On being a girl.

At home I have over 180 pairs of shoes, mostly impractical, mainly high heeled and a number with an accompanying handbag. Clothes for all occasions, lipsticks in almost every shade and too many toiletries to fit in the bathroom. I sleep in a four poster bed, adorned with six pillows and keep blankets behind the sofa for when it gets a bit chilly. All in all, pretty comfy, pretty girly and no doubt way over the top. Well, we all have our vices.

Now, obviously given I enjoy a bike ride and have run a few marathons in my time, I’m not frightened of sweating, looking a bit rubbish momentarily and getting muddy splashing through puddles.Despite taking a hairdryer to Glastonbury festival, I am very much able to leave the house with scruffy hair and no make up.

This trip however has been something else. Yesterday I cut my own hair….with a swiss army knife; I carry just one lippy….yet to be used on this tour and; I have just two pairs of shoes…one pair with cleats for riding and the other, some crocs, lightweight and suitable to wear with socks if needed. However, before you go thinking all is lost, I do have one silk dress for those smarter occasions; still carry a large bottle of conditioner to avoid dreadlocks (already done that!), shave my legs ( like all serious bikers!) and insist on matching underwear.

Consequently, I carry more luggage than my companion and I do always look to explain why. This, is in part then, some of the background to this blog on cycle touring – the female perspective. If this has already been too much for male readers then I strongly suggest you pause……and probably even wait till the next blog update.


Still reading…..ok then. Here goes.

Periods. Quite frankly they are literally a pain. Legs ache, stomach hurts and finding frequent enough toilet stops in some places on our tour has been impossible.

Having made a strong case for conditioner (Asian women tend to use oils), suncream (often not available in high enough factors outside tourist areas) and additional items of clothes I required (bras, sports bras and just extra cus I feel the cold more ) I decided that I could reduce the tampon selection down to a months worth. Unlike Africa, where I took enough to last the trip and beyond, I figured South East Asia would be better. Wrong. Really worryingly wrong. Cycle shorts are already not a girls best friend, they already come with padding and as a Caucasian in such high temperatures with even higher humidity the alternative…well, I didn’t want to find out. And tell me, why is you travel for weeks, staying in rooms with1970s bed linen, until the first days of a period when crisp white sheets suddenly appear to be the new norm! Sometimes you just have to smile.

I’d tried the pill on my first trip but there’s only so many months you can do that continuously. Dealing with unpredictability and then the results of a four month block were even worse. Tampons are the only solution…..if you carry enough or  can find them. In the recent trip through Malaysia I spent three consecutive days in numerous mini-marts, a couple of larger supermarkets and a number of pharmacies -eventually I found some…32 to be precise. I bought all the shop had, parted with the equivalent of eight pounds  sterling and left the store with a huge smile. Eight quid! Ridiculous but I would have paid more if necessary. At least the monthly endurance would not see me hailed up in some cheap hotel room unable to ride simply cus it would be too messy to do so! Rest assured, I will definitely be stocking up in Bangkok despite additional baggage!

So, periods are a hassle, shopping on a bike tour is out of the question and taking a dip in the cool and inviting pool has also been a no no. I simply don’t carry a full length wet suit to hide every bit of my dry, peeling skin with odd cycle tan tans away from prying eyes! Thankfully, as we have now travelled beyond stricter Muslim areas my swimsuit is now deemed appropriate and I can even enjoy a cold beer at the end of the day. It’s not all bad.

The advantage of course, being the girl is just how impressed folk seem to be. Aside from the extra weight (!) it’s no harder for me but as we ride through places where it is most unusual to see female cyclists there is certainly a greater element of surprise when I rock up. I know more fellow riders cheered me up Alpe d’huez than the boys and people certainly seem go think it takes more guts to do this as a girl. Aside from the flippant rant and lack of tampons it’s pretty much the same. I’m glad I have a guy for company, I do feel safer but my gender makes me no braver than my  companion despite often getting more of the applause.

At some point I plan a blog on kit..a bit like revealing what lives in a womans handbag but for now, just to make you realise some femininity has been retained while taking weight allowance into account…. nailpolish. I’m off to paint my toe nails. Pink.

P.S. NO! I’ve not lost any weight yet!!

Selamat Datang Malaysia

“Welcome”, that’s what it means. You see it everywhere here….shops, hotels, restaurants and on entering new towns. For me it will really sum up my experience of Malaysia. This had been the most hospitable country we have travelled in so far.  Amazing.

