Saturday, March 31, 2012

1 Day To Go

Well, I can't quite believe the days is almost here. After a couple of years as a dream and a couple of months in the planning, tomorrow I set off on my maiden cycle touring adventure, here is a final appropriate numerical tune. Hopefully my journey will not be too lonely! I hope you enjoy :)

Friday, March 30, 2012

2 Days To Go

With just 2 days to go until I set off on my maiden cycle touring adventure, here is the penultimate appropriate numerical tune. I hope you enjoy :)

As I am feeling most jolly, I will even throw in joke today.

How do you turn a duck into a soul singer?

Put it in the microwave until its Bill Withers!

I thank you.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

3 Days To Go

With just 3 days to go until I set off on my maiden cycle touring adventure, it just had to be this one! I hope you enjoy :)

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

WWOOFing Insurance

Trying to decide on what insurance to get for my trip has been a bit of a nightmare!

I have my new EHIC (European Health Insurance Card) which replaces the E1-11. My bike is covered, under the house insurance policy, for theft from anywhere in the world. Piece of mind, of sorts, but what about all the stuff I will be taking with me?

There are plenty of companies out there offering travel insurance but most have a limit on the amount of time you can be out of the country. Some say no more that three trips in any calender year and for no longer than 90 days in total. Clearly no use to me as I will be going for much longer. Others don't offer anything longer than 12 months but even then you have to return home when your policy expires and take out a new one. Also no use to me as it will not be practical to return home. It is possible to find 18 month cover with a few companies, but again, you must return home to renew your policy. Useless.

Having researched maybe a dozen travel insurance companies up to this point, I then chose the three which appeared closest to suiting my needs - then I read the small print. It turns out that none of them are of any use whatsoever! The reason being, in order to make a claim, any stolen items needed to have been securely locked up in the first place. All items are only covered if they are taken from a locked hotel room or locker. I will not be staying in hotels and I will not have access to any lockers. In short, even if I did take out an insurance policy, I could never make a claim.

At this point I then made the decision to travel without any additional insurance, as there seemed little point. If my stuff was to get stolen I would have to replace it all out of my own pocket anyway, so I decided to save the money on insurance and put it towards an emergency fund instead. I didn't like the idea but didn't know what else to do.

Next I turned my attention to volunteer insurance. Essentially that is a basic form of public liability insurance covering you if you damage or break anything whilst staying with a host in their home or on their farm. Many WWOOF hosts insist that you have some sort of volunteer insurance for this purpose.

As with other travel insurance, many companies include volunteer insurance within their policies but, as often seems to be the case, the small print renders many of them useless if you actually want to make a claim. For example, some state that you are not allowed to do any building work of any kind or use farm or plant machinery. Both understandable, I suppose, but then they also say you are not allowed to be up a ladder above two metres. Now it was getting ridiculous again. I can't be doing with all that rubbish. As I often find with insurance companies, you can pretty much guarantee that anything you wish to claim for is not covered. Yes, it is in the small print of course, but trawling through 47 pages of 6 point type gets pretty tedious even before the end of the first page! Plus you often need to have a dictionary to hand to even understand half of what they are saying!

During the course of my earlier research, I had stumbled upon a company called OVEuropa and knew they did volunteer insurance specifically for people WWOOFing. I decided to read more into what they had to offer. As it turns out, what they offer is pretty much all you might need.

"OVEuropa is a registered non-profit association that was set up in 2006 in response to various volunteer groups (WWOOF, SE7EN, HelpX, Workaway, Ecoteer and others) which had recognised the need for an insurance that would provide protection for both volunteers and their hosts.

The association was formed and first registered in Italy in 2006. In October 2011 the Association was transferred to the United Kingdom and is now an incorporated not for profit association."

You can read the finer details of their plans on their website and I have included links to each policy here:

OVEuropa provides three insurance plans.
Basic: Volunteer, Accident & Illness
Intermediate: Basic + Travel
Full: Intermediate + extended Medical & Travel

Of course you should consult their website regarding exactly what each policy covers but the cost of each plan is as follows:

"At €35.00 per year, the Basic Volunteer plan is the one required by most WWOOF organisations and Hosts as it will provide you with medical and accident cover whilst you are volunteering and also covers the hosts for any accidental damage you might do to their property."

