Tour Prep

On Sunday, April 1st, 2012, I will embark upon my maiden cycle touring adventure. I will be combining cycling with WWOOFing as I travel across Europe and maybe even farther afield some day. As well as blogging about my trip I will be maintaining this Tour Diary, which I hope to update weekly. I would be honoured if you would like to follow my progress. Many thanks for reading. Happy cycling :)


Almost There

The wait is almost over. In a little over 12 hours I will be setting off on my big adventure. April is to be a fact finding month, as I had always planned it to be.  I will be doing a mini tour around parts of the UK and Ireland to get a handle on everything and makes sure everything works as it's supposed to. I didn't want to stray too far from home straight away without having done a few hundred kilometres closer to home - just in case something breaks or the bike decides it has already had enough. If something should go wrong in the coming month, I will still have time to repair or replace anything that might fail - even the bike if I have to - nothing is going to stop me now!

As I type this, my iPhone is going bananas as so many followers on Twitter send me good wishes for my trip. It's wonderful to have so much support and for so many to show someone they have never met, such enthusiasm. I have just got myself some cycling company for the ride from Brighton to Dover at the tail end of April too it would appear - most excellent! I truly am so grateful for all the messages of support and am replying to each and every one of them with a big thank you :)

Today I re-packed my panniers, trying to lose a few more kilograms, but I am not sure I have succeeded - the bike actually feels heavier than when I did the fully laden test cycle at the start of this month. Whoops! I am sure I have only the essentials now but then that's what April was always going to be about - anything superfluous will be jettisoned before I head to France on May 1st.

Also today, I cleared away the rest of my stuff and packed it into the attic. There is still more stuff than I would like to own but I am sure after a few more years of material separation, I will sell plenty more of it upon my return - if I do return? Maybe my next trip will be with a trailer and then I really will be carrying everything I own.

So, right now the bike is fully loaded up and is spending a night of luxury in the warmth of the conservatory rather than the cold of the garage. I am looking forward to a good nights sleep myself too. I am absolutely shattered right now! The physical effort (all the decorating) and mental strain of past few weeks have finally caught up with me I think. It has been a most enjoyable experience putting all of my plans together and turning my dream into reality but I have not really stopped to think about just what's happening yet. Right now I don't feel excited and I don't feel nervous or anxious - I just want to sleep. I am sure that will all change though, as soon as I saddle up tomorrow and cycle off down the road with a huge grin on my face, muttering the words "I can't believe I am actually doing this, finally" under my breath and probably shouting them loud every now and then as it all finally sinks in.

Thank you for reading and thank you for following along and thank you again for all the message of support. I really do appreciate it and I sincerely hope you enjoy sharing the journey with me as much as I am sure I will enjoy experiencing it :)


Painter Man

Well, I have finished the painting and decorating at last! My work here is complete. Decorating mums hall, stairs and landing was the last "favour" on my list before I set off on my cycle touring adventure. If I fail to find a job as a cycle mechanic in the future, I may well resort to becoming a professional painter and decorator, as, although I do say so myself, I have found that I am rather good at it. Still, there is a bit to learn before I could call myself an expert. I would love to learn a dying or traditional trade though in the future possibly, such as a stone mason, blacksmith, thatcher or ornamental metal working. Maybe it's just a romantic ideal but I do love the thought of undertaking a job of that nature.

I can now breathe a sigh of relief, not because the "chores" are over but because now I can focus on the last remaining details of my cycle tour with no other distractions whatsoever. I don't have too much more to do, although each time I rewrite my 'to do' list, a few more things get added to it. Right now all that's left to cross off is: put music onto iPod, email all agreed wwoof hosts to confirm details as a courtesy, organise wwoof volunteer insurance, transfer Google route maps onto Garmin Sat Nav, install Photoshop into my laptop (it doesn't have a disc drive so it's not as simple as inserting a disc, I have to share the drive of my Mac Pro Tower), dismantle and pack last remaining bike into a box along with all my spare wheels and other bike related stuff and tools etc, compile packages (clothes and books etc) for parents to bring out when they visit me later in the year at different destinations and finally re-pack and de-clutter my panniers once again.

