A day in the outback

It had been a while since we took a route that meant we could not actually ride our bikes but we had found one at last. Despite John joking that I always find the hilliest and most difficult journey believe me – this had not been intentional.

We only had a short ride today – just 35km or so between Crescent Heads and Port Macquarie. We had a backpackers room booked and these would be our first real beds since leaving Brisbane. With free WiFi and a town to explore we did not want to arrive late.

Aware we were taking what the map noted was an unsealed road we checked out what to expect from a local – the turn off we were looking at was right next to his house. Having been informed that the first 16km were ok, and despite being warned that we may need to change gear to get out of the potholes, we were undeterred. As it turned out these would be the least of our problems.

We hit our first gravel track after just 4km and while it slowed us down a little it was not as bad as we were expecting and we were still riding at 17km per hour. The gravel soon ended and while the small stretch of tarmac was short lived we were still in good spirits. The tricky bit lay just around the corner.

We were on Plumers Road, an unmaintained route through the national park. While there were brief glimpses of the ocean at what, we were told, were fabulous surf spots much of the route was lined with deep trees. We were in the bush. While there was a reasonable climb up the gravel track, known as Big Hill, again, compared to what was coming this was a dream.

Having come over the hill we approached a campground and a choice of roads. We stopped to check the map and asked some locals going past in their 4 x 4. The mosquitos were on us, the sun was hot and apparently it was sandy ahead. Still, we were half way now and I was not going back.

When riding into Ghanzi, Botswana, our day finished with a 3km push down a sandy track. I gritted my teeth, took off my shoes and despite remaining cheerful I was very pleased to put my bike down. There were many grumpy folk in camp that night…….yet looking back now this was not so bad.

In contrast to that day, completed as part of a supported tour, the sand was deeper, the distance just over double and I was no longer simply pushing a 17kg bike. This time I had the additional four panniers and my tent – around 50kg all up.

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John pushed on ahead – he’s really not a fan of these situations – I was slower at the back. While I can’t say I enjoy this type of riding I have to admit to loving the adventure. It was tough going but we were heading for comfy beds and a warm shower. After around 7km the sand ended and we were able to ride the last section to Port Macquarie. We had a short ferry journey through Settlement point then back on land we were able to begin our hunt for cake and coffee.

I’m a little more nervous now of the 4 x4 routes so close to the ocean but I hope there’s few more back roads to come yet.

Otago rail trail

Given as the Otago rail trail was listed as number three in the Lonely Planet “things to do in New Zealand”  I thought it was probably worth a go. While sometimes skeptical of such recommendations – particularly if cycling routes are listed simply because they are relatively easy rather than picturesque – we decided to give it a go. Covering150km or so this would account for our last three days riding here and even if the route was not quite as expected we would at least be free from traffic. To date many of my favourite rides had been on the gravel paths, much less frequented by cars, campers and trucks. With only cyclists, walkers and horse riders allowed on this route we would not even bump into the occasional 4 x 4. Bliss. As it was was we saw just a few others riders and for many stretches it was just us, our bikes and the fabulous scenery of central Otago.

Trains were taken off this gorge based rail line having previously been a main trade link between Dunedin, on the East coast, and Cromwell and  in 1993 the line was taken over by the Department of Conservation. While local towns saw economic decline for the ten years following closure in 1990 the DoC finally opened what would be the Otago rail trail between the villages of Clyde and Middlemarch.

Bridges were altered, gravel tracks were laid and a local group would take on responsibility for signage and information. These days some 20, 000 people ride the route each year and it’s estimated that around $7, 000, 000 are now brought into the region rejuvenating local towns and associated amenities as hotels expand, B and B’s develop and cafes and local stores are needed to service those passing through. Locals are also involved in tour booking, baggage transfers and bike hire for many rail trail users. For such isolated, small rural communities these developments have been critical for employment, entrepreneurship and community facilities. As someone who has always been interested in community regeration, as well as a keen cyclist, this really is a remarkable story.

