Tag Archives: buff

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.

12 & 13 July 2015 – to Plasencia and Caceres

Wow it’s getting hot! I’m pretty used to it being warm, but the last few days have seen temperatures ramp up a notch as I cycle through central Spain. The hot weather is accompanied by an unforgiving sun, and a wind that rises in the afternoon and dries your mouth out, leaving you feeling dehydrated if you don’t drink constantly; I’m carrying a lot of water. The only solution is to start early and finish before it get’s too hot; I’m aiming to finish riding by 15.00 at the latest, getting up at 06.00 to ensure and early start. The Spanish lifestyle is dictated by these conditions, with stuff happening in the morning, then not a lot going on between 13.00 and the evening, whereupon everywhere comes alive again; kids and adults will all be up late taking advantage of the cooler temperatures. Even the Spanish are saying the current weather is exceptional though, with it due to go on for another couple of weeks!

Here are my routes and stats for the last couple of days:

–> 12 July – to Plasencia, a great day’s riding
I did some fast pedalling today, covering 137km in about 7 hours, including an ascent up to 1,202 metres, following by a lovely descent that resulted in my quickest 40km on Smaug. In total  I climbed about 1,200 metres, but descended about 1,600 metres, so the Mediterranean must only be around the corner, surely!?

It doesn’t get light until about 06.30 at the moment, and I struggled to wake up this morning, which might have been due to the cheap yet entirely satisfactory Rose wine I had the previous evening. I still managed to get going by 07.30, pedalling away from Salamanca and joining the N630 again.

The N630 runs alongside the autovia (motorway), but is much quieter, as all the traffic is on the bigger road. At times I didn’t see another vehicle for over an hour, so it’s a bit like cycling down a really wide cycle path. I did see lots of cows and bulls, and was somewhat alarmed when at one point a large number of the latter ran into the road being herded by a farmer to another field. They ran straight towards me as I pedalled straight towards them, wondering what to do. I was just about to turn around, or get off by bike and hop over the wall, when another farmer arrived with a big stick and turned them into the other field, accompanied by lots of shouting. He smiled at me and said something in Spanish. I nodded back and said thank you, relieved to have not had re-enact the Pamplona bull run with little in the way of escape options. I don’t think turning around and pedalling off would have worked as they were running pretty fast.

Early on I passed another cycle tourer, Pedro, who was mending a puncture by the side of the road. I stopped to chat for a few minutes and to see if he needed a hand, which he didn’t. Pedro has done a lot of touring and is also on his way to Tarifa. He did some of the Camino de Frances on foot earlier this year, but it hurt his knees and shins, so he’s back on the bike now; a wise decision, much more efficient form of travel. Pedro usually aims to ride 100km a day, but was stopping earlier today due to the heat; it’s entirely possible I’ll bump into him again further down the road to the coast.

I cycled onwards as mountains loomed in the distance, which was slightly worrying. I kept hoping the road would turn slightly West, to take me through a shallower section, but the big climbs grew inexorably closer until I was pedalling upwards for quite some time.

It being Sunday there were a lot of road cyclists out and about, mostly overtaking me or zooming downhill in the opposite direction. They all said hello, wished me ‘Buen Camino’, or said something else in Spanish; the same phrase each time but not sure what it means. There was also quite a lot of ‘allez allez’, sometimes from people just by the side of the road, which spurred me on to the top of the climb. I eventually made it, after a series of switch-backs and with no pushing involved despite the soaring temperatures, passing over the Puerto de Vallejera at 1,202 metres.

After that I got to go downhill for a while, towards the large town of Bejar. The scenery on the other side of the mountains was less arid, with lots more trees providing some shade, and with it more birds singing away, or in the case of the kites and buzzards lazily soaring about using the thermals. There are some different bird species down here which I’m going to have to look up; some of the bird calls sounded pretty unusual, almost something I’d expect to hear in the tropics.

I really enjoyed the descent down to Bejar, and beyond to Banos de Montemayor, however the road started to get busier, which I thought a little odd, until I found the source of the plume of black smoke I’d seen from further up the mountain. There was a lorry fire on the motorway which meant a lot of traffic was being diverted on to the N630. Many people had also stopped to watch the fire, which crammed the road up even more. To be fair I stopped too and watched for a bit, as a fire engine arrived and started to put it out, with clouds of steam rising off the burning wreck; I hope the driver got out alright, and that the lorry wasn’t full of pigs, as I’d seen several that were today, although not on fire when they passed me. I don’t think the lorry was a pig transporter, as I couldn’t smell any bacon, mostly just burning rubber and tarmac, which had no doubt melted due to the heat.

On the way down to Banos de Montemayor, which was a really enjoyable descent, I passed lots of houses with swimming pools, and 3 expensive looking cars, the drivers of which were enjoying the bendy mountain roads; there was a Ferrari and two American muscle cars – Fords but I didn’t catch the make. The all made an impressive noise as they tore up the road, and the drivers waved to me; still prefer my bike though. Maybe this area is where some of the Spanish rich live?

I also passed a few Pilgrims walking the other way, all looking a bit tired and hot. Whilst I was really enjoying the ride I wouldn’t have wanted to cycle up that mountain from the other direction, let alone walk it.

The last 30km to Plasencia were pretty taxing. I stopped at a garage to refuel on a bottle of chocolate milk and some fruit, then pressed on, completing a last climb over a particularly hot pass into the city. When the wind drops, and with the sun beating down, the temperature really rockets and I felt it as I pedalled down to the old Roman viaduct; dunking my head in the fountain really helped though.

After a pause, drenching by buff in the fountain, and downing another litre of water, I pedalled the last 3km to the campsite East of Plasencia; La Chopera, which I’d found using the ACSI app. The campsite is right next to the river which flows through Plasencia, and perhaps explained why La Chopera was much cooler; the receptionist explained it has its own microclimate, at least I think that’s what she said, and not ‘you smell’ or something similar (I probably did smell though).

The campsite was very crowded but I found a shady spot, just, and a nearby family lent me their hammer to aid with tent peg insertion into the rock hard ground. They were really nice, also supplying some ice-cold water, complete with ice cubes. With a mixture of bad Spanish, pantomiming and English I explained what I was doing, at which point they supplied more ice-cold water and I think suggested I see a psychiatrist.

After a bit of a siesta I washed the day’s dust and sweat out of my cycling gear, then visited the campsite bar for a cerveza or two whilst I used their excellent wifi to update my blog, as well as try to work out my route for the next few days; there’s a bit of a long stretch between Merida and Seville without very much, but I can always wild camp for an evening.

Post a walk along the river to stretch my weary legs, I had dinner at the campsite restaurant; a simple affair of pork, egg and chips, which just hit the spot. I hadn’t passed any open supermarkets today anyway, so was a little limited on options, it being Sunday. Whilst eating I got to listen to some classic 80’s and 90’s music, including ‘Don’t worry be happy’ and ‘It’s my Life’ by Dr Alban; awesome stuff that put a smile on my face and brought back some memories from holidays long past.

I retired to my tent relatively early, with the intention of rising early to avoid the heat again; we’ll see how that works out. Tomorrow it’s on to Caceres.

P.S. Ants are amazing creatures, watched some for ages today.

–> 13 July – to Caceres
A moderate 94km covered today, moderate in comparison to yesterday’s 137km anyway. After yesterday’s fun today was a bit on the boring side, and very hot and dry.