Realistically I could do all that in one or two days but I will spend the remaining eight days completely unwinding and relaxing, making sure I have not missed out anything crucial in the planning. It will also give me a chance to complete the books I am currently enjoying. A week on Saturday, after goodbyes at mums, I will visit one third of my immediate family, to say further goodbyes, enroute to dads where I will spend one night before heading to London to visit the other third of my family and say my final goodbyes. After that, I am on my own!

As the Spring weather has been so lovely this week and still was today, this afternoon I went out for a 60km spin via a very busy seafront. I love the Spring/Summer bright, crisp days and the long evenings (oh, the clocks go forward this evening), so just had to get out today. I ended up visiting somewhere quite special - the place where my cycling passion began.

Earlier this week I visited a few friends for the last time and also enjoyed a couple of 'last suppers'. It was good to catch up and everyone is being very encouraging. Their enthusiasm and excitement for me almost matches my own and it is comforting to have so many well-wishers spurring me on - that includes all the followers on Twitter and readers of my blog. Thank you! At this moment, two weeks hence, I will be playing poker, for what may be the final time, with my good friends during the first leg of my mini UK and Ireland cycle tour, ahead of leaving from The Hague on May 1st. My next Tour Diary entry will be the last before I set off. Too late to back out now!


Sweet Emulsion

The only news this week, apart from decorating mums hall, stairs and landing, is that I have taken the decision to delay my departure, by one week, until Sunday 1st April. This is actually the original departure date that I had in mind but I brought it forward at the start of March as I was ahead of schedule with my planning. As it turns out, the decorating is taking a little longer than planned and the impromptu trip to Italy meant that the last few days before I set off would have been too much of a rush. This cycle tour is supposed to be the start of a stress-free period of my life so the last thing I want to be doing is rushing around. Now that I have pushed the date forward, I have a week to finalise the last few things and relax ahead of my departure.

I was beginning to get a little worried about the stuff that I had left to do and the amount of time I had left to do it all in. Having changed the date, I was immediately more relaxed and the sleepless nights I had been having were resolved. The weather has been fantastic this week, proper Spring sun. Hopefully the start of things to come.

MONDAY, MARCH 12, 2012

The Italian Job

Apart from a 60km cycle last Monday, the remainder of last week was somewhat of a break away from all the cycle tour planning.

During the aforementioned Monday, I spent the morning undertaking the first proper "edit" of my original packing list and in the afternoon I decided it was finally time to complete my maiden fully loaded test cycle.

I spent the previous day (Sunday) doing most of the preparatory work ahead of decorating mum's hall, stairs and landing, then spent much of Tuesday sanding down the filled holes in the walls and ceilings. Also, on Tuesday, I laid out and typeset dad's cricket team fixture list for this coming season. Layout and typesetting in a graphic design studio was my full-time job until almost a year ago. It took me a little while to remember how to use the features in Adobe InDesign that were second nature for the previous 10 years! That evening I then travelled to dad's ahead of flying to Italy on the Wednesday afternoon, where I spent the rest of the week visiting a friend near Rome and helping them move to an apartment in Rome.

I arrived home today and it is now exactly two weeks left until I set off!


The Final Countdown

Golly, it has been a busy week.

At the start of this week I compiled a final 'to do' list of the last few items still requiring action before I set off. I am at the nuts and bolts stage of the planning now with a clear end in sight. I spent Monday finalising all of the route maps for the early parts of my tour and working out the dates of travel. I will be setting off on Monday 26th March. I also caught up with parts 3 and 4 of 'On Hannibal's Trail', having missed them whilst in France last week. During the show I noticed they were using inflatable mattresses. I needed one of those! I got in touch with the guys to find out what they used and after a bit of research, I ordered myself one of the same.

On Tuesday I gathered together all my items for the first time, in order to compile my packing list and I test packed my panniers. It all fits...just. On Wednesday I vacuum sealed and packed the remainder of my clothes for storage in the attic, leaving out just enough clothes for the coming few weeks. I also packed a few more items away for storage. On Thursday the inflatable mattress arrived so, in order to completely familiarise myself with my tent I set up camp in the back garden and I slept out on Thursday night! It was certainly warm enough in my sleeping bag and fleece liner but blimey, that motorway is loud! Even in the dead of night and it's at least a couple of miles away. On Friday morning, I made a trip into town and bought myself a new sim card for emergency use whilst away and some earplugs!!! I also treated myself to a second deluxe soft pillow as one was just not enough to make sleeping comfortable. In the afternoon I got stuck into finalising my travel insurance.