We took the main highway from Cromwell to Clyde and following a cup of earl grey and a lemon slice it was time to hit the gravel, stopping briefly for a wee photo. The early part of the trip passed by vineyards and farmland, cutting through rocks and with the sun shining right on us at over thirty degrees. It had been a while since we had ridden in these temperatures and I struggled as we neared the end of the days ride, throwing water over my head and into my mouth to refresh before arriving into Omakau. While we took cabins each night as our stops were determined by the position of campgrounds – aka the budget options.

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Following a detour to Ophir to visit New Zealand’s oldest post office, we made our way a further 55km to finish in Ranfurly. The uphill section of the trail pretty much complete it would be even easier from here. Despite being gravel it was well wheeled and packed down so fine even with heavy touring bikes and at gentle gradients the trip was a relaxing end to our riding here. This section of the trail saw us pass through tunnels (torch required) and over viaducts. Despite one puncture it was a glorious ride and our timing had been perfect. The following day was the Ranfurly Art deco day and Cavalcade so we would be entertained and despite not being able to stay an extra night and join in all the activities we decided to leave later the next day given it was light until reasonably late.

The final section of the trail had described the big skies of the Maniototo Plains and we were not disappointed. The skies were huge against rural scenes and we had more bridges and viaducts to cross. Tailwinds followed us and we were happy not to be riding in the opposite direction. To celebrate this good fortune we stopped for a beer at Hyde before finally arriving at our cabin in Middlemarch. It was getting chilly, the town seemed deserted and despite this marking either the start or end of the trail and being the stopping point for the Taieri Gorge scenic railway it didn’t seem to be thriving in the same way as the places we had passed by. While a come down for us as riders it was the town I felt most disappointed for.

Despite this we found the best cabins we had booked in New Zealand and a fabulous breakfast the next day. Our rail trail ride had been an amazing end and as we boarded the train to Dunedin we felt pretty chuffed. I would live to see more routes like this back home and of course the thriving rural communities alongside.

If I wrote a guidebook this would rate even higher.

We(s)t coast

Our ride down the West coast of the South island would start in Greymouth after a stunning ride on the TranzScenic railway following a catch up with pals in Christchurch. Many folk had told us how dramatic the West coast was and while excited to discover more they had also been quick to point out just how wet it would be too. We were expecting mixed blessings.

Following an organised tour to Pancake rocks (though I would highly recommend riding this fabulous coastal road) we left Greymouth for Hokitika. Just 40km down the road and I was pleased to arrive. A visit to A and E the previous day for an excruciating ear infection meant I was not feeling at my best. That said we made time to head to the beachfront and there met fellow cyclists, Richard and Katie; we would meet them again and share a few ales a little further on. In the meantime my lurgy called for a complete days rest.

We continued our journey the following day and after the best chai latte of our trip to date in the ex-goldmine town of Ross we finally arrived at Harihari. We were only expecting a basic camp yet the ground the back of the pub/motel offered glorious showers, free wi-fi, comfy chairs, scrumptious pub grub and a really really friendly welcome. They saw us off with free coffee the next morning and we arrived at Franz Josef glacier some time later. We were told it was a flat ride once we were over Mt Hercules and the cafe was just past the climb. Well, there was a cafe some 30km later and some hills. This was obviously kiwi flat.

It was good preparation for the following day and our three peak challenge to Fox Glacier.

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The beer and wine shared with Richard and Katy however was not necessarily in the preparation guide book. As it turned out the 555m of climbing was not as bad as we thought and we were set on making it without a stop which we managed to do, arriving in just under two hours. Given I had allowed a day for the ride we were then able to relax before our Glacier walk, including a stroll around Lake Matheson with, yep, Richard and Katy. Great day, shared dinner and a fascinating walk on the glacier before we left for the DoC camp at Lake Paringa. With thousands of sandflies and very basic amenities we were pleased to meet Tara and Toc. Given no access to drinking water they shared both their kettle and cold beers. Amazing kindness yet again.