It was quite hard getting up for starters, especially after a restless night due to a very noisy campsite; it’s so hot during the day I think people are saving all their energy for the night-time. After a bit of confusion packing up my panniers as the sun rose, I managed to get everything in the right place, and was still on the road by 07.30. I pedalled back past Plasencia on a cycle path next to the river watching as the sun started to bathe buildings in the city in light; was going to be another hot one!

I rejoined the N630 and headed South once again, coming down out of the mountains and into what could instead be described as hilly terrain; lots of ups and downs anyway. The descent was lovely, as was the ride alongside the lakes fed by the Rio Tajo, where I watched a herd of cows walking along the edge of the lake, mooing quite a lot, and spotted several old ruins. The N630 diverted away from the motorway for quite a long stretch, and had a bit more traffic as a result, but was still nice to cycle on despite the hills, heat and dry wind.

The colours on the lake were stunning compared to the arid landscape surrounding it, and I saw several large splashes from fish as a cycled along; or perhaps it was Spain’s own version of Nessy. There were also two large railway bridges under construction, which looked a bit out-of-place in the otherwise remote and fairly inhospitable landscape; I think it’s part of a new high-speed railway link.

After passing more fields full of cows and bulls, but thankfully none on the road, I made it to Caceres by about 13.00, and had to cycle past the campsite to go into the city to get some cash. I successfully accomplished this, and a visit to Lidyl for some supplies, but nearly came flying off my bike a one point due to a hidden curb; luckily no-one saw so dignity intact this time.

I’d have liked a look around Caceres as there are lots interesting parts to it, many Roman, but it was just too hot and I was feeling a little light-headed as a result. Besides, I’ve seen a lot of old Spanish towns and cities recently and there’s only so much you can take in; will instead spend some time in Merida tomorrow. I headed back North a few kilometres to the campsite, and checked-in, happy to be out of the sun for a few hours, and to drink lots of water.

Caceres camping is expensive at €21, very expensive comparatively, but does have nice shaded pitches, and an ensuite bathroom with toilet and shower, and two sinks, one of which I used to keep my Sangria chilled. The campsite wifi is also pretty good, and each camping plot has a plug socket on the outside of the toilet block which was very handy. I had a fairly productive afternoon after a siesta, taking my pedals off and cleaning and greasing them, which seems to have stopped the annoying click on the right hand side; big relief as very irritating; thanks for the tip Phil.

I think I really needed a ‘time-out’ for the afternoon, out of the sun and not pedalling, and felt very relaxed and fully fit by the evening. I’ve also been in touch with a few of my Marseille friends and have plans to meet up with at least some of them in August; very exciting after 20 odd years!

Tomorrow it’s on to Merida, a short leg, then probably a place called Monesteria, before Seville on Thursday; getting close to Tarifa now.

Over and out.

01 to 05 July – Spain & Camino de Santiago part 1, plus turning forty

Catch up post number 1, covering crossing into Spain over the Pyrenees, and the first part of the Camino de Santiago. Apologies for the scarcity of blogs recently; I’ve been cycling with a few other people and there have been some long days, and fun evenings. As always you can keep up-to-date with where I actually am via my Twitter feed.

Here are my routes and stats for 01 to 04 July inclusive:

01 July: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/821439830https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/821439855

02 July: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/821439916https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/821439948

03 July: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/822825498

04 July: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/823916710

–> 01 July
Top tip; don’t go the wrong way when crossing over the Pyrenees, it hurts one’s legs, quite a lot.

I teamed up with Richard (from Hunstanton), and River (from Korea), for day 1 of the Camino de Santiago, pedalling from St-Jean-Pied-de-Port to Roncevaux, over the Pyrenees.

Preparing to set off from St-Jean-Pied-de-Port

Preparing to set off from St-Jean-Pied-de-Port

We were up early to try to avoid the worst the heat, and were rewarded by an overcast start; very refreshing after yesterday.

The day started as it meant to go on with some big climbs. We met up with an American, Darren, on a mountain bike, who rode with us for a while but soon left us in his wake due to his very much lighter load.

We had agreed at the beginning of the day that we’d try to stay together, however if some people needed to push that it was fine to carry on and we’d meet up later. It soon became evident that River would mostly be pushing today, however there were points where we all did. After a stop at a supermarket for some fruit and pain-au-chocolat we climbed up a steep road trying to follow the shell signs for the Camino de Santiago. This can sometimes be easier said that done when you’re concentrating on getting up a hill, and when the signs are sometimes a bit obscured; lovely route though.

Unfortunately Richard and I somehow missed a crucial sign that would have taken us over a small bridge to the Spanish side of the river valley, and the correct route for cycling to Roncevaux. This meant we climbed an unnecessary 1,000 feet before we realised our error; a costly one as it was very steep and tiring. It didn’t take us very long to get back down the road, after confirming directions from a helpful passing motorist, and we found the bridge. Later on I was somewhat gratified to learn we are by no means the first people to make this error.

After a bit of a push up from the bridge, the signs for which were easy to miss, we made it to the Spanish side of the valley and continued on, stopping briefly for a cold drink and realising we had to speak a different language now; I’m not very good at Spanish but am slowly picking it up. It was then a hard slog up to over 3,000 feet, as we tackled the pass over the mountains; beautiful scenery but hot and tiring, especially on already wobbly legs. I got my head down, in my easiest gear, and just pedalled on slowly, eventually catching River up who hadn’t missed the turning; good one River! The view from the top was fantastic, and I paused for a while to let the others catch up.

It was very peaceful at the top of the pass (Ibaneta), the silence being punctuated with the clanking of bells from around the necks of horses in a nearby field. River turned up first, followed a bit later on by Richard, who with a heavier bike was suffering in the heat. Luckily there are plenty of water fountains along the route, so you can refill your bottles; this was essential I was drinking constantly, and unfortunately sweating it out just as quickly as it was going in. This also meant suncream didn’t really stay on, so stopping in shady spot was a must. One more downside; lots of biting flies which in some instances drew blood, very irritating!

Once we were all together again, and had sufficiently recovered and/or admired the view, we rode down the hill to Roncevaux, a very nice descent after such a hard climb. I was very glad to be on a bike at this point, as all the walkers,  who follow a different trail over the mountains, would have had a hard time on the knees coming down; I find when walking the way down can be as hard as the way up.

In Roncevaux we opted to stay at the Pilgrims Auberge (hostel), which meant I had to sign up to do at least some of the Camino de Santiago, and get myself a pilgrim’s book, but it was well worth it. I’ll be following a different part of the Camino de Santiago from Leon anyway so it’ll come in handy to have hostel options.

We met up with loads of walkers and other bicycle tourers at the auberge, which can accommodate about 200 people, demonstrating just how busy the Camino de Santiago gets. As in St-Jean-Pied-de-Port there were walkers from all over the world. We got talking to several, including Gorka who is definitely Basque and not Spanish, one traveller from South America, but who lives in Canada, and a Scottish lady (grandmother) walking the trail solo; all really interesting people with tales to tell.

It was a nice atmosphere in the Auberge, with everyone feeling a sense of accomplishment after the day’s efforts. We shared a great communal dinner for just €10, including wine! The hostel is on the site of the church complex in Roncevaux, and was at least being partially run by people with Hospitaller t-shirts on, who were really friendly and helpful; I’m guessing this is an organisation with origins from the Knight’s Hospitaller, who used to help pilgrim’s on the road, and still do.

