Self Propelled

I’ve started a new blog at selfpropelled.life where I’ll be relating tales from my future adventures. Please follow me and Travelling Lobster there to find out what I’m up to.

I’ll be keeping this blog live as a handy reference for budding cycle tourers looking to pedal around the coast of Britain, and as such have included links to the legs (Garmin maps) and  blog posts from that tour; 5,451 miles covered in 3 months.

Caveat – some of my routes were at times a little unorthodox, there may well be smoother rides in places. All worth it for scenes like this…

Loch Fyne sunset 1

Loch Fyne sunset, spent the night wild camping

Tour prep progress

My route planning summed up by Alice and the Cheshire Cat

My route planning summed up by Alice and the Cheshire Cat

With around 40 days to go before I embark on my next adventure, I really need to get a wriggle on with completing the outstanding tasks on my to do list. It’s not like I’m not getting through them, but work keeps getting in the way – how very inconvenient of it. Although saying that we’re getting to the end of a 2 year project which is pretty satisfying; it’s very rewarding seeing something you’ve invested so much time and effort in go live successfully.

So far I’ve booked my flight to Norway, sorted out putting my house on the rental market, and ticked off quite a few items on my shopping list with regards to kit needed for 6 months on the road. The shopping bit has been a lot of fun, even if I do need to address my credit card bill sooner rather than later. I’ve got a few new gadgets to play with, as well as a new buff arriving in the post shortly; my old one was definitely getting a bit on the worn side, however it’s served me well, a fantastic piece of versatile apparel.

I’m also in the process of getting inoculated versus a wide range of horrible ailments such as Typhoid, Rabies, Tetanus, Polio, Hepatitis A & B , Diphtheria and MMR. This involves several visits to the travel clinic over the course of a few weeks,  which is leaving me with quite a few holes in my arms. Thankfully none of these injections appear to need to take place in the vicinity of my butt, or any other uncomfortable locations, as yet anyway; maybe the nurse is saving the ‘best’ till last.

As the above quote from Alice in Wonderland would suggest my route planning hasn’t progressed much as yet. I know where I’m starting from, and the key locations along the way, such as Nordkapp in Norway, Tarifa in Spain…and Istanbul…and several other countries and cities, however the exact route probably won’t be confirmed until I start properly. I prefer to make final route decisions as I go, so I’m not constrained by having to be somewhere by such and such a time. One of the wonderful things about cycle touring is you have everything you need, including your mode of transport, on your bike, especially if you’re happy to camp, so you’re pretty self sufficient and massively flexible, as long as you have the time spare.

Now I’ve got the big work project out of the way I can start to get properly excited about leaving. I’m really looking forward to hitting the road, seeing new places, and meeting new people. News stories seem to focus on everything that’s wrong with the world, and how scary a place it is, which I maintain really isn’t the case. Whilst it can be daunting setting off for new climes, and you do have to be careful wherever you are due to a small minority of people, the majority are kind, generous, friendly and welcoming, and interested in what you’re doing, even if they do think you’re a little crazy at times. I was reminded of this when watching the short film from Tom Allen and Leon McCarron on their trip to Iran, where they journeyed from the source of the Karun, Iran’s longest river, to the sea. You can watch a taster from this via the link below, and sign up for the newsletter to see the full 15 minutes:

http://karunfilm.com

Well worth a watch. They’ve also just launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise money to produce two feature length films on their expeditions to Iran, following the Karun, and Patagonia, following the Santa Cruz. Check it out here:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1107425124/a-tale-of-two-rivers-journeys-on-the-karun-and-san?

I know they’ll appreciate any and all support for what’s a fantastic project, they just need the funds to finish it. One of the reasons I’m supporting it, aside from the fact I love finding out about people’s adventures, is because films like this help counter what’s in the mainstream media about other countries and cultures and the threats they pose. People are always going to be slightly afraid of something that’s different, that I’m afraid is kinda genetic, however the more  positive stories we can spread on other cultures the better, to help stop that fear or ignorance turning into unfounded hatred and aggression.

