This is the end, my only friend, the end.
And so it comes to pass our cycle journey is over. Looking back it’s been one hell of a ride. Our route took us through 13 countries, both the richest and poorest in the world. The friendliness and hospitality we received impressed on us the need to pay this back to future travellers. The connections made to like-minded people encouraged me to believe there are some people out there who really get what’s going on with the planet. And most of all, the myriad of experiences Anna and I went through together has undoubtedly set a super strong foundation for our upcoming life together.
Lately I’ve been trying to understand my own driving factors for wanting to travel, and having my mind blown at how different these are from 10 years ago. When we set out I still held onto the idea that new countries, cultures, experiences and people was what I was after. 10 years ago, this purpose kept me going for 3 years, but this time round only the first few months. So what’s different? Well to start with there’s the obvious age stage differences (no pub crawls this time); also travelling as a couple vs single; and mode of travel eg bikes vs public transport. Whilst all these have influenced my purpose out here, the major difference I can identify is my consciousness. Previously I had no qualms about flying jets around the world; the mounds of beach trash would draw my attention for all but a few seconds while I sipped my mango shake out of plastic; and any cultural destruction eg neon-tourist-towns or children begging had little or nothing to do with my presence. Well all that’s changed, I’m now acutely aware of just how impactful we tourists are.
So going forward what’s the future of travel for me? To start with I feel conventional travel bus, train, hotel etc. is out the picture. The sheer number of other humans participating in this global dance ensures you will be constantly corralled left or right, and regurgitated experiences daily. Cycle touring was great, but often we found ourselves resenting the tether to Tarmac, and the arse end of the world (backroads are where we place all the bad shit: nuclear reactors, factory farms, mono-crops etc.). So that leaves me with limited options… I can imagine future travel will be limited to important family visits, or adventurous single destination missions eg canoeing down a river for a month. Whatever the case this trip has drastically changed my worldview and placed me, “the tourist”,centrally as one of the key contributors to destruction.
Taking this learning and applying it to home, Anna and I have never had such resolve to live a more sustainable life. We’ve both set goals to become hyper-conscious consumers; to try set up a green co-housing property; and to strive for a work/life balance that allows us to spend time doing the things that really need to be done. I’ve never been more passionate to learn more about plausible options for the survival of Homo Sapiens, and to find ways to get others onboard. There’s never been a greater need for change than now; I just need to harness the passion and understanding that 8months of peddling/thinking has developed and put it into action back home. The challenge will be not slipping back into the status-quo.
So yes, this is the end of our cycle journey and of this blog. Thank you for following along.
Currently sitting in Luang Namtha, northern Laos. 200 odd k’s behind us lays the Thai boarder we crossed 6 days ago, not to mention a fair few thousand meters of hill climbing! So far Laos has most defiantly lived up the hype of a great place to cycle – the roads are impeccable (thank you China), the people are inexhaustibly friendly, and with cheap guesthouses scattered around there’s no need for tenting. Riding through the Nam Ha National Bio-diversity Park was stunning, enjoying a 25km down hill with pristine jungle dripping from the tall surrounding cliffs.
Arriving in this sleepy, yet comparatively highly civilized town we immediately wanted to stop and spend some time here (FYI this means lay in bed for a full day eating and watching movies). Our legs were absolutely spent. Sadly eating tons of Indian sweets and gorging on roti, dhal and masalas does not keep the legs toned… Looking back I think we did the best we could in India. Sooo grateful for all the help and hospitality we received along the way. The days we spent deep in the Himalaya’s were very nice. Waking up each morning and gazing out at the 7000m mountains was bliss. We managed to contribute what we could to the farm, digging out terraced gardens, cooking heaps of tasty food, and tending to the ‘plants’. But eventually had to head back to Delhi… With our hopes of Western Union helping shattered we both knew it was time to leave. Lucky for us we having a myriad of options we picked up some last minute flights to Thailand, and at the click of a mouse our India trip ended. Terrible time to be there, and sad to meet other travels here in Laos who also had to leave India. Hopefully one day we will be to experience it in full.
Yes it’s been a while, but we thought we better get some adventure under our belt before posting another blog entry. Sadly our laptop is completely dead (shattered screen and a constant beeping sound) that will teach us to bring fancy tech on the road. Limited to typing this on the phone, it may not be as comprehensive as before.
So what’s Laos like to ride in?
Hilly! Holy moly is it what. But we openly claim to love the mountains as they provide physical challenge, remoteness, and interaction with small villages.
The roads here are in fairly good nick most of the time. I think we can thank China for that; they have invested tons into northern Laos.
Food wise we often struggle to consume enough calories. Our only option for lunch on the small villages in a nutrient dificint noodle soup. And the only snacks we can get our hands on are heavily processed airy chips and wafers. Needless to say we both consume around 6-10 bananas a day, and have lost a considerable amount of weight…
Ego boosting: some days I feel like a famous person! As we enter a village a swarm of kids will run along side screaming Saibaidees (hellos) and high fives all around. 20 days in and this is still not old.
