About bikemind

I have spent the past 16 years working hard and building my way up a career ladder: completing my MBA then getting my first CEO role. After 5 years of that I am now embarking on a dream and a new adventure. I have to date cycled in France, Canada, Sri Lanka and Vietnam. Lands End to John O'Groats is my longest trip to date. Now 5 months in I have cycled west coast America, Japan, Nepal and India.

30, 000km.

As we cycled into Konya, Central Turkey yesterday we celebrated as we reached another momentus milestone….we had reached 30,000km. Arriving a day earlier than expected we had also ridden 100 miles with full panniers and camp  gear. It was certainly not intentional – there just wasn’t anywhere to stay on route. While the scenery itself was quite uneventful and there were regular overbearing smells of roadkill we still had big smiles.

So, for this blog I have decided to do a wee trip down memory lane with a few key photos and highlights from our trip so far….hope you enjoy it. There’s a few pics in this one too.

On July 7th 2012 we flew to Seattle. John, my cycle buddy, and I had only met three times before so this would be a relatively easy ride down the coast to San Francisco.  The Oregon coast line was stunning, they made some great ale and we made a new friend, Tom, who would ride with us much of the way. We were pretty chuffed when we arrived at the Golden Gate bridge. John had never cycle toured before and we got on OK. Result.

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With Japan as our next destination the challenges would increase as language and map reading would prove interesting. Still, we embraced the culture staying in traditional ryokans and love hotels and tried most of the available pot noodles. A fascinating trip all be it very hot, humid and hilly.

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However, it was our next trip into Nepal that would be our biggest challenge of all. We were taking our touring bikes and panniers around the Annapurna trek route. No tarmac and still the end of the monsoon season. We edged along cliffs, went through rivers and waterfalls and crossed many a precarious bridge. Eventually we arrived at the mountain pass at Throng-la, 5416m. This was not for the faint hearted….or those afraid of heights…ie me.

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Landslides

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Waterfall

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Heading over the pass

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Thorong la

From Nepal we cycled over the border into India riding mostly in Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Goa. I love the colours, history and food of India – a country I had visited twice before. Soon we learnt the rules of the road ie biggest and loudest wins and we became accustomed to chai drinking with crowds of locals.

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This was the end of our first five month tour…next Africa. We were joining a group trip from Cairo to Capetown. It took me a while to adjust to losing my independence though having decided this trip was just different I eventually settled in. Run by Tour D’Afrique the trip also ran as a race and I eventually won a day…on the last day of road riding! Despite having to bus through Kenya given elections and taking a few days off from exhaustion this was a phenomenal ride. Along with the wildlife highlights included sandstorms in Sudan and riding naked for a day in Namibia. What a giggle. If only the kids in Ethiopia didn’t throw rocks!

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Our third trip would take us to South East Asia though first we decided to ride through France and Italy to avoid the monsoon period. Leaving Epernay we rode over the Alps to San Foca in Southern Italy. On the way we would watch the Tour despite France on Alpe d’huez…obviously we had to ride it to. We were joined by Thijs, one of our fellow riders from Africa.

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Soon we were in Singapore and had a route planned through Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and back to Thailand. With shorter visas than anticipated and roads lost to landslides our plans constantly changed….but that’s the beauty of cycle touring.

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Our fourth tour took us to New Zealand and Australia. We caught up with many friends – old and new – and enjoyed incredible rides and views. While the drivers were not so pleased to see us we were treated warmly by many. We both missed history yet the fact that these countries are much newer to habitation (aside from much earlier Aboriginal settlement) is what keeps the landscape more unspoiled.

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While Australia was not my favourite country to ride the site at Uluru was mind blowing.

We’re on our last trip now…riding home from Turkey back to the UK.

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The hospitality has been so humbling and Turkey really is a joy.

I have many memories and stories from the ride so far, thousands of photos to sift and new friends too. Here’s hoping the last 6,000 or so km will be just as much fun.

Here is one last pic….what a day this was….riding naked in Namibia!

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A big thank you for all your support and encouragement so far. It means so much.
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Flags, pride and independence?

Depicting a white crescent moon and star on a red background the Turkish flag is everywhere. Turkey is a proud nation though I would say it’s also not the only flag adorned place we have ridden through. Thailand, Malaysia, the USA and closer to home, Denmark, all show off their colours.

