’t leak all tour. Compared with some tents it can get a bit too hot in sunny conditions, however this is a feature of tents in general, and the warmth is welcome in colder conditions. With a small porch area it has plenty of room to store your panniers in, and even a bit of shelter to cook under should the need arise. After 6 months my Akto definitely became a home from home.

Only a couple of issues to report:

  • Doesn’t react well to attacks by Varmints. Voles had a go at it in Sweden one night, emerging from their dens under snow drifts to menace me. It’s very unnerving feeling a small rodent moving under your tent at night, and very annoying when they naw holes in your ground sheet and bite through the retaining cord underneath the tent!
  • I’ve had trouble with the tent zip a few times, with it breaking/un-threading and needing to be re-threaded using a pair of pliers and a lot of patience. This can get kind of annoying, especially after a long day and if it’s raining. I’m not sure what caused it.

–> Multimat – thermal sleeping mat and Deuter Travel Lite 300 sleeping bag
This combination served me well over six months, despite the thermarest being punctured so not offering a lot of padding; it still provided a layer of insulation and I got used to sleeping on the ground. The sleeping bag was warm enough, especially when used in conjunction with a set of thermals. The trick to being warm when going to sleep is being warm when you get into your sleeping bag, so a quick run about or a few press-ups were sometimes in order.

–> Hammock
My Ticket to the Moon hammock was a late addition to my touring kit, having acquired it in Marseille, however I wish I’d had one before then. They’re great when it’s hot and there are suitable trees around, even if you just use it for sitting in, rather than sleeping overnight. Spent many a lazy hour chilling out in my hammock after a long ride.

Me in hammock, siesta time

Me in hammock, siesta time

–> Misc – never go without cable ties and gaffer tape. Handy for mending all sorts of things, from  holes in the bottom of your tent to temporary bike fixes, or emergency clothing repairs; my shorts were a little threadbare by the time I got home.

One more thing on camping, as it’s a question I’m often asked. I didn’t always know where I was going to stay each night when I set off in the morning, although I could get ideas on campsites via asking people, an app on my phone, or the Internet.  I tended to plan a few days in advance, but remain flexible in case I wanted to divert to see something interesting. If a campsite didn’t materialise, or a ride took longer than expected, I always had the option to find somewhere quiet and wild camp; when you have a tent, bivvy bag or hammock, you’re never without somewhere to sleep.

Cooking – Whisperlite International – MSR
Great for cooking on, using my Tatonka pans, although didn’t use it a lot after Scandinavia as cold meals were fine. Like the fact you can use unleaded petrol to fuel it, which is available everywhere, unlike some gas canisters. I took a few bits of cooking kit with me including a chopping board that I rarely used, although a sharp knife is vital; had my trusty Bison Bushcraft sheath knife. I was also never without a bottle of Tabasco sauce, or equivalent thereof, to spice up a bland meal. Noodles and pasta featured heavily on the cooking front, as did frankfurters at one point. I ate a lot whilst on tour,including lots of biscuits and Haribos to replace burnt calories. It’s kind of difficult cutting down on food intake after consuming 4000 plus calories a day for 6 months, however I need to do so otherwise the kilograms are going to pile on.

Maps versus GPS
My Garmin 810 GPS worked well on this tour, only needing a factory reset once, and helping to guide me through some confusing parts of Europe. I wouldn’t however always trust it, as it did send me through an army base in Albania, and attempt to do so again in a few other countries. Up until Turkey I also used paper maps, which in general I prefer, however they became tricky to source them in Eastern Europe, so for the return leg from Istanbul to the UK I used a combination of my Garmin and the maps app on my iPhone; worked very well. A bit of preparation each night, memorising key towns or villages along the route, goes a long way to easing navigational issues.

Clothes
I had to take clothes with me that were suitable for the cold conditions of Scandinavia, and parts of the return leg through Germany and into France, as well as the hot conditions of Spain and Southern Europe. This meant some clothes, such as my Rab down jacket, weren’t used a lot, but made a good pillow. I also valued my two buffs (like a snood), which provided protection from the cold, rain, and sun, as well as a pollution mask sometimes; a buff is another piece of kit I wouldn’t go without – simple but effective. My BBB Cycling Sportsglasses worked a treat, with different coloured lenses for different conditions, and for once I didn’t lose or break them! You don’t have room for a lot of clothes, however things like merino base layers don’t need washing that often, and there’s always somewhere you can rinse things through, even if it’s stream in the woods. Don’t go without swimming shorts of the equivalent; can’t miss opportunities to swim in gorgeous and cooling rivers and lakes, or crystal clear seas.