I had been putting this off for a while as I had done most of the research in January, so had a good idea of what was out there already. As mentioned in a previous diary entry, some bits were easy. I discovered that my bike is covered under the house insurance for theft and/or damage anywhere in the world and I found out about travel insurance specifically for WWOOFing volunteers. I also organised my European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) recently. They were the easy bits, the tricky part was getting the actual travel insurance at a reasonable price. Most would happily take my money but upon reading the small print, it turns out that none are of any use to me whatsoever!

Other than having an accident, which I never actually have done in all my years of cycling, my biggest concern is my stuff getting stolen. I am taking with me a U-Lock and three cables but as I will be camping, my stuff will rarely be leaving my sight anyway. However, there will of course be times when it is just not possible to take it all with me - when shopping in a supermarket for food or if going sightseeing from a campsite one day. Even with the most expensive policies, my stuff is only covered if locked in a safe, stored in a locker or secured in a hotel room. I will never be doing any of those. My stuff is not covered if stolen from inside a locked tent or stolen from a locked bicycle. In short, the reason I want the travel insurance in the first place, is not covered! I don't need to worry about missing flight or ferry connections, as I will be doing no flying and only have two ferry crossings in the first two weeks of my travels to worry about. The cost of replacing the essential items I will be taking with me (my clothes), will be cheaper to replace than the actual cost of the insurance policy. I will be backing up all my photographs to various places (including online), so even if my camera gets stolen, the important part, the photos, will be safe. Also, I will never be carrying that much cash with me to make being mugged too much of an issue. I have therefore decided that I am not even going to bother with travel insurance, which is actually a weight off my mind.

Today, in-between beginning mum's decorating and giving her a crash course in Photoshop, I got around to one of the last items on my 'to do' list and have been filling up my ipods with language courses, tv shows, movies and music to see me through the next couple of years. I also caught up with the final two parts of 'On Hannibal's Trail'.

It feels quite bizarre to be at this stage now. In just a few short weeks I have gone from a blank canvas to now being almost ready to set off. The excitement is really intense now and I just can't wait to get going. The final countdown has well and truly begun!


Last Day In France

This week I have been cycling in northern France to check out the roads, signage and the driving over here, along with finally getting to grips with my Garmin eTrex30 Sat Nav, ahead of my cycle touring adventure starting in April. The first four days cycling here were fantastic! You read about them here Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. Thursday and Friday, however, were very foggy. But, after not venturing out on Thursday, I was not going to spend Friday indoors, besides, the promise of oysters in Concale in the evening was too good an opportunity to turn down due to a small thing like inclement weather.

Along with the cycling I'd been doing during the week, I was also helping out with a few jobs in the gardens. Each morning I would take care of the things that needed doing and then I would go cycling in the afternoons after a hearty lunch. Saturday was spent doing the last few things around the house and garden. I then settled down to watch the Six Nations rugby. Sunday morning will be spent tidying around and leaving the place in good order for the first guests of the season, here at La Ciderie, who are arriving next weekend. We then sail back to England on Sunday afternoon.

What a brilliant week it has been! I am now looking forward to cycling in France more than ever. As an exercise to familiarise myself with cycling in France, it was 100% successful. Any worries I had about the quality of the roads and my chosen routes are now gone. Also, now that I am familiar with the roads and the road signs I can relax once I get into France again in early May.


I'm In France!

I gave myself a 6.00am wake up call this morning to catch the 8.00am sailing to Caen. My aunt and uncle have a place in northern France and asked me recently if I would like to join them for a week. I'd be crazy to turn down such an offer. I made sure I brought a bike with me as I figured it would be a great opportunity to sample cycling in France and examining the kind of roads I will be cycling along when I start my tour in May. I have visited France several times but have never cycled over here before.

It's been quite a busy week this week, so I am welcoming the chance to do some cycling. Since completing the 12,000km at the end of December, I have only cycled about 30km in the seven weeks of 2012 so far. I've also put on about 4kg in weight back on too. The sooner I can lose that again, the lesser the strain on my rear spokes! But I am not too worried about it really as the upcoming cycle tour and working farm stays will result in the weight falling off again I am sure.