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Back home the story is much more complex. We are a nation comprised of four countries with a population made up of individuals from all over the globe. We have our own traditions and have also accepted and shown tolerance for the beliefs and customs of others. I’m proud to live in a country like that yet I would be much more hesitant to hoist a flag. Sadly being proud to be British has been overtaken by the far right and flags only really seem to fly when there’s a football game on.

I am English, living in Scotland and right now the debate on whether Scotland should be independent dominates news and discussion. I’m really proud to live in Scotland. It’s such a beautiful country – rugged landscapes, dramatic scenery and buildings and history some of which of course is linked to previous battles on the ownership of land.

Many people are still debating on which way to vote. Some will of course go with their heart regardless of outcome – this is a chance they have been waiting on for a long time. For me, my head would tell me that economically there still need to be much more clarification and that unity is a better proposition. There are just too many unknowns. I am course also fully aware that I am English and in my mind that’s also equal to being British.

However….putting the unknowns to one side there is a strong part of me – a very strong part – that sees the potential for a more social and environmental vision, much more akin to the community I prefer and I can’t help feeling that this vote is also a real opportunity.  In addition to feeling there are too many unanswered questions, I fear for society outside of Scotland should it’s balance in UK politics be lost and I care greatly about this too. This is not just a debate for Scotland and I want the social and environmental vision of Scotland to be UK wide.

Only time will tell whether we are counting the cost of independence or regretting an opportunity to work towards a country with a greater vision for equality and a greater respect for it’s environment. Whichever way it goes I’ll still be proud to be English, proud to be British and proud to live in Scotland though I still won’t feel comfortable flying any of the flags and I can’t help feeling that’s sometimes just a little sad.

Hospitali-tea.

Have a cup of tea…have another one….love -er-ly cup of tea.

Oh my. I have never, ever known such hospitality. I really am turning down cups of tea.

My relationship with tea goes back a long time. I’m sure I probably even had tea in my bottle as a baby. My gran always had the kettle on and the teapot was always ready to be poured. While my day may start with a wee tipple from a coffee bean, once mid morning arrives you will never see me turn down a cuppa. In fact my tea drinking has even earned me the nickname “nanna Nao” after I shockingly turned down watching the rugby with a beer for a nice cup of earl grey. I’ve sampled tea in Darjeeling, tried the Ceylon in Sri Lanka and of course, have been to the obligatory tea ceremony while in China but I have never been “tea-ed out” until this current trip to Turkey.

While many will often think of raki (that clear aniseed headache inducer that tastes okay when you drink it here) as a key Turkish tipple it pails into insignificance compared the the social aspects of a Turkish cay (chay). Served black in small glass tumblers they drink it by the bucket load.

Since leaving Trabzon the welcome we have received here has been phenomenal. On our toughest ride day we were offered chay ….twice, bought lunch and were then bought dinner. We have stopped in shops that have not charged us, been invited into people’s homes and of course, get beeps and thumbs up while cycling along. This generosity to two strangers on bikes continues to overwhelm us and despite reading such awful stories in the  news it restores one’s faith in human nature.

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So, we have actually now turned down tea. If we stopped at every invite we would never make it home for Christmas. We are often asked if we feel safe. Actually, we mostly feel humble.

Thank you Turkey. Your kindness is truly incredible.

Riding home for Christmas

After a short diversion via a wedding in Denmark we arrived in Turkey, Trabzon to be precise. It was from here that we would start what is for now our last bike tour. With around 30, 000km so far and 28 countries visited we have had an amazing time. I love travel and, for the most part, find cycling a fabulous way to meander through a country. However, sadly we are unable to just keep going and sooner or later we knew we would be planning the final stages. It seems sooner has arrived.

While we had been unable to do our trip in one go, having had to make return visits to see family, we were both in agreement on one thing. For our final trip we wanted to ride both in and out of the UK. We left in July, via Denmark as I said and we then needed to work out where we could start our journey home from to be back for Christmas. We had heard so many positive stories from cyclists who had been through Iran and this was where we really wanted to begin our journey. Unfortunately we came to the conclusion that this may be too far given all the other places we want to see on our way. An Iranian Visa would be costly and this was a place we didn’t want to rush through. So, Trabzon it is.

I have been to Turkey once before – to watch the eclipse in 1999 and John, my cycle buddy, has been on numerous occasions. His sister lives here and so this was certainly a place he wanted to come and ride. On my last trip I also visited the Cappadocia region. I was backpacking then but I can’t resist going back again – this time with my bike of course. For those of you familiar with Turkish geography you will know we are not then heading straight back. Starting in the North, on the Black Sea coast we will go to the central region, where Cappadocia can be found before continuing to go further out of our way through Antalya and Olu Deniz, on the South coast, Pammukale and Kushidasi, inland and West before finally going through Istanbul and into Bulgaria.