The Auberge itself is the ancient burial site of the kings of Navarre, and an interesting place to visit in itself. It looked pretty dramatic a bit later on, with a thunderstorm for a backdrop, and lightning flashing in the mountains. Post thunder I fell asleep pretty quickly in the communal bunk-room, something I’ll need to get used to if I stay at a lot of hostels rather than using my tent. Hoping for a shorter day to Pamplona tomorrow.

–> 02 July 
I woke up feeling refreshed, if a little achy after yesterday’s efforts, with the Auberge a hive of activity as people got ready to set off, either on foot or by bike. It was nice being amongst so many people, all heading in the same direction, but I imagine it’s going to start to feel a little crowded after a while. We had just 70km to do today, more than yesterday’s 35 but with less in the way of mountains. We waved Gorka off, who needs to pedal quick in order to finish the Camino de Santiago and get back to his village by 16 July in time for their annual festival, then set off ourselves, electing to cycle as a group again, on my first full day in Spain.

The first part of our ride followed alongside the walker’s trail, so we could see just how many people make this pilgrimage; must be 1000’s every year. We stopped for some breakfast in the first small town we came to, and to pick up a few supplies, then rode on to Pamplona through a mixture of forest and farmland, over a few hills and through more mountains. It was a fairly easy ride, but very hot, and we kept having to remind River to drink more water and watch out for the odd heavy truck; I’m really not sure how he keeps going and stays safe sometimes, but survive he does.

We tried and failed to find the campsite in Pamplona; it’s really hard to get to by bike due to the motorways in the way. In the end we found another pilgrim’s hostel near the old gate into the city (St Frances Gate), which turned out to be a great decision; €15, individual sleeping pods, buffet breakfast and great wi-fi. We followed the pilgrim’s trail into the city, spotting the shell signs at regular intervals, and following the trail of tired walkers.

Pamplona is unlike any city I’ve been to before. It was packed with people, probably because the bull run festival starts shortly. It was a real mix of people too; pilgrims, young travellers, older tourists, and locals, all mixing together. It was great just walking around the streets taking in the atmosphere and architecture, and there was plenty of live music to listen too. We stopped for a beer and to listen to a jazz band for a bit, then spent the rest of the evening replacing burnt calories and chatting.

We did have to keep track of River, who constantly has his camera going filming stuff, and has a habit of not looking where he’s going as a result. He is finding the riding tough, as he’s not used to it, but is keeping up really well at the moment. He has an idea for a ‘Gravity bike’, an invention that will use gravity to help power your pedalling; I’m really not sure how he thinks it’ll work, as I’m pretty sure bikes already do that, but he’s pretty enthusiastic about it (crazy guy).

Walking around Pamplona at night was even more of an experience. It was so crowded, with people sitting out everywhere, just on the street, drinking and socialising with no trouble that we saw; can’t imagine the same happening in the UK. It would have been interesting to stay for the bull running festival that starts on Monday, however I think it would just be too crowded, with the city population swelling from 180,000 to over a million. I’m also not sure I want to see or personally agree with the spectacle, which sees a lot of scared bulls running through the streets, and lots of people injured; broken bones and goring. It’s part of the Spanish culture and I’m not going to get up in arms about it, as we shouldn’t dictate what other people should do, however I’m not supporting it.

On to Logrono tomorrow.

–> 03 July
I think I could get used to this riding as a group thing; it’s nice to have some company, at least for a while, however I’m sure I’ll want some quiet time on my own at some point.

After a good night’s sleep and a fine buffet breakfast (included in price), we were on the road early as we had a lot of km’s to cover to get to Logrono. As with yesterday we passed, or were passed by, lots of other people walking or cycling the Camino de Santiago; it’s traditional to say ‘Bon Camino’, or ‘Buen Camino’, to fellow travellers, so there was an awful lot of that going on.

It turned out to be a really long and hard day’s ride, it being very hot, dusty, and with constant ups and downs. We also remained pretty high, at over 3,200 feet at one point, which I guess must impact somewhat. The plus side of the route was that it was a very quiet road, with little in the way of traffic aside from fellow cycle tourers, of which there were many.

On one long climb I pedalled with a Thomas, a cycle tourer from Poland who is also following the Camino; good to swap a few touring tips and stories on a climb as makes it go faster!

We decided early on we’d stop in Estrella for lunch, however somehow we managed to lose River before we got there. After a long climb during which we all got separated due to different rates of ascent, Richard and I waited for him at the top…and waited…and waited. I cycled back down the hill, twice, to look for him, wondering where on earth he’d got to. We asked other people coming the same way but they’d not seen him. There were only 3 options; he’d turned North down a side road (most likely), swung onto the motorway (surely not), or had accident/bike failure and gone into the small town we passed (unlikely as it was a climb and he’d be walking). In the end we had to push on and hope we met up with him in Estrella, but it was with a worried heart; we’d already waited an hour a half and searched considerably.

We asked a group of tourers in Estrella if they’d seen River, and indeed they had seen a Korean gentleman pedalling through, filming stuff! At the time we had no idea how he’d got past us, but caught him up at the edge of town, and discovered he’d taken the motorway! This is a brilliant example of signs that are lost in translation; the road down onto the motorway has a sign saying no cyclists, pedestrians, or horse and carts, represented by red circles with the mode of transportation in the middle. To a Westerner the meaning is fairly obvious (not allowed), however River thought it meant the opposite; okay to cycle on. He took the motorway down to Estrella completely bypassing us, and it turns out this isn’t the first time he’s used it. In France, to get from Toulouse to St-Jean-Pied-de-Port he mostly rode on the hard shoulder of the motorway as he thought it was fine to do so, and indeed that you’re invited to do so by the sign. He thought it a little odd that no-one else was on it, but waved back to motorists whilst breaking for a sandwich on the hard shoulder when they shouted ‘greetings’ at him from their car windows. In hindsight this is funny, but also incredibly illegal and pretty dangerous.

Anyway, all’s well that ends well and he knows now. We were re-united and cycled on, but it was very tough going, and we were pretty late getting to Logrono as a result. We ascended over 1,400 metres today, in temperatures of over 35 degrees Celsius, which explains why the ride took so long; lots of water stops required too.

We rolled into Logrono at 21.00, with tired legs and fried brain cells, stopping the first Albergue (hostel) we could find and getting a hose down courtesy of the receptionist in the backyard; very refreshing. The hostel was only €7 for the night, but turned out to be exceedingly hot, with plastic coated beds that were very uncomfortable, so maybe we should have tried a different one.

After a shower we headed into Logrono centre and found a much-needed pizza, followed by a cold beer and in my case a gin and tonic; I’d been fantasising about one all day. I love the way they serve spirits in Spain at the table; they pour the spirit into your glass at your table, with no real measure, and I didn’t know you had to say stop. I ended up with a pretty strong but delicious G&T, and Richard with Lord knows how many vodka’s in his glass; all medicinal I reckon.

It was great to relax with friends after a tough day, and a relief to all be back together and safe after losing River for a time. Tomorrow I’d be heading on to Santo Domingo dela Calzada on my own, to meet my parents, whilst the others take a rest day, however I hoped to meet up with at least Richard the day after to continue on the Camino de Santiago to Leon.

–> 04 July
Whilst it was very nice to ride with people, I was quite looking forward to a day on my own and going at my own pace, and I also needed some space before turning forty the next day! I got up at just after 06.00, it just being too hot and sweaty to sleep, and went downstairs to do some planning; at least wifi was good.

