Reaching the 20,000km target.

Most people reading this will know the story of this adventure. In summary, I was finishing work, had signed up for the World Cycle Challenge (later cancelled), then planned a 12 month trip with complete stranger. We were aiming to ride 20,000 km over 5 continents in 12 months and I would be raising money forThe Homeless World Cup.  Unfortunately, my mom then got ill so, following a second initial cancellation,  the trip then changed to various five month journeys heading home between. The target to cycle 20,000km of course over 12 months remained.

John and I eventually started our ride in July 2012 and one year later we’re still going and 19, 178 km later we arrived in San Foca, Southern Italy.Our final destination in this part of our trip. We will be in South East Asia when we hit 20,000km.

I first learnt that John had never pitched a tent as we started our journey in Seattle. However, despite this minor lack of experience we were both soon experts at our daily camp routine and after 1812 km we arrived at San Francisco. This part of our trip was always intended as the easy intro as John and I got used to travelling, riding and each other. We had met only three times before that.




Despite some hot climbs we would be in Japan when the first tests really started. It was sticky, sweaty and very hilly. It took a few days before we would recognise the Japanese characters for hotel and consequently ended up stuck for accommodation on a few occasions. Food was expensive and while we did indulge we eventually become familiar with the full range of pot noodles on offer.





Following a stop over in Hong Kong we would soon be signing up for what we both would find the most physical challenge we had ever undertaken, despite running marathons and of course the miles on the bike. While Japan was hot and hilly, Nepal was mountainous and wet. Only as we ended our tour did our guide say that we were the only people he had known or known of to take touring bikes and panniers over the Thorong-la pass. Rain, cold showers, diarrhoea, painfully sore feet,precarious bridges and altitude being just some of the regular challenges we would face to this mountain pass standing at 5416m. While the usual reward for a climb is a fabulous downhill in this case it would prove even harder as we held firmly onto our bikes that were determined to reach the bottom before we would!


Two months around India followed. This was my third trip to a country that I love and that has been a big influence to me. It was great to be back and even better to be there on my bike. The opportunity to explore and travel outside key tourist areas, eat local food and really experience Indian hospitality and kindness leaving me once again with a desire to return. That was then the end to our first “stage”.


It was good to be home yet also strange to be without my cycle buddy. Soon we would join a further fifty riders as we began our journey from Cairo to Capetown. I found it very hard at times to make the adjustment from independent riding to a supported tour. Despite this we arrived in Capetown and while  I enjoyed feeling free again as we headed off around the Western Cape on our own I had appreciated the support of our group and the new friends we had made. An amazing experience.



We’re in Italy as I write this. Full of reflection on the year that has been. Full still of excitement of the year that is to come. Putting off being full of nerves of what will come next.

I noted in my last blog that while this was primarily a personal journey I was also raising money for The Homeless World Cup. I hope if this journey has been inspiring or if you recognise that riding Thorong-la, the length of Africa or Alps d’huez with panniers has made you think “woah” that this may transpire into a small donation. The Homeless World Cup 2013 has just taken place in Poland. While not a big football lover myself I do love to see the difference this tournament makes. I like that it’s real. Simple ideas making a massive difference.


Surely riding 45km naked through Namibia deserves some sponsorship!!

To answer a critic

I received an email from an old friend the other day. I’ve always believed good friends should be comfortable and able to say as they think, not holding back. That said, I trust they come from a place of compassion and kindness as opposed to malition, jealousy or frustration. I don’t know where this email came from emotionally but it upset me.

To summarise:
1. I’m not actually cycling around the world but just taking an extended holiday and keep flying to various parts of the globe.
2. I have not really given up the rat race but am merely spending the money I previously made.
3. I am not doing something for charity but asking people for money for something I want to do anyway.

I didn’t and don’t feel the need to justify my trip. Yet in being honest both on my blog and as ever to myself and incase others think the same….this is my journey.

I signed up to quite literally cycle the world. It was to be a supported trip of 18, 000 miles in 9 months. Unfortunately it was cancelled though as it happened that turned out to be a good thing. Given this I had then arranged a 12 month tour with another of the guys who had signed up. Then I received very bad news about my mothers health and that was when the itinerary changed to a series of shorter trips thereby enabling me to return home and check in. So that is why my trip is not continous. Personally I’m comfortable with that.