Gadgets
I’ve already mentioned my Garmin Edge 810, and my iPhone which doubled as my camera for the tour. The camera on the iPhone is excellent, and saves on space when compared with lugging around a bulky SLR. You can also use it to record good short movies, which I need to do more of in future. I took an Apple MacBook Air for blogging and browsing purposes, which fitted easily in my rear panniers. Finding wifi wasn’t too much of a problem, although I was amazed that wifi in Western Europe, and the richer countries, was in general much worse than in Eastern Europe and the perceived poorer countries. If I couldn’t find wifi I nearly always had 3G or 4G, which bizarrely I don’t always in the UK, so could tether my phone to my laptop if I really needed to do some planning. I had PowerMonkey-eXtreme solar charged battery pack which I used a few times, but didn’t really need as my dynamo hub worked so well; it was a good back-up in any case.

 

Aside from a hammock, which I bought half way round anyway, there was nothing else I thought I really needed. In retrospect something to scare off dogs wouldn’t have been a bad idea. The best idea I came across for this was from a French couple touring with their 6 year old son; an air horn, which dogs flee from.

You can find a full list of the kit I took with me on the Gubbins page of my blog, however feel free to leave a comment or send me an email if you’ve any questions. I’m sure I’ve missed something out.

Next blog post will be something fun; the animals I encountered whilst on tour, which will feature a lot of dogs, as well as the occasional Llama, and several cats. Here are a few warm up pics.

Cycling Europe – the final scores

That’s it, tour done, a weird feeling after being away for nearly 6 months. It’s still quite hard to take it all in, having pedalled from Nordkapp, Norway, in the Arctic Circle, the Northernmost point of Europe accessible by road, all the way to Tarifa in Spain, the Southernmost point, then across to Istanbul and Eastern Europe before pedalling back to the UK alongside the Danube. Today was my first day back at work, which mentally drove home that this adventure has come to an end, however I’m sure there will be plenty more in the future.

Overall I’m very happy with how it all went, having encountered no insurmountable obstacles, and visited lots of great countries and places. It’s all about adding brilliant memories to the bank, by filling the time I have on this planet with new, exciting and varied experiences whilst I have the chance. To choose but a few; I’ve swum in the sea and rivers, lazed in the sun, climbed mountains, whizzed down valleys and gorges, slept in forests and under the stars, tried lots of new food…and drink, stayed with old friends in France and made lots of new ones across Europe, met my parents in Spain on the Camino de Santiago route for my birthday, and challenged myself to see just how far I can pedal, in all sorts of conditions, and on a variety of road and trail! As with my tour around the UK coastline in 2013 I was reminded of how friendly, generous and welcoming most people are, something the media have an unfortunate tendency of distorting at times. Even the weather was mostly kind to me, although I won’t miss cycling in temperatures of over 40 degrees Celsius in Spain, or the headwinds and rain of Denmark.

Here’s my final route map:

Cycling Europe - final route map

Cycling Europe – final route map

And a link to this in Strava, where you can zoom in:

https://www.strava.com/athletes/11810278/heatmaps/7c5e7d05#10/52.63298/1.25881

One of the most common questions I get asked is ‘What was your favourite bit?’. I find this almost impossible to answer as it was a journey of such contrasts; Scandinavia with its wonderful wilderness and nature, snow and ice abounding whilst I was in the Arctic Circle, the Camino de Santiago, the dizzying heat of Spain with its ancient towns and cites, France that I just love anyway, the fantastic Croatian coastline, crazy Istanbul, friendly Albania, Bulgaria, Serbia and Hungary, and cycling alongside the Danube through picturesque forests and gorges in Germany and Austria – very good food and again friendly people in the latter two too. The more I think about it the more I remember great experiences, with any bad points or anxieties I felt at the time slowly fading into the background. I still think one of the best ‘bits’ is all the people I met along the way, especially those with whom I pedalled for a bit. Finishing the tour with a stop off at the Yestival festival, with more great people, buckets of inspiration and motivation, topped it all off; it also added a certain symmetry to the tour, having started at the Cycle Tour Festival in May, which along with Yestival is going in the calendar for 2016.