"At €7.50 per week (€390.00 per year), the Intermediate Plan gives you all the benefits of the Basic plan with extended medical cover plus travel insurance to cover you for delayed or missed travel arrangements and theft of luggage and personal belongings. Unlike the Basic plan which is only valid when actually on a farm the Intermediate plan covers you on holiday, while travelling and between farms."

"At €12.00 per week (€624.00 per year), the Full Plan gives you all the benefits of the Basic and Intermediate plans with extended third party liability, extended medical cover, increased travel cover for cancellations and curtailment and larger amounts for theft of luggage and personal belongings."

I thought it pertinent at this point to email them asking questions specific to my needs.

Is cycle touring, as the main method of transport between host farms, covered?
Yes and No. The medical, accident, personal valuables cover are valid regardless of the method of transport used and should your bike be destroyed in a road accident then as a personal possession you would receive compensation up to the limits of your policy but this insurance cannot be considered the same as motor vehicle insurance where you are covered for liabilities on public highways. That is a specialised form of cover that we cannot offer so you may want to consider some form of "vehicle" insurance for your bike touring.

Would my personal belongings be insured if attached to a locked but unattended bike? (I cannot take all my clothes and everything I own into a shop with me when purchasing food for example).
Yes. With the intermediate and full plans you are covered against theft. You are expected to take all reasonable precautions to protect your belongings against theft or misfortune (after all it is in your own best interests) but as you point out you can't be expected to take all your possessions into a shop just to buy a sandwich.

Would my personal belongings be insured if left inside a locked but unattended tent? (If spending a day in a campsite, I might wish to go sightseeing and cannot take all my clothes and everything I own with me when doing so. The bags would be locked and the tent would be locked in a registered campsite).
Again Yes, as above.

If I have a crash whilst touring (either I fall off my bike and damage my clothing and bags rendering them useless, or someone, in a car for example, crashes into me and I need to replace lots of my stuff), are the costs of purchasing new bags/luggage/clothing covered?
Yes and No with conditions. If you have an accident on your own that causes damage to you and your belongings then you are covered up to the limits on your policy for your bike, your possessions and any medical expenses you might have. If you have an accident that is someone else's fault (the car drivers) then our insurance is secondary. That means that you must first claim under the car drivers insurance for the full amounts and then to us if the car drivers cover does not indemnify you for the full amount. If you have an accident involving other vehicles and it is your fault your costs would be covered but there is no cover for the other people involved. As I said at the beginning you would need road vehicle cover for that.

Can I re-new a policy or take a out a new policy whilst on the road, without returning to my home in the UK?
Yes, you can extend and renew online.

Do I need to receive anything in the post or can it all be done and activated online?
It is all done via internet. After you sign up we will send you your cover letter as an attachment to an email.

To me, all these responses seem very reasonable and their prices are compabale with the best offers I got from other insurance companies. The main difference here though is that OVEuropa seem to be a fair company and seem likely to make the process of making a claim, as straightforward as possible.

Having finally found decent insurance, with what appears to be a decent insurance company, my mind is now at rest :)

4 Days To Go

With just 4 days to go until I set off on my maiden cycle touring adventure, here is another appropriate numerical tune. I hope you enjoy :)

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

5 Days To Go

With just 5 days to go until I set off on my maiden cycle touring adventure, here is yet another appropriate numerical tune. I hope you enjoy :)

Monday, March 26, 2012

My Final Purchases

In order to complete my current wish list before I leave, here are the most recent purchases I have made today. They should hopefully arrive before I set off too :)

6 Days To Go

With just 6 days to go until I set off on my maiden cycle touring adventure, here is another appropriate numerical tune. I hope you enjoy :)

Sunday, March 25, 2012

My Latest Purchases

As I have recently enjoyed other books by Anne Mustoe and Susie Kelly, I have just ordered the remainder of their other titles. Also, I was chatting to Ellie Bennett on Twitter yesterday, so I have ordered her book too.