I bid goodbye to the others, hoping to see them soon, or River in Korea sometime in the future, and set off following the walkers trail, with plenty of ‘bon caminos’ for the first 10km. Whilst it was just as hot today I knew I only had about 50km to do, and it was flatter so I made good time. I rejoined the road near Aleson, as the trail got a little bumpy, and made even better time on the last stretch, finishing in Santo Domingo dela Calzada after a final long climb by midday.

I opted to stay in an Albergue again, as the campsite was quite a way out-of-town and didn’t have very good reviews. The hostel proved much better than the previous in Logrono, and was only €7; it did have a 22.00 curfew and 08.00 kick out though, as do many pilgrim hostels.

Then hostel was packed with pilgrims, including 3 Dutch cyclists I shared a room with, and who were good company if a little crazy. Once I’d dumped my stuff and had a rest I met up with my parents who had come over from England to visit for my birthday, and were staying in the Parador (state-run hotel) next to the Church. They took the boat over to Bilbao, and drove the rest of the way; the North coast sounds lovely, and cooler! It was fantastic to see them, and lovely to take some downtime for my birthday the next day.

The day finished with another refreshing thunderstorm, after a nice meal in the hotel with Mum and Dad. The Parador seemed very civilised and posh after staying in my tent or in hostels for the last 2 months; they have knives, forks, napkins and everything! It’s also quite a striking building, especially inside, as it’s built on the site of an old Pilgrim’s hospital.

–> 05 July – fortieth birthday….arrrgggghhh
No cycling today; birthday and day off with my parents. Even though it was my birthday I did have to get up and leave the hostel by 08.00. The 3 flying dutchman sang me happy birthday, a bizarre experience, and then set off to Burgos. I had a walk around town in the cool, then some breakfast from the supermarket, read a bit of my book next to a fountain, and then met up with Mum and Dad; an excellent start to the day.

I don’t feel any different for turning forty, certainly no more grown up, and doesn’t life now begin at forty? It’s not something I’ve been worrying about particularly, however I do have a bit of an odd feeling about now being older than Lu was before she passed away. As always if you’re enjoying this blog, and have some spare pennies, please consider donating some money to the Big C, a fantastic Norfolk Charity that do so much to help people suffering from Cancer: http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-web/fundraiser/showFundraiserProfilePage.action?userUrl=james

Thanks to those who have already donated!

Turning forty has hardened my resolve to fill as much time as possible with new experiences and adventures; fun stuff whilst balancing versus responsibilities. I keep thinking about future tours, and haven’t even finished this one yet; South America has to be on the cards, as does Canada, and back to Norway sometime.

Dad and I tinkered with my bike in the morning, taking off the redundant stand which isn’t really fixable; need a different type of stand. I checked in to the Parador for a night of luxury thinking why not, you’re only forty once, and it as a present from my parents (thank you!). The room and ensuite were amazing, so much so that I forgot to take a picture.

Richard pedalled into town a few hours later, having started early, and we all went out for lunch; a great €12 pilgrim’s menu including wine. I also got to have some Sangria, which I’d been looking forward to for ages (since France), and made a fine celebratory drink.

It was nice to catch up with my parents in person, and hear about news from home. Thanks to Will, Louisa Seb and Anna for my box of delights (beer and snacks for the road including much-needed Haribo reinforcements), and to Norman, Sheila and Susan for the funky t-shirts which will no doubt appear in a picture soon; also really needed some replacement clothes! And thanks for all the birthday greetings via card or internet too (including a great double bonus card from my Uncle John!).

Santo Domino dela Calzada is a lovely small town, and was a perfect rest stop for my birthday. We rounded off the day, post siesta, with drinks in the evening and then a very comfy night in the Parador.

Oh, and River turned up in town later that day, having decided to carry on cycling for a bit before heading down to Madrid, however I didn’t see him as he had the hostel curfew to contend with; maybe tomorrow, who knows with the magical mystery River.

Next up it’s the road to Burgos and Leon.

29 & 30 June – to Ondres, Bayonne and St-Jean-Pied-de-Port

Routes and stats for the 29 and 30 June below:

29 June: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/818715957
30 June: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/821439782

The last two days of June saw me finish off the Atlantic coast of France, and head inland to St-Jean-Pied-de-Port. I haven’t had chance to write a blog post since then, but will hopefully catch-up over the next couple of days. I’m currently in Santo Domingo dela Calzada having a day off and meeting my parents for my birthday.

–> 29 June
After an average night’s sleep, jam sandwiches for breakfast, and a clamber on the campsite climbing wall to warm up I was on the road by 09.00, keen to make some good progress down the coast towards Spain.

Climbing wall at Mimizan-sur-Plage campsite

Climbing wall at Mimizan-sur-Plage campsite

As I pedalled out of the campsite I bid ‘au revoir’ to Ken, who I’d met the night before, and who is cycling down the coast as well. I had a quick stop at the beach to watch the waves roll in; doesn’t matter how often you see it, always a relaxing sight and soothing sound.

The Velodyssey cycle route took me through the forest down to Contis-Les-Bains, where I had a croissant stop, then on to Vieux-Boucau-Les-Bains where I bought a chicken baguette for lunch, pausing in the forest to eat it and to get out of the sun for a bit. There was a big market in Vieux-Boucau-Les-Bains, selling all sorts of foodstuffs including a hundred different types of salami, olives and wine; all the sorts of things you’d expect at a French market.

The forest path is lovely, but you have to watch out for where tree roots have grown under the tarmac, pushing it into sometimes vicious ridges that can ambush you from the shadows. I have cycled over a few of these not realising they were there, and things have nearly gone badly awry, with panniers coming unhooked and the bike veering towards the bushes.

I passed a lot of other cyclists today, and I can see why, as the path is generally really well maintained and a delight to cycle down, with lots of shade and breaks next to the sea when you reach a town. I passed several resorts with great beaches, and lots of people out surfing, or just enjoying the sunshine and a swim; Seignosse and Hossegor were good examples of these, followed by Capbreton which had a nice marina. I also finally saw a Green Woodpecker today; I’ve been hearing them for ages, and they seem abundant, however I’ve not been able to spot one until now. I also had to take care to not run over any lizards!

After negotiating my way past a few skateboarder posses, and two large groups of schoolchildren out on bikes with their teachers, I made it to Ondres. The kids on bikes were having a great time, and were all really young; maybe 5 or 6. I was impressed to see them out cycling, accompanied by their teachers, on what must have been an end of term excursion.

Schools out for summer - on bikes

Schools out for summer – on bikes

I was pretty hot by the time I reached Ondres, having pedalled 96km, however the Camping-du -Lac campsite at the end of the today’s road was great, with a swimming pool and plenty of shade for pitching my tent. There was even wi-fi that worked for a bit, but then randomly stopped; not had great experience of wi-fi at French campsites. The hottest part of the day appears to be around 15.00 to 16.00, so I’ll need to start earlier in the morning as the temperatures go up even further in Spain.

Evening meal at Camping-du-Lac

Evening meal at Camping-du-Lac

After checking in and chatting with the very helpful owner, who I think originates from Belgium, I had a great evening. First on the agenda was a swim, followed by a meal out at the campsite restaurant. I got chatting to Antoine, who runs the bar and is also into his cycle touring. Antoine is planning on taking a couple of weeks post the holiday season to do some touring of his own, down to Carcassonne or thereabouts; somewhere I intend to pass through in about a month.