Here are some updated tour statistics and facts you might find interesting, or not, depending on how much you like numbers.

  • Start point: Honningsvåg (Norway)
  • End point: Norwich (UK)
  • Number of countries visited: 23
  • Distance pedalled: circa 10,230 miles or 16,460 km
  • Longest day: 120 miles (193km)
  • Number of days on tour: 175
  • Number of rest days: around 31
  • Average distance per day including rest days: approx 58 miles or 94km
  • Average distance per day excluding rest days: approx 71 miles or 114km
  • Number of punctures: 8
  • Number of new tyres: 4 – back on the Schwalbe Marathon Plus now
  • Number of new spokes: 6 (all at once due to chain slippage spoke mangling incident in Sweden)
  • Number of new chains and rear cassettes: 2 of each
  • Number of new chain sets: 1
  • Number of new brake pads: 6
  • Number of new cables: changed them all once
  • Number of new saddles: 1 – the Brooks saddle has been a wonderful replacement
  • Min temperature: -2 degrees Celsius
  • Max temperature: About 42 degrees Celsius in Spain
  • Windiest conditions: Denmark – about 5 hellish days of headwind mixed with rain
  • Favourite stop: With friends in France (Ardeche, Provence, Marseille), followed closely by Tarifa and Istanbul.
  • Most useful gadget: SP Dynamo Hub, for recharging my phone and Garmin
  • Friendliest country: Not had an unfriendly one, however Albania or Serbia probably win – Eastern Europe in general; can’t count France as was with good friends there anyway!
  • Scariest encounter: the dogs in Greece, and specifically when I was surrounded by a feral pack when cycling up the hill out of Thessaloniki
  • Weight lost: about 2 stone (13kg), although I’ve about a half stone on since I’ve been back due to still having a huge appetite but not cycling 100km each day; gonna have to fast soon.

If there are any other stats you’re interested in let me know, and likewise shout if you’ve any questions.

I’m also very happy to have raised £1,600 for charity, which equates to nearly £2,000 with gift aid, which I know the Big C will really appreciate. Thank you all for your sponsorship; definitely helped keep me motivated at times. If you haven’t already and would like to make a donation you can do so via the link below:

http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-web/fundraiser/showFundraiserProfilePage.action?userUrl=james

Another common question, which people ask me nearly straight away, is what’s next? I’m starting to respond by asking them what adventure they have planned instead! I have lots of ideas, but I doubt they’ll be anything quite as long for a while; need to save up some money if I want to go on a long tour to Canada, South America, Morocco, or South East Asia, which are all on the list.

I’ll be attempting to write a book about this latest tour, mainly to see if I can write a book rather than earning lots of money off it, and I hope to continue filling life with great memories by going away on shorter adventures. Things on the list so far include mountain biking around bothies in Scotland and perhaps Wales, hiking the Coast to Coast route along Hadrian’s Wall, kayaking and camping on the Norfolk Broads, starting to rock climb again and visiting the Peak District, learning how to kite surf, taking my Kendo 1st Dan grading, and lots of local micro adventures in Norfolk; just sleeping out under the stars whenever possible, after cooking over a campfire or stove, and waking up as the sun rises. Always up for company on trips if you fancy getting outside and enjoying life.

I’m going to pick out some of my favourite photos from the tour over the next couple of weeks, to help prepare for book writing, but I’ll also post them here for folks to enjoy, and to hopefully give you ideas for places to visit. To kick things off here’s where it all began, in Nordkapp Norway, after flying out form the Cycle Touring festival in Clitheroe, UK:

Thanks again for reading and support along the way; as with the sponsorship it’s really appreciated and helped keep me going. And Travelling Lobster says hi; he still needs a wash!

23 to 27 October – Yestival and back to Norwich

I thought it was about time I concluded the write-up of my cycle tour around Europe; the final stage from my parents house near Hastings, up to the first ever Yestival festival near Guildford, then back to Norwich via London and Cambridge. I’ve been back home a few days now, and am going to enjoy a glass of wine or two whilst writing this, before plunging back into ‘normal’ life again.

Here are my routes and stats for the last 4 rides that got me home:

–> 23 October – Yestival
I had one more side trek planned before I firmly set my sights on Norwich and home; the Yestival festival near Godalming in Surrey. The Yestival describes itself as ‘…a celebration of community, positive mindset and adventurous thinking’; it was all that and more!

