Something’s missing.

When asked what I miss about home, aside from friends and family, my usual response has been to reply real ale and salt and vinegar crisps. For this trip however the answer has changed. While the range of real ale, or craft beer as it is known here, is not as broad as the choice back home, salt and vinegar crisps are everywhere. In fact, this has been the case in both New Zealand and Australia. What has been missing however has, for me, been much more significant.

As we travelled through New Zealand and are continuing through Australia we read up and try to discover what the various towns we pass through have to offer. Many of the towns seem very similar – at least in architectural terms – with decorated concrete facades, an occasional clock tower and fairly low rise. Of course, there are exceptions, usually in the bigger cities.

The fact that these countries were late for habitation means buildings, key dates and local information all generally fall around 1860 – ten years after my flat was built in my home town of Edinburgh. Asked what I miss of home….the reply was history. It’s amazing just how much we can take this for granted.

While as someone interested in self build and who enjoys admiring modern design, I miss the mix of housing styles. I miss temples, old churches and cathedrals, palaces, forts and other buildings that give each town it’s own identity. I also miss the multi-culturalism of the UK.

I have to confess we didn’t do much of the Mauri activity on offer in New Zealand and to date have been only to Uluru, Ayers Rock, to consider the Aboriginal influence of Australia but this last trip blew me away.

During our bus ride out to Kings Canyon (no…we didn’t bring the bikes to Australia’s red centre) we were shown a video outlining prehistoric wildlife and landscapes here. It was amazing to watch. In Uluru, we learnt much more of the Anangu people with a walk around the base of the rock by Cassidy Uluru. His family led on negotiations for title deeds for this land to be handed back to the traditional landowners. Despite this history going back for around 50, 000 years the national park at Uluru was only handed back in 1985.

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While, much like in parts of Africa, this is not history that has affected skylines and build but this oral tradition is very much that thing which sets a country apart. For me, what makes Australia so distinct is seeing how what we would call primitive living exists alongside a much more advanced Western culture. The relationship between these two can certainly be tense. The desire to develop while maintaining tradition – the frustration of supporting something which is hesitant to change. There are no easy answers and we see similar discussion both at home and throughout the rest of the world.

I will still miss the architecture but the history is most definitely here. Perhaps the key thing missing is it’s integration?

Milestones

Our last cycle day in New Zealand would take us to Middlemarch on the Otago rail trail. Not only was it the desination for the end of our riding here we would also reach 25, 000km. Two days later I would celebrate my 39th birthday in Dunedin. However, despite these targets there was a much more significant milestone on my mind.

Those of you who’ve been following this blog will know my story and those probably closest to me or indeed with a good memory will recall that following the cancellation of a supported world cycle tour, my second trip with one of the other participants was then put on hold following a devastating call from my mother. That call, on March 7th 2012 brought news of the return of her breast cancer though this time it had spread and the initial diagnosis gave a two month to two year timescale. While further consultations were much more promising as you can imagine this led to significant changes to the trip.  With family time now even more critical we mix travel and with visits home. Yes, it costs more but the cost of not doing this is a much greater price to pay.

Right now we’re all almost two years on. I am still riding my bike with John, who is now much less of a stranger and my ma is attending regular checkups. While we have just heard that chemo tablets are the next treatment to try and painkillers are occasionally needed against increasing back pain my ma could still set out for a 20 mile walk no problem. Of course one can never forget those initial conversations but if such news is still not taken with some sense of optimism then it really does become the death sentence. We could have cancelled our trip; dealing with bad news could have led in itself to ill health, yet, I hope what all this shows is that will, determination and flexibility can lead to incredible outcomes.

While I talk at times with other tourers who have been able to travel continuously and wonder what my trip may have brought had I been able to ride that way my overwhelming feeling is that regardless of that first call my mother has in the most part been well and the terrible milestone we were led to expect had not materialised.

Long may that continue.

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Riding safe

With the deaths of six cyclists in London making headlines and subsequent appeals for increasing safety levels I wanted to write a blog that took both the perspective of cyclists, car drivers and truckers into account. Far too often the arguments are polarised, completely biased and quite frankly lack a level of honesty that I believe is critical to move the debate forwards.