It was on our second hotel check in, The Silver Inn at Batu Phahat,  that an old guy, struggling with his mobility, first approached us. “Welcome to Malaysia”. That was it. No long chat, Just a quick question to ask where we were from and he was off again. It had been an experience that has continued throughout Malaysia. Cars and trucks beep. Children wave and shout hello. Scooter riders chat at traffic lights. Random strangers show real acts of kindness and generosity.

We were on our way to Melaka where a local restaurant owner refused to charge us for breakfast. We had chatted to him as we tucked in to a typical Malay plate of rice, spicy sambhal and side dishes of fresh greens, peanuts and dried anchovies….toast here was rare!  Having studied himself  Glasgow and with a son also now in the UK there was plenty to talk about. On leaving he even supplied us with a selection of Malay sweets, flavoured with Rose essence and full of sugar…..perfect for a quick energy boost.

In addition to this we would continue to find that on two more occasions our breakfast needs were fully catered for. Another small family run, road side cafe refused payment and a second stranger, Hacheram,  bought us dosa and coffee at Batu caves. We were taken to dinner in Kuala Lumpur by Alexander, a facebook friend from the early days of the World Cycle Challenge and an old guy, who spoke no English and didn’t announce he was about to treat us, got us cold drinks on another refreshment stop.

People often ask us whether we feel safe as we make our journey. Do we not worry about robbers, of other vehicles etc etc. Of course, we are reasonably sensible….we avoid cycling in the dark, we are far from flashy and despite no wing mirrors I am pretty aware of what may be going on around me. While often warned to look our for the baddies it’s the goodies out there can really take you by surprise.It is so humbling to see such warmth and kindness being given to a complete stranger.

I am very much of the opinion that in embarking on any trip such as this, you have to take the view that most people in the world are good people. Regardless of money and personal circumstance the human race is generally kind and most individuals are proud of their country, their heritage and their people.

No one ever warned me to look out for the good guys but trust me, that can be just as scary.

Such kindness will never be forgotten.

The Captain is back!

Those of you who read my blog “bike swap nightmare ” will be aware that for the last section of my trip I had needed to borrow a friends tourer at the last minute in order that I could do the trip as planned. An incorrect sprocket had been fitted to my Rohloff hub gears meaning my belt drive would no longer fit. With this becoming apparent the day before we were booked on Eurostar to meet friends in Epernay there was no way it could be fixed in time. Apparently only one place in the UK had the tools needed to do the work. I was very fortunate to have a friend, Cath, close by who lent me her Specialised Rockhopper for my tour. Following a few adjustments, Bob, as he was named, was soon fit to ride. Despite being very grateful I was very pleased however to know that my custom bike would be ready for my South East Asia tour.

While I had been in France and Italy, The Captain was collected from John Atkins cycles in Leamington Spa to my usual bike store, Edinburgh Bike Co-op. The guys in Leamington had been really helpful but with Edinburgh now taking on the job of getting my bike back in working order I was left with little choice. I’d been very frustrated on finding I could not take my own bike and had been desperate to know how such a mistake had happened. The bike store had only been able to order the one sprocket available; suppliers did not say the system had changed; the next mechanics undertook the sprocket change without raising any questions. It seemed my predicament was due to a chain of human errors. All I could focus on now was getting my bike fixed for the next stage of my tour.

An upgraded belt had now been fitted  (thanks Edinburgh Bike Coop) and the wheel had been returned to Rohloff to check for any damage. Apparently all was now working though I would be in Singapore before I had the chance to test this out. All was good. The new belt was like velvet, revolving in near silence. Gears changed smoothly after a full hub service. The Captain was back.

The only thing to work on now would be the decor and boy, have I seen some ideas for that….



These machines certainly had more flowers than I’d ever seen on a bike before…and at night – well, that’s when they were really bling.



So, inspired by the tri-shaws in Melaka I purchased a set of L.E.D lights, 5 metres long, from one of the bikers there. I’m not sure I’ll fit them just yet but a marker has been set and I do think a rickshaw would make a great addition to my bike collection when I’m done.

20, 000km.

Wowsers. For the girl that hated sport at school this is a major miracle.

I was excited last night as I headed to bed. We were staying in a pretty rough and ready hotel, in a pretty general town with a pretty exciting day ahead. Give or take a few km and a bit of estimation here and there, this was the day I had calculated we would reach our 20, 000km target. We would be on route to Kuala Lumpur and somewhere around Klang, on the Western coast, we would reach what was our km marker.

