Monday, April 30, 2012

Cycle Touring Day 30

I didn't sleep a great deal last night and due to excitement, I was wide awake at 05:00. I could not get back to sleep so I did a bit of tinkering with the blog and added a few more campsites to the sat nab for the coming days. I also found out that the first WWOOF host needed to delay my arrival for 4 days which now gives me much more time to make it to them. I will spend the time cycling less that the 100km or so I had planned for each day and make spend a few nights in one or two places to give me more chance to look around the local towns and villages. It will also allow me to settle in more gradually and soak up more in the early days of the tour.

The ferry sailed at 08:30 and 90 minutes later I disembarked in France and began cycling east through and out of Calais. Within an hour I was experiencing the kind of cycling and scenery that I had been dreaming about and felt very relaxed and comfortable cycling on the roads of France once again. Having spent a week in France at the end of February this year, I already knew what to expect from the roads and the drivers and immediately relaxed into my stride.

The wind and rain during my final week in England was already behind me and I spent the entire day cycling under blue sky and the occasional cloud. What little wind was also behind me. Bliss!

I could literally have stopped to take a picture every five minutes, the views were so wonderful, but soon realised that if I did I would be spending the next two or three years in France alone! Suffice to say, the pictures you can see below were pretty much what I was experiencing all day long!

Just as I made it to the campsite at 18:00 the rain began to fall. I just had enough time to get myself set up and cook dinner in-between showers before the real heavy rain began to fall. After I'd eaten, showered and written my first diary entry I was going to go for a walk along the beach, which was about 100m away, but literally as soon as I was done it began to pour and continued to do so until I fell fast asleep.

Goodbye England.

Hello France!

A view worthy of that climb.

Great, the stove works!

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Cycle Touring Day 29

Overnight the rain and wind had continued and as I set off at 11:00 it began to pour again. It rained steadily for the next hour and a half but just as I got to Hastings and began the climb out of the town, it stopped and he rest of the day was very pleasant indeed. Blue sky interspersed with light clouds and a tailwind for much of the journey made for a most pleasant afternoon's cycle to Dover. The ride itself was pretty uneventful and other than climbs at each end, it was very flat going all day.

Rather than camp near Dover I had decided to treat myself to a night in a hostel and as it had rained so much the previous week, I felt glad I had. The evening in Dover, however, was a very pleasant one in the end but staying in the hostel was much more conducive for a final night in England and allowed me to tidy up all the loose ends and make use of the wifi to say my final goodbyes to family and friends. It also gave me the opportunity to plan a few campsites and enter them into my sat nav.

My first switchback...albeit a downhill one.

My final English county in a very strong sidewind...

...see what I meant about that sidewind? So that's what the bottom of the trailer looks like!

After a Mexican feast last night, courtesy of @festinagirl, this was not the only wind power in evidence this afternoon!

I found a first flag for BOB on the verge by the side of the road.

A Spitfire! My favourite.
A Spitfire and a Hurricane.

The white cliffs.

I hope I get to see more of these once I am in France. This is my favourite car!

An Ode to Jasper

by @Specialized_Guy


You slept by my feet at dinner,
And on my bed at night.
Then once again at breakfast,
You wouldn't leave my side.

You should've travelled with me,
I picked you up to try.
You could've ridden inside BOB,
Where you would have been dry.

The places we'd have been to,
The things that we'd have seen.
We could've written postcards,
Back to your family.

I'll miss you little canine pal,
A bond was formed so quick.
I'll think of you from time to time,
When I ride past a stick.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Cycle Touring Day 28

After loading up the bike I left at bang on midday, just as I had intended to. Rather than cycle the 140km to Dover in one day, today and tomorrow are going to be relatively short days in the saddle and I am meeting a couple of people along the way to break up the journey. As it turned out, it was just swell I wash;t doing it all in one go as the weather had been atrocious in the morning.

After 35km today I called in on @_BLIXA_ who had agreed to meet me. We had never met before and only started via twitter a few weeks ago when I had mentioned that I was cycling near his home en route to Dover at the end of April. Just as I got to him the rain began to fall.