Sangria at Camping-du-Lac

Sangria at Camping-du-Lac

It was great being able to practice my French for an evening, and even better after a few glasses of Sangria; I was practically fluent after that! I joined both Antoine and Max, who also works in the restaurant, for a drink at the end of their shift post the bar closing. They passed on some tips on Morocco suggesting a place called Ceuta would be good to visit, it being a Spanish enclave and less hectic than Tangiers; sounds like a good plan and a base to set off from at the very least. Max also gave me a large map of Spain which fills in some of the gaps I have in my map collection, very handy. Thanks for a great evening guys!

–> 30 June
Blimey, today was hot; it was still over 20 degrees Celsius post 23.00. My plan to start earlier didn’t really work after the Sangria from last night, however I was still up and away in semi reasonable time, bidding goodbye to Max and Antoine and pedalling off towards the Pyrenees. I’d definitely recommend Camping du Lac if you’re in the area; slightly more pricey than some campsites I’ve stayed at but worth it.

From Camping du Lac I cycled down to the coast in Ondres, to say goodbye to the Atlantic, my companion for the last few days; next sea on the agenda is the Mediterranean! I took a short cut from the campsite, advised by the owner I could cut out two big hills by going around the fishing lake, a good start to the day.

It was a beautiful morning, and lovely watching the waves roll in, with a few early morning surfers out enjoying them. I could see Biarritz further down the coast, with the Pyrenees looming in the distance.

A slightly longer ride than anticipated took me to Bayonne; the cycle route wound about a lot, and when I got close the road was shut and I had to loop all the way back around to get into the city. This left me slightly irritated as I had a long way to go today (85km up hills), however the cool city streets calmed me down. I had a quick look around before pedalling on inland, following the Nive River.

Bayonne is an old city, with origins as far back as Roman times (3rd century AD). The Vikings turned up and took over at some point, as did the English, before it went back to the French, however it’s always been in Basque country; area straddling Spain and France.

The route along the Nive River was really pleasant. I passed through various towns as the Pyrenees got larger, and the road started to ascend. I must have drunk litres and litres of water today, due the heat and the climbs, and topped up at a supermarket with two 2 litres of yoghurt to get some energy back.

Things got interesting after Itxassou, where I opted to take the side road over the Pas de Roland. It was a beautiful route, but very hard going in the heat with some fierce climbs to contend with. At one point I passed a group of over 20 birds of prey, probably black kites and buzzards, circling in a thermal to gain height; I think they may have been waiting for cycle tourers to expire! A bit later on I spotted a huge eagle soaring along the mountainside, a majestic sight.

By the time I arrived in Bidarray I was feeling a bit spent, and still had quite a way to go. Two walkers had also stopped in the shade, suffering a little bit as I was; tell-tale symptoms of slight nausea and faintness. I took half an hour to rest, drank lots of water, and had my first dip of the day in the river; felt a lot better after that! The two walkers followed my lead on the bathing front, and also felt a lot better, but decided to get a bus to Bayonne after that.

Feeling refreshed I pushed onwards and upwards, still alongside the Nive, passing lots of kids canyoning and rafting on the river. There are lots of great activities to try around here, and it would be yet another good place for a holiday; jumping off rocks into the river looked like a brilliant idea. I had to stop again before St-Jean-Pied-de-Port, for another swim, as it was just too hot; temperatures must have been in the high thirties.

I finally arrived in St-Jean-Pied-de-Port, a big start point for the Camino de Santiago on the French side, at about 17.30. I stopped at a Lidyl on the way into town, as much to stand in the cold isle as to buy a drink. I nipped to the tourist info and located the campsite, right next to the river and ringed by part of the old town walls. Once I was set up it was time for dip number 3 of the day.

St-Jean-Pied-de-Port is a few miles from the Spanish border, and the starting point of the Camino Frances, the most popular option for people walking the Camino de Santiago. The town lies at the foot of a pass that goes over the Pyrenees to Roncevaux on the Spanish side. It was packed with pilgrims preparing to start the Camino, and there are loads of auberges that cater for them. Pilgrims come in all shapes and sizes, including cycle tourers like me, people walking the Camino for an adventure, or to take in the culture along the route, and some for religious reasons. I had a walk around the town and explored its narrow streets and the route up to the citadel; think the town has been fiercely contested over the years.

I met a lot of people at the campsite, and in the town, all of whom were friendly and said hello, and from all over the place; France, Spain, Germany, Austria, the UK, Ireland, USA, Canada, Hungary, the Netherlands, Belgium – to name but a few. I camped next to Jules from the UK, who is walking the route, and was a bit worried about his rucksack breaking; he set off very early the next to avoid the worst of the heat, and I hope he made it over the pass alright! I also bumped into Richard, a fellow cycle tourer from Hunstanton which is just down the road from Norwich, where I live. He is touring for a year, and set off at the beginning of May too. We agreed to join up tomorrow to tackle the pass, and maybe cycle some of the rest of the Camino together.

My big surprise was running into River again, who now has a bike! I last saw River who is from Seoul in Korea, in Grimbergen, next to Brussels, where he’d just flown in from South America. He flew off to Barcelona the next day, but not before Eugene, a cycle tourer from Taiwan, and I had talked to him about touring by bike. It seems he was enthused by this as he bought a bike when he got to Barcelona, took at train to Toulouse, and then cycled to St-Jean-Pied-de-Port. I’m not quite sure how he made it but full credit to him; it’s weird, but I just had a feeling I’d run into him again.

St-Jean-Pied-de-Port - River with bike!

St-Jean-Pied-de-Port – River with bike!

As night fell there was a brief thunderstorm, which freshened things up a bit in time for bed and  good night’s sleep before tomorrow’s endeavours over the pass to Spain; a big climb awaited.

25 & 26 June 2015 – to Saint Christoly-de-Blaye and Bordeaux

I’m writing this on 27 June, from a small town South West of Bordeaux called Biganos, near Arcachon, where I’m having a day off cycling; although that’s not strictly true as I pedalled about 40km to get here this morning, but have had a siesta since then. It’s cooler today, and I’m lounging next to a swimming pool which is most pleasant. In fact, I think I’ll go for a quick dip before starting to write this, but in the meantime here are my routes and stats for the 25th and 26th.

25 June: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/814790274
26 June: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/815605832

–> 25 June
I covered 94km today, in 5hrs and 20 mins of riding, mostly through more vineyards; not unpleasant but it does give one a bit of a thirst. I awoke slightly disoriented as I’d slept the wrong way round in my tent, due to a gradient, however once that was all sorted out I was on the road by 09.30, bidding ‘au revoir’ to my friendly hosts and riding on to Chateauneuf-sur-Charente.

Ready to leave Sireuil

Ready to leave Sireuil

It was already hot by 10.00, and only got warmer as I cycled up and down hills on my way to Archaic, then on to Jonzac. One thing about this part of the world, aside from all the vineyards, is that a lot of the towns and villages are built on hills, which would no doubt originally have been for defensive purposes, and certainly gives cycle tourers a good work out nowadays.

Vineyards near Chateauneuf-sur-Charente

Vineyards near Chateauneuf-sur-Charente

I pedalled through mile after mile of vineyard, with workers out in the fields tending the vines, as I made my way towards Bordeaux through Cognac country. The grapes are only just appearing on the vines, from what I can see anyway, but it’ll no doubt be a good harvest/vintage if the weather carries on likes this. The people tending the vines were all heavily tanned from long hours working out in the fields, and sometimes surprised me by appearing from between the vines and saying ‘bonjour’ as they made their way along the rows; a lot of the work seems to be done by hand.