Having had Smaug thoroughly serviced I was ready to set off on Friday morning, pedalling into one of those brilliant Autumn days where it’s sunny but cold, with vibrant colours spread across the English countryside as the trees start to lose their leaves.

Ready to depart for Yestival

Ready to depart for Yestival

My route North West was mostly on country lanes, at least to start off with, and was thoroughly enjoyable even it was on the hilly side. I’d forgotten just how many hills there are as you travel across the Sussex and into Surrey; none of them are particularly big, however there aren’t many flat bits, so it was mostly up and down for 70 miles. It was great cycling along saying hello to people out walking their dogs, and just soaking up the atmosphere, sights, smells and sounds of the English countryside, which I think are hard to beat. I did meet a couple of dogs scampering down the road, however unlike Greek canines these ones didn’t bark and rush to menace me; they just said hello and continued on their way, sniffing out interesting smells as they went.

I made it to Godalming after a sandwich in Horsham, and located the festival near the village of Shackleford without a problem.

As I pedalled up to the gate I bumped into another cycle tourer, Tommy aka the Hopeful Vagabond, who was just about to start a ride from the Yestival, all the way to China. Tommy is a huge character, and is going to have an amazing adventure for the next 12 months as he makes his way through Europe and beyond. You can learn more about him and follow his journey via his website, as well as on Twitter and Facebook: https://www.bloglovin.com/blogs/hopeful-vagabond-14117321

Tommy, the Hopeful Vagabond, as he was about to set off on Sunday

Tommy, the Hopeful Vagabond, as he was about to set off on Sunday

Bumping into Tommy and his slightly worried father as I arrived seemed like fate, with me just finishing my tour and him just about to start a circa 9,000 mile odyssey. I passed on a few tips and did my best to reassure him (and his Dad) that people are essentially friendly and helpful everywhere; he had all the same concerns I did when I started. Please follow Tommy’s journey and give him some support along the way.

The next few days at Yestival were brilliant. It was great to finish my tour amongst a group of like-minded individuals, in an inspirational and positive atmosphere, with so many fantastic stories to hear, or plans for new adventures or life changes. Dave Cornthwaite and the Yestival team did a brilliant job pulling it all together in just a couple of months, and everyone is very much looking forward to next year’s gathering now.

Throughout the weekend there were talks from guest speakers, or from fellow Yestival goers during open-mike sessions, which worked really well. Talks varied from stories of personal adventures and challenges, to advice on how to start making the most out of life, conservation efforts, the pit falls of social media, podcasting, and much more. And there was a bar in the form of a Land Rover; an essential ingredient at any such gathering.

I was also ‘fortunate’ enough to take part in the Saturday morning exercise session run by the illustrious Danny Bent, of recent BBC 2 Special Forces fame, and Anna McNuff. Danny founded Project Awesome, based predominantly in London but expanding, and is now ably assisted by Anna now she is back from running the length of New Zealand.; they’re both a little bit insane. Project Awesome involves groups of people meeting up a few days a week, before the day job, and working out on the streets of London with lots of energy, enthusiasm and noise, followed by a coffee. I’m relatively fit after pedalling 10,000 miles, however whilst I can cycle a long way my body is not used to sit-ups, burpees and the like, so needless to say I ached a bit on Sunday, having used muscles that have been neglected for some time. I think I’ll need to do more of the same if I want to get back into climbing, so maybe I’ll have to see if there’s something similar in Norwich, or perhaps start something with friends, I’m sure they’d love it! You can check out Project Awesome via their Facebook page, and go along to one of their sessions if you’re local; they’re all free: https://www.facebook.com/projectawesomelondon/

I could go on about the Yestival for a long time, about how on Saturday night I laughed until I was nearly crying, of all the great new friends I made, stories I heard, plans for the future, chatting round the camp fire, inspiration, and learnings, however I think if you’re interested you should just come along next year and see for yourself, as well as checking out the Say Yes More tribe on Facebook. Thank you Dave and Team, the farm, all the speakers and fellow guests, as well as the caterers, Landrover bar, & Oppo who cycled all the way from London on tandem towing a freezer full of ice-cream for everyone; it was a fab weekend.