I’ve driven trucks, up to 7.5 tonnes, held a driving licence for 21 years and have ridden thousands of miles on my bike. Maybe I’m lucky and there will certainly be  many incidents people can point to where they were blameless but, while I have met with very aggressive road rage having shown my dismay to a driver overtaking way too close, I have never been knocked off my bike. Long may that continue.

I find it ludicrous that in the UK bike lanes are shared with buses, end in the middle of the road or are in gutters where potholes render them unusable. I find the “no road tax” argument utterly ridiculous. As is often pointed out, not only are many cyclists also car owners but the very nature of tax is that we all pay for services we may or may not use. It’s how we create society/ community – I wonder what it is that those of us on bikes have done to be singled out in such a way?

I find cyclists with no care for those around them just as annoying as anyone else. They give me a bad name too. They make the road less safe for me too.

As a member of CTC I follow the debates and lobbying. I understand the need for a hard line at times (drivers seemingly getting off with manslaughter on killing a second cyclist through dangerous driving) yet wish there was a recognition of bad riding and an understanding of blind spots on larger vehicles (sometimes lorries and buses really can’t see you). I don’t agree with the call that all lorry drivers should be called to account on the death of a cyclist. I do believe that we should try and determine if accidents were due to bad driving or bad cycling.

Every new driver is taught mirror, signal, manoeuvre yet having past their test this three stage process is often long forgotten. I ride assuming no one uses the side view, few regularly check the rear view and people will pull in or turn without an indicator. I look over both shoulders frequently, expect people to pull out, turn left front of me and open their car door. With all this in mind here are my tips for riding safe.

1. Value yourself. Ride to live. Look around you. Anticipate actions of others and adopt mirror, signal, manoeuvre. That’s what everyone else on the road has been taught. Exemplify this behaviour.

2. Wear a helmet. I think this is a no brainer though am aware some folk differ. Better to arrive with messy hair than not at all!
I’ve seen a number of cracked helmets that have saved riders from serious injury.

3. Be visible. Lights, clothing and eye contact. I do my best to make people see me and acknowledge they have done so – get a smile from the person behind the wheel while you’re both waiting to pull away.

4. Don’t sneak between cars leading up to lights unless you know they are not about to turn red. Cars pull away assuming all is stationary and lined up behind them. This is a time when people really don’t check mirrors. It may not be right but it is what happens.

5. When riding near buses and lorries give them space to turn. You know the length of their vehicles. You’re not stupid and you know how far they will swing out when turning so give them room. If you’re behind them – it’s your responsibility – they have a much bigger blind spot than a car.

Of course, I won’t be perfect and not everyone will agree with my red light policy – avoid stopping late at night and go when it is safest (occasionally this will be when lights are red) but we’re in this together.

We all use the roads….the only irony….if more people felt safer they would ride and if there were more cyclists we would be safer.

Killing Fields

As I’ve travelled I have, much to my embarassment, been constantly surprised by my own lack of knowledge. We were already in Japan when I registered the land was 90 percent hills; in Africa I would realise it was not all a dustbowl and could be pretty chilly; in Cambodia I would learn more of the extent of the misery, torture and power of the Khmer Rouge. Nothing will ever prepare you for visiting The Killing Fields.

Just outside Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia is an area called Choeung Ek. Nestled in among paddy fields, we rode down a bumpy, muddy track, passing children cycling to school and the usual hustle and bustle of village life. Our driver pulled in, under some trees and arranged to meet us there in two hours time. We had decided to visit what in essence was a scene of  great brutality. Around 17, 000 people (men, women and children) were brought to this extermination camp from a prison, known as S-21, where they had already been held and tortured.

While much of the site infrastructure (waiting rooms, tool stores etc) have long since gone, mass graves are clearly marked and a chilling audio guide leads you around. Steadfast on a communist ideal whereby cities were destroyed and peasant farming and manual labour were the standards being set to bring equality to all the Khmer Rouge led a war of unimaginable proportions. Teachers, foreigners, anyone who spoke more than one language , those who spoke up against them, took rice or belongings from the collective pool or it seemed anyone even with a vague association to any of the former were simply removed. While the exact figure is unknown estimates are as high as 3.5 million deaths (half the population).