He very kindly invited me into his home and introduced me to his lovely family. We then spent a most enjoyable hour and a half chatting about the trip and all things bike related in general. Several cups or tea and crumpets later, we set off for our next destination at 16:00. The rain had been falling steadily for the entire time I was in his house and it continued to do so for the following hour as we cycled through country lanes. The wind began to pick up too.

Once there we met up with @festinagirl with whom I would be spending the night as she had very kindly invited me to stay with her and her family. I thanked @_BLIXA_ again for his warm welcome and his company on the ride and he set off for home on another soggy journey. I was only minutes away from my destination for the night however and made it into the warm and dry just before the real rain began to fall.

I spent a wonderful evening, eating lovely food and enjoying drinks and great chat, in the company of @festinagirl and her family and made a great new friend in @JasperJRT who would not leave my side all evening and even slept on my bed that night. The following day, whilst cycling to Dover I composed "An Ode to Jasper".

Thank you both for meeting me and looking after me so well. It was really great to meet you both and it's so nice to be able to put names to faces. I hope we can keep in touch as I travel around Europe over the coming years and I hope we get to meet up again one day. All the best to you both and to your families.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Great Ideas come from Great Bikes Rides

By Tanya Davis

Thoughts On My Bike

By Andrea Dorfman

The Father of the Bicycle Industry

Further to my previous post about James Starley in January, this afternoon (after a quick tinker with the gears on the bike), I went for a quick spin in the sun and snapped a few more photos around the village of Albourne.

When I set off for Dover tomorrow morning en route to catch the ferry to Calais on April 30th 2012, I will be leaving from the birthplace of James Starley. For those of you who have never heard of James Starley, here is a little history lesson :)

"James Starley (21 April 1831 – 17 June 1881) was an English inventor and father of the bicycle industry. He was one of the most innovative and successful builders of bicycles and tricycles. His inventions include the differential gear and the perfection of chain-driven bicycles.

Early Life
Starley was born in 1831 at Albourne, Sussex, the son of Daniel Starley, a farmer. He began working on the farm at nine, showing early talent as an inventor by making a rat trap from an umbrella rib and the branch of a willow tree. He ran away from home as a teenager and went to Lewisham, in south London. There he worked as an under-gardener, in his spare time mending watches and creating devices such as a mechanism to allow a duck to get through a hole in a fence, closing a door behind it if a rat tried to follow.

Adult life
Starley's employer, John Penn, bought a rare and expensive sewing machine. Starley mended it when it broke down and improved the mechanism. Penn knew Josiah Turner, a partner of Newton, Wilson and Company, the makers of the machine, and in 1859 Starley joined its factory in Holborn. Turner and Starley started their own sewing machine company in Coventry around 1861. Coventry was the centre of the British bicycle industry and Turner's nephew brought a new French bone-shaker to the factory in 1868. The company started making bicycles.

At this time, velocipedes (cycles) had wheels of nearly equal size, the front slightly larger, although to grow much larger in the penny-farthings Starley soon made with William Hillman. Their Ariel was all-metal and had wire-spoked wheels, much lighter than wooden-spoke ones. Tangent spokes were patented in 1874. Lever-driven and chain-driven tricycles, often in strange configurations, were also devised for women and couples.

Starley, then ageing, found it difficult to ride a tricycle sociable with his son, James, in the other saddle. They could not steer because one was stronger than the other. The historian Edward Lyte wrote: "Each rider of the Sociable drove his own big wheel independently, so the course of the machine along the road was rather variable. One day Starley cried 'I have it!' and dismounted. He sat down to a cup of tea and forthwith invented the differential gear that is now incorporated in the back axle of every car. It was a Saturday. At 6am on the Monday the prototype was being made and at 8am Starley was stepping on to the London train to register patent No. 3388,1877."

Personal life and death
Starley married Jane Todd when he was in his early 20s. Their son, William Starley, and his nephew, John Kemp Starley, also entered the industry and one of the outcomes was the Rover car company.