People wise everyone is so friendly, happy and constantly smiling. The folks we’ve managed to have meaningful interactions with have eagerly welcomed us into their huts or houses; laughed with us; drunk with us; and been very generous considering the relitive poverty. Which brings me to a thought that I’ve been developing:
As we cycle through these tiny remote villages on our fancy colourful bicycles it’s easy to pity or feel sorry for the situation we see these other humans in; living in grass huts alongside animals, dressed in rags etc. But what if they where thinking the same thing about us? What if they see two farangs (foreigners) locked into a battle for individualism and self discovery, being blindly sheperded by a soul crushing, community shattering ideology which is neo-liberalism? Well wouldn’t that just be ironic.
But seriously, I see their community, I see their genuine joy and content, and wonder who has the right of it.
All this aside the biggest impression Laos has had on me is one of hopelessness and depression (sorry if your reading this for positive exotic stimulation). Laos is the front line for Chinese expansion and resources surquestions. As cycle touring takes you on plenty of back roads we’ve had a front row seat to the kind of environmental destruction that makes it into the documentaries. We’ve now ridden 750km in Laos, 700km of which has been surrounded by clear-cut tropical rain Forrest. Obviously the lumber is used, but the land left behind gets some special treatment. Large Chinese companies will plant either rubber trees or bananas. The rubber trees grow very fast and leave zero hope for any other species. Even worse the banana plantations span vast areas, and only produce fruit for the first 5-10 years after which the fields are abandoned and unfertile. From where I sit writing this, atop a 2000m hill mountain, I can see this devistation in all directions.
It’s easy to blame China for this sure, but the blame rests on all our shoulders. We are all blocks of coal feeding the Chinese machine; now more than ever our goods come from china; we eat bananas by the ton; we consume consume consume, and this is who pays the price.
Wow crazy times! Trump, big earth quake in NZ, and India in currency crises. This blog won’t be like the rest, instead it aims to inform those who are close of our situation.
We arrived in Delhi around 6 days ago, coincidentally the same day the government spontaneously announced ALL high value Indian currency is now deemed “Black Money” – no one will take it/trade it, only option is to take it to a bank and deposit into an indian bank account. No ATM’s have any cash. All banks have at least 250 people waiting outside, and are only open for deposits. All in all that’s been a real ball ache, but not the end of the world.
Getting to the main point. Yesterday we nervously packed our gear and bikes into Zanskar’s little wagon and we were off! Shit Delhi is crazy, traffic is out of his world, but we felt confident if we could only make it past the city limits we we’d be right. We said our farewells to Z and Rana outside a small chai shop, made some final adjustments, then got on the road. The first six kms were great, road quality was near perfect, traffic seemed very accomodating, 1000’s of friendly curious faces smiling and waving; we were stoked.
Six kms up the road we stopped off at a shop to try top-up the phone via credit card, and naturally as you could expect and as we were warned a HUGE crowd started to form around us. All seemed cool, plenty of people taking selfies etc. Then a man who spoke English grabbed our attention. He was warning us of the road ahead, saying that it was very dangerous and we should not continue instead turn around and head for Delhi and the tourist hotel. No exactly what you want to hear on top of having an all body sensory overload. Needless regardless of this mans warning, we forged on. We soon realised a contingent of the mob surrounding us was following on scooters, they were all around our two bikes. One scooter with 3 dudes (18yrs old’ish) was insisting we take a turn up ahead down a side road… Ah no thanks. The same scooter then drove next to Anna and grabbed a big handful of her arse! Hooning off with evil looking grins on their face. Needless to say, that was enough to pull a quick 180′ and boot it back to the city.
Absolutely terrible feeling for Anna, she is a super tough chick but no one can stand up to being blatantly sexually assaulted on the street. Following this experience there was a real feeling of un-safety. We were desperate to find a hotel to lock ourselves away and process what the fuck just happened, but of course there were zero hotels in a 15km radius… So we dug deep and resided ourselves to riding back through the chaos to safety. People who have been to Delhi, even people who live in Delhi, will tell you its a cesspit. Well they mostly likely only experience the inner city, because the outer districts are far worse than cesspit! Riding through bedlam, with the sun beginning to set, no obvious destination, no data, what a situation to get ourselves in. The next hour or so is a blur, cycling Delhi at night, finding numerous hotels non existent, one dude even tried to tear one of Annas panniers off! We finally had some luck and scored a very plush apartment room, with some very helpful owners who brought us some dinner.
All is good now, we caught a taxi back to the fort (Rana’s house) and shook the nerves off.
Our plan now is to head up to the mountains with Zanskar in the car. There we hope to get involved with village life at 2000m, doing heaps of tramping, cooking, and chilling. We shouldn’t need much money there also, so good to let this currency situations settle down. Just taking one step at a time now, but looking at continuing via standard methods of transport (bus/train), leaving bikes in Delhi to be picked up on way out to Myanmar for further cycling adventures.
So that’s our news…
We will be in Wifi range for the next couple of days and keen to skype with those who need to know more.
Once again it feels like it has been ages since I have written a post but I guess that must be a good sign that we are having a ball!