7 Days To Go

With just 7 days to go until I set off on my maiden cycle touring adventure, here is an appropriate numerical tune. I hope you enjoy :)

I wanted to use this instead, from one of favourite bands, but could only find an instrumental version unfortunately. I was certainly not going to stoop to 'Seven Days' by Craaaaaig David

Saturday, March 24, 2012


I've just woken up after a three hour snooze following my 60km cycle today. I guess I am not used to cycling so much after almost three months of cycling inactivity. Still, that will all change in a few days! I will have no trouble falling asleep in my tent each night, that's for sure!

As my cycle today took me past the place we lived in from 1976 until 1981, I popped in on our old next door neighbours, whom I last saw around 1984 (which I have just confirmed in my mind as I typed it because I can remember playing the Ghostbusters video game on their sons computer the day we went round to see them). Needless to say they didn't recognise me but they were shocked, amazed and delighted to see me! I stayed for about an hour and had a fantastic chat. The husband is 80, the wife 75 and both still happy and healthy. What more could you ask for? Their eldest son (who is 47 now) taught me to ride a bike when he was about 15 and I was about 5. I can still remember it like it was yesterday. The picture below (of me and dad, lifted from my About Me section) was taken around that time, at the back our our houses, and is the bike I learned to ride on.

Whilst I was there, their grandsons both popped round (both children of their aforementioned oldest son). There was a very surreal moment because the eldest one is the spitting image of his father, just as I remembered him looking, about 28 years ago when I last saw him, when he too was about the same age!

8 Days To Go

With just 8 days to go until I set off on my maiden cycle touring adventure, here is another numerical tune. I hope you enjoy :)

Friday, March 23, 2012

9 Days To Go

With just 9 days to go until I set off on my maiden cycle touring adventure, here is a most appropriate numerical tune. I hope you enjoy :)

Thursday, March 22, 2012

10 Days To Go

With just 10 days to go until I set off on my maiden cycle touring adventure, whilst I am at the final stages of preparation, like putting songs onto my iPod for my trip, I will count down the days with a few numerical tunes from my collection. I hope you enjoy :)

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Current and Future Reading

Current Reading

At the moment I am reading a book a week in order to further fuel my passion for my own cycle touring adventure starting on April 1st this year. Currently I am enjoying the following four books, which I will endeavour to finish before I set off.

Subsequent Reading

I will be taking the following four books with me when I set off.

If I manage to complete them by July, I can then give them to my father (who will be visiting me in the Loire Valley when he too will spend a week camping) to take back home with him. He will then replace them with the following four books, which I will leave out for him to bring with him.

Sometime in early November, it may be my mother's turn to (possibly) pay me a visit when I will be near Mijas in southern Spain, a place we holidayed in when I was a child. I will ask her to bring the following four books with her.

Future Reading

The final four books in my collection, which I am yet to read and will arrange to have sent to a future destination where I will be spending a bit of time, perhaps over Winter 2013, are:

Finally, at some stage in the not too distant future, I will read the following four books again. They were the first cycle touring books I read (in late 2010), when the idea for my own cycle touring adventure was still in its infancy. Having read many similar titles since, including Rob Lilwall's 'Cycling Home From Siberia' (part of which was cycled with Alastair Humpreys and is described in one of his two books. Rob also "bumped" into Mark Beaumont who was three weeks into his world record breaking attempt to cycle around the world), I want to appreciate once again their travels and writing.

Book Review - The Valley of Heaven and Hell

I thought this book would be perfect for taking with me on my cycle touring adventure across France this summer but curiosity got the better of me and I started it much sooner! I actually took it with me on my recent short trip to France and read it in two sessions - the first half on the 5 hour crossing going out and the second half on the 5 hour crossing coming home.

'The Valley of Heaven and Hell - Cycling in the Shadow of Marie Antoinette' "follows the identical route of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette" and tells the story of their trials and tribulations "as they tried to escape the Revolution and their journey back to their grisly executions".

The book begins in Versailles and then follows their route across Paris and through the Marne Valley. Having visited the Palace of Versailles myself, I found could relive the place once again reading Susie's excellent descriptions and own thoughts about the place.