Starley's sons continued manufacturing cycles after his death in 1881 but his nephew John Kemp Starley made more of a mark. It was John Kemp Starley and Sutton who devised the recognisably modern Rover safety bicycle with 26-inch wheels (still a standard size), chain drive, and a diamond shaped frame (no seat-tube as yet) in 1884, showing it in 1885. The penny-farthing or ordinary cycle was not safe, with a "header" accident an ever-present danger. Others had experimented with chain-driven "safety cycles" but the Rover made its mark to the extent that "Rover" means "bike" in countries such as Poland.

In due course, motor-driven bicycles became motor-cycles and were followed by motor cars. John Kemp Starley experimented with an electric tri-car around 1888 but the petrol-driven Rover 8hp car was sold in 1904, two years after his death."

How To Be Alone

by Tanya Davis

If you are at first lonely, be patient. If you've not been alone much, or if when you were, you weren't okay with it, then just wait. You'll find it's fine to be alone once you're embracing it.

We could start with the acceptable places, the bathroom, the coffee shop, the library. Where you can stall and read the paper, where you can get your caffeine fix and sit and stay there. Where you can browse the stacks and smell the books. You're not supposed to talk much anyway so it's safe there.

There's also the gym. If you're shy you could hang out with yourself in mirrors, you could put headphones in.

And there's public transportation, because we all gotta go places.

And there's prayer and meditation. No one will think less if you're hanging with your breath seeking peace and salvation.

Start simple. Things you may have previously based on your avoid being alone principals. 

The lunch counter. Where you will be surrounded by chow-downers. Employees who only have an hour and their spouses work across town and so they -- like you -- will be alone.

Resist the urge to hang out with your cell phone. 

When you are comfortable with eat lunch and run, take yourself out for dinner. A restaurant with linen and silverware. You're no less intriguing a person when you're eating solo dessert to cleaning the whipped cream from the dish with your finger. In fact some people at full tables will wish they were where you were.

Go to the movies. Where it is dark and soothing. Alone in your seat amidst a fleeting community. 
And then, take yourself out dancing to a club where no one knows you. Stand on the outside of the floor till the lights convince you more and more and the music shows you. Dance like no one's watching...because, they're probably not. And, if they are, assume it is with best of human intentions. The way bodies move genuinely to beats is, after all, gorgeous and affecting. Dance until you're sweating, and beads of perspiration remind you of life's best things, down your back like a brook of blessings.

Go to the woods alone, and the trees and squirrels will watch for you.
Go to an unfamiliar city, roam the streets, there're always statues to talk to and benches made for sitting give strangers a shared existence if only for a minute and these moments can be so uplifting and the conversations you get in by sitting alone on benches might've never happened had you not been there by yourself

Society is afraid of alonedom, like lonely hearts are wasting away in basements, like people must have problems if, after a while, nobody is dating them. but lonely is a freedom that breaths easy and weightless and lonely is healing if you make it.

You could stand, swathed by groups and mobs or hold hands with your partner, look both further and farther for the endless quest for company. But no one's in your head and by the time you translate your thoughts, some essence of them may be lost or perhaps it is just kept. 

Perhaps in the interest of loving oneself, perhaps all those sappy slogans from preschool over to high school's groaning were tokens for holding the lonely at bay. Cuz if you're happy in your head than solitude is blessed and alone is okay.

It's okay if no one believes like you. All experience is unique, no one has the same synapses, can't think like you, for this be releived, keeps things interesting lifes magic things in reach. 

And it doesn't mean you're not connected, that communitie's not present, just take the perspective you get from being one person in one head and feel the effects of it. take silence and respect it. if you have an art that needs a practice, stop neglecting it. if your family doesn't get you, or religious sect is not meant for you, don't obsess about it. 

You could be in an instant surrounded if you needed it
If your heart is bleeding make the best of it 
There is heat in freezing, be a testament.

* * * * *

A video by fiilmaker, Andrea Dorfman, and poet/singer/songwriter, Tanya Davis.