As it happens this has proved to next to be a good way to travel. Family and friends are pretty important to me. I love that I am able to keep in touch other than by email, Skype etc. They help shape, challenge, encourage and support this girl who was looking for something new to do. Since my mid twenties I was on a career path. Gradually gaining more responsibility, earning promotion and increasing pay. I worked hard for my MBA qualification then moved to Scotland. I enjoyed my work and will of course need to return to this. At the moment I don’t know how that will transpire but for now at least I have been bold enough to do something different. Personally I’m comfortable with that.

I recognise I’m very fortunate to now be in a position where, following the sale of a house, I can take this time to live my dream. I do still have my home and yes, I could have just given my money directly to charity but I wanted to travel.  Yes, primarily this is a trip for me. I have never said anything different to that. However I hoped I could inspire others and raise money for a good cause along the way. No money raised goes to my trip, it all goes directly to the charity I chose to support. Personally I’m comfortable with that.

Sometimes we do things and our friends and family ask questions. It’s their job. I only hope they understand and if they don’t….well, I’m still comfortable with that too.

The road to recovery…tarmac and the economy.

The roads changed dramatically and with immediate effect as soon as we passed over the border into Italy. While a continuation of the same piece of tarmac it was hard now to avoid a variety of potholes, sunken drains and bumpy repairs. Given the thinking time a bike ride then allows you it made me start thinking about the places we have travelled and what the roadside view can tell us of the local economy.

In terms of GDP listings for 2013 it is the USA that comes out on top; Japan is third and they would both certainly fair well in the tarmac states too. Nepal (105) had fallen down bridges, often based on bribes for poor workmanship. India (10th) faired well unless taking local shortcuts and roads were great through France (5th) and then we crossed the border( Italy, 9th)

It is of course not so simple to say a good road equals a good economy but we know and can see from Africa that a lack of basic infrastructure means an economy that is very slow to grow. While the big multi nationals can find a away to make this work if it’s worthwhile ( I think particularly here of Coca-Cola and their ability to get soft drinks/water to the most remote villages) it is this lack of transport links that is one reason why product all stays local and export/import is much more difficult.

Without doubt our worst roads to date have been around Napoli. In addition to the many potholes and drains we have also been dodging litter from uncollected waste. We have seen more broken glass in this short section of our ride than the rest of our trip put together. Lawlessness and a real attitude of not caring or being unable to do anything to fix problems in this area only adds to a country struggling economically. As we made our way on the cobbled streets towards Pompeii I couldn’t help but think of the great Roman roads of time gone by.

Ironically our best road to date was in Sudan (71). Mile after mile of fresh, smooth tarmac. It was of course also one of the poorer areas we travelled through yet here comes China, 2nd on the gdp list…for it is they who made this investment.

Aside from potholes I am also interested in entrepreneurialism given my previous work in this field. We don’t see many street stalls randomly placed in the UK. Inevitably you would need permission, a license and entrepreneurial spirit and a sense of get up and go. To some degree we have made it both too easy and too hard for people. In India, Africa and Italy we cycled past numerous stalls selling fruit and vegetables, see pop up stalls of souvenirs, cleaning products, sunglasses etc. In Africa supplies even came to us on local scooters or donkey carts. In the UK this is harder to find. It’s also why things like The Big Issue are great ideas. Entrepreneurial activity isn’t just about money. It says much more than that.

Of course this is all just a way of words to some degree – you can find correlation if you’re looking for it. that said, given we still have countries to ride through that fall much further down the list I rather selfishly hope they too may have had a little tarmac investment. Cambodia is at 119…..

…… suspension please!

Green cheese and ham

For me, in addition to riding my bike one of the other key pleasures of travel has to be the food. In America we ate burgers of course….and they did not disappoint. Japan was sushi and noodles and again we were satisfied. Nepal offered us Dahl Bhat, their version of a thali with a variety of vegetables and curry with refills until full. Then there was India.  We ate like kings, slowly working our way through the full range of street food, south Indian thali and rich North Indian curries.

Despite miles on the bike,  weight loss had occurred only in Nepal due to illness – not quite the original plan.

I noted to friends that I would try my best to “diet” on the next section of the trip. Taking in enough calories to ride but not too many for the beach! Knowing I was heading for France and Italy most of my friends just laughed. I love most food, including fine French cuisine, pizza, pasta and of course the wine. However, I have to say that after pretty much the same meal every day now since the start of July I am bored. To almost quote Dr Seuss  “I do not like green cheese or ham”.