8595 bodies were exhumed  at Choeung Ek in 1980 and as you wonder through what is now a quiet memorial site, clothing remnants, bones and teeth that continue to rise to the surface each year as rain disturbs the ground are displayed.

Thankfully  those arriving at the site were unaware of their fate.  They didn’t use bullets here but bludgeoned people to death and the audio guide played loud vitriolic songs that were blasted out alongside the noise of the generator to cover up the sounds of people screaming as they were killed.  I couldn’t listen to the audio. They had done too good a job of stimulating the noise of the environment. One grave housed many bodies that had been beheaded – thought to be soildiers who had raised objections- and the site marked a tree where babies heads were thrashed before being discarded. Again, the audio was turned off. It was too much for me.

In 1988 the Memorial Stupa was built on the site. In essence, a narrow tower, ten stories high displaying the skulls and bones of some 8000 people.

I had not been sure whether to visit The Killing Fields. The War Museum in Saigon had also been vivid in it’s portrayal of the Vietnam War and I saw only enough there to understand. Nothing is masked here. I had been ignorant of the full extent of the torture Pol Pott had inflicted and while The Killing Fields was far from being a pleasant experience this is history I am now much more aware of.

Lest we forget.

Talking about the weather

We waited until September to start our tour through South East Asia. The rainy season was apparently coming to end and we would have just over three months to explore. However, not only did we leave Singapore in a thunderstorm, the most powerful storm to make landfall has just taken place leaving a trail of devastation in the Philippines before moving on to the Halong Bay area where we were just a couple of weeks ago. Thousands have died and many more people are displaced, losing the few possessions they held dear.

While us Brits are known for our obsession in talking about the weather many of us actually have little understanding of the real power of wind and tornados, water and flooding or heat and out of control fires.

Climate had played a significant part in trip planning and in looking at places we would visit, while we couldn’t always go at the best times of year we would certainly avoid the worst. However, it seems it’s becoming harder to follow the seasons and despite reading about weather conditions we simply do not have the experience to know how bad it can really get.

We had already just missed storms on the central coast area of Vietnam as we arrived in Dong Hoi and a few days later as we moved South from Hoi An another storm was predicted. This part of  the country is relatively poorer than other areas and it’s tough to see people who already have comparatively little repairing the damage that high winds and rain have caused. I can’t even begin to imagine some of the scenes described in recent events.

We”ll be home in a few weeks as we head back for Christmas before heading out to New Zealand. No doubt we’ll moan about the temperature, talk about how hot and humid it was through South East Asia and may even have snow. What we will also have of course is central heating, double glazing and perhaps even a cosy real fire and a wee dram to keep us warm. We can’t change where we’re born, lifestyle or geography, but even as I will inevitably shiver and grumble (just a little) I am fully aware of how fortunate I am both in terms of origins and my ability to travel.

I can’t change that, for me or anyone else but I can give a little to help in such a disaster.

http://www.dec.org.uk/

Five favourite climbs

It’s been around ten years since I last came to Vietnam, on a trip in fact that would ignite my interest in longer distance cycling. I was in my late twenties then and it’s fair to say my body was not a temple at the time…….unless Dionysus was involved that is. I still remember riding over the Hai Van Pass on that tour. It was baking hot, sweat bubbles collected between my skin and sun cream and on arrival at the top I was ready to collapse. Two cycle tourists past us that day and I remember commenting that they were absolutely mad. Today I rode the pass again and this time I too was a cycle tourist. While riding up, what for me would be a real pinnacle of our South East Asia tour got me thinking about my favourite climbs of the trip so far. While there were other notable climbs, including riding in Japan and the 36 hairpins up to Ooty, here then is my top five, in reverse order of course.