Davis wrote the beautiful poem and performed in the video which Dorfman directed, shot, animated by hand and edited. The video was shot in Halifax, Nova Scotia and was produced by Bravo!FACT.

For more information on Tanya, visit her website or her facebook page. You can purchase her first two CDs Make A List and Gorgeous Morning on iTunes and look out for her third CD which will be released in the fall!

For more information on Andrea Dorfman, visit her website or her Facebook page.

This video was shot on a Panasonic HVX 200 and the animation was hand drawn+painted and then scanned into Adobe After Effects, exported as QTs and edited on FCP.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

#CycleTouring Route Map

For everyone who has asked about it, I have finally got around to creating my route map. Having completed my mini tour of England, Wales and Ireland, from May 1st, I will essentially be travelling anti-clockwise around the coast of mainland Europe around France, Spain, Portugal and Italy.

When I get to the heal of Italy I have two options, I will either cross into Greece and Turkey or continue north up the eastern coast of Italy into Austria, Germany and then travel even further north into Scandinavia. But, as travelling and wwoofing along the route outlined here will take at least two to three years, I am in no hurry to work on the next stage just yet.

Chamois Cream

Now that I am entering the realm of true long-distance cycling, I thought it best to really make a concerted effort to properly look after bike and body. Anyone who has spent extended periods of time in the saddle, day after day, will know just how bad friction build-up can be and will fully appreciate the importance of proper protection.

Basically, a good chamois cream is essential. I have read about people using Vaseline for this purpose, but not having used it myself, I can't really comment upon its effectiveness. I have, however, used Assos Chamois Cream and I think it's wonderful!

Admittedly it is possibly one of the most expensive choices on the market, but I figured with something so important, it was worth making the extra investment. I am glad I did as it has performed perfectly. Without cream, once you start developing pain in that area, the only way to solve the problem is to stop cycling until the tenderness has gone. If you have to cycle for several days in a row, in order to reach a destination, this could have a disastrous effect upon your schedule. Use this cream from day one and you can't go wrong. Sometimes I even apply a second coat during a cycle when I can feel the effects of the first coat wearing off. You really can't be too careful!

Back in The Saddle Again
"Essential for longer rides, Assos Chamois Creme is formulated to reduce friction, inflammation and discomfort. Applied to the skin, it gives a soothing, cooling effect and applied to the short it helps maintain suppleness, elasticity and freshness.

ASSOS Chamois Crème reduces friction and cools the skin for a fresh, comfortable feel. It also prevents inflammation and irritation due to its antibacterial properties. 

Apply directly to the skin (avoid intimate areas) before each ride. You should also apply a thin layer of creme to the pad of your shorts after every wash, this helps to maintain suppleness, elasticity and anti-microbial properties. 

Assos Chamois creme is used by a huge number of professional and enthusiasts alike, regardless of the brand of their shorts, don't set off without it.

About Chamois Cream
Chamois crème is a must for any cyclist, it improves rider comfort and reduces the chance of saddle soreness. Most will have anti-bacterial ingredients to keep the delicate skin protected and to repair any damage that may occur during a ride. Chamois crème and a good pair of shorts are probably the most important item of cycle wear you will buy.

About the Assos brand
Assos are one of the world's pioneers and specialists in producing high quality cycling clothes and accessories. They are located in a region of Switzerland that has maintained a long standing tradition in first class textile engineering. In the 1970's, Toni Maier-Moussa, founder and chairman of Assos accidently invented lycra cycling clothing, whilst trying to create the ultimate bicycle. During the wind tunnel tests of the first ever carbon-fibre bike, Toni inadvertently found that lycra downhill ski racing suits had much less drag than the woolen-knitted cycling clothes of the time. To this day Assos firmly believe in total product competence, delivering optimum function and comfort, by researching and making its cycling clothing and accessories from the very best materials."

Review from Road Cycling UK
"Okay so you've never used Assos chamois cream before maybe because you don't use their shorts or in some belief that such products are for past times, but in doing so you have missed a real gem.