More grape vines

More grape vines

I nearly went up to Cognac, but it would have added about 30km on to the day and I’m trying to force myself to slow down a bit, in preparation for some hard work over the Pyrenees.

Hotel de Ville - Chateauneuf-sur-Charente

Hotel de Ville – Chateauneuf-sur-Charente

As with yesterday I managed to zone out a bit as I cycled along, whilst still remembering to drink lots of water. This helps the kilometres fly by, as well as the hills, and meant I could give more thought to book writing; got a few ideas coming along nicely.

After Jonzac it was on to Montendre, through more wine country, and then some forest which provided a nice change. The countryside as well as architecture is really looking like the South of France now; the smell reminds me of living just outside Marseille near the Calanques – dry and pines.

I stopped at a supermarket in Montendre for some lunch, enjoying the cold aisles for a bit, and downing a litre of chocolate milk which was absolute bliss. It must have been over 30 degrees, and it’s due to get hotter, however at least I’m acclimatising to it and when cycling you always have a breeze. It’s strange to think that a month and a half ago I was in Northern Scandinavia with temperatures just above freezing; bit of a contrast.

My destination today was Le Maine Blanc campsite, however I pedalled past it to Saint Christoly-sur-Blaye to get a few supplies first, before returning, setting up, and going straight to the swimming pool. I could definitely get used to campsites having swimming pools, long may it continue! Le Maine Blanc is an excellent campsite, in the countryside with lots of shaded pitches, and fairly peaceful aside from the faint noise of the autoroute which isn’t that far away.

Dinner consisted of Camembert and baguette, fruit and biscuits, with a glass or two of Rose to wash it all down with; would be rude not to sample the local wine after cycling through so many vineyards. I did some planning, then retired for the evening listening to the sound of frogs ribbeting in the surrounding woods.

–> 26 June
Today was a shorter day, covering 78km in about 5hrs as I wanted to spend some time in Bordeaux. This proved a good decision; Bordeaux ranks up in the top 3 cities I’ve visited so far on this tour.

The temperature definitely went over 30 degrees today, hitting 33 at one point but I think it topped even that. Someone at the campsite mentioned it’s due to go up to 40 degrees Celsius next week, around Bordeaux anyway, but it might be cooler in Northern Spain around the mountains; although that might just be wishful thinking. I’m very much looking forward to starting the Camino de Santiago in about a week’s time.

I’d slept well in my shady spot at Le Maine Blanc, and as a result was up and on the road by 09.00, keen to make sure I made the 10.30 ferry across from Blaye to Lamarque, just down from Fort Medoc; Medoc being the next wine region on my route. I’d decided to take the ferry over the Gironde, rather than stay East of it and go down to Bordeaux that way, as the Western side looked quieter and was purportedly good for cycling.

As it turned out I made it in plenty of time, as it was only 16km to Blaye, and mostly flat, so I stopped at a boulangerie and bought second breakfast; France is very good on the second breakfast front.

I had a quick pedal around Blaye, and arrived at the queue for the ferry just as the boat pulled in; another advantage of cycling is you can go straight to the front of the queue. There’s a big citadel in Blaye, presumably built to defend against English ships coming up the Gironde to attack Bordeaux; I wonder if I should call them British ships or English ships? Whilst looking at the citadel I had a chat with a French cyclist out for day’s ride; he wished me ‘Bon route’ et ‘Bon courage’.

I boarded the ferry along with a number of motorcyclists, and lots of cars, for the short crossing over the Gironde. It must have been about 3km in total; nice scenery and a pleasant break that gave me a chance to eat my croissants and pain-au-chocolat before Lobster finished them all.

From Lamarque, where the church bells tolled 11.00, I rode through more vineyards, each with their own sign; there are loads of them and I wonder if some are owned cooperatively, with everyone pitching in to take care of the vines. I also spotted a group of young workers, who might’ve been travellers earning a few quid before going on to their next destination; pretty hard work in this heat – at least I get a breeze.

I passed a lot of buildings called chateau, but not all of them looked chateau-like. Perhaps that’s just what each building that’s central to a vineyard ends up being called, whatever it looks like. I enjoyed riding through the flat countryside, and spotted lots of wildlife today, including buzzards, Goldfinches, Black Kites, Swallows, cows (thanks for the reminder Lobster) and two Coipo – one alive and shuffling into the reeds next to the river, and one unfortunately dead, probably hit by vehicle.

It was a hot ride down to Bordeaux, some of it alongside the Gironde, and then the Garonne, and some of it on back-streets as I followed a diversion around road works. I had to negotiate a lot of bumpy cobbles again, which always fill me with fear that something is going to break, however there were no issues on this occasion.

The ride down the esplanade alongside the river to the centre set the scene for Bordeaux, a magnificent city, and one that I knew little about beforehand. According to Wikipedia it was founded by a Celtic tribe, then the Romans came along and introduced wine growing, which has persisted in the area ever since. I believe there are still Roman remains in the city however I’m not sure if I saw any as I meandered about its narrow streets, then wide boulevards and squares.

I think I prefer Bordeaux to Paris, which might be a bit controversial, but it has the same appeal from a historical and architectural point of view, and was far less packed when I visited; much easier to relax and take it in. I enjoyed a walk around the antiques quarter, then had a ‘Baguette Steake Frites’ at the Esplanade Des Quinconces. The square is massive, and home to the Monument aux Girondins; a tribute to a group of ‘deputes Girondes’ executed during the French revolution, and regarded as heroes of the republic.

After a quick trip to the tourist information, where I acquired  map, I headed down to the Miroir D’Eau, next to the river, which is essentially a large open area where water slowly trickles up from the paving stones, and occasionally mists the area; very refreshing on a hot day and the ‘miroir’ was packed with people relaxing in the sunshine. I had a paddle, and was spotted on a webcam by the ‘stalkers’ from Norwich; good job!

From there I walked through the shopping district, which was positively bustling, then headed to the Cathedral before making my way out of the city.

Bordeaux is definitely worth a visit, with lots to see and a great atmosphere. One thing I realised latterly; I didn’t see anyone begging or homeless, which is in stark contrast to other cities I’ve passed through, and I couldn’t tell you why this is the case. Maybe Bordeaux is too remote, or the authorities move people on.

My intended destination for the night was Gradignan and the Beausoleil campsite, about 10km outside Bordeaux. To get there I rode through the university district, arriving at the campsite about 17.00, and feeling very hot. Whilst the small campsite was fine for one night, it didn’t have any shade, and was lacking the swimming pool I’m getting used to, so I decided I’d move on in the morning rather than take a rest day.

Beausoleil camping, Gradignan

Beausoleil camping, Gradignan

I nipped up to a local shop and bought melon and taboule for dinner, as well a couple of Grimbergen Blonde beers just to keep my calorie count up, then managed to find some shade to relax in for a couple of hours. Two Spanish motorcylists arrived at the campsite, on their way to Kiev, and I chatted to them for a bit, before calling it a day once the sun had gone down and my tent had sufficiently cooled to permit sleep without slow-cooking myself.

Tomorrow I plan a short ride down towards the coast near Acarchon, rather than follow the Eurovelo 3 route inland which seems to bend about a lot and I’m not sure why. The coastal route down to the border with Spain, near Biarritz, looks very pleasant, with a marked cycle route and miles of forest and beach to enjoy. I’m also more likely to meet people and maybe find some fun activities to do if I go that way. Whatever happens it’ll be an interesting side-trek before I cut back inland to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, and the start of the Camino de Santiago. Tomorrow is also a bit of a rest day, which’ll hopefully involve getting some washing done in-between doing some lounging, however the next few days will, touch wood, be pretty relaxing as I slow down in order to rendezvous with my parents in Spain.