5. Hai Van Pass. Central coast, Vietnam

It was fifteen kilometres from our hotel in Lang Co to the peak of our climb today though we would be almost 5km in before the hill really started.  The road is itself a continuation of Highway 1 and the key road link from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Since my last Hai Van cycle attempt a new tunnel has been built (2005) and so while ten years ago the route was busy with scooters, coaches, lorries and cars today it is only scooters, oil tankers and bicycles that have to go over the top.  There are also still some tourist buses choosing this route though at least a warm welcome and cold drinks at the top are then guaranteed.

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With a gradient of up to 8% this was actually okay and as we passed the 10k mark I called to John that we were a third of the way – not bad maths – I thought it was a 15 km climb! In the end it took 1 hour 37 minutes riding time from hotel to peak though there were also a number of photo stops. By 21km we were at the bottom and the route down the other side was even more picturesque. Beachy enclaves, winding roads and the city of Danang far into the distance.

My altimeter showed a total ascent of just 476 metres so it was certainly not one of our longer hill rides. The ride will however always be remembered with a sense of progression, of improvement and therefore with a particular fondness. I’m not sure I’ll ever do it again ….but I have said that before.

4.      USA

I will always remember this as one of my favourite ride days on a trip down from Seattle to San Francisco. Following the rugged, rocky outcrops along the Western coastline this day saw us climb        . While we had seen other long climbs on our tour south the roads were often penned in by trees. One of our biggest ascents – thd climb up from Standish Hickey- had no views at the top though there was a fabulous downhill. This road however hugged the ocean. Despite being narrow  and at times without a barrier between us and the long drop down the cliffs to the choppy waves below I loved this ride. The clouds below us creating a dreamy landscape and a real sense of being on top of the world. Despite obscuring the view at times it was amazing to ride high above the white mist, glimpses of the water poking through. Simply glorious.

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3. Alpe d’huez, riding to watch the Tour de France

We had some tough, long days as we cycled down from Epernay on our tour down to Southern Italy but we were determined to make it to watch the tdf. Having calculated distances and matched routes and dates of perhaps the world’s most famous bike races I wanted to soak up the atmosphere for real and we had decided that Alps d’huez was the best location to do this from. We would just have time to ride there and this year, for the tdf centenary racers would pass twice over this famous cycle challenge.

It’s around 18km to the top and my Garmin recorded an ascent of 1123m, average speed 5.8m km pr hour. While the route through France had seen a lot of undulating ( ie it was hilly) we had stayed to the West of the real mountainous area. While it would have been beautiful we would certainly have arrived too late to watch the pros. Our climb would start from Grenoble, staying first in Bourg d’Osian before heading off for Alps d’huez the following morning.

The town was packed. There were bikes everywhere. Most people were in lycra. I had never seen anything like it. The buzz was incredible and this is the reason this day makes it into my top five. The reality of this from a riding perspective was that it was incredibly busy, tough to restart riding on a steep part given finding a gap to traverse across the road to get going was nigh on impossible and, on heading downhill the following morning you could not let go off the brakes enough to enjoy any speed or ride wide enough to sweep the corners. However, who cares. I will always remember the shouts of ” chapeau”, “respect” and “I’m not sure I could do that” as I climbed, very slowly, with full pannier’s and camping gear to the top. Great memories.

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2. The Blue Nile Gorge

Unlike other rides this journey started with the downhill. After around 50km of steep undulations we would finally descend into the Blue Nile Gorge. This was the biggest climb day in a trip from Cairo to Capetown. By the time I left lunch to head into the gorge it was blistering hot. I set off with Irin but she was quicker uphill than me and while we would stop together for a cold drink on the ride up she was always just ahead.

I huffed, puffed, splashed my face with cold water from a little stream and genuinely, at times was not sure I would make it. While part of a supported trip so this was the only climb listed here where I had no bags to carry it was steep, scorching and followed an already hilly 50km ride. The heat had, early on, already meant other riders had decided this was a challenge too far. I have always been a bit strong willed though. I did not want to be defeated.

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The winning time from one of the Tour D’Afrique riders on this climb was 1 hour 23 minutes. I took 4 hours 7 minutes but at least I made it!