One of the aims of my blog will continue to be to relate tales of human generosity, and to tell the stories from other cultures I experience. I hope this will also go some way to demonstrating people are basically the same the world over, with only a minority spoiling it for all. On the blog front I still haven’t settled on a new name, so I might end up just continuing to use this one, we’ll see, it’ll be one less thing to sort out!

I’m writing this at half past two in the morning because my  body clock is currently on night shift mode, and I can’t sleep, however I need to catch a train in 6 hours time so I suppose I ought to at least try and get some shut-eye. Bonuit world.

Ready to ride?

Ready to ride? The answer to that is probably ‘No’ at the moment. Whilst it would be relatively straight-forward to jump on my bike and head off for a week, getting ready to be away for 6 months is proving somewhat more of a challenge.

I am however making some good progress. The to-do list is starting to get shorter rather than longer, this week anyway, and I’ve almost booked my flight to Nordkapp; just some final details around getting my bike on the 3 aeroplanes it takes to get there to sort out. I’ve talked to an agent about renting my house out whilst I’m away, so the mortgage will take care of itself, providing they can find some tenants and I finish sprucing it up and throwing out accumulated junk. Work has approved my sabbatical request (hoorah), I’m getting my touring kit together, and the training is going just about adequately. All in all some good progress.

Trying to get loads of stuff done whilst continuing to do the day job is quite tricky, especially as we’re nearing the end of a big project at work. I mentioned my to do list is going down, however this will only continue as long as I don’t find more tasks to add to it. For example I realised just last week that I might need a few vaccinations for some of the countries I’m intending to visit, or at the very least a Tetanus booster, so I’ve made an appointment with the Travel Clinic. Not sure if I’ll need anything else, however a rabies jab might be a good idea given dogs like chasing bikes. One of the things I worry about is being chased and potentially bitten by dogs, especially in some of the more remote parts of Europe, North Africa and down into Turkey. I might see if I can invest in one of those sonic devices that’s supposed to scare dogs away, or failing that take a few squeaky toys I can throw as distractions!

I keep looking at the map below which I got off the EuroVelo website and dreaming about setting off. All the manic preparation will be worth it and I’ll be able to relax; life is so much simpler on the road.

The map gives a good overview of the countries I’ll be travelling through and the possible route, starting in Nordkapp at the northernmost point of Norway, then down into Finland, on to Sweden, then Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, and Spain. Once I reach Tarifa in Spain I might have a couple of weeks off and do some windsurfing, as well as nip over to Morocco for an explore, before continuing along the Mediterranean coast through France, northern Italy, Slovenia, then route to be confirmed to Istanbul. After that I’ll see. If I have time I’ll ride back to the UK alongside the Danube. If time is running short I’ll have to hop on a plane or ask work nicely to extend my sabbatical. Total distance should end up being around 10,000 miles or thereabouts, depending on my route which I intend to remain flexible on; for example I might end up going to Athens instead of Istanbul.

eurovelo-mapI ‘bumped into’ Andrew Sykes via Twitter the other day, who has just set off to Spain before starting his latest cycle tour pedaling from Tarifa to Nordkapp; same journey as me but the opposite direction. I’m looking forward to crossing paths with him, probably in Denmark somewhere, later this year. It’ll be good to swap notes on the route ahead. You can follow his progress via his blog here: http://cyclingeurope.org/

Back to outstanding tasks on my to do list. Got a few things I could do with some advice on. I want to invest in a laptop instead of taking my iPad with me on this tour. A laptop offers greater flexibility, and besides my iPad has never really been the same since it fell on the floor whilst I was using it to follow instructions to mend my car. I think I want an Apple laptop, which I can  use to do some basic video editing as well as blog and use the web; I’d like to post a few video blogs whilst touring, which’ll hopefully be quicker and a little different. Something not too expensive ideally. Any tips?