As well as being and excellent book describing the highs and lows of cycle touring, the book also gives a wonderful insight into the lives of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI along with that of their children. The history passages were just as enjoyable as the cycling passages. At times the book conveys perfectly the sense of urgency, panic and frustration of the royal couples' escape attempt and capture and the tempo of the writing matches the story perfectly. It is not too heavy on history and is written in a way to make it perfectly understandable and enjoyable to learn about. All I remembered of Marie Antoinette beforehand, was her famous quote about eating cake!

Susie Kelly is not specifically a cycle touring adventurer and has also written other books about exploring France on foot and by car with her husband. I thoroughly enjoyed 'The Valley of Heaven and Hell' and will now be purchasing Susie's other titles to take with me on my own journey around France. 

I have subsequently been in touch with Susie via Twitter and really hope to find the time in my schedule to pay her a visit this summer :)

Book Review - Cycling Home From Siberia

As soon as I started reading this book it felt familiar and comfortable. Within the first few pages, I then realised why.

The first ever cycle touring/travel books I had read (in September 2010) were Alastair Humphreys' 'Moods of Future Joys' and 'Thunder and Sunshine' (Around the World by Bike - Parts 1 & 2). On the final leg of his great round the world adventure, Alastair had been joined by his old school friend, Rob Lilwall the author of 'Cycling Home From Siberia'. As it has been a while since I read Alastair's books, I can't quite remember just how Rob is referred to. In my mind right now, he is almost mentioned in passing as a friend who joins in part of the cycle. At the time I didn't think much about Rob or about his part in the story. Now though, I was reading about another persons perspective of events I already knew a bit about. From the outset, to me, that was fascinating.

Having now read several books about cycle touring and travelling, I love to read about journeys and travellers whose paths cross. Several of the books I have read have mentioned other travellers they have met along the way and I am often left wondering what became of them. Now I was reading about just one such 'other' traveller and found myself breezing through the prose at great speed as I read about this new perspective.

I remember the moment the pair of them parted company (in Alastair's version of events) as Alastair had been frustrated by Rob's lack of speed and organisation. I thought, at the time, that it sounded a little harsh on Rob. Subsequently Rob described similar experiences when friends of his joined him during the last leg of his journey 'home'. By that time though, Rob had come to understand and explained Alastair's decisions and I had forgiven him also :)

The writing style and the pace of 'Cycling Home From Siberia' is wonderful. There are interesting snippets of history about the places visited which enhances the text. A lot of the story also describes Rob's faith and how he interacts with people from many other faiths and cultures. As well as highlighting, once again (as with most cycle touring books), the kindness and friendliness of strangers around the world, it also makes you realise just what a mess some parts of the world are in through religion and greed.

The final leg of Rob's journey, from southern Italy back to England, seems a bit of a mad dash (as he himself describes it) as he was constantly having to make certain deadlines to meet up with the aforementioned friends who would cycle with him for several days on that last leg. The remaining 4,000 miles is covered in the final chapter. That brevity does not distract from the book at all though and is hopefully a sign, for me at least, that cycle touring through mainland europe is relatively straightforward and relatively 'uneventful', unlike some parts of Asia and the Middle East.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and at times did not want it to end. I will now re-read both Alastair Humphreys' books, this time from a different perspective and will hopefully enjoy them once again. As Rob approached home he 'bumped' into another cyclist attempting another extraordinary cycle. That cyclist turned out to be Mark Beaumont who was three weeks into his world record breaking attempt to cycle around the world. Another story of crossed paths.

Book Review - The Tent, The Bucket and Me

I had stumbled across this book recently whilst looking for road maps of France to take on my travels. Having gone on a few camping holidays as a kid with my parents in the late 70s and early 80s, the subject matter appealed to me. I do love toilet humour (written about quite literally in this case) and although funny in the most part, if a little repetitive (they decide where to go holiday, set off, set up camp, experience a disaster or two, then abandon the holiday and head for home), the writing style is somewhat bizarre.