We last left you as we were heading inland for Switzerland. As Sam mentioned in his last post, we spent a short time on the French coast sweating like pigs and sitting under trees for extended periods of time.
Our riding through inland France was.. well.. a mixed bag. We had some great times in some beautiful villages, like the stunning Saint Michel Mont Mercure below.
This stunning little village had the most incredible chapel with a spire that you would not believe. Sam and I spent a good 10 minutes laughing our way up, in somewhat disbelief about how high up we were getting.
Another highlight was the town of Parthenay. It is an ancient fortified town from around the 11th century. This place was a real surprise for us as we had known nothing about if before we arrived (although this is not uncommon for our somewhat relaxed style of route planning!).
Since we had been in France I was most upset that even with all the incredible bread, wine and cheese I had not had one decent classic French meal! That all changed when we walked through the doors of Le Fin Gourmet. This place lived up to all my wildest French cuisine dreams! I wont bore you with the extensive menu breakdown but needless to say our 6 course degustation was délicieux!
Onwards from Parthenay the landscape became increasingly grim. Endless miles of flat, scorching hot maize fields and stinking factory farms. Sam and I were needless to say getting pretty over the unchanging view, so we decided to change it!
We booked ourselves on the next train to Lyon and that was that! The next evening we arrived in Lyon and were pretty happy to be there! Lyon is a great city so we decided to book ourselves a hotel for a couple of nights and take in the sights (thanks for the tips Sian!).
Leaving Lyon we decided to follow the Rhone river which turned out to be one of our best decisions yet! The Rhone has a long history as being one of Europe’s most important trade routes before the advent of highways and rail lines. It originates in the Swiss alps and flows all the way out to the Mediterranean sea meaning that it pretty much formed a perfect path to take us into Switzerland. The Rhone gave us endless swims in beautiful clean and clear mountain water (which was a blessing after days of 30 plus degrees heat!).
However our quaint life on the road was about to get thrown on its head. A good friend Jason sent through a message asking if we were free to fly back to the UK in three days to help him out at Festival n.o. 6 in Wales for the week. Naturally after a very swift reply to confirm that yes, we would be able to squeeze that into our hectic schedules, we were back on the bikes and peddling like mad for Geneva!
After a very uneventful crossing into Switzerland (we didn’t even know we had crossed the border!) we arrived in Geneva the evening before we were due to fly out. Thankfully we had managed to organise a Warm Showers host to look after our bikes and gear while we were gone (thanks Noémie!) however they actually lived just over the border back in France! With the gear storage all sorted we set to the next task of trying to figure out where we were going to sleep before our early flight to Birmingham! Although the idea of sleeping in the airport was super appealing, we managed to hook up with some friends of our good friend Rory (thanks so much for connecting us!). Trev and Calfy* (as they like to be called) have been living in Geneva for a few years now and very kindly put us up for the night, as well as taking us out for a lovely evening picnic and swim on the lake. Perfect!
After arriving back in the UK (and swiftly undoing all the 1000’a of kms we have ridden AWAY from the UK!) Jase and Ash took us to a cafe so we could eat something that was not bread, cheese or wine (hard life I know!). After a quick stop by Tescos to stock up for the week (and replenish our Marmite stocks) we spent the rest of the day getting ready for our drive to Portmerion, Wales for For festival n.o. 6!
I had the pleasure of driving ‘The Bus’ through tiny winding Welsh country lanes and over mountain passes through the Snowdonia national park. I must say after seeing what was in store for what I assumed would be a very fatigued drive home, I was not so excited! However the drive was beautiful and I did not drive off a mountain so I would call that a win!
Portmerion was a stunning place to have a festival. The pictures we took do not do it justice. It is a colourful little village cut right into the rocky Welsh coastline. We arrived on the Tuesday and spend the time leading up the festival building the Ice Shed, stocking the fridges, eating spicy mozzarella stuffed meatballs with the other traders and drinking high quality gin. I could get used to this!
On the Thursday all the other crew arrived and the carnage began! I can’t put into words what an epic week Sam and I both had, but we want to thank each and every one of you for making it such an EPIC experience! The crew we had was unreal, and I really hope our paths cross again some stage soon (did somebody say new years in Bulgaria?!). From getting lost in the magical forest, singing our hearts out Bastille to crew graveyard shifts in the shed. I couldn’t have picked a better motley crew to party with!
Needless to say, it rained. A lot. Mud was an obvious byproduct and man, was it muddy! The sheer physical exertion needed to actually move your feet whilst dancing became too much so we were resigned to a weird kind or stationary rocking movement (think Mr Bean).
After a very painful two days of pack down in the rain and rising mud, we were headed back to the land of sun! However not before a very stressful airport experience in which they did not want to let me back into Europe as I could not prove I was going to leave! Although we explained to them numerous times that we were traveling by bike, sleeping on the side of the road and made little to no plans, they weren’t sold. The UK border control reluctantly let me on the plane, stating that I was likely to get turned around and flown back. Needless to say that did not happen. Silly UK bureaucracy.
A HUGE thanks to Jason and Ash for having us over to lend a hand, we had a wildly good time (and Ash, sorry for stealing your home for the week!).