Other tasks include setting up a new blog as ‘Bike around Britain’ doesn’t really qualify for touring around Europe and beyond. I might just go with travellinglobster.com, or  jamesandthegiantworld.something, suggestions welcome. Travelling lobster is obviously biased…

Travelling lobster, clearly biased, but with some wise words.

Travelling lobster, clearly biased, but with some wise words.

I won’t bore you with the rest of my to do list, but needless to say there’s quite a bit on it, and I’ll be more than a little relieved once I get more tasks ticked off.

I forgot, the start of my tour isn’t really Nordkapp. I’m setting off from Norwich and travelling up to the Cycle Touring Festival in Lancashire first, which takes place from 01 to 03 May, then I’ll fly out from Manchester airport. Really looking forward to meeting like minded individuals, getting some advice for the road, and kicking off with a bang. It’ll be great to catch up with people like Tom Allen (http://tomsbiketrip.com/), and Richard from Oxford Bike Works (http://www.oxfordbikeworks.co.uk/) who put together the design for the bike I’m riding, as well as a host of other guests and speakers.

They’ve sold out of tickets this year but hopefully they’ll repeat the festival next year (https://cycletouringfestival.wordpress.com/).

Final thoughts for this blog. I’ve been thinking a lot about life in the last couple of months, maybe because it’s just turned three years since Lucy passed away and a lot of things have come flooding back. It reminded me about how precious life is and how one should not waste it, or get overly trapped by the pressures of modern life. Sometimes it feels like I’m renting my life out to someone else, rather than breaking the mold and choosing my own path; making a change can be scary and it’s easier to conform to what is considered normal. The exercise I’m going through at the moment, preparing to go on on tour and de-cluttering my life, whilst a bit manic, is proving very therapeutic. I’m really looking forward to hitting the road knowing everything is sorted, with a fresh baseline to start from whenever I get home. Whenever I lose focus I think about Lu and what she used to tell me about striving to get the most out of life. Such a wonderful person and missed by all who knew her.

Lu - walking in a winter wonderland

Lu – walking in a winter wonderland

I think Lu would agree with Mr Rollins’ thoughts below, which struck me as fitting this week.

'All you got is life time' - Henry Rollins

‘All you got is life time’ – Henry Rollins

Starting 2015 as I mean to continue

January can often be one of the ‘meh’ months after all the excitement of Christmas and New Year’s celebrations, then having to go back to work whilst it’s still dark for the majority of the day, with the weather not being conducive to wanting to get out of bed. I decided this year I’d make January count, rather than be the month you want to get through as fast as possible. It still seems to have flown by, but at least I appear to have achieved filling it with good memories rather than what can sometimes be a bland month.

It started off well with a great New Year’s party round at friends, after which I decided to sleep out under the stars in my back garden in an effort to begin the year off with a bit of a microadventure. This enterprise was somewhat fuelled by the several shots, some of which were of a dubious nature, consumed at the party, however I wanted to take up the challenge Alastair Humphreys has laid down of a ‘Year of Microadventures’, and sleeping out at least once a month. This won’t be difficult once I start my cycle touring later this year, however it requires a bit of motivation in the colder months. Suffice to say equipped with a sleeping bag encased in a bivvy bag I was pretty snug, but awoke somewhat bleary the next day. I need to decide where to camp out in February; somewhere a bit more adventurous than my back garden perhaps!

If you haven’t checked out Alastair Humphreys’ website definitely worth a browse, and I can recommend watching his ‘Into the Empty Quarter’ DVD which I saw over Christmas, all good motivational stuff: http://www.alastairhumphreys.com

Thankfully I didn’t have to wait long before the next exciting instalment of January fun, as some friends and I had booked a skiing holiday to Slovenia for the second week in. It’s a lot easier going back to work after New Year when you know you have a holiday booked within spitting distance. I hadn’t been to Slovenia before and it didn’t disappoint. Admittedly we were lucky with snow, as it’s been unseasonably warm, however the pistes were open and I hadn’t forgotten how to ski after nearly 6 years of not doing so. It was also cheap at under half the price of an equivalent holiday in France or Austria; the Vopa bar opposite our hotel charged around 2.20 euros a pint, as opposed at least 3 times that in France.