Cheese, bread and ham for breakfast and lunch has taken its toll. Travelling on a bike tour means no fridge, limited carrying capacity and of course we have a tighter budget than you may have on a two week holiday. While not quite pani-aqua like the clean tour definitely France riders we have very much been fromage-pani-aqua.  Since moving from France through to Italy the only real variety has moved from fromage de chevre to mozzarella. I need something spicy!

I have always enjoyed the regionalism one finds in France and Italy. In the UK now chicken tikka has often been voted the nations favourite dish. While perhaps at times we are not patriotic enough I love the fact that on leaving my Edinburgh flat I can eat cuisine from all over the world. Striking the balance between national pride and living in a multicultural society is not always an easy balance but without suggesting all is perfect I am extremely proud to come from a country with such a variety of cultures and experience…..

And I’m looking forward to a curry on my brief return!

Via Roma?


They say all roads lead to Rome and while strictly speaking of course this is not true as we continue on our journey this is certainly the direction we are heading. Following the Tour de France we continued over the Alps into Italy. We had been heading up hill since Grenoble and it would continue like this for some time.

Leaving Bourg d’osian we made our way up to Le Grave, up to Guilliestre, passed over Col de Vars, passed over Col de Larche, passed over Col de Lauterat and then finally….Italy!


We had followed the summit countdown posts through France and on reaching the top we searched for the final sign. This marker acted as a finishing line, a congratulations and of course the obligatory photograph. Alas, other than the “respect” and “chapeau” from the male racer group I received (I loved that bit!) it appears the Italian border did not offer the same rewards. Instead, there was a just a closed tax free off licence…..and a fabulous downhill.

Hairpin after hairpin, the road curved at around a 12% gradient. It was early, the road was quiet and the only challenge we faced was getting the balance between stopping for photos or just going whoosh…


Despite days of climbing our descent downwards, while lasting for quite a few kilometres, would go much faster and our day would still end with the obligatory uphill, this time into camp. Our France trip was complete and we were now on schedule for Rome. The next target being a date at The Vatican on the 5th August. We had prearranged plans for an appointment there, though as far as I’m aware not with the Pope!

With the Alps behind us we were looking forward to a few easier days and some warmer weather. The temperature quickly rose and we have been riding at 30 to 35 degrees ever since…as for the hills…well, they continued!

We headed to the Cinque terre, an area referring to five beautifully positioned old fishing villages. Colourfully painted houses and vineyards perched on cliff edges hugging the coastline and providing dramatic photos and steep climbs. While based on a  great camp site in Lavanto  we were left with plenty time to explore and to watched a fabulous firework show over the sea.


Climbing out we soon found ourselves in the “rolling” hills of Tuscany. More stunning scenery and yet more uphill.


It was time to see the coast again to see if it had flattened out yet….

The result? … No.


We continued on our way only to soon find out that not all roads do lead to Rome – at least, not any suitable for bike travel.

Riding down from Monticello Amiato we were making great progress, aiming for a camp at Talamone, next to the sea. It was 1030 am and we were hoping to reach camp early. No rush, a  cool dip in the sea and perhaps an icecream or so. Then we reached a significant junction.

We have a map of all of Italy with us and while it has more detail than our map of all of India ever had there are of course more roads and more traffic. Thijs, our Dutch friend with us for this section, had a GPS and had  downloaded maps. I had a new GPS but no maps and no idea how it yet works! To date the GPS had provided fabulous alternative and scenic routes (though do remember read hilly into scenic) yet for this section it listed only the highway.

Illegal for bikes and quite frankly way too dangerous this was not a route I wished to take. It was south to Rome and clearly signposted. North led us to Grosetto. Turning round, well that was  a big uphill. While it was in the opposite direction we had no choice. Grosetto was our only option. We would try tourist information to see if they could help. We were stuck.

We had tried to find tourist info points befor having followed signs on three occasions. All to no avail. On the one occasion we were successful we then found a five hour lunch break meant our search was yet again a waste of time. As luck would have it this time there were signs, an office and a really helpful receptionist. Unfortunately she’d met cycle tourists before in Grosetto. Stuck – just like we were. While some had taken their chances on the highway the only other option south was the train.

Bikes loaded we went to Orbetello then Tarquinia the following day. From there we were back on Via Roma.



With some busier traffic, hundreds of potholes and three punctures we finally arrived at our destination. We were  in Rome.

Now all we need to do is find Via Roma to get out again though we have a few days to worry about that. For now, we have a Collesseum, 40000 fountains and a trip to the smallest country in the world (aka The Vatican ) to go and explore.