Hope all is well back in the UK, and summer has properly arrived; I haven’t looked a the news in a while, and intend to try and avoid it for the most part, but let me know if it all goes bad for Greece; fingers crossed it won’t but can’t see how they’ll get out of the current crisis.

05 & 06 June 2015 – to Bad Bramstedt and Hamburg

After an entertaining evening with Claudio, Larissa, Alex and Romulus I had a bit of a late start on 05 June, and still half asleep I left my shampoo in the campsite shower; won’t be the last time. I think there’s something karmic about leaving shampoo in campsite showers, as generally you find someone else has done the same at one of your subsequent campsites, and you can use that instead.

Morning in Jarplund; Stuttgart crew heading off to Flensburg

Morning in Jarplund; Stuttgart crew heading off to Flensburg

Claudio headed off early to get to a nearby garage for a tyre change before Iceland, and the others pedalled into Flensburg for a day’s sightseeing. It was good to meet them all, and probably marks the start of running into more tourers at campsites now I’m further South, and the touring season has started in earnest.

Sunny day in Jarplund - thumbs up to meeting more folks on the road

Sunny day in Jarplund – thumbs up to meeting more folks on the road

I set off about 10.00, and had a great day’s riding down to Bad Bramstedt, most of it on cycle paths, or pavement doubling as cycle paths that run next to the road. I covered 119km in 6 hours and 45 minutes of pedalling, but was on the road for quite a bit longer than that due to a puncture repair session. Here’s a link to my route and stats for 05 June:

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/794919245

The only drawback of riding on some of the marked cycle paths, especially in the towns, is they’re a bit juddery, and can be stop/starty due to junctions, so I have to admit I didn’t use them all the time as it made progress too slow and increased discomfort in various body parts.

My route took me down to Schleswig, and on through gorgeous countryside, often lovely woodland; a lot of it Beech which is my favourite.

Riding through Beech woodland

Riding through Beech woodland

It was the hottest day of my tour yet, and the first time I’ve worn only one layer; just my Icebreaker top, plus my lightweight buff under my cycle helmet to stop sunburn on receding spots and the back of my neck.

Schleswig waterfront

Schleswig waterfront

Close to Dannewerk I decided to follow a cycle route that pointed in the right direction, disappearing into farmland. I was a little dubious as to what the route would turn into, after yesterday’s experiences on Route 8, but thought I’d give it a go.

Pedalling through farmland following a marked cycle route

Pedalling through farmland following a marked cycle route

It started off well enough but deteriorated into a farm track, which the bike coped with fine, but it knocked me about a bit; no suspension!

Cycle route turns expedition like near Dannewerk

Cycle route turns expedition like near Dannewerk

I think there must be an airbase near Dannewerk, as I’m pretty sure that’s what I passed at one point. I also passed a lot of wind turbines, doing their bit to help save the environment. I hope they checked the areas for bats, as wind turbines can have unfortunate effects on these delicate creatures due to the air pressure changes they create; causes bats to haemorrhage. Nearly everything humankind does has some sort of adverse impact on another species, even if we think we’re doing right; wind turbines can screw with bats and birds, tidal power with whales and dolphins. It’s a bit depressing really however I guess it’s a case of choosing the lesser of evils; got to be better than fossil fuelled power-stations.

Pedalling past lots of wind turbines

Pedalling past lots of wind turbines

I reached the 60km mark and noticed my front tyre was going flat. This was slightly vexing, but on such a fine day it was going to take a lot to annoy me. And besides, I was able to stop next to the village bakery/ice-cream shop so it wasn’t all bad.

Puncture repair in Hohn, Lobster claiming he's trying to help but pincers make it awkward

Puncture repair in Hohn, Lobster claiming he’s trying to help but pincers make it awkward

On examining the inner tube the last patch had come loose, maybe due to a combination of hot weather and friction. I tried to patch it but it wouldn’t take for some reason; I might’ve rushed it. I stopped for an ice-cream break to consider my next course of action.

Ice-cream break in Hohn

Ice-cream break in Hohn

Whilst mulling things over, and trying to keep Lobster away from MY ice-cream, a friendly local pointed me in the direction of a bike shop a few hundred metres down the road. Great I thought, I can just get a new inner tube. Unfortunately they didn’t have an inner tube in the right size, which is an issue I’ve previously had on this tour, however I dug out an old one I’d repaired from my panniers and put that on instead. It’s still going over 100m later so the repair job seems to have been a good one, touch wood. I’ll definitely be buying a few spares in Hamburg.

After a protracted break I got back to it and rode to the Nord Ostee Kanal, which I had to cross via a car ferry; only a short jaunt across the canal.

I still had quite a way to go to get down to Bad Bramstedt, so after the canal tried to speed up a bit, making good progress, aside from on the cobbled bits.

German roads often cobbled through villages

German roads often cobbled through villages

Riding along wooded roads very pleasant and shaded

Riding along wooded roads very pleasant and shaded

I arrived at Campingplatz Rolande in Bad Bramstedt a little later than anticipated, but reception was still open; I think the owner lives on site as he was wandering about doing stuff for most of the evening, including trying to speak to me in German which whilst appreciated wasn’t very successful as far as a two-way conversation goes.

The Campingplatz Rolande is a little small and quite noisy, but did the job for me after a fairly long and hot day in the saddle. The owner was able to supply me with a couple of cold beers which went down a treat.

Cold beer always brings a smile to my face

Cold beer always brings a smile to my face

Note – beard still present, decision still pending on its fate.

I passed quite a lot of other cycle tourers today, including one guy looking very relaxed on a recumbent. I noticed a lot of them seemed to be around retirement age, or older. I guess people have more time on their hands for touring once they’re retired, however I wonder if this was just today’s sample or if the trend will continue; great to see people travelling by bike well into their sixties and possibly seventies though.

I spent the rest of the evening trying to decide what to do next, settling on a short leg tomorrow to a campsite just on the outskirts of Hamburg, followed by a hostel for one night on Sunday. This will allow me to see a bit of the city, whilst not getting trapped there for too long, and it’ll save on money too; hostels are expensive on Saturday nights. It’ll also give me a chance to do some laundry! I need to think about getting Smaug serviced, as I’m pretty sure he’ll need a new chain soon, and maybe a new rear cassette, and the stand needs tightening; don’t have the right allen key and too wobbly to use at present.

Top tip: If there a flying bugs in your tent, and I had quite a lot mine, shine your torch into the porch area to lure them out, then shut the door quickly; worked well for me.

Luring the bugs out of my tent via head torch

Luring the bugs out of my tent via head torch

–> 06 June 2015

I had a rather broken night’s sleep, partly due to passing traffic which proved pretty noisy, but also due to the massive thunderstorm that struck about 03.00. I didn’t get out of my tent to watch, as I could quite happily see the lightning flashing from inside, followed by thunder and heavy rain. Thankfully I stayed dry again, and it probably explained all the thunder flies around earlier.

Today’s ride was just a short 38km down to the outskirts of Hamburg, which only took around 2 and half hours, at a pretty slow pace. Here’s a link to the route and stats:

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/795595199

Not a lot to report from the ride. I did go around some road closed signs at one point, and just carried on to the next bit; they were resurfacing, but no-one was working on Saturday, and it was fine to cross the short stretch by bike.