Overjoyed to leave the sandflies we woke to drizzle the following morning. Our first sight of the wet stuff – so far the weather had been beautiful. We rode to Haast township that day before embarking on the steep climb ahead over the Haast pass and into Makarora. More huffing and puffing. We had just checked into a cabin when we bumped into…..yep, Richard and Katy! We shared a coffee but they had already decided to continue. Having arranged to meet up in Wanaka we took refuge in our cabin.

The journey to Wanaka was incredible. My favourite ride in New Zealand – an opinion it seems was shared with other riders we spoke to. Passing Lake Wanaka, climbing up past “the neck” then finally dropping down the hill to more lake and mountain scenery this truly was a wow moment. Wanaka was a brilliant town, we took full advantage of the Patagonia chocolate/icecream shop following high recommendations and….yep, beers with …..Jon, another cycle tourer from the UK and….Richard and Katy! Well, our routes now may be going in different directions so we had to say goodbye!

As per the last time the beers were ill timed for the big climb the next day…43km up hill over the highest sealed road in New Zealand. Oh well. The gradient was gentle for the first 25km where we stopped in the Cordrona hotel though shortly after was a tough push to the summit. I stopped three times to catch my breath on this one though the steeper hairpins of the descent
were certainly just reward. Whoosh.

We had a final stopover in Arrowtown before the final West coast ride to Queenstown. Arrowtown was another interesting place and to end this section of the journey in Queenstown meant more icecream, new cycle shorts and a chance to drool in the outdoor shops. We were more inland now and had come back sunshine though our final reminder of the wet coast would come from our coach trip to Milford Sound. While the scenery would have made this a spectacular ride the cars, coaches, lack of shoulder and the Homer tunnel would makes for a treacherous ride. It was a long and unfortunately wet day in Fiordland and though this meant the many waterfalls were in good flow as we left the valley, our boat tour did not fully reveal the drama this great national park has to offer.

Back in Queenstown we prepared for the final stages. We were heading for the Otago rail trail. Our journey down the West coast had been a tour to remember. Changing landscapes, changing weather and some new great friends too. A part of New Zealand not to be missed.

Pedallers paradise?

A trip to New Zealand had been on my “bucket list” for some time. Lush green scenery surrounding a slightly hippy, laid back approach  – the outdoor adventurers idyll. Everyone I knew who lived here/ had been here raved about their trip and told me I would love mine. Expectations were high and as I read through guidebooks and holiday brochures I was really struggling to see what to leave out knowing that to try and see everything would be an impossible task.

I had been told about the cycle route books “Pedallers Paradise” by both Inga and Bas, two Dutch riders from our Africa ride, and so I ordered them from a book store in Wellington. So far  -  so good.

Whether you think something is paradise is of course subject to one’s own definition. For me it would entail rolling hills, stunning views, calorie free ice-cream and great ale to finish the day. We would chat to great folk, do a few touristy things and pedal. While some days may still be tougher from a physical perspective the payback for the additional effort would always be worth it. While predominantly sunny, given the time of year we had arrived, a few short showers would still be expected given that while I may be a complete optimist I am also a realist.

What I hadn’t accounted for were aggressive drivers, headwinds and sandflies!

Drivers, particularly on the busier North island are not so keen on our two wheeled machines and it’s unfortunate that, despite riding well on the left and in single file, we still found ourselves subject to abuse hurled from windows and as trucks passed it was obvious which ones had drivers that also rode bikes.  Most roads have a small shoulder and while other European riders have felt too much in the traffic, as Brits, where finding a shoulder to ride in is rare, we have found it ok in the most part. Conversly, as soon as we stop the hospitality is overwhelming – on a par with Malaysia – and we even found ourselves staying at the home of complete strangers, Martyn and Kathy, in Nelson. Incredible. Fortunately, the South Island is much quieter and so we hope that as holidays end, roads too will quieten…there’s that optimist again!