We booked with Crystal Holidays and have no complaints. They were a friendly and helpful team, who organised various events including a pub quiz; we somehow came third, despite the Jagermeister. Kranjska Gora itself is a lovely place, a small town with a bit of an Austrian feel to it which isn’t surprising considering it’s proximity to the border. The locals are very friendly, as were the other ski parties from all over Europe, including a group of Czechs with whom we had an impromptu late night guitar jamming session. Kranjska Gora has some excellent mountain biking trails which are open in the summertime, so might head back that way later this year if my route takes me in that direction. Slovenia is pretty cycle friendly, with lots of cycle trails available, so a good choice for a tourer.

Here’s a video my skiing buddy Chris put together from our night skiing foray; warning – this video contains heavy metal and Chris’ radioative green trousers.

The same Youtube channel also contains the somewhat epic crash Chris and I had on the Podkoren black run; a case of converging skiers with nowhere to go!

The ski holiday over it was back to work and the serious business of earning the pennies to support more fun based activity later this year. With the intended start date of my 2015 tour getting closer I’ve realised I’ve got rather a lot to before I’m ready to go, including a kit refresh, finishing planning, getting my house ready to rent then renting it out, buying plane tickets etc etc etc. At least I’ve made a good start this weekend by picking up my new bike from Oxford Bike Works. As I’ve mentioned before I really love my Ridgeback Panorama, however I wanted to upgrade for this years activities, and selected something a little more solid and simple; a steed that’s unlikely to break, can survive the harsher trails, and which I can fix relatively easily wherever I am.

I read a review on touring bikes a couple of months ago on Tom Allen’s website, http://tomsbiketrip.com/ (look under touring help for loads of really sound advice when planning a trip) , and noticed he’s designed an expedition bike, putting to use his years of experience of cycle touring in to designing something simple, hard to break, and practical. As I was in the market for something new, and didn’t want to go the route of Dawes, or another Ridgeback, I thought I’d take a look and got in touch with Richard from Oxford Bike Works. After a visit in early January, which included a fitting session, test ride, and design finalisation, I headed back there yesterday to pick up my new bike. After riding it around Norfolk today I can confirm I’m very pleased with the resulting machine, and would recommend Richard and Oxford Bike Works to anyone in the market for something that isn’t just off the peg.

Features include an SP Dynamo Hub for keeping devices charged, and for running the Luxos front lamp which will be handy in Norwegian tunnels, some of which can be kilometres long. I’ll carry on using my Lezyne back light, and add to it with a few other small LEDs if the weather is bad. It also has a natty two-legged folding stand, something I really missed on my Bike around Britain tour. I’m somewhat over-excited about the brass bell mounted on the handlebar stem; it just looks cool. The wheels are hand-built with 36 spokes, covered by comprehensive sturdy yet light mudguards, and Tubus Racks on which I can mount my Ortlieb panniers. The bike frame is Reynolds 525 tubing, and I did wonder why higher spec tubing wasn’t used, 725 or even 953, however apparently the 525 won’t dent as easily. I went for standard mountain bike style handlebars, with cow horns so I can change my hand grip; I get pins and needles in my hands if there in the same position for too long whilst riding. The saddle is a Gel Ozone Bioflex model, which is considerably larger and more padded than that on my Ridgeback; I can attest to it being more comfy after today’s ride, didn’t need padded shorts. I considered a Brookes Saddle but couldn’t justify the expense, and some say they take a bit of getting used to anyway. Finally, the most important thing, I chose red for the colour, as red makes things go faster, obviously, and because Travelling Lobster approves of anything that’s red.

Here are a few more photo’s from today’s ride around Norfolk; the snow drops have been out for a few week’s now and look lovely.