Way before the modern synthetic chamois was invented all shorts had a leather based outer to the pad which made contact with your skin. In the same way that leather shoes need to be treated to keep them supple and clean so you had to treat the leather chamois. The most popular products were various body moisturisers, as long as they had some lanolin content. Not only did this treat the chamois but it also reduced the friction against the skin, which resulted in a more comfortable ride.

Leather may no longer be used for chamois, but that doesn't mean there's no longer any use for chamois cream. You can use this product in two ways. First, treating the chamois - in doing so you are allowing the pad to soak up all that lubrication and store it for release throughout your ride. I have found this to an absolute godsend especially after five hours in the saddle nearing the end of a Sportive ride. The second way, and probably the most frequent way I use it, is to put the cream directly onto the skin. Due to the menthol in the cream it can leave the applied area feeling cold, not so bad in the heat of summer but less enjoyable in the colder months. This cold sensation soon wears off leaving the treated area protected for whatever the elements may throw at you.

In conclusion...
Having used this product for over a year now both in Assos and other branded shorts I can't believe how simple yet effective it is. With ingredients such as Almond Oil (to soften the skin) Witch Hazel (cleansing, healing and soothing) every angle has been covered to improve a rider's comfort. I would recommend anyone to try this product; it could be the best money you spend all year."

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Cycle Touring Day 24

Route: Havant - Emsworth - Chichester - Amberley - Storrington - Hurstpierpoint

Setting off this morning I had a horrible sense of déja vu. As had happened on Day 1, I thought I've got far too much weight on the bike today and this trailer idea is going to go horribly wrong. With the BOB Yak almost fully loaded up and the panniers back on the bike for the next leg of the journey, as soon as I started moving something felt horribly wrong - the whole front end was wobbling so much that I thought something had broken! A quick glance around revealed nothing wrong thankfully, so I got going.

The first few kilometres were horrible! I could barely control the front end and it felt like a constant battle just to keep the bike upright. What was I doing here? I thought that getting the trailer would solve all the weight problems but here I was struggling again. As I cycled on though I soon realised that I just needed to get used to towing a loaded trailer. I had made sure that the panniers were not overloaded (as they had been on that first day) and that the weight distribution was better. The trailer of course was carrying the bulk of the load with the panniers being used for more even weight distribution. Initially I had considered losing the front panniers entirely but the main justification for getting the trailer in the first place was to get that more even distribution over the entire set up, rather than to just fully load up the trailer itself.

After 90 minutes or so I stopped for some lunch and still being concerned with the handling, I considered repacking everything by the side of the road, but I thought that maybe I just needed more practice. After a 15 minute break, I wobbled on. The first 40km today were very flat but I knew there were hills ahead. If I was still having difficulties at that stage things were going to go horribly wrong. Over the course of the next hour though, things began to settle down and I began to relax finally. I realised that at low speeds the front end wobbles a lot but once moving and up to speed everything is fine - I even had to keep checking behind every now and then (which is difficult enough) to make sure the trailer was still there as I couldn't really feel it at times.

When I did eventually reach the hills everything was fine and my initial concerns were soon forgotten. Even with a full load, the trailer wasn't as hard to pull up the hills as I had imagined it would be, albeit only to a maximum elevation of 111m today. Admittedly I was in first gear too but I was able to keep a steady pace and unlike on the climbs in Wales last week, as the front end was not overloaded, I was not swerving all over the road as I had been then.

As my early pace today had been so high (an average of over 20kmh for the first 40km), even getting slowed by the hills later on in the ride, my average pace for the day was over 18kmh - my highest of the tour so far - I covered the 87km today in 4 hours and 45 minutes - a blistering pace fully loaded I think. I  even reached a top speed of 53.8kmh - the maximum advised speed is 40kmh. That showed 'em!

If anyone knows the road (A29 / B2139) between Slindon and Storrington, you will know how delightful a road it is. It's quite up and down, but the views (as you can glimpse below) are simply stunning in places.

Hurstpierpoint Church

Sunday, April 22, 2012

European Campsite Guides

Having decided, during my mini tour of England, Wales and Ireland over the past three weeks, to seek out campsites rather than wild camp as often as I initially thought I would, more out of the desire to have a warm shower at the end of each day than for any other reason, one of the last tasks on my 'to do' list was to get myself a list.