Despite the above we have still had some amazing rides, taking the old rail trail over the Rimitukas, following Queen Charlotte Drive out of Picton and more recently I enjoyed our back road from Tapawera to Glenhope then onto the main highway towards Merchison. The wind on our last ride was fiercesome again and although cold and tired I still loved the feeling of isolation and desolation the gravel track though old barren woodlands provided – reminding me of the final days of my Lands End to John O’Groats trip back in 2005.

I’m aware there is little one can do about sandflies but they don’t carry malaria so we are finally off tablets. The roads are getting quieter and while I hate riding into headwind but at least it seems that the stronger it is the more amusing I find it – for now at least. We’ve found some good ale and ice-cream (though sadly not calorie free) and the scenery is always good.  I’m not sure I would cycle tour here again though. Given a lack of roads means sharing with the bigger vehicles I too would hire a camper. With mountain bikes to hand I would ride the rougher tracks and roads I’ve loved more but without the panniers. Being outside is the key thing to do here and I must say I’m missing history in terms of architecture and buildings. New Zealand really is a stunning country and while this blog has perhaps considered whether it is really a paradise for cycle touring there is no doubt that it is an outdoor one.

New year. New Zealand. New friends.

After a long flight we finally arrived at our hotel in Auckland around 330pm on NewYears Eve. It seemed our bike, tent and shoe cleaning regime had been up to scratch so we passed through bio-control at the airport without too much difficulty. It was strange leaving so quickly after Christmas especially after my ma’s hospital appointment on Christmas eve and without getting to really see friends and family much again after the main seasonal activities. However, despite some apprehension I was still excited to finally get to land in a country I have wanted to visit for some time. Deemed the land of adventure it was also now a country of new friends too.

We managed to stay awake long enough to watch midnight fireworks from the Skytower though it’s fair to say I’m not a fan of busy new year bars and felt particularly unglamorous so we soon headed back to catch up on sleep. Fully charged the next day we set about sightseeing, going up the skytower and walking around the harbour. This city has a great feel, a fantastic sense of space and fabulous arty industrial areas. A brilliant start to this new adventure.

The following day we would prepare to leave – final shopping (I needed a new camping mug for this tea-aholic Brit), bike building and dinner and beers with Darragh, our first meet up with newish friends here since meeting on the Africa trip. Smiles and ales later we said goodbye. Unfortunately I had not been quite so lucky to meet other older friends from Bristol but we had to get moving.

We made our way round the coast with a plan to reach Miranda. However, with very steep climbs, up and down all day after a month without riding we eventually stopped after 90km at Orere Point. Relieved to reach a camp site we were sore, tired and early to rest. We had made a plan to meet fellow rider, Vince, from our Africa trip too in a few days and wanted to make good Southerly progress. Fortunately roads were flat and after a great lunch stop in a very friendly, quirky cafe and our first hokey pokey ice-cream we were 107km down the road in Te Aroha. Vince would pick us up the next day in Tirau and take us and our bikes to Rotarua.

All went as planned and soon we were in the town known for being geo-thermal and therefore also a little stinky. We visited bubbling mud pools, hot springs, lakes, coffee shops and scenery a-plenty. On our way we passed through a trout farm where we met guy called Red who invited us back for smoked fresh trout the following day. We were really getting a kiwi welcome. Vince had driven up from Wellington to show us round and now a complete stranger was preparing food for us all. Amazing.

The route we planned should then have taken us to Taupo but just a few days into our trip we were changing plans. Given Vince had now shown us around here he would now drop us in art-deco town, Napier. However, before leaving Rotarua there was just time to squeeze in another spa, known as DeBretts and ….a bit of biking!