I’d tried to get a banner printed -a souvenir to mark this sense of occasion. However, with just overnight stop overs in previous days this had not been possible. At least we’d get a glass of wine tonight.

The route into Kuala Lumpur would never be easy. Heading into a big city never is. In this case Google maps only saw toll roads and we only saw routes that looked like highways and out of bounds to us. We would just have to wing it.

We set off leaving Banting at around 730am. After 10km we spotted a convenient Indian coffee stop…sweet coffee, paratha and Dahl called. Breakfast. Ah.

Relaxed we were ready to continue our journey but as we looked outside to the never altering grey sky and felt the change in the air from our food stop seats we knew we would be in for an interesting journey.

While intellectually aware we were arriving at the end of the wet season, psychologically, we had not expected rain with such a regular occurrence. We were about to be drenched again. Seriously, there was more rain coming from the sky than we had seen fall from many a shower in our cheap hotel rooms. This was not just the end of the monsoon season. This was the monsoon season.

As water built up in our shoes, swooshing around our toes with each pedal stroke and levels rose as we splashed through hot water puddles, we smiled. We were about to say we had cycled 20, 000km. Who cares if our clothes had seen more water from passing trucks so far than they ever had in a laundromat. We were living the dream. Honest.

On approaching Klang it was obvious we were going to need to ask directions. The highway really did look out of bounds and we were stuck. Pulling in to a nearby garage we not only found hot coffee but also WiFi and a guy willing to help us plan a route. Out with the iPad and we soon had a plan. The highway it seemed had a separate motorbike/scooter lane we could use and while closed in parts this certainly made our ride much easier.

Despite a few 6 lane sections where we had to pray, join the traffic and ride for our lives the journey was relatively easy. With no  traffic-lights, no pedestrians and little else to concern us we really could up the tempo. I was still smiling. 20, 000km. Amazing.

After numerous stops to navigate and find our accomodation we eventually arrived at the Swiss Hotel…..not the posh one! We checked in, then moved rooms then returned this evening to find our power gone. (though quickly retrieved). Oh, the glamour of it all.  We did celebrate briefly with a beer from the 7-11 and a glass of wine for dinner. All in all….not bad.

It’s interesting reflecting back. Who would have ever thought a journey with a bloke you’ve only met three times would go on so long? Crazier still, we still have many more km planned. Who knows maybe we”ll celebrate another 20, 000km yet.

Just the two of us

With the exception of ten days in South Africa and three days in Italy, John and I had not ridden just the two of us since December 2012. Most of our trip in Africa had been with anywhere between 60 and 90 other folk. Through Italy and France we had been joined by Thijs, a Dutch rider we had met on that Africa trip. While meeting new people is a real joy of travel the addition of new folk to what has, over time, become quite a set dynamic can also be difficult.

In Africa it took me a while to adjust, slowly finding new people to ride with so John could go at his more natural pace, rather than having to wait for me. On our European leg it was noticeable that increasing our group size by 50 percent led to subsequent compromise and adaptation. While there are of course also many bonuses to being joined by others it’s also good to be back to our “routine”.

As Director of Strategy it’s my job to plan overall directions, assess risks and opportunities and propose outline ideas. For example, on our current trip I outlined a general route from Singapore to Bangkok, determine how best to cross through into Thailand (parts of the border are deemed unsafe by the Foreign office and Lonely planet) and read the guidebook to collect suggestions on places to visit along the way. I usually follow this up with plane and hotel bookings, getting insurance cover and acting as tour guide. While travelling I take on the role of accountant – keeping hold of kitty money and a financial tally if needed.

John is much more the do-er… Director of Operations. An expert at bike assembly and dismantling, trained chef, chief maintenance engineer and detailed route planner. Rarely have I needed to put air in my tyres and on arriving and leaving our destinations John will help with luggage as needed. Trust me, while I can be a stubborn and independent soul, this is much appreciated after a long day in the saddle. While travelling John will keep detailed records of distance, locations and places visited. In Africa he was renowned for being up to date in his little black book and I would often need to borrow it, collecting information in a more retrospective fashion.

When it comes to PR we share responsibility. I keep business cards and look after external promotion – John is the photographer. We both keep blogs but while I may look at a press release John is busy sharing photographs and experiences with friends back home.

Other than the fact that I’m a little slower we seem to have made great travel partners despite having met only three times before our journey began. We couldn’t do the trip without each other…or finding someone else and then hoping we both fall into complimentary roles, working to our strengths and doing what we enjoy. Sometimes we have tough days but for now I’m just chuffed that we’re still going and plan to do more.