Thursday, 25 February 2010

Another quick one - Day 11

Just a brief one before I check out of hotel 'le Chatelet' in Luxembourg city (getting my money's worth with breakfast and internet) - the night of day 9 was spent in my hammock, in the rain and snow, in the middle of the Ardennes forest, hence my wimping out and getting a hotel last night, mainly to dry my smelly clothes (the Merino myth is busted - it DOES smell!). I have about 6 days and 300 miles till Geneva and I cannot wait for the friendly face, Swiss praline, shower and company of a friend that await. Leaving there will be the big test but we'll cross that bridge... etc.

As it's midday already (Thursday) it'll be a short one down to the Metz area and hopefully somewhere decent to camp. I definitely need to not make hotels a habit!

Just time for a brief bit of thinking - riding to somewhere gives a target and some direction and the reasurance of a warm dry bed but has the drawback of controlling the day's sights, routes and relaxation, whereas riding with no target at all allows you to take your time and enjoy the scenic route, but with the constant uncertainty about where to sleep. I'm not yet sure which I prefer.

I'm not sure where the next internet will be so keep an eye for the Ray Mears-esque camp photos!

Countries to date: 3
Miles to date: 486

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

A Quick Update on Day 9

I'm currently in rainy Liege, Belgium, about to head on towards more than likely rainy Luxembourg and probably my first night in the tent! It's going to be a shock after living an easy life up until now - after leaving my cousin and his family in the Netherlands I rode down towards Belgium where, after 94 miles, I met up with Peter from Couchsurfing and had a fantastic 2 nights staying at his place in Antwerp. There is definitely no better way to see a city than with a local, and Peter's guiding (not to mention hospitality) was fantastic - a great first experience. Leaving him I headed for Liege and the home of Denis up high in the city (after 88 miles this time) - whose workplace I'm currently writing from - and experienced yet more amazing hospitality. Dinner, shower, bed, route advice, breakfast, guiding through the city, internet use... It's hard to leave!

But I should, I guess - 1 week to Geneva.

Miles to date: 363

Hopefully I'll get chance for a more detailed post soon...

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Four Days In

The very first thing I need to do is to say thank you. I've been overwhelmed by the love, friendship and interest shown for me and this trip by so many people. There's no way I could name everyone so, simply, to all those who came by for a cup of tea or met for coffee, who hugged me and waved me off, encouraged and inspired me, rode with me, texted, called and emailed me, commented and 'liked', cooked me breakfast, lunch and dinner, housed me - thank you.

Now for the catch up - I can't believe I'm 4 days in already! I know the hump is still yet to be passed over but I'm happy that the difficult first few days are rolling by.

Day 1 was truly a baptism of fire - 72 ridiculously hilly, meandering miles from Eastbourne to East London. If there was one thing that was going to make me want to get to Holland quicker it was 1400 metres of uphills on a 60 kg bike followed by rush hour in central London! A big thank you to Kim, James and (route planner) Simon, and earlier Sam and Iain for their much appreciated company. It beat riding on my own up the A22 by a long way and really took away any worries.

My first night was spent with my friend James in Bow - and what a friend. I was looked after so well I really could have stayed.

Day 2 we'll ignore - 0 miles ridden (or even walked) but tired legs (already?!) well rested and emails caught up on.

Day 3 - Out of East London and into the sunny Essex countryside to Harwich. James rode with me the whole 75 (he'll say 78) miles despite his previous longest ride being half that. Top marks to him, we made it to Harwich albeit in the dark after 2 punctures (both his) and a nightmarish blast down a dark dual carriageway.

After the last of many emotional goodbyes I rolled onto the ferry and did the only 3 things that really mattered; shower, phonecalls, sleep.

Day 4 - Hoek van Holland to Wateringen (The Hague), Netherlands.
Woken by intercom at 05:45 having lost an hour somewhere in the sea, I rolled off the ferry alongside the trucks and touched the same contiguous bit of land that I'll be on all the way to Singapore - quite an amazing thought, but I was too tired to think it until now.
As the mist lifted I began to realise, despite having a map and a compass and having just come from the sea, I had no idea where I was. Hopefully my bearings and map skills will improve with time, they usually do, but it was thanks to the kindness and bilinguility of Dutch strangers that I eventually got on track. A 9 mile trip turned into double that but I was eventually met by the screeching (bike) tyres of my cousin Mike who I'm currently staying with (keeping the safety net there for now..).

After riding around the UK on what is generally regarded as being a weird bike with loads of bags and stuff it was so refreshing to arrive in the Netherlands where bike is king, or at least on an equal footing. The cycle lanes are amazing, the rules and priorities are confusing - what wouldn't be confusing about a car stopping while you merrily cycle across a junction from the pavement when you're from the UK? There is a lot to keep an eye on though which, when combined with riding on the right, and on the pavement, with many signs in Dutch and canals to fall into probably played a part in my poor navigation (or so I'm saying). I love it here already and the cycling campaigner in me can't wait for the day the UK reaches that vital modal shift - or maybe learning Dutch would be easier.

I'll get day 5 out of the way now as it will be another relatively restful one, and day 6 (Saturday) will be on to Belgium.

Miles to date: 174
Countries: 1
Friendly strangers: 5

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Final Kit List - Geek Time

Important and exciting for some, merely a necessity for others; the acquisition of lots of stuff has been fun, though I'm wondering quite where the paring down and simplification comes in. I've definitely chosen to be prepared for all eventualities and lose stuff along the way rather than being super minimalist from the start. I've no doubt I have too much stuff - my bike weighs a ton.

The Bike

Frame and fork: Surly Long Haul Trucker, 56 cm - Cheaper than a classic Reynolds tubeset, I just hope it doesn't break (though it can (and has) easily be welded should the worst happen).

Headset: Chris King NoThreadSet - Expensive but (arguably) the best.

Stem(s): Thorn and Cannondale - Double stem setup with cut-down bars seen online - keeps bar bag out of the way.

Bars: Nitto Noodle

Brake Levers: Cane Creek SCR-5

Wheels - Rims: DT Swiss TK 7.1, Spokes: DT Swiss Alpine III, Front Hub: Schmidt SON Dynamo, Rear Hub: Shimano XT - Handbuilt by me (fingers crossed).

Tyres: Schwalbe Marathon Plus 700x35c - Industry standard, no punctures after 800 miles or so.

Shifters: Shimano Dura Ace Down Tube - To avoid the risk of terminally broken STIs.

Groupset: Shimano XT front derailleur, rear derailleur, chainset (22/32/44), chain, cassette (11-34) - Solid.

Seatpost: Thomson Elite Layback - More expensive-but-quality.

Saddle: Brooks B-17 Special - SO comfy.

Brakes: Avid Shorty with Kool Stop pads

Mudguards: SKS Chromoplastics

Lights: Schmidt Edelux front, Busch and Muller 4D Toplight rear - Light sensing, no batteries.

Pedals: Shimano PD-A530

Bottle Cages: Topeak Modula

Racks: Tubus Tara front and Logo rear - Worldwide warranty, standard choice.

Trip Computer: Vetta VL110A HD

Pump: Lezyne Pressure Drive

Bar Tape: Brooks Leather

Stand: Click-Stand

Luggage: Ortlieb Front Roller Classic, Ortlieb Sport Packer Plus, Ortlieb Rack Pack, Ortlieb Ulimate 5 Classic