Back on the road again we found ourselves cruising up the shore of lake Geneva, the perfect recovery after days of bodily abuse! We hit another milestone too we have ‘officially’ ridden 1000km (although we did not have a cycle computer for the UK section so technically its closer to 2500km).
We continued heading north, making our way up one of the many valleys in Switzerland. The hills grew taller and eventually turned into massive mountains. There are vineyards dotted all over the hills in the lowers hills of Switzerland which was surprising as we knew little about Swiss wine!
Whilst on the road we have been utilising a couch surfing style website called ‘Warm Showers’. It has been a great way to connect with the locals and have some unique experiences that we otherwise would have ridden right past. We had the pleasure of being hosted by the lovely Céline and Armand. They took us up one of the local cable cars for a spectacular sunset and epic decent down the infamous winding Swiss roads. They cooked us a beautiful dinner and we shared many good chats. Thank you so much for having us, and when you make it to New Zealand be sure to get in touch!
We had the recommendation from both Céline, Armand and another of our WS hosts, Marc, that we should really go to Europes largest glacier that was just 30km up the road. Man are we glad we took this advice. We got a cable car up to one of the lower villages (as we would be doing more than enough climbing on the upcoming Furka pass!) and then rode for a little while, traversing some of the high alpine villages along the way. From there we walked up the beautiful hills and as we crested over the ridge, We were greeted with truly one of the most beautiful scenes we have seen yet!
That evening we found a wild camp just over the ridge from the glacier. Sam made a delicious dinner of pizzas with copious amounts of Swiss cheese. The perfect end to a magical day!
Further up the valley, things were getting narrow and we were about to hit a dead-end. The only way being UP! Sam and I had been very excited about tackling the Furka pass whilst in Switzerland. The Furka pass is one of the higher passes in the country at a respectable 2436m in elevation. We had some bad weather rolling in and we were getting a bit antsy to get up and over before the weather window passed us by.
It was a long brutal, cold and sweaty day but man was it worth is! I honestly don’t think I have even been pushed that hard. Ever. We were however kept pretty well distracted from the pain by stunning views, freezing cold decent, fuzzy little cows and consuming our body weight in gummy bears. After the first pass, I was feeling pretty happy with myself. Now we only had one ‘little’ pass to tackle before we were on the down hill for a long time! Sam assured me that it would only be about 200m elevation gain, oh how wrong he was. What ensued was a lot of grunting, Marmite and bread consuming and private thoughts of doubt about if i would make it off this pass without going into cardiac arrest. None the less, we made it (as Sam told me I would). Sadly the weather was brutally cold and raining at the top so we layered up the clothes and I burned my breaks all the way down to the bottom.
Whew, what a mammoth blog post! If you have made it to the bottom, congratulations!
We are now recovering in a beautiful little campground at the bottom of the Oberal pass next to our next river, the Rhine.
Lots of love to you all, and thanks again to ALL those great human who have been making this trip truly amazing.
Geeeze where to begin… Anna and I are back on the road, for good now it feels. Behind us lies family, friends and comfy bed’s, ahead – the unknown. It is 10:30am, hot as hell, and we just emerged from the tent with tired bodies after a mega day. More on that later though, first an update of the last month.
Shit it was good to see dad! It only happens every three or so years, but when it does we always have a good time. What’s a good time at look like at Kervelen you ask? Barn sessions have to be up there. The barn goes way beyond the confines of a man-cave; hours were spent in there “honing” our dart throwing abilities, although they only seemed to get worse… We were not so much seeking to develop the hand-eye coordination as much discover the perfect state of mind to ‘zone in’ – is it one vape then two and a half beers? Or three beers followed quickly by two vape’s?? Sorry, but we still don’t know they answer. It’s great to share so much in common with him, those of the Queens Ave era would not be surprised to hear we spent the majority of time in the barn.
And the kids, wow how they have grown! Such cool little humans, it is obvious their upbringing on the farm has been a positive one. They are both very well spoken, love to laugh and have fun, intelligent, and very independent (they will happily stop me from emptying the dishwasher, as “it’s their job”!). At 10 years old I think it’s a good time to strengthen our relationship, I look forward to spending more time with the two of you in the future.
Our stay in Brittany was not all barn parties and farm work though, we did also venture out for some wild weekends in two of Europe’s famous cities, Paris and Amsterdam. Sure you have the Louvre, Eiffel Tower and stunning architecture but what really drew me to Paris was one person, one legend, Gilaad Amir. As you can imagine the three of us had a wicked time, made all the better by our city-center apartment Sian had hooked us up with through old friends (thanks Sian!). We gorged ourselves on endless pastries, cheeses and breads whilst soaking up the Parisian sites, sounds and vibes atop our little hire bikes. Give it a few years though and I garantee the only thing that will stand out will be 3:30am Monday morning… Having really pushed the boat out Sunday night we climbed the endless flight of stairs to sanctuary, hoping to crawl into bed and quietly die for the next 12 hours. Oh, hmm what’s that on our door? A note? Oh NOOOOOO! “Hi Sam, sorry but we have come home early from holiday. Hope you are only two now as we are in bed. Please be quite. Laura (apartment owner)” Despair… The three of us slump to the ground. How could this happen. What do we do. Fuck… The only option is to tippy toe into the now hostile feeling little box and tri-spoon on the tiny couch. Lame. A few hours later I woke, one arm over Gil (?!), and suffered an awkward 20mins of our two hosts leaving for work. The place was a mess with wine bottles and pipes – we felt like death. Things got better from then on though, we utilized Air B&B to secure ourselves the most expensive little dungeon in Paris. No seriously this place was terrible! To access it you needed to walk though a maze of underground stairs and corridors, it shared a bathroom with some 120 other humans, it smelt like rotting fish carcass soup, and it didn’t even have the wifi it advertised!!! Alas we laughed it off and enjoyed our last night together. Gil I hope you find all your looking for in New York city, failing that of course you always will have the Queens Ave crew to fall back on.