The events which are described took place in the mid- to late-seventies and although Emma does state from that outset that the stories are drawn from interviews with her parents along with, I assume, other family members, their recall for conversations and incidents from almost 40 years ago seems very precise. The descriptions and insights the author gives about the incidents make up most of the narrative and seem mostly to be interpretations of someone much older describing events rather than recalling them from memory. As such, it feels a little distant at times. I didn't really warm to any of the people and felt that I was literally just reading re-written interviews in the form of individual stories. The fact also that she refers to her parents both by their names and as mother, father, mum and dad, and also refers to her grandmother as mam, is very confusing at times and makes you wonder whose "memory" you are actually reading.

Having said all that though, the events described are often hilarious and at times humourously cringeworthy. It left me wondering why on earth this particular family ever bothered to go camping again after their first attempt, let alone go camping every single summer for a decade!

Here is a feature about the book from the Daily Mail Online.

Hopefully, her second book, describing more recent camping experiences, will be based a little more upon her own memories.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Fully Laden Test Cycle

After compiling my packing list last week, I spent this morning packing my panniers once again, editing the list in the process following suggestions from my kind, Twitter following. I think I still need to be a bit more ruthless (sorry Ruth, maybe next time), as all the space is now taken up but I have no room for food! Out went the saddle bag, both water bladders, the extra 3/4 length trousers, waterproof 3/4 length cycling trousers, bulky fleece jacket (I will just have to cycle harder to keep warm), swimming goggles, two cycling specific tops (I will just wear sports t-shirts), tin opener, two (of four) micro-fibre travel towels, three pairs (of six) underpants, elastic bands, half of the cable ties, all four mini padlocks, the three jogging/walking lights, mini torch, one (of two - who packed this stuff?!?) penknives, two (of three) rolls of electrical tape and the scissors. In total, that's two carrier bags full of stuff. Not bad for a first attempt at fine-tuning.

As it was a nice, bright day, albeit with what looked like quite a strong wind, and with panniers packed, I thought what better time than to go for a first, fully laden, test cycle. The first few hundred metres were a bit wobbly and my immediate thoughts were "Oh crap, I've got way too much stuff on here. I'm never gonna be able to cycle far with this lot." The wind was pretty strong and each turn had me fighting to keep the bike upright and moving forwards. It was quite a bit different to control than my lightweight racing bike. By the end of my first local loop though, I was beginning to get the hang of it. When I got back home, I realised I had done just under 10km in a little over 30 minutes at an average pace of 18.60kmh. No too bad at all for a first stab at it. I then went straight out again on the same loop and did much the same time at much the same pace. Most encouraging. Time to venture a little further.

Two hours and 40km later I got back home. I think I have got it nailed now and it's not actually too bad at all. My neck, shoulders & arms were aching a bit immediately after getting home though. My arms especially. It obviously requires a lot more effort to turn the handlebars and keep bike straight and upright. Those muscles will only get stronger in time though of course. But all in all, I was jolly happy with my first outing. The average for the 60km today was 18.65kmh with quite a strong headwind in places. I am most encouraged by that as I hope/need to cycle an average of 100km each day on my tour. I did think it was well within my grasp (mountains aside) but it is nice to see the proof. I was further encouraged by passing four unladen, commuter types at various places this afternoon. Two were on a climb :)

There was a tweet on my phone when I got back asking about the weight. I weigh just under 90kg (at the moment :) The two front panniers each have 6kg in them. The two rear panniers each have 7kg in them. The tent, poles and pegs weighs 2kg. That's a total of 28kg. I also have a handlebar bag and a rear bag too, but couldn't be bothered to detach and weight those separately so I just got on the scales and lifted the bike up! In total, the weight for the whole lot, including the bike itself, is 135kg. That's a total of 45kg for the bike and everything I will be carrying. Is that a lot? I know it feels a lot as I can only just lift the bike off the ground! I hope whoever built my wheels did a good job ;) T'was I!

Here are some pics of the fully laden lady complete with all new Brooks saddle, bottle cages and bottles x 3 and mudguards installed since the repair and rebuild :)

Saturday, March 3, 2012

My Packing List

OK, the list looks a little long at first glance but I have jettisoned as much as I think I can at this stage. What remains, all fits in my panniers, but the weight issue is yet to be realised as I have not fully loaded up yet. I am pretty sure I have not missed anything out but it's also possible that I am taking a little too much. As it turns out though, my father will be holidaying in the Loire Valley when I am there, so anything that I feel is superfluous by then, after my first three months on the road, I can give to him to take home. I guess I will only come to realise just what I need once I have set off.