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Then it got tricky. There are so many places we then wanted to see. Eventually we have opted to go through Roumania,  Hungary, Slovakia,Poland, Germany and The Netherlands. We may still make variations, do additional loops and change our final ferry crossing point but for now we have a route we are really looking forward to, a ride out group for our ferry ( other guests at the wedding) and simply a rough return date for mid December. Exactly what happens between now and then will become apparent in time and no doubt, if you keep reading, you’ll get to find out.

Denmark. Bike lanes and fart kontrol.

Our trip to Denmark was somewhat of a diversion….again, though this time we were attending a wedding rather than filling time during the monsoon season ( the reason for our France and Italian jaunt last year). Despite making regular trips home we have still been riding since July 2012 and sadly trips to see friends living outside the UK have not been on the agenda unless of course they were on /near our planned routes.

When a good friend announced her wedding in Denmark at the end of July I thought this would be another of those occasions we would have to miss. We’d already missed a number of friends weddings and on those occasions there had been nothing we could do. Dates and routes meant we could not catch up and thereby join in celebrations. This time however a plan seemed possible and following John’s agreement we decided to ride home from Turkey via a short trip through Denmark. Well, given this is the country with one of the highest ratios of bike ownership it would seem rude not to. It was also an opportunity to enjoy riding in a place with serious cycle infrastructure.

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Having landed in Esjberg we would take two days to ride to my friends where we would stay for 5 nights. This was no ordinary wedding and there would be two big events….a pre -wedding ski party and the marriage day itself. The remainder of the time would be for eating, drinking and recovery. We wouldn’t ride our bikes during this time though the bike club “guard of honour” as the bride and groom came out of the church would certainly be a reminder of what we would be doing again in just a few days.

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Following a route via Arhus and Roskilde we would then ride to Koge where our good friend Gus, from our African ride, lived. While the predominantly flat landscape of Denmark gave us little concern and much of the route was on quiet roads or bike lanes it was not without some challenges…..we are just not used to the bike paths.

Having pootled around on the island of Fano we headed back to Esjberg to camp. We were following the GPS yet as it didn’t always show the bike lanes and the routes we planned then displayed no cycling signs we seemed stuck. Eventually, having asked in the local garage and made our way through the intersection we found the bike path again. Having dipped below the road and behind the trees this was better than just a shoulder. They really do make an effort here to make cycling safe and easy – once you know where you’re going!

While not without frustrations (often swapping which side of the road we are parallel to and still the occasional abrupt ends) both drivers and pedestrians are very much aware of the cyclist to. Drivers hold back at T-junctions as cyclists cross infront of them, pedestrians mostly stick to their “side” and folliage is well trimmed. We read that in Copenhagen bike ownership outweighs that of cars 5 to 1. There are bikes everywhere with bike racks at bus stops and whole carriages on the local trains for cycle commuters. We read of one city where 73% of children walk or cycle to school and despite a 10% rise in population Denmark has seen a 10% drop in CO2 emissions. Denmark really does have a phenomenal cycle culture and seems to provide some proof that with good infrastructure people will ride their bikes.

The design of cycle lanes and the way in which cyclists fit into overall town and road planning really interests me. While we have some cities in the UK where cycling is more predominant (Oxford), and new towns where bike lanes are pre planned (Milton Keynes) we still need better signposting, a greater distinction between social riding and commuting and most of all, a change in attitude from all those using our roads. We’re in this together and we all need to share the road. Riding in Denmark where in the most part all drivers and riders are considerate is a fabulous example of how this can work.

As for fart kontrol….well, that’s just my childish sense of humour. Fart in Danish means speed and I’m sorry to admit the signs for watching your speed do make me smile.

I’ve posted my heels and dress back to the UK now and as we fly out to Turkey it will be time to don functional clothes and watch out for trucks. I’m certainly not expecting a cycle culture here.

Tour de UK

Since we started our bike trip throughout the globe we have made frequent trips home. While unusual among the world biking community this came about due to family health issues and a desire to make a regular check in. As it transpires it has not only enabled us to see friends and family but also, I believe, means our appetite and enthusiasm for  travel remains high. Tourism lethargy has not been a problem.