1. Throng-la, Annapurna circuit, Nepal

Where all the climbs listed above were completed in just a few hours this pass at 5416m was the epic ride of our tour. This climb would take days.

I’m not sure, in fact, I know, we had no idea what we were really letting ourselves in for. Crossing rivers, landslides, wobbly bridges, tree trunk bridges, waterfalls and cliff edges this was the toughest physical challenge we had both ever undertaken. They say ignorance is bliss – it certainly means you start and then want to complete something you may never have begun had you known what was coming.

The route followed a well known trekking route and after 5 days in was inaccessible by vehicle. It was very steep, muddy and rocky. Towards the end we would travel just 10km in a day, rising 800/900 metres. Pushing, carrying and riding our bikes. Determined to reach the top by all means necessary. For the eqivalent of two days this meant using porters due to illness (dodgy tum), difficulty (narrow, steep and carrying only) or altitude (the final day when breathing was a struggle).

I wI’ll probably never do this ride again, at least not on a touring bike with panniers but it will remain my proudest moment and my most favourite climb. I doubt this position in my favourite climbs will ever be topped…… but you never know.

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Usually the reward of a big climb is the long descent. Rolling round bends, hands ready on the brakes and feet resting on the pedals. However, despite my best climbs listed above only the USA ride and the Hai Van pass offered this reward. Alpe d’huez was too busy, the gorge downhill was on a very poor road preceeding the climb and the descent from Thorong-la was almost as tough as going up.

The top position for best downhill then so far has to be the hairpins we hit after our climb through the Alps as we crossed the border into Italy.

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Whoosh.

Bikemind does linked-in.

Given I have now been riding my bike around various parts of the globe for the past 15 months or so I decided it may finally be time to update my linked-in profile. So,  while I still follow the worlds of social enterprise and waste and recycling, my online networking profile now reads as that of blogger and biker. Here then is my spoof CV for such an intrepid traveller.

Key statement
With over 20, 000km now cycled on both road and off road tracks Naomi is an accomplished rider and has fallen off only once in the part two years. A chief planner extraordinaire she has negotiated numerous border changes, cast her eye over various maps and guide books and assessed key climatic zones. With that in mind she was confidently able to promise sunshine every day to her cycle buddy John. While long gloves, leg warmers and rain jackets have been required on a few occasions she continues to smile, laugh and sing…..probably all to the annoyance of others!

Experience
1. Hated sport at school though before team games and competition were introduced I quite enjoyed riding my bike in the summer holidays.
2. Following teenage years and that rebellious stage of drinking and smoking which continued on a little longer than it should, Naomi purchased her next bike, aged 21, with the help of good friend fuzzy Jim.
3. In her mid twenties a different Jim ( boyfriend at that time) would “encourage” her to cycle the vast distance between Bristol and Bath and up hills which quite frankly she often grumbled through. Both Jim’s were responsible for leading Naomi up really muddy paths, though rivers and riding in the pitch black by moonlight alone.
4. Single and desperate for a holiday she signed up to ride on an organised tour through Vietnam in her late twenties much to the amazement of her friends. She was even found training on an exercise bike before work!
5. A holiday romance, on said trip, with a guy who had also cycled Lands End to John O’Groats, led Naomi to think that it was a good idea. It was and a year later, 2005, saw her complete that trip with Daisy Tom.
6. Arran, Islay and Yorkshire would all feature as trips with the girls where Naomi was the only one who could fix a puncture and carried spares. She was also the only one who liked single malt whisky on the Islay tour.
7. Jim 2 became her accomplice on a ride through the Outer Hebrides and this time he was at the back despite the fact that Naomi was carrying more kit!
8. She successfully completed a tour of Sri Lanka in December 2011 during which her fate to cycle the globe was sealed. Training then began in earnest with ten or so spin classes a week and rides out trying to keep up with her friend Darren on his carbon racer.

In addition to riding she had undertaken a few independent trips to far away places. With that had come a reputation for setting off earthquakes and trying to pack in far too much to the itinerary. (Remember the Barcelona trip Maz?)