As I won't have an internet connection 24/7 and will only have access to wifi as and when I can find it, I wanted to carry some sort of physical list or guide with me. Rather than having to painstakingly create a list myself, I figured that the best way was just to take one that someone else has compiled.

Whilst there seems to be a plethora of campsite guide books available, having read reviews and thumbed through a few in book shops (remember those?), I settled upon the Alan Rogers series of guides. Whilst not an exhaustive list of every single campsite across Europe (I would surely need a truck rather than a trailer to carry those weighty tomes around with me), each is broken down into regions and gives good descriptions of costs and facilities. As well as textual listings for each site there is also a pictorial guide so you can pinpoint where each of the campsites listed are. But, the best part, for me at least, is that the GPS coordinates of each campsite is also included!

Whilst I realise that France is literally littered with campsites (although I am not too sure about Spain, Portugal and Italy but suspect the same), I felt that I needed the comfort of knowing just where the next one is rather than purely relying on chance alone at finding near the end of my route each day. As my cycle tour is mainly around the coastline of mainland Europe, I am encouraged by the amount listed near the coast.

"Finding the right campsite for your next camping trip or caravanning holiday is crucial. Since 1968 the Alan Rogers Guides have been the market leading campsite guides to the best inspected and selected campsites across Europe. For many thousands of readers the Alan Rogers Guides have become a glovebox necessity and an armchair companion.

Annually updated, campsites are selected following regular inspections. Impartial, independent and authoritative, the guides provide real peace of mind when planning your campsite holiday."

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Spick & Span

Once the shiny and new BOB Yak was built and attached yesterday, the bike itself looked very much the part of the grubby bedfellow that he was. After a day and a half spent cycling in the rain this week (Day 17 and Day 18), the bike was in need of a bit of tender loving care. As I was awake at 7am(!?!) on this Saturday morning, I started early and was all done by mid-morning :)

Friday, April 20, 2012

The BOB Builder

In between rain showers today (it's raining again now, 15 minutes after finishing it), I built up my BOB Yak trailer.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Cycle Touring Day 18

Day 18 was another tough one but not because of the climbs for once, but because of the weather. The rain had continued throughout the night and other than for an hour in the morning when I hastily decided to pack up camp, it continued at a relentless pace throughout the day. I don't think I have ever cycled in such appalling conditions in my life. At times I could barely see where I was going.

The first task of the day had been to climb the hill I had not fancied at the end of Day 17. The climb itself was pretty straightforward but I was not prepared for what I found at the summit. The tarmac disappeared and it soon became a dirty, slippery chalk track! Had I attempted to do this last night, to bridge the final 10km gap to my chosen campsite, I would have been in a right mess. It would have been almost pitch dark by the time I reached the summit and I would never have been able to negotiate the unpaved track in the dark. Whatever it was that convinced me to wild camp last night, had obviously helped me make the right choice!

Something which also became apparent, as I cycled along this track, was that a two-wheeled Burley Nomad trailer, which I had initially convinced myself to get, would have been an absolute nightmare to pull along here. I was in deep ruts and the panniers were barely above the ground. As it was I was pretty much on slick road tyres, rather than cross-country ones, so the following hour sliding along waterlogged chalk paths, in torrential rain, certainly made for one of the more "interesting" mornings so far! I never went over though I am glad to say. One thing I have learned when cycling in mud and slop, is to never stop pedalling!

Once out of the quagmire and back on tarmac, the going was a little easier but, needless to say, my pace today was not high and my spirits were not only getting dampened but well and truly waterlogged! As this was the final day of my mini UK/Ireland tour, at one point I almost considered catching a train and putting an end to the misery early. I happened to be passing Great Bedwyn railway station and had the wait for the next train not have been almost an hour, I may well have done just that. But I reminded myself that I have to take the rough days with the smooth, so I pressed on.