This week I completed the last of the tasks my dad and his wife needed help with in their home and garden. With their bedroom made to look more rustic (by adding wooden beams to walls and ceiling), we move onto remodelling the garage/office by removing an internal stud wall a creating better laid out work space. The removal of said wall and some flooring resulted in yet more wood to be chopped so I concluded the week with more jigsaw and the almost obligatory, chainsaw action.

I spent the remainder of this week checking a few more items off my 'to do' list. This included acquiring a few more bike boxes and dismantling the bikes I would be leaving behind, but not before setting up their first ever group photo for posterity. I also finished duplicating my photo and dvd archives to leave one set at mums house and another at dads. Since losing almost the full years worth of photos from 2010, when my hard drive died in January 2011, I have now become even more paranoid about backups. They are now in four places - internal and external hard drives and two sets of backups in different locations. That ought to be enough!

My last task this week was to complete a set of written instructions for mum on how to use the new scanner she has purchased to make digital copies of her own and our family photographs. Instructions for scanning, basic image manipulation with Photoshop and then importing into iPhoto and organising and naming etc, have been neatly placed on top of the scanner next to her iMac for when she feels brave enough to attempt some more 'solo' scanning. Good luck mum!

When I return to England, next weekend, I will have just five weeks left before I set off on my cycle tour proper. No time for nerves now!


A Quiet Week

A week away from cycle tour planning this week, helping dad with a few building projects around the home along with lots of wood chopping in order to top up the winter log store. Both parents are cramming in the jobs for me now before I head off on my adventures. I spent most of last summer and autumn helping dad with the garden - building a large log store with a sturdy concrete base; turning over plots of land ready for next seasons planting; laying new turf; moving a green house to a second newly built concrete base; repairing fences and of course chopping wood. Since the start of winter I have repaired and painted mums conservatory and repainted her kitchen. Last week I washed the roof of the conservatory. All I have left to do for her now is just repair and paint the hall, stairs and landing. Oh, and sand and paint the bannisters!


Things are Coming Together

It's been another productive week this week. Just last night I heard back from my final host for the first leg of my journey - from northern France to the Pyrenees. I have now organised to volunteer with nine different WWOOF hosts for a total of 16 weeks. The cycling has become the lesser entity on this first leg but in order to redress the balance, I will spend October and November cycling around the entire coast of Spain and Portugal without visiting any WWOOF locations at all. It will be cycling tour proper. In late November or early December I will arrive back in France via Andorra and the Pyrenees again. I have tentatively secured three WWOOF hosts for that time, two of which might be able to host me for the remainder of the winter too.

My new Shimano XT rear cassette has arrived this week. After rebuilding my touring bike, I realised that my current rear cassette is so worn on the smaller rings, that it needs to be replaced. I finally took the bike out for a spin yesterday, a bitterly cold 22.5km (so bitterly cold, I thought my toes were going to drop off), a total which is three times more than my current total for the year to date. Planning a cycle tour does not leave much time for cycling! Also the SKS mudguards arrived and I have now fitted those.

The last few bits I had ordered have all arrived now, I think! A few more books came this week (including two on cycling in Spain) and the extremely lightweight MSR Hubba Hubba groundsheet (or footprint as they like to call it) for my tent. Also, the remainder of my touring maps arrived too. I believe my kit is now complete!


Hosts Confirmed

I have been very busy, but more importantly, very productive this past week.

Monday morning was spent ringing insurance companies and finding out all I need to about what type of insurance to get and exactly what is covered in their respective policies. It turns out that many companies will only offer short trip insurance of no more than 30 days on average but up to 90 days from some. I did find a company willing to quote me for bike theft for 12 months, but upon re-reading the house insurance policy, it turns out that bike theft from anywhere in the world - provided it is securely locked - is covered. I managed to save myself £80 there. The UK Post Office do a very good travel insurance as it turns out, for around £170 for 12 months. This also covers certain aspects of working abroad but I need to explore a little further exactly what kind of work is covered. themselves actually recommend a specific volunteers insurance, through O V Europa and at €35.00 for 12 months, it's certainly affordable even on top of the Post Office travel insurance if needs be.