Road closed - thou shalt not pass, unless you're on a bike

Road closed – thou shalt not pass, unless you’re on a bike

I made it down to the Knaus Campingpark in Hamburg just before midday, and checked in. To my surprise there was another cycle tourer with a Hilleburg Akto Tent right next to my spot. Yannick is from Belgium and currently touring up to Norway. It as great to meet up and chat about routes, bikes and share a few stories.

Another tourer with a Hilleburg Akto

Another tourer with a Hilleburg Akto

As the day progressed 3 more cycle tourers turned up, however I’ve only spoken to them briefly so far as I’ve been busy doing laundry, and a bit of bike cleaning/maintenance. One couple are on their way up to Sweden for some island hopping, so we shared a few route suggestions.

Laundry dome and drying; feeling accomplished

Laundry dome and drying; feeling accomplished

I’ve also discovered that, at least so far, MasterCard isn’t so widely accepted in Germany. This proved a problem whilst trying to get supplies in an Aldi earlier. I ended up having to take some cash out on my debit card, which’ll cost a lot more than using my Prepaid Travel card; something I’ll have to prepare for in Germany, however I reckon l be able to use it more easily in the centre of Hamburg.

That’s all for today. Blog now up-to-date. Tomorrow I head into Hamburg for some sightseeing, but also to visit a bike shop or two to top-up on inner tubes and get a couple of things fixed.

04 June 2015 – willkommen in Deutschland

I woke up and listened; only a faint rustling of the tent canvas, the wind had dropped, and it was sunny! Could this be the glorious day’s cycling I’d been waiting for?

Morning in Svendborg - glorious day

Morning in Svendborg – glorious day

Feeling buoyed by the thought that today was going to be a good’un, and with a new country in my sights, I was up, breakfasted and packed in good time. The campsite cat brought me a present, a mouse wrapped in leaves, which was a bit odd, and then ducks started following me around.

Stalked by Mallards

Stalked by Mallards

When the goats in the mini zoo started bleating I started to wonder if I’d developed Dr Doolittle traits overnight, or maybe this was all a dream and I was in fact still asleep, and it wasn’t such a nice day after all. Not wanting to consider the latter a possibility I got on the road quick.

Svendborg Sund Camping morning view 2

Svendborg Sund Camping morning view 2

There were plenty of people up early, paddling in canoes, or sailing in small yachts down the narrow stretch of water between the campsite and Svendborg. It all felt very relaxed and holiday like.

Goodbye Mallard

Goodbye Mallard

I rode over the bridge to Svendborg and then turned left, following nice cycle paths alongside the road to Faaborg. The scenery was more varied and interesting than yesterday, with a few hills thrown in for good measure.

It was so nice to be cycling without a headwind. I hardly looked at my Odometer, and could just relax and enjoy the sunshine and countryside. Before long I reached Bojden, just as the ferry arrived from Fynshav; a short 10km crossing to Als and Jutland.

After enjoying a hot chocolate and pastry on the ferry I pedalled on from Fynshav to Sonderborg, which didn’t seem to take very long, arriving in time for lunch. I walked through the town stopping to buy a hotdog from one of the many purveyors of such fine foodstuffs.

Sonderborg and first hotdog of the day

Sonderborg and first hotdog of the day

Hotdogs in Denmark appear to be very popular, with several different varieties. I preferred the Ristet, which comes inside a bun and is topped with pickled cucumber, crispy onions, mustard, ketchup, and remoulade.

Lots of people out in cafes in Sonderborg

Lots of people out in cafes in Sonderborg

Needing to use up my Danish Krone and I decided I’d eat my way through the rest of Denmark, and had another Ristet for good measure; I’ve been losing too much weight anyway, at least that was my excuse.

Sonderborg waterfront

Sonderborg waterfront

I paused on the bridge out of Sonderborg, hoping that the folks at home might be able to see me on the webcam, but also to stop as the middle section was raised for a boat to come through. Unfortunately I couldn’t delay long as it was just too busy, and I’m not sure I timed it right for the webcam. I cycled on to Dybol, then turned South and crossed the small island before rejoining Jutland; lovely quiet roads and cycle paths again.

Marina - Egernsund

Marina – Egernsund

I followed the Route 8 cycle path a lot of the time, not out of any particular design, it was just going in the right direction. I was also having a day of being open to possibilities, so if I saw a cycle track or nice road that went the way I wanted it to, I took it. I rode down the side of Flensburger Ford, through a number of small towns. This is obviously quite a big tourist spot, and very beautiful, with some lovely yachts out on the water (when I win the lottery etc).

After relaxing next to the Fjord for a bit, and of course taking on vital nourishment, I thought I’d better get on with the task at hand. I continued to follow Route 8, which decided to take me off-road and through the woods for a bit, as I got closer to the border with Germany.

Route 8 goes off road

Route 8 goes off road

It was slightly awkward cycling for a bit, and my bike developed an annoying squeak which I couldn’t identify the source of; it’s still doing occasionally now, a few days later, and I don’t know what’s causing it – I’d better investigate further in case it’s a problem that’s going to get worse.

Route 8 - the forest continues

Route 8 – the forest continues

I finally made it out of the trees, which had provided some welcome shade and smelt nice, and could see Germany across the bay. There was a beach and people swimming; in fact one cyclist arrived in the spot below and decided to go for a swim; I nearly joined them.

Route 8 - that's Germany over there

Route 8 – that’s Germany over there

In this case I resisted the temptation of a dip, as I needed to get through Flensburg, and carried on towards the border. I was keeping an eye out for customs officials as I’d seen a few signs suggesting they might patrol round here, but didn’t see any. In  fact, when I got back on the road, I barely noticed crossing into Germany.

Beach just across the border in Germany

Beach just across the border in Germany

For some reason my Garmin decided to switch off at this point, so I had to restart it and my route tracking, hence there are two links to today’s ride; a total of 119km pedalled in 6 hours and 45 minutes:

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/793985036

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/793991399

I was in country number 6 of this tour! I rode on to Flensburg and walked through some of the city. Again there were a lot of tourists out and about, enjoying the sunshine and street cafes. Flensburg looks nice, with some lovely older parts to it.

The cobbled streets were slightly jarring on my still wonky hand, and always make me worry about my wheels, however I made it through and cycled South the Jarplund, where the ACSI app on my phone told me there was a campsite. It was a bit of a maze getting out of Flensburg whilst trying to avoid the busier main roads, and stay on cycle paths. I made it to the campsite but had to go around the houses a bit to get there.

At the campsite I met up with 3 other cycle tourers from Stuttgart, as well as an Italian motorcyclist from Italy; Larissa, Romulus, Alex and Claudio. Claudio is on his way to Iceland, and will be getting the ferry with his motorbike from North Denmark; there are a limited number of ways of getting to Iceland by ferry. Larissa, Alex and Romulus were just finishing a week of touring around Northern Germany, and are heading home on Saturday; Romulus has done loads of cycle touring in the past though.

Campsite in Jarplund - fun evening with new friends

Campsite in Jarplund – fun evening with new friends

Needless to say a fun evening was had, with a few beers and lots of chat about Europe, travelling, politics, and the economy, to name but a few topics. Claudio cooked pasta for everyone which was most welcome; in fact he kept producing food from his motorbike panniers. Thanks Claudio! Hopefully I’ll meet up with the all somewhere on the road in the future.

One thing about a new country – you have to relearn things in the supermarkets; took me about twice as long to pick up supplies, however at least they still have mountains of Haribo still.

All in all, a splendid day!