Along with a change of clothes, I needed a change of attitude. So I dug deep into my panniers and found both. At the summit of another small climb I changed into a fresh/dry set of clothes, swapped my light cycling jacket for my proper waterproof one and changed my drenched gloves for the pair my friend had lent me on Day 4. I consumed a couple of the gel sachets that @BruunLoss had given me on Day 13 and I set off again. Almost immediately my energy levels and my spirits were lifted and would you believe that the sun came out briefly? I kid you not. But it didn't last!

More torrential rain fell for the next couple of hours. I passed more wonderful churches and no doubt, more glorious countryside which I couldn't see properly but then the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow (there was no rainbow of course because there was no sun, but you know what I mean)  appeared in the shape of The Cricketer's Arms at Tangley - they were open and food was still being served. I parked myself in front of the fire and began to warm up as I ate and drank for a couple of hours. I also chatted with one particular patron who had cycled to Spain in his teens, which I estimated to have been at least 50 years ago. Hopefully that was my first of many encounters with fellow cycle tourists :)

Having eaten very little all day until lunch, the two pints of cider I had in the pub went straight to my head. As I cycled away at afternoon closing (just as the rain returned right on cue), the aches and pains I had in my arms and legs had mysteriously disappeared. I found I had much more energy that I had in the morning and I pressed on at great pace to Winchester. Again I passed close by the railway station and with home only 30 minutes away by train, I once again considered a speedier mode of transport, but the cider and the food were still working their magic so I pressed on for the final two hours and arrived home just before 18:00.

My mini tour was over! My head was full of thoughts from the trip, along with the things I needed to address before the next stage, and my shoes were full of water! My panniers were a little damp inside at the very bottom, but considering I had essentially thrown then in a river over the course of the day, they faired as well as I had hoped they would. The heating was on in the house and the water was already hot. Sheer bliss! As I wheeled the bike into the garage and experienced another moment of joy - my trailer had arrived!

The track towards the location of my first ever wild camping site last night.
I set myself further back from the track than this photo appears to suggest...

...and spent an incident free night nestling among the rows of trees.
The first task of the day was the climb, en route to Marlborough, which I had neither the time nor the energy for last night!

Another glorious church, this time at Fosbury on the Wiltshire/Hampshire border.

The Cricketer's Arms at Tangley in Hampshire offered welcome relief from the relentless rain.

A couple of pints of cider, some good food and a couple of hours warming up in front of the fire, were a most welcome respite.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Cycle Touring Day 17

Having fallen slightly behind where I had wanted to be after Day 15 and 16, I knew today would have to be quite a long one in order to help me catch up. Although I didn't have a deadline to make it home by and with a least three or four days to spare before the start of the next leg, I didn't want to end up having to camp close to home with only a few kilometres left to go on the final day.

There was a fair bit of rain overnight but the tree protected me from the majority of both the wind and rain, so the tent was practically dry when I woke. I set off early and soon discovered that the biggest of the hills and mountains were now behind me. Although I would not have made the final 30km or so before it got dark last night, not knowing what was ahead of me when I made the decision to camp early last night, was the right one.

The first 55km or so today was very easy going. Plenty of time to enjoy the blue sky and sunshine and snap some lovely, colourful photos. A field covered in yellow rape seed really does add a splash of glorious colour to the landscape - I just wish I had the knowledge and equipment to capture it better. Still, as snaps go, I am pretty happy with the pics I am getting so far although they never really seem to recreate fully, just how beautiful the landscape is.

After a few small hills between 60km and 80km, the riding was again easy and fun and even knowing I had quite some distance to cover today, I knew I should find it no problem as I had already had a long day in the saddle on Day 5. I knew today wouldn't be quite as far as the 150km that day, but with the going so easy, it seemed to be a breeze. I also got to cycle a long a stretch of road I had wanted to for a long time - Ermin Street - which is an old Roman road.

Around the 100km mark, everything changed. A ruddy great hill appeared out of nowhere! The climb seemed relentless and when I thought I was at the top, it changed direction and carried on for half the distance again. At the top the wind had really picked up too but for the next 10km or so I wound my way back down via the scenic route and even enjoyed a tailwind for much of the way. All was good once again. But towards the end of the descent, I realised something was not quite right!