While obviously keen riders it’s fair to say John and I generally prefer tarmac. Yes, I have a mountain bike, have ridden trails and we rode rough sections through Africa and Nepal but when it comes to technical riding I am a wuss though I will have a go. Vince, being more a downhill rider was determined to show us the technical trails through the redwoods in Rotaura and had brought two spare mountain bikes for us to use. After a steep, gravelly climb we would follow the intermediate route downhill. Known as “corners” the route twisted through the trees, jumping, screeching and whooshing until we reached the bottom. It was the slowest time Vince had ever recorded, John had taken a wee tumble and I had certainly walked significant sections yet despite this we had smiles on our faces and not just because we were now safe at the car!

Another hot spa and a drive across to the coast we’re now in Napier. John and I will be back on the road bikes soon enough to continue our journey. We’ve had such a welcoming start and stunning scenery so far and look forward to meeting Vince again and other newly made friends as we make our way through the next few months.

Gutted only to have missed my old pals it’s great to be able to consolidate new friendships.

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.

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.

Tour de France 100

The idea to combine our trip through France with the opportunity to watch the tour was a mere glint, a slight possibility and a “nice to do”  given we’re going there notion. While I have watched the tour, as much for the scenery (the riders and the landscape) and take a distant interest in bike events I don’t really have a full history and understanding of the competitive cycling world. While my interest has grown as British cycling success has, getting to Alpe D’huez to watch stage 18 has become a major factor in our route planning and daily mileage targets.

Having travelled around 650 km from 9th July we finally arrived at the top of the mountain the day before the tour. Cycling up from Grenoble to Bourg d’Osian then up to the peak at around 1800m was a real buzz. Surrounded by thousands of other riders, they were all so encouraging as with my 17kg bike (well, Bob, the borrowed bike) and a further 30kg or so in panniers etc, I slowly made my way to the top. Bon courage, bravo, respect and chapeau – hats off – all shouted at me as I slowly pushed ahead.

While the climb was far from easy it was not as difficult as I was expecting. Sometimes I guess we can build these things up to be much bigger than they are. I was nervous as I started but as I got into granny gear the trick was Ghent to keep a comfortable pace. I was not planning (and had no hope) of keeping up with John and Thijs. I stooped at corners when I had the chance – I could not get my bike going again on the hill so when I spotted a chance to rest on a flattish corner turn I just had to do it.

Nearer the top  I got chatting to another rider – he had also done a little touring. It was great to talk to him though unfortunately his front wheel ran into mine – just where I knew getting going again would be difficult. Usually in situations like this I would traverse the road first, then quickly turn to continue my journey. Alps d’huez was very busy. I waited for a gap and went for it only just avoiding a collision with a guy heading downhill. Chatting was nice but did make things tricky! The same happened again closer to the top though I did finally arrive. Seen as a real cyclists badge of achievement I finally reached the top after just under 3 hours ride time. Averaging 5.8 km/hr , my Garmin recorded a climb of 1123m over a distance of 18 Km. slow but yep, I was quite chuffed.

Having drunk a few coffees to warm up again we were on the lookout for a wild camp spot for the night. Despite picturing this as a spot with magnificent views and a quiet nights sleep, we soon had our homes built. On the roundabout, next to a water tap and porta loos. There were a lot of folks “wild” camping tonight! We woke early after a very noisy night – exuberant supporters (aka drunken idiots), fleets of trucks and about about 2am – the barriers were being erected for the next day.

We left early to make our way to the Dutch corner. Given we were travelling with our Dutch friend Thijs then where else would we go. We arrived at 930 am and it was here we would wait for 5 or so hours before the pro riders came through. The atmosphere was buzzing as bike, after bike, after bike came up the mountain, just as we had the day before.  Soon trucks, vehicles and pedestrians would follow. The smell of burning clutches, Dutch carnival music and the sheer mass of cyclists will be my over-riding memories. It was estimated there would be more than 1 million people on the Alpe d’huez that day. To me, it looked like this was be exceeded. Phenomenal but very glad I rode up the day before.