Given my return trips are often packed with visits to Dudley, Edinburgh, Bristol and, in June, Glastonbury, I rarely ride my bike during this time. It feels odd but there is simply no time between dinners, beers, DIY tasks and trip planning. However, this visit would be different. The Tour de France was starting in Yorkshire and having cycled to Alps d’huez to watch the race last year there was only one way to travel to Yorkshire to observe proceedings ….. yep, we would cycle.

Despite falling just after Glastonbury festival we quickly washed our gear and prepared for our trip North. We we’re riding from Dudley to Otley having booked a pitch at the Festival of Cycling, Harewood House. Our friends would meet us there for a weekend we had been planning while back in South East Asia.

We took two days to arrive following a stop over in Macclesfield. Having been off the bike for over a month the first day felt tough and, having climbed an occasional stonker, we set the GPS the next day to minimise ascent. I’d ridden in Yorkshire before! Friends gradually trickled in having arrived from Denmark, Scotland and the South of England. In fact, given some pals had a nine hour drive from London I don’t think it had taken us much longer in travel hours.

Watching the Tour in Yorkshire really was a fabulous experience. The sun was shining (mostly) and crowds came out in force. While many watching were new to the sport and I sense blown away by the speed of the riders the atmosphere was electric, the bunting plentiful and the Yorkshire ales brewed especially for the Tour did justice to this great British craft. Having watched the ceremonial start at Harewood we went to Knaresborough the next day, watching near a house that had been painted like the polka dot jersey. It was unfortunate that the festival did not meet expectation but the location and weekend overall was brilliant. I left on the Monday for a short ride to Harrogate and having caught up with my pals in Otley I would get the train home. Soon we would be leaving for our final trip.

After the tour John and I had gone separate ways…both heading to see family before we would meet again in Colchester before catching a ferry to Denmark. It was the first time either of us would embark on solo cycle tours.

While I thoroughly enjoyed the sense of freedom out there on my own I missed having someone to laugh with as I found myself on an unrideable bridlepath in Yorkshire and then tried to check into two incorrect hotels in Colchester when I arrived the following day. John always checks out final arrangements while I just try and wing it!

So, having met up with my cycle buddy we set the GPS (that required my patience) and rode to Harwich.

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Right now we are riding in Denmark, having taken a wee detour for a wedding, and will be embarking on our final tour for now. So, keep reading and we’ll keep riding. Blogs on bike lanes and country wide cycle culture and our ride home for Christmas coming soon.

Australian reflections

Having left Brisbane at the beginning of March we finally cycled into Adelaide on the 15th May. Riding via Sydney and Melbourne we’ve covered a total of 3291km here in Australia and this has been the country we have spent the longest time in. While we have had a good time overall and our trip to Uluru remains an absolute tour highlight ( thank goodness we decided to go in the end), this has still been our least favourite place to ride.

While there is always debate between drivers and cyclists Australia seems to have the most antagonistic relationship we have witnessed yet, though, as we rode inland from Sydney the attitude vastly improved. The other challenge however, with riding here is distance. As we planned our journey we needed to take into account distance between accommodation and of course determine water and food requirements. We don’t tend to wild camp and while outback scenes seem like what riding through Australia should really feel like, we simply could not take enough food and water to make the best of such routes.

I’ve already noted how I miss history and, while I love the food adventures that often come with travel, here, cheap meals are usually chip based, and chicken schnitzel definitely seem to be order of the day when pubs describe Australian tucker!

Despite this, riding the great ocean road was fabulous and if advising others on riding here this surely is a must do. Since we’ve packed away the bikes we booked tours to Kangaroo Island and up to the Flinders and KI would certainly be good to explore slowly on a bike. I expect Tasmania would be a good place to ride and while I’m not sure about the cycling possibilities I would love to explore the Kimberly area.

We met some great people while in Australia – old and new friends – and while it has not been my favourite place to ride this does not mean we had a bad time. We didn’t. I guess I just struggled at times in what felt like quite a macho culture and sadly one which itself struggles with integration with the Aboriginal community. I hope that if I make it back this may feel different in future years.

A personal journey

Last Monday I hosted a first event about my trip so far. Held in Edinburgh it was attended by around 70 people and raised £650 for The Homeless World Cup. Despite having given numerous presentations I was very nervous talking about such a personal experience. There was no work orientated power-point behind which to hide. It also provided me with my first real chance to look back on both the cycle and personal journey.