After a couple of week’s recovery back at the farm it was time for the big shebang, a weekend with Jacko and Manda in Amsterdam! If there is one thing that stands out from that trip it’s that living on the other side of the world from a best friend does nothing to dismantle the friendship. The two of us have played tag team with living abroad for the past 8 or so years, but it did feel an end was in sight. Once I have ridden around the world and these two awesome people have completed their in-depth Amsterdam orientation, I look forward to a short drive to visit as opposed to a 24-hour flight.
For a change we hired some bikes and rode for miles each day… The difference being Amsterdam is undoubtedly the best city to cycle in, with its dedicated cycle lanes and bike friendly culture. The city is clean, all the food tastes amazing, most of the people are beautiful; it’s obvious why these two have stayed for so long. The 11-hour car ride home was fairly tough as you can imagine after such a weekend, but we made it back to Kervelen for one last week with the family.
Preparations for departure started the next day, we had brought a few new bits and bobs for the bikes, and planned to strip as much excess weight as possible (remember we are novices to this cycle touring stuff). This time it was for good, no more safety net of family houses and friends, it really felt like the start of the journey! It was sad riding out of Kervelen, who knows when I will next be there. At least my wedding will force Dad (and hopefully the kids) to come pay a visit to Aotearoa.
We soon picked up the Brest to Nante Canal, constructed by Napoleon to serve as an inland transport route this canal was the prefect route to ease back into it – flat, smooth tarmac, with plenty of easy campsites and no navigation required. The canal was teaming with French family’s enjoying the summer holidays, whole tribes taking to bikes for a week. We even met an extremely well educated (home schooled) and traveled 10-year-old and his mum who were riding to the bottom of Spain! Our days on the canal were punctuated with regular 2 hour reading breaks under oak trees and plenty of cold beer and pindas (Dutch for peanuts). After 5 days / 250km of canal life we were ready for a change, so we veered off the EV1 trail in search of white sand and cool water. Our detour took us over the Saint Nazaire Bridge, a colossal beast ram-packed with camper vans and trailers. Awaiting us on the other side was the heat Anna had dreamt of, the contrast was crazy! It now felt more like Spain than France, with white washed houses and parched earth that had clearly not seen the rain for months. We wanted summer and we got it!
We went for our first swim, ate our first Snickers bar ice cream, and sweated like pigs for the first time. From cruising through temperate England and Brittany for the past months to being smacked with a 35’C blow dryer was a real shock! Sadly coastal life is not all we hoped for… almost every stretch of beach is inhabited, streets are teaming with fat leathery holidaymakers, and the food is way below par for France. Having had a little taste of it this route, riding further South then across to the Mediterranean coast does not excite us so much (you were right Heleen, it’s pretty boring). But that’s the cool thing about being self-sufficient and driven; you don’t like it CHANGE IT. We’ve decided to shoot East in search of those stunning alpine vistas of the Swiss Alps. Haha I can just picture many of your faces and thoughts “What another change of route” or “What, they are crazy, the ALPS!” yup, bring it on – hill climbs, snow-capped views, $18 beers. Freedom – it’s one thing we both love about life on the road.
Thanks for reading, hope this is enjoyable for you. If you have any suggestions or requests for what we should include in these, please feel free to leave a comment. Blogs do feel like very one-sided communication, so we love getting comments from anyone out there reading 🙂
Thank you Sian for organizing the apartment in Paris. Hope Laura was OK with it all in the end.
Cheers for the awesome weekend Jack and Amanda!
Thanks for having us Dad, Heleen, Charlie and Lola J
And to the German couple in the camper next to us at Notre Dame de Monts, who asked “Do you like cold beer? We have some excellent Weizen beer if you do”.
Wow, where to begin! It feels like so much has happened since I have updated this last.
We had an incredible time at our own little slice of paradise in keyhaven for two weeks. There were endless hours for baking, cooking and reading. Absolute bliss.
We spent some time riding around the New Forest National park and I particularly enjoyed gawking at the adorable fuzzy donkeys that lazed around everywhere!
However the time arrived to hit the road again, this time bound for Bristol! The journey took us through some incredible landscapes. The terrain was relatively forgiving with only the occasional rolling hill thrown in.
