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.