Somehow I had been going the wrong way! How on earth did that happen? The Garmin Sat Nav had been performing perfectly so far. Turn after turn I followed it and I never once put a pedal wrong. I was not letting it dictate my routes though of course, as I had painstakingly mapped out every single ride (as I have done until December this year), so I knew roughly where I should be heading. But on this occasion, rather than cycling south east from Gloucester to Cirencester, I found myself in Stroud!

Initially, I could not figure out how on earth I had cycled south west, in the wrong direction for so long without noticing. Admittedly, I had not been paying too much attention to the Sat Nav and had really just been following the road. Then it dawned on me, the promise of that scenic route had distracted me and sent me off course! Now I was in a pickle. The campsite I wanted to reach was now even further away that it had been an hour previously, so in order to correct my mistake before it got too late, I boarded a train at Stroud and alighted at Swindon. It was only a 30 minute journey but it put me back roughly where I needed to be. Crisis averted, or so I thought, but as we pulled into Swindon station the sky turned black and the heavens opened!

I only had about 20km to cycle to reach camp and still had an hour and a half, of what should have been daylight, to do it in. But it was really dark, wet and windy now too. I struggled up out of Swindon and passed a couple of B&B's, which I briefly considered spending the night in, but pressed on. Just out of town the weather was at its worst so I pulled into a pub, which, according to the road signage offered accommodation, I found out however that it no longer did so. Bugger! I pressed on.

The next 10km took me an hour to do and with another 10km still to go, it was going to be touch and go whether I would make camp or not. The downpour had eased and was now just a light drizzle but I was cold and wet and just wanted to stop. At that point, if I really pushed, I would still make camp just as the light was fading and would have just enough time to set up the tent etc. But then, in front of me, another hill appeared and my heart and energy levels sank to rock bottom. I was now going to have to wild camp for the first time on the trip.

Luckily, however, I was in the middle of nowhere. There was not a soul in sight, so I cycled down a pot-holed track, away from the road and found a little copse. I didn't relish the idea of wild camping, without having psyched myself up for it, but now I had no choice. Besides, I had to get my first wild camping experience out of the way at some stage. The the thoughts of those B&B's I had passed earlier entered my head. I could have been cleaned and be in a warm bed now had I not been so stubborn and pressed on. Even as I was unpacking the tent, I considered giving the hill one last push to reach camp. I even took the bike back out onto the track to have a bother look at the climb, but it was not pretty dark now so I really had no choice but to camp.

I found myself a clear patch, away from all the fallen branches and twigs and was soon inside the tent. I dug out my little wind-up head torch and set about getting changed and organised and into my sleeping bag. Within 30 minutes or so I was all set. There was an owl fairly close by and along with the rustling of tree branches, they were the only noises. I was a still little apprehensive but I felt safe and got ready to sleep. All of a sudden my tent was lit up with lights from outside and I froze! Had someone seen me leave the road? Getting disturbed when wild camping is the last thing one wants, especially the first time! I could also hear a car engine and I must admit that a little bit of panic began to set in. The lights seemed to be shining right onto the tent and I expected to be hearing voices at any moment. After only a moment or two though I was back in darkness. It had obviously just been a car driving down the lane. As it turned out, that was to be the only disturbance all night and other than being woken a few times by torrential rain, my first wild camping experience passed by without incident. Thankfully!

Yet again I had another campsite all to myself. For all intents and purposes I may as well be wild camping.

With colours and views such as these... is very difficult to keep on pedalling by sometimes!

Here's a curious little item - the Bee Shelter at Hartpury built in the mid 19th century by bee-keeping stonemason and quarry master Paul Tuffley and restored in 2002.

The Bee Shelter is situated in the grounds of Hartpury Church.

One particular grave in the churchyard is also curious as it contains the remains of nine Dominican nuns and two of their chaplains. Apparently, it is rare to find members of Roman Catholic orders buried in an Anglican churchyard.