Our second day on the road saw us stopping for our usual afternoon cider in the sun (this cycle touring life is hard work , you know!). We decided to keep on riding for another hour or so as the terrain was pretty easy and riding conditions were beautiful. What we failed to realise was that we were about the enter the infamous Salisbury Plain, also knows as one of the UK’s largest military training grounds!
Whilst we were highly entertained by ‘tank crossing’ and ‘warning, unexploded items’ signs everywhere in the beginning, the novelty soon wore off. After two or so hours of riding up and down brutal hills, we decided enough was enough and we were just going to have to camp in the military area. Bad idea. As soon as I left the road I very nearly missed rolling right over the top of an undetonated smoke grenade. No. This is not going to work we thought.
After another hour of grinding up hills and consuming as many calories as possible to keep our engines going, we finally left the military area and found ourself in the town of Pewsey. It was nearly 10pm and the sun was swiftly disappearing. We literally chose the first viable campsite we came across, which was a *charming* little abandoned/fallen down building just off the road. The ground was flat and we were hidden. Perfect!
We woke in the middle of the night to rounds of gunfire and grenade detonations. We both made a mental note to never consider camping in a military area ever again!
Morning came and we were back on the road with the aim of hitting Bristol today. It was a long day, around 70km or so but the riding was beautiful. We spent a majority of the day riding down the canal paths past the incredible Caen Hill Flight of 29 Locks. Sam even got to help open one which im sure was a highlight of his day!
We spent a lovely two weeks in Bristol (with a trip over to Wales) catching up with Sams family. Bristol is an incredible city with a great culture which I preferred much more to London.
But as usual, the time came to hit the road again, this time bound for France! The first few days were great! We had stunning weather and the countryside was beautiful as usual. This time we decided to follow one of the national cycle routes. England has put quite a bit of effort into sign posting these routes and it sure made the job of navigation a lot easier!
I must say by this stage I am already getting pretty tired. I think this is probably the most sustained physical activity my body has ever endured and it was screaming at me to stop. This, as you can imagine, began to affect me mentally too. Being thrown into a lifestyle like cycle touring is not easy. It is so dependant on peak physical and mental performance and things can get testing when your body is simply exhausted. Especially when you have absolutely no experience whatsoever! I began to question what I was getting myself in for but with support from Sam and a few tears later I was back up and running.
About halfway through this leg were due to break into Dartmoore National Park which we were both pretty excited about. Dartmoore is the only place in the UK where you can legally wild camp which is a nice change to having to hide yourself off the side off the road somewhere (which is actually a lot more fun than it sounds). What we didn’t account for however were the hills! Oh the hills! My poor little leggies have never been so tired. I can think of one in particular that took an hour and a half to sluggishly push my bike up, as it became impossible for me to push the pedals on the bike.
We were a day ahead of schedule (somehow?!) so we decided to take a much-needed rest day in a tiny little village called Peter Tavy. We found a great little wild camp within walking distance to the pub. Perfect. We spent the rainy afternoon hiding in the Peter Tavy Inn drinking pints, playing backgammon and eating the best pub food in the region (seriously, the best beef and Stilton pie EVER). I couldn’t think of a more perfect way to say goodbye to England.
After an easy half day ride we arrived at the ferry terminal in Plymouth, pretty happy with our effort. 1200km later, we are able to tick off our first country on the bikes. We have certainly learnt a lot, met some incredible people and had an incredible time! Sam spent the afternoon searching in vain for submarines, whilst I was just happy to not be sitting in the saddle!
We arrived in Roscoff on the overnight ferry and the first stop was to the boulangerie (naturally). Four pastries down we hit the road in what proved to be another very testing day for me. The lack of sleep and the 1000 odd km had definitely taken its toll and I was at boiling point. After throwing my bike down half way up a hill it took some serious coaxing from Sam (and taking some of the gear off my bike) to get back in the right frame of mind. However as expected, we eventually arrived at Sams Dads home in Ployé.
And now, I sit here in this beautiful French farm-house with a belly full of incredible french cheese and bread happy as a clam. All the worries from the road have washed away. Sam always tells me when im having a shit day that it’s these experiences that help us grow and teach us to truly be grateful for the simple pleasures in life. How right he is.
Day 1 @ Keyhaven: Up at 7:30am. Kettle on, coffee down. Organise gear. Play badminton. Facebook. Read for 17 minutes. Restless. Another coffee. Lunch? Mind racing. Need to keep busy.
Day 10 @ Keyhaven: Up at 10am. Breakfast at 11. Gaze out window. Coffee. Gaze out window. Epic 2 hour-long badminton match. Shower for 17 minutes. Read for a while. Super chill. Content with just sitting here.