One more person to follow over the next year: Elise Downing who is running the coast of Britain following roughly the same route I cycled in 2013, go Elise! https://www.facebook.com/elisecdowning

–> 25 to 27 October – London, Cambourne, Norwich
With Yestival ending it was time to set my sights on Norwich, however I still had nearly 200 miles to pedal to get home. I left the festival at about 15.00 to cycle to London, to stay the night with my friends John and Emma, some 40 miles away. Handily a fellow cyclist, Helen, was also riding back to London, so I had some company along the way, and Helen had already cycled to the festival so knew the route.

We were able to follow the Saturn trail alongside a canal for a long part of the ride, passing house boats, a kingfisher, and lots of expensive looking villages, before entering the boroughs of London, pedalling through parks and trying to avoid the traffic. With the clocks changing it was dark by 17.00 so I was very glad of my Luxos dynamo powered front light!

After bidding Helen goodbye I arrived at John and Emma’s Hammersmith, and spent a very pleasant evening catching up and relaxing; they’d also cooked Spaghetti Bolognese which was most welcome. I’ve known John since sixth form college and as normal with good friends it doesn’t matter how long you haven’t seen someone for, it’s just like you left off. John was up early to fly to Singapore the next day, one of his various trips around the globe for work, however I had a slightly slower start to the day, pedalling off towards Cambridge about 09:00 after chatting to Emma for a bit.

I was a little bit nervous about cycling out of London, with all the traffic and potential for getting lost, but it turned out to be fine. London has a reputation for people not making eye contact or saying hello when you’re commuting, however I had several chats with cyclists or pedestrians on my way out of the city, and didn’t have any trouble navigating my way to Enfield, then over the M25 and back into he countryside. I ended up talking to another cyclist at some traffic lights for about 10 minutes, who’d toured down in South East Asia a few years back, and now wanted to do something similar, especially after I’d related some of my recent experiences.

From Enfield I made my way to Ware, then up to Royston, chatting to another cyclist for a few miles, who again decided it was time to set his sights on a tour somewhere, before arriving at by brother and his family’s house in Cambourne, just outside Cambridge. I’d seen Will, Louisa, and my nephew and niece when they popped down to my parents last week, however it was great to meet up again, and I thoroughly enjoyed the curry we consumed with enormous vigour that evening; the Tandoori King Prawns were excellent. Seb, my nephew, also got to show me all his Lego, as well as his football skills, and Anna fed be lots of sushi from her kitchen; it was a little bit wooden.

Setting off for Norwich, with Seb and Anna in support

Setting off for Norwich, with Seb and Anna in support

After a good night’s sleep, ably assisted by a Jura whisky courtesy of my bro, I set off in good time in the morning, with about 75 miles to pedal to Norwich. Seb and Anna were keen to accompany me on their vehicles for the first bit, so I had a cycle/scooter escort up the avenue to the main road, all the way to the post box; awesome work team!

The cycle back to Norwich followed a route I’ve done several times now, via Cambridge, then through lots of small picturesque villages into Suffolk then Norfolk, avoiding the busy main roads. The Autumnal countryside again looked great, and I got to see several F16s plus a few helicopters roaring about as I passed Mildenhall then Lakenheath; a Top Gun impression on a bike duly followed.

On my way to Norwich, emotional ride

On my way to Norwich, emotional ride

Due to a slight diversion I’d pedalled nearly 80 miles before I made it to Norwich. It was exciting, and slightly emotional, passing over the A47 and through the outskirts, before arriving at Sheila and Norman’s house for dinner; they’ve been following my tour closely and are responsible for lots of the webcam pics! Sheila and Lucy’s sister Susan cycled the last mile with me, before a celebratory beer, meal and lots of catching up was had. It was lovely to see them all again after 6 months on the road, and as with my parents I’ve really appreciated all the support they’ve given me along the way.

Back Norwich with Lobster - worth a thumbs up moment

Back Norwich with Lobster – worth a thumbs up moment

It’s going to take me a little while to adjust back to not pedalling somewhere new each day, a day job and routine, however I’m looking forward to digesting the experiences from my tour, as well as making new plans and starting to write a book about my ride around Europe. I’ve got a lot of ideas for future expeditions, some small, some large, and will be continuing this blog to relate them all. Thank you for reading, donations to the Big C, and support along the way, it’s been bodacious! 🙂

Me celebrating with friends at Norwich beer festival

Me celebrating with friends at Norwich beer festival

Oh, and I made the Norwich Beer Festival, meeting up with loads of friends and sampling many fine ales.

Next post will be an updated tour map and some stats on the ride in total, as well as some future plans.

Cheers all, and Happy Halloween.