With the new bike acquired, I need to get on and tick some more stuff off my list with regards to tour prep, especially as I want to start in May which isn’t that far away now. I’m thinking of starting the tour with a visit to the first UK-based cycle touring festival, up near Manchester, before flying out to Nordkapp, the Northern-most point of Norway. It would be great to meet lots of like-minded individuals and make some new contacts, learn lots, and get motivated for the months ahead. The festival is the first of its kind in the UK, as far as I know, and I hope it gets enough interest for it to continue next year, cycle touring being something of a niche, although growing, past-time. Would be great to go back next year and talk about my 2015 adventures; here’s a link to the website, tickets go on sale pretty soon: https://cycletouringfestival.wordpress.com/

That was meant to be a short post, but turned into something of a ramble, so well done if you made it all the way through. Stay tuned for more news shortly on tour planning, working out how to get my bike on a plane, renaming my blog (suggestions welcome), thoughts on dealing with dangerous dogs whilst touring, and refining my kit list. 2015 is shaping up to be a winner, providing I get my arse in gear and get cracking on the to-do list.

04 Jan 2015 – In search of a bacon roll

I decided to take advantage of another cold yet bright winter’s day and head out on a ride to Blickling Hall and Aylsham today. The roads were icy in places yet manageable with care, and I had a yearning for a roadside bacon roll; you’d have thought that a bacon roll would be easy to find in Norfolk, home as it is to many a pig farm, however businesses must still be warming up after the festive period as no purveyors of pig based sustenance were open. In the end I settled for a couple of cheese twists from the supermarket in Aylsham, satisfactory yet leaving me feeling vaguely cheated.

The temperature didn’t appear to get above 2 degrees celsius, so I took it pretty cautiously around the back roads, especially on a downhill patch where the frost hadn’t thawed, with the odd speed bump for added stunt potential. So a pretty slow ride, but good to shake off the cobwebs after Christmas. I’ll need to up my miles and speed a bit as a I train for cycle touring again, however I’m pleased to have done 38 miles today, and that it didn’t hurt; must shed a few pounds though!

Here’s a link to the route, which I can recommend, although I’d avoid the main road back from Aylsham to Norwich usually, I was just lacking time before the sun set.

http://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/665171875

Here a few photo’s from the ride:

Only a week to go before heading off to Slovenia for a few days skiing. It’s been several years so it’ll be interesting to see what I’ve forgotten. I’ve also never been to Slovenia before so really looking forward to it, just hoping for no injury inducing crashes. Once back I’ll be picking up my new bike, so going to be a busy but very fun January.

Last ride of the year (2014)

I love it when it’s cold and bright at this time of year, and today was exceptional in terms of a classic Norfolk winter’s day; the air was crisp, the sun shining, and little in the way of wind. To take advantage I hopped on my bike for a final 2014 ride, only 25 miles out to Wymondham and then back to Norwich through the countryside, however it was superb, even if I did have to watch out for the odd icy patch.

I’ll be back to more regular blogging in 2015 as I prepare for my next cycle tour. I’m planning on heading into Europe for a few months; more details to follow however likely to be starting off in Norway (Nordkapp) and heading for Spain.

At present I’m very excited about the new bike I’ve ordered from Oxford Bike Works (http://www.oxfordbikeworks.co.uk/). It’s based on an expedition bike designed in partnership with Tom Allen (http://tomsbiketrip.com/), and it was great to meet Richard earlier this week and get the fitting done. Had a quick test ride around Oxfordshire and it was extremely comfortable; it’s amazing what a difference a professionally fitted bike makes. Hopefully I’ll be picking it up towards the end of January, which gives me plenty of time to get used to the new steed before setting off into Europe.

All that remains is to wish everyone all the best for 2015. I hope everyone has time to get a bit of adventure in and follow their dreams, I’ll certainly be striving to do so.

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year from me and Travelling Lobster

Happy New Year from me and Travelling Lobster

 

Autumn musings

Autumn is upon us and it feels like the year has flown by, again, faster than normal as I haven’t spent 3 months of it cycling around the coast of Britain. I can recall every day of that tour if I think about it, whereas days this year seems to merge all into one. Having spent the year mostly working my thoughts are turning to 2015, and firming up plans for my next cycling tour.