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Soon, 2pm arrived and the carnival was about to begin. I thought ads on the TV came on at a much louder volume but boy, this was mind blowing. Hundreds of cars, decorated to theme , built in microphones and “goodies” galore just thrown at the crowds.  The  trucks sped round the corner we were standing on and it was not uncommon to have to very quickly jump back to avoid being run over. As for the goodies we got – while perhaps not what everyone was looking for, we were really pleased with our small packets of washing powder – Very useful for the touring cyclist!

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The record up Alpe d’huez is for 37 minutes and as we lined up to watch the pro riders we would get a sense of the speeds it is possible to go should you chose. I missed Froome the first time around – lucky for me they sent the pros up twice!

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The chaos of course then began as everyone headed down the mountain back to Bourg. We all rode slowly down the hill, avoiding other cyclists (some riding like lunatics giving cyclists a bad name) and pedestrians. Finally we set up camp ready to say goodbye to the tdf and continue our journey into Italy. Seeing the tour was such a fabulous day. I’m already looking forward to seeing the mayhem in Yorkshire … infact I’m starting to have an idea about that one … I’m sure you”ll all find out soon if the plan comes together…

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Week one

Well, here’s the week in stats … 340 miles, 1 puncture, 2 broken tent poles (since fixed) and 5 oysters.

We’ve been following the pacific coast highway  for a few days now – while to date it’s certainly been more highway than coast…. Hopefully that’s all set to change. While it’s great for getting used to the bike the scenery has been mostly tarmac, logging trucks and lots of trees. Going over the Astoria bridge meant entering Oregon though and we were told the scenery would get better….

To date the people have been the real highlight. Starting with our hosts in Seattle we have found people to be generous, interested and really helpful. The other day we met a family doing the same trip as us… Down to san fran anyhow. So impressed and what an experience for a 4 year old.

The USA is a fascinating place…. While we put up our small two man tents between coaches, 4x4s etc etc we are also coming across those folks struggling more and I am reminded that one of the real advantages of bike travel is not only the chance to feel the landscape but also the opportunity to meet a diverse group of people, lives and opinion. No judgement. Just different.

I’m so looking forward to more of that.

My new friend John

Following an unexpected family visit two weeks ago I went on to Bristol to meet up with my cycle buddy John. Like me, he too had signed up for the original supported trip and when that was cancelled he put out a call to see if anyone was still interested in a cycle adventure. As many of my pals would say when I get an idea in my head that’s it and so for me the fact that someone else still wanted to go this was really positive. And that’s where it started…..

Since January John and I have been in regular contact – sharing ideas, discussing options and finding out more about each other. However, with almost 400 miles between us we had not been able to meet. A number of friends thought I was crazy (some still do I think!) for planning a year out with a guy I had never met but as John and I chatted we both agreed that our honesty, shared goals and general chit chat felt so comfortable it was like planning a journey with a old friend. Weird, but true. It just felt right. In fact, such was our confidence that we paid deposits for parts of out trip  – something that originally we had said we would only do after we met.

So, that day came on Friday. John had made the journey to Bristol and we had a weekend of biking, socialising and hanging out.  I acted as tour guide around the city and we finished with pizza and a pint before we went out on a 52 mile ride the following day.

The route was a favourite ride of mine heading south out of the city, over Bristol’s biggest hill (Dundry) and over to Cheddar Gorge. While there were tough hills these bring great views of Bristol, Chew Valley Lake and cycling down into Cheddar itself. It was a beautiful ride though as we were 12 miles from home the weather turned, we were in an exposed area, the sky went very dark and the hail was painful as it hit. Fortunately the airport was close and we headed in for shelter and a hot drink. This was the worst weather I had experienced on the bike this year. While the hail stopped it continued to pour with rain and we set off for home. It’s never great to get caught out in bad weather but it is part of the course and in a funny way it was good to see how we both deal with imperfect conditions…. This won’t be the only time!

I’m pleased to say that while smiles may have decreased momentarily a hot bath, curry and a beer aided recovery and the following day we were out again. It was a fantastic weekend and while it felt comfortable before we met I am now happy to describe John as a friend as well as a cycle buddy. We’re going to be just fine.