Key achievements
1. Still riding the globe with a complete stranger after 15 months. Pretty amazing.
2. Summiting the Thorong-la pass in Nepal, passing landfalls, rivers, cliff edges and precarious bridges.
3. Remaining on the Cairo to Capetown tour despite hating the initial experience and going on to ride over 40km naked through Namibia. (trust me that was a miracle!)
4. Riding Alpe d’huez and some other Cols with full touring kit – the boys were impressed.
5. Setting off in the first place and just deciding to go for it.

Naomi is looking to continue her journey, write a book, share her experiences and encourage others to live their dream. She hopes she may eventually drop a few pounds and get rid of her silly tan lines.

Flexibility and freedom

One of the things I have always said I love about riding is the flexibility and freedom of being on a bike, with all you need to hand. Sadly, the news of being granted just a 15 day visa for Thailand would scupper this somewhat and as we set off from the ferry port at Satun, Southern Thailand. We knew we would have to cut short our time or aim for a Visa extension. Having just ridden through Malaysia were looking forward to completing the full ride from Singapore to Bangkok. Despite the other backpackers coming in from Langkawi thinking we were slightly nuts we were excited. There’s something about riding into a really big city I rather like – though we now needed to make some decisions on priorities given we still had the rest of South East Asia to discover and a flight booked from Bangkok on December 7th.

After much congitation and deliberation we made the decision that given we would be returning to Thailand before heading home for now we were going to leg it. We would ride to Krabi and then look at all means possible to enable us to arrive in Vientiane, Laos, from there. Riding into Bangkok was still something we wanted to attempt so how our journey would commence was now down to careful logistics. Time for me to pour over maps, investigate public transport and read about what we still may not want to miss despite having to leave Thailand sooner than originally anticipated. Eventually we decided to get the bus to Surathani and from there we would get the train to  Hua Hin, a couple of days ride South of Bangkok, before a final overnight train to Laos.

It’s funny how quickly freedom and flexibility turn into nooses and complications. Pedals and handlebars turned, wheels removed and we were soon loaded into a 4 x 4, heading for the bus. The coach would then take us, bikes and luggage to the train station where we would learn quickly how bikes and trains work in Thailand – web research seemed ok, we just needed it to be reality.

The coach left an hour late only to soon break down. We were sitting at the front watching the driver get more agitated as things didn’t quite work as they should. While anxious regarding delays and missing our train, I was pleased we would not do the whole journey behind an uptight guy with phone in one hand and a fag in the other! At least on my bike I’m a bit more in control. Eventually we swapped coaches, once more moving bikes, wheels and luggage from one vehicle to another. We were dropped off around 100 metres from the station entrance with an hour or so before our departure. Wheels re-attached, pedals and handlebars turned… it was time to find the luggage office. Right now the bikes were definitely nooses.

Fortunately it would not be this way for long. Loading a bike is as simple as completing a form and paying a small cargo fee  – if only we had proper luggage carriages like this back home. We arrived in Hua Hin, rested and did the tourist thing and then set off for Bangkok. It was great to be back on the bike though we would be in Laos when we finally found that sense of freedom again. The ride into Bangkok was amazingly straightforward and we would have just one night there before we would leave for Laos.

A new sense of calm actually started in Nong Khai. We stayed at a relaxed small guest house, the Mut Mee where we met two other cyclists. They talked highly of Laos, as had friends back home….there was now just the Mekong between us and..well, it. And  “it ” would not disappoint.

In our original route plan we would spend just a week or so there. Following a few days in Vientiane we would ride to Vinh, just over the border in Vietnam. However, freedom and flexibility were back and this time I would be pouring over maps and itineraries to see how we could spend more time here rather than less. So, we’re in Luang Prabang right now ( temporarily minus the bikes) and will call into Vang Vien before returning and continuing our original route. We will still ride parts of Vietnam but instead will return to Southern Laos, entering Cambodia from there before our final entry into Thailand.

At least that’s the plan for now -
and that’s what I love about this flexibility and freedom.

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.

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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!!

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.