Clothing - Working / Walking / Hiking
Trousers Long x 2
T-Shirts x 4
Underpants x 3
Socks x 4
Swimming Shorts x 1
Fleece Hat x 1
Waterproof Trousers x 1
Waterproof Jacket x 1
Walking / Hiking Boots x 1
Hiking Sandals x 1

Clothing - Cycling
Cycling T-Shirts x 2
Cycling Base Layer / Long Sleeve Tops x 2
Cycling Padded Shorts x 2
Cycling Over Shorts x 1
Cycling Thermal Sleeves (Legs & Arms)
Cycling Socks x 6
Cycling Shoes / Walking Shoes x 1
Cycling Gloves x 1
Cycling Mitts x 1
Cycling Base Layer Gloves x 1
Cycling Skull Cap x 1
Cycling Neck Tube x 1
Cycling Waterproof Overshoes x 1
Cycling Helmet
Cycling Jacket x 1

2 Person Tent
Groundsheet / Footprint
Inflatable Mattress
Soft Pillow x 2
Sleeping Bag
Sleeping Bag Fleece Liner
Bivvy Bag
Ear Plugs & Eye Mask
Tent Peg Hammer / Extractor
Washing Line / Spare Cord

Bike Specific
Spare Tyres Folding x 2
Spare Tubes x 2
Puncture Repair Kit
Tyre Levers
Tyre Boot
Spare New Chain
Allen Keys
Spoke Key
Spare Spokes (Rear x 12 / Front x 6) (Stored in Seat Post)
Spare Spoke Nipples
Latex Gloves
Hand Wipes
Pannier Spares Kit
Spare Nuts & Bolts (For Pannier Rack and Mudguard Attachments)
U Lock x 1 & Keys
Cables x 3
Water Bottles x 3
Lights x 6 (Front x 2 / Rear x 2 / Spokes x 2)
Brooks Saddle Spanner
Brooks Saddle Proofride
Brooks Saddle Waterproof Cover
Wet & Dry Lube
Spare Cleats x 2

Sat Nav & Laptop Cable
Battery Charger & Rechargeable Batteries (AA for Sat Nav)
Solar Panel & Battery & Cables
Laptop & Charger
iPhone & Charger
Digital Camera & Charger
Euro Plug Adapter
Camera Mini Tripod
Wind Up Head Lamp / Torch
USB Keys

Hygiene / Health
First Aid Kit
Chamois Cream
Toothbrush & Toothpaste
Dental Floss
Washing Powder Tablets
Hand Sanitizer
Facial Wipes
Hand Cream
Shaving Gel
Razor & Blades
Sun Lotion
Sun Burn Cream
Insect Repellent
Plasters & Bandages
Pain Relief Gel / Cream
Antiseptic Liquid
Paracetamol Tablets
Antihistamine Tablets
Cough Sweets
Lip Balm
Nail Clippers
Travel Towels x 2
Travel Tissues
Toilet Roll
Baby Wipes

Knife / Fork / Spoon
Penknife (inc. Bottle Opener / Corkscrew etc)
Stanley Knife & Blades

Rough Guide To France
Lonely Planet Phrasebook Europe
In Europe - Travel / History

Documentation / Money
Passport & Laminated Photocopy
European Health Insurance Card (EHIC)
Travel Insurance Policy Photocopy
Bike Cover / Home Insurance Policy Photocopy
Translated Travel / WWOOFing Letter
Notebooks & Pens
Document Pouches x 3
Debit Card
Credit Card

Jubilee Clips
Cable Ties
Bungee Cords
Duct Tape
Electrical Tape
Clear Storage / Food Bags
Canvas Storage Bags x 2
Rubik's Cube

Thursday, March 1, 2012 the Garden!

Keen to try out my new inflatable mattress and familiarise myself fully with setting up and dismantling the tent, so I don't appear a complete amateur at the first campsite, I set up my first the back garden!