At the moment I’m contemplating Europe, starting in Scandinavia and pedalling South, however I still need to mull over it some more. Such a tour will require months off work, a kit refresh, maybe renting my house out, and saying goodbye to Norwich for a bit. Actually, it doesn’t sounds like that hard a decision to make, although I’ll miss friends and family; life on the road is cheap, it can be free at times, and if my house is rented out the bills take care of themselves. I keep fretting over the details but in the end the question of ‘Why Not?’ keeps returning, and I’m finding it very difficult to justify not doing something big.

I spent today pedalling around Norfolk, taking in the Autumnal scenes, and trying to empty my head of trivialities whilst building a new list of priorities. I’m forty next year, and it feels like a good opportunity to see some new places, meet some new people, and have another adventure. I wonder if I could visit 40 countries by bike in a year, or at least 40 fantastic places; 40 countries might be stretching it a bit.

Early morning ride in the mist, frost abounding.

Early morning ride in the mist, frost abounding.

On the bike front I’m still seriously considering replacing my Ridgeback Panorama. Whilst I’ve grown very attached to it, it needs a lot of work; new front forks, chain, cassette, handlebar wraps, cables, brakes, racks etc. When you take all that into consideration, and the fact I want something a little tougher for the next tour, it seems prudent to consider replacing the whole thing. I won’t get rid of it completely though; when I finally open that bar it’ll hang over the fireplace like an ancient sword from ye olde days. I’m currently speaking to an independent bike maker who has some exciting custom builds, so hopefully they’ll be more news soon on that topic.

Norfolk in the Autumn

Norfolk in the Autumn

One of the most frequent questions I get asked by friends is ‘What are you going to do next?’. It’s great that people are interested in what I might be planning, but it doesn’t half put the pressure on to do hit the road again. Maybe it’s a symptom of people living their lives vicariously, but I keep wanting to ask what they’re going to do next? What’s holding you back from having an adventure, be it large or small, and me enjoying reading about it? I think, like me, everyone is a bit scared of breaking from the norm, taking a risk, and going for it, however it comes back to the question of ‘Why not?’ again; although if you have a partner, kids, and are concentrating on a career I acknowledge it’s a little harder. You can however always take them with you, and do smaller trips – a remote office you can work from whilst pedalling has got to be a possibility!

Norfolk has many churches, this one is always a nice spot for a pause.

Norfolk has many churches, this one is always a nice spot for a pause.

Another good reason for going on a tour again has got to be fitness aspect. I think I’ve put on a stone and a half since finishing ‘Bike around Britain’, despite still cycling 10+ miles a day and longer at the weekends. Once you’ve got used to consuming several thousand calories a day to keep energy levels up it’s hard to cut down, although maybe I’m just a glutton. I also look back on my 3 months on the road and realise how happy and unstressed I was, compared to the 9 to 5 (or 9 to 9 as is often the case) routine. I enjoy a lot about my job however my Mum always says I’m not suited to an office job, so maybe I should take her advice and split; there you go Mum, if I hit the road for several months you can’t object overly – you’ve given me the motivation! xx

Keswick Church with its round tower

Keswick Church with its round tower

Signing off for the time being, but hopefully more news soon. Hmmm. Do you think I need to change my blog name if I venture into Europe; Bike around Britain might not work. Suggestions for names welcome!

P.S. Been playing a new game for the last few months whilst pedalling about – Ingress – bit like orienteering. Using your phone you get to find portals, capture them, and link them with other portals to gain points. It’s fun and gives you motivation to cycle that extra mile, although you always have to watch out for the opposing team who will scupper your plans at every available opportunity (credit to them where due). If you like getting about and fancy giving it a go look it up; and join Enlightened, those Resistance players have too much of an easy time of it and we need reinforcements😉 https://www.ingress.com/