What a rare privilege to truly slow down. I am beginning to believe this is the answer to many a problems. Through our slow living we now have time to focus on the real issues; we now have time to talk philosophy for hours, to seek meaningful as opposed to mandatory interactions; we now have time to forage for quality foods and patience to bake bread each day. Imagine a world operating on this level where people actually listen to and value others, where you have enough time to focus on projects that bring you joy and build the relationships you really desire. Well wouldn’t that just be lovely. The challenge is figuring out how to recreate this phenomenon/state of mind in the real world. Right now we are in that free minded travellers space that comes from living out of bags and being transient. How do you find time to “gaze” when you have a mortgage to pay, kids to feed and career to nurture? I don’t know the answer, sorry, but I do know that I will strive to figure it out. Something I heard lately might suggest a good a to start:
“Strive not to maximise how much money you can trade for your time but instead how much time you can trade for your money”
Regurgitating that quote I undoubtedly stuffed it up; but the message I get from it is this. If you consider each of us are here for about 650,000 hours, does it seem smart to trade away as many of those hours as possible to earn as much as possible? Because that’s what the majority of us are doing. The statement suggests a simple reversal, value those hours, stretch the money you have to live as many of those hours how you want to live them! Take on a simpler life; need less, eat less, drive less, buy less, do more, live more, be more, love more. On an individual level I can already attest to the benefits, on an environmental level I would argue this to be one of the key changes that we (as a species) could make to combat the current climate crises. Anything helps, start small, why not bike to work tomorrow?
I began writing this in a different country, whilst I have not crossed any boarders things sure have changed. To the world the UK has always been considered a true melting pot of cultures and ethnicities, but perhaps this image has been a little misleading, pushed on us from a London-centric view of the country. Anna and I have had a rather unique opportunity over the past month to interview many different demographics of people from varied locations around the country. One common theme that stood out was that almost all folk we spoke to in the cities (London and Bristol) were avid Bremain voters, compared to riding through the country where red Brexit banners flowed from car widows and houses. This suggests to me a disconnect between how the UK portrays itself via social and mainstream media and what the populace believe/value. The inclusive, progressive and modern image has since fallen through to one of xenophobia, open racism and confusion. There does seem to be growing hope though, with massive back peddling on Leave promises, vast swaths of politicians resigning, and Boris (bloody) Johnson stepping down there is potential to not follow through with pulling out. Here’s hoping…
Meanwhile in other news, we have enjoyed some quality family and friend catch up time but feel it’s time to get back on the road. We have given ourselves 7 days to ride south from Bristol to catch a ferry over to Brittany, France. Sounds like there are some good attractions along the way, we will ride through Devon, Dartmoor N.P. and Cornwall if we have time. Both of us have fingers crossed for some better weather on the other side of the channel, English summer has not be awe-inspiring… Weather and climate in mind, we have just made up our mind’s to ride south as opposed to north from Brittany. So new route is looking like Southern France – top of Spain (San Sebastian, Pamplona, Barcelona) – then hug Mediterranean all the way up into Italy. This route lends it’s self better to beaches, warm nights and less rain!
After spending four wonderful days in London we were eager to get on the road and get on with what we were really here for. Too many pints and self guided pub crawls with old friends were draining our funds quickly. As we had already ridden from the outskirts of London to the CBD to stay with Kerry and Bruce we really saw no need to battle with the bus exhaust fumes and crazy traffic again. We set off from their place with a very (VERY) vague idea about what we were going to do. We eventually decided that after some riding we were going to get on a train and get as far out of the city as possible to increase our chances of actually finding somewhere to camp for the evening.
We arrived at Guildford and set off towards the big section of green that we saw on the map and assumed we would find somewhere to pitch up for the night. What followed was a stunning ride down The River Wey in the blissful afternoon heat. The gravel path twisted and turned, each curve revealing somthing new to see. We rode past countless lines of houseboats with their owners (including their fury four legged friends) basking in the afternoon sun on deck.
After about 15km we found ourself in the forest however it wasnt quite what we were hoping for. It was quite a busy little area, with tracks weaving everywhere from local houses. Whilst we were aimlessly riding around (getting a little desperate) we met a lovely man named Ian with his gorgeous black Labrador called Chester. Ian proceeded to offer us a space in his back yard where we could pitch out tent for the night. Needless to say we took him up on this offer and followed this stranger back though the forest to his home. Ian was an amazing host, he ensured we were well hydrated (with beers) and fed (with burgers).
After a good nights sleep we woke up with fresh enthusiasm to finally complete our first day of ‘real’ touring. We set our sights on yet another green patch on the map and we were off. We threaded our way through numerous cute little english settlements, complete with picturesque cottages covered in roses. Bliss. The weather was beautiful so we decided to stop for a cheeky brew (only to keep out of the mid-day heat of course!). One of the great things about this time of year in England is the insane daylight hours. The sun rises at 4.30am and doesn’t set until 10pm at night, leaving us ample time for cool evening cycling, and more importantly, 3 hour long lunch breaks at pubs.
After a few more hours of beautiful riding through tiny green lanes we decided to start seriously looking for a place to sleep.
We rode into the Queen Elizabeth Country Park and knew that this was that place. I can’t put into words how magical this place was, so I will just let the pictures say it all
After a revitalising nights sleep in what can only be described as a dream camping spot, we slowly packed up our bikes and got back on the road. Today we set ourselves the (unknowingly bold) goal of making it down to the coast at Portsmouth, catching the ferry over to the Isle of Wight, riding down the coast of the island and then catching the ferry back to the mainland to make it to the beach cottage that we were going to be staying at for the new few days.