As the week progressed, emails from wwoof hosts trickled in steadily. A couple more said "no" early on in the week and I started to worry a little bit but then came my first "yes". Then came another! Once these started to come in, I could then tweak my route accordingly and begin to plan dates and start to really pin things down. Come this weekend, I now have six places confirmed and will reach Bordeaux around the weekend of the 18th and 19th August.

I now have a couple of different hosts booked in the Loire Valley from mid-June to mid-July, with sufficient gap between the two, to allow me a week to cycle along the Loire River and back. I am really looking forward to spending time in this area, it was one of the few "must see" destinations I wanted to include in my travels. This week a book called "Cycle Touring in France" by Rob Hunter arrived on my doorstep. In it, he describes a cycle along the Loire River from Nantes passing through Angers, Tours, Orleans before reaching Bourges. I will cycle the exact same route so it will be nice to see how it has changed, if any, in the past 28 years.


Final preparations are underway

As I promised myself, this week I began the final stage of preparations for my European cycle touring adventure. My bike has been repaired, the pannier racks have been fitted, my packing list is almost complete, my panniers have been waiting patiently to be filled for quite sometime and I recently gained my Cytech level 3 cycle mechanics qualification. All that's left to do is plan the route and get in touch with WWOOF hosts in France, Spain, Portugal and Italy for the first leg of my journey.

As so many people have asked me what WWOOFing actually is, here is the link that explains it all. And no! It's nothing to do with dogging!

Initially I had thought about simply following the EuroVelo routes across Europe but then realised that having to work out the roads those routes followed would take more time than just working out my own route. Also, I decided to give my tour a little bit of an edge (quite literally) by attempting a mainly coastal tour of France, Portugal, Spain and Italy. I will start in north east France on 1st May, 2012 and travel anti-clockwise around the coast until I reach the foot of Italy, popping into Andorra and Monaco en route.

Having now drafted the route, I will actually be covering parts of EuroVelo routes 1, 4, 5 and 8 so will still get so sample some of the EuroVelo but have now realised that there is not necessarily one specific road to follow. They appear to be more of an indication of a route. As it turns out, a television show started on BBC Two last night (a repeat of a BBC Four series shown in June 2011) called "On Hannibal's Trail" about three Australian guys who cycled from Sagunto in Spain to Rome in Italy following the route taken by Hannibal. I may well end up cycling a lot of that route myself.

After working out a rough route, I then joined WWOOF France to get in touch with host farms along the way. I am not intending to stick to the coast religiously and will be cycling inland to get to the farms as and when I need to. The first farm I contacted this week have already replied but said "I'm afraid that we are quite a long way from the coast - like 120 miles". They obviously don't know how far I am prepared to cycle! A few more emails have been sent and now I am just waiting for the replies. The waiting is the frustrating part as I cannot contact farms later on the journey until I know where and for how long I will be with the farms earlier on the journey.

Because I am WWOOFing on this cycle tour, at some points I have to be in certain places on certain dates. This has thrown up another issue - how far could I and should I cycle each day? If I were simply planning a cycle tour with no farms visits the distances would not matter, I could simply travel as far as I wished each day. As my cycle tour has deadlines along the way, that has thrown up a few route planning headaches.

I'm sure though, as more host farms get back to me and I can begin to nail down the route and dates, everything will begin to fall into place. I don't want to start getting anxious about deadlines or get too attached my chosen route as that will take the enjoyment out of the entire experience. I want to be flexible. I am not becoming so precious about my route that I cannot change it if I have to. Since coming to that conclusion, I feel a lot more relaxed about the route and the planning. Above all else, it has to remain fun!

In the meantime, I will be undertaking a few test rides with the bike fully laden with all my touring kit, of distances between 75km to 100km to see if I can comfortably complete them in a day. On the tour, I estimate 50km in the mornings and 50km in the afternoons. I certainly don't want to be cycling from daybreak until sunset. I want to visit places along the way, stop to take photographs and eat my lunch during a relaxed break under a shady tree or on a stretch of golden, sandy beach! I realise there will be a few more hills/mountains than I am used to and that the heat will also be a factor in the distances which I am able to cover each day, but I am allowing a couple of days each week to catch up if I have to. I am doing my best to think of everything!


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