Prior to starting this adventure I worked as a CEO for Scottish based charity, Firstport. It was a busy role and while having completed my MBA and worked hard to develop my career I knew I was ready for change. Only now can I really see the difference. Further, while reasonably self-aware I also believe the trip has confirmed how I tick, increased my confidence in believing we can reach our goals if we really want to and given me the space to determine what I may to next.

As the bike tour itself illustrated I will always be somewhat goal-orientated and I’m certainly not one to just let life pass by. While I still care about the work I was involved in (loosely summarised as new start enterprise and community development) I also feel I now have a much broader outlook. If anything…the to do list has increased and it is jut a case of priorities.

I’ve always been excited by new projects and ideas. I love early stage development and planning and have learnt that whether in the workplace or on my bike this is an environment in which I thrive. I also know I perhaps have too many new ideas and things I want to do. I know I could perhaps focus more though I also know my lust for life comes from being this way and I’m happy with that.

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In helping new start entrepreneurs I was always inspired by helping others seize their opportunities. Being able to cycle the globe was of course a massive opportunity for me and now I hope I can inspire others to take control and live out their dreams too.

I’ve one last trip yet before I settle back into “normal life” though there is one thing for sure – there will be nothing just normal anymore. Watch this space.

Iconic rides

When first considering routes around Australia I looked at a number of possibilities though one road I was always planning to ride was The Great Ocean Road. In touring terms a real must do. Having started in Brisbane this would come towards the end of our time here, in the final stage as we head round from Melbourne to Adelaide.

In the past week or so we have seen a real change in the weather here. Leg and arm warmers have been pulled from the bottom of the panniers and I’ve even been filling my hot water bottle at night. Eventually we decided to book up cheap accommodation. Getting out of a warm sleeping bag to the cold outdoors in the morning was just becoming too much and given the heavy rain of the past few days this it seems was a very wise decision. The travel brochures of course always show the Great Ocean Road in glorious sunshine. Fortunately, despite numb toes, the days when water seemed to pour from buckets in the sky we had rest days planned and our days on the most stunning section of the route were dry so we we’re able to stop, take pictures and take a peak at the various viewpoints along the way.

We followed the sea line out from Melbourne, taking the ferry between Sorrento and Queenscliff we would soon be on undulating, winding roads heading through Lorne and Apollo Bay, stopping to watch crashing waves, heading inland and up to Lavers Hill before reaching the most photographed areas of the Twelve Apostles and the rocky craggs of the shipwreck coast. It really was beautiful and would continue to be out past Port Campbell, through to Port Fairy.

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So far on our tour we’ve ridden through fabulous seaside areas including Oregon, South Africa, Italy and Thailand and The Great Ocean Road has certainly been added to this list of one of the best coastal routes. There really is good reason why this is an Australian must do. Far too often we look for trips, routes and journeys that may be considered the road less travelled. Sometimes it seems there is however a good reason why some places see thousands of visitors.

The weather. A very British blog.

Cold. Grey. Very soggy. Yep, that pretty much describes our ride out of Melbourne today.

We were really looking forward to riding the coastline out from the city. Melbourne has around 900km of bike tracks and we were able to follow the ocean in our own wee bike lane for the first 35km. However, we woke to hear rain pounding on the roof and it was all I could do to delay…playing on my Garmin maps (still unsuccessful), two coffees, last minute internet. The downpour continued. We were going to get wet.

Just after setting off we had a short boat ride. It was like Winter back home as we crossed the water. Rain poured and the wind was sharp. I was actually jealous of the cyclist on the ferry heading to nice warm office.

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It’s not the first time however that the weather has not quite been as expected. Despite considering weather charts it seems misconception, naivety, stereotypes and holiday brochure marketing all override my research. Add to this changing weather patterns that seem to be occurring with increased frequency and it’s no wonder we’re taken by surprise.

Africa and Australia it seems are not always hot. Japan still holds the record for sticky, muggy and humid and New Zealand wins for wind. At least when riding in Scotland I really do expect to see all four seasons in one day.Sometimes of course a change can also work to ones advantage. On this trip we’ve seen double rainbows at Uluru and waterfalls as we left Milford Sound. If only we’d seen a change today. Unfortunately the only difference we found was between lighter drizzle or drenching torrents. Oh well…..room please.

The weather is often one of the common stats I choose to record. We Brits are, afterall known for our obsession with meteorology and in continuing the stereotype…..our love of tea. It seems, regardless of whether it’s sunshine or rain I do still love a cuppa. Here’s hoping for a dry day tomorrow.