The first section on this leg was, as usual, beautiful (albeit uneventful). When we made it to Portsmouth we hopped on the ferry and shortly after arrived on the Isle of Wight. From the ferry I passed a flying comment that it looked a little hilly, but nothing major. What proceeded were four blistering hot hours of riding up hills, then down, then back up and back down again (im sure you get the picture).
I must admit I was feeling a little defeated and dark about half way through the day and pretty sad about the prospect of not making it to our beach cottage today. This was a really good learing point for us. Having a place we need (or want) to be whist we are riding can put undue pressure on the journey and realy detracts from the whole reason we chose to travel this way. Ideally we would have spent more time on the Isle to realy appreciate what was going on but we were still enjoyed the little of it that we did see. It had a great coastal beachy vibe that I can imagine is quite rare in the UK.
Eventually after 75 scorching hot kilometers and two ferry rides later, we found ourselves in the seaside town of Lymington. We made it! I was elated. I had almost convinced myself to let go of the dream of making it to the cottage. Tolerance for adversity points well and truly gained.
After a short ride around the beautiful coastline we arrived at the sleepy little village of KeyHaven and our perfect little home for the next while. Wow. We were speechless.
What proceeded was an incredibly enjoyable and well earned evening of eating £1 wheels of French camembert, pizza, red wine and good times. We are privileged enough to have free run of this large seaside cottage called ‘Salt Grass Stables’ for as long as we like. Let the true relaxation begin.
Salt Grass Stables funnily enough, used to be the stables for the large house down the road called Salt Grass House. We are very much looking forward to having our own space for the next little while, and hopefully get some friends down from Bristol and London for the weekend to make the most of this perfect little place.
Off to a great start! (once we got out of Heathrow)
After 26 hours of inactivity in a massive gas chamber flying through the sky we were amping to get on the bikes, not really, but what choice did we have. Upon exiting the behemoth international terminal 5 of Heathrow we umm’d and arr’d about where best to set up our bikes, settling on a nice little nook. The gear explosion was complete, bikes were taking form, GoPro on, and then comes the bad news “excuse me, you do realise it’s impossible to ride out of here?” “NO!, wtf do you mean?!” turns out a 500m tunnel of death is the only road out of the airport – fail… So after multiple elevators, fire exits and corridors we found ourselves begging disgruntled bus drives to transfer us through this short but deadly obstacle.
Tired, excited and hungry we wheeled into our first WarmShowers hosts house, a beautiful family home in Esher. Matt and Josh welcomed us warmly with pizza, beers and good company. Tamy the mother of these two, was an equally qualified host ensuring we had all the coffee, croissant’s and doughnut peaches (amazing) we could eat for breakfast. Staying with these folks reinforces my understanding of the benefits of avoiding hotel’s & hostels.
We successfully navigated our way through the heart of London! What a mission… But still very impressed with cycle lane network and infrastructure. Need to figure out better mapping systems – so far only have phone cable tied to handle bars.
With the blue sky out we took to the streets for a day of being tourists, so did a few million others! The streets were insanely packed. Had some good laugh’s doing my signature sheep bleating sound when standing in large lines. We soon tired of this and organised to meet and drink cold beverages in the park, much better idea.
Naturally cold beverages in the park led to the mission of sampling the best beers on offer from all pub’s in a 2km radius.
Which naturally ends with steamed pork buns.
We both really liked London. It is clearly a very affluent city with plenty of history, pride and vibrancy. Moving around via bike opened a new perspective for us, you develop a better picture of the place seeing all the back streets and buildings from a slow breezy roll-by than through a glass window of car or bus. Looking forward to what this means for the rest of or travels.
First impressions of cycle touring: We can do this.
Thanks to the Costain family. Such a great place to overcome jet lag and settle in.
Big thanks Kerry and Bruce for hosting us in your wicked apartment in Greenwich.
The days are slowly melting away until our departure date. I (Anna) am in my last week of work which feels pretty strange, although I must say I’m looking forward to not dealing with other people’s problems for a while and just focusing on one pedal stroke after another.
We are beginning to gather our personal gear and going through the painful (more so for me) task of deciding what we really need to bring with us (bearing in mind we have to push every last gram of gear up those nasty hills). Suddenly those 15 bikinis aren’t looking so enticing anymore..
Our final pieces of gear have been tricking in from various suppliers, some second-hand and some brand spanking new (nothing quite compares to getting new gear). Yesterday our Ortlieb panniers and racks arrived so we set to work getting them fitted as soon as we walked in the door.
Once we were both finished fitting the bikes out we took them for a little spin to see how they felt. These seemingly simple pieces of gear will be our lifelines whilst we are on the road and it’s actually amazing to think how little you need to truly sustain life. It’s very easy to get caught up in having the latest technology or the fanciest gears but I have no doubt in my mind that the experiences we will have on this journey and the joy they will bring us will surpass any materialistic item we could ever get out hands on.
For the mean time though Sam and I are enjoying the luxuries of living with my Mum and Dad in their lovely home on the shore (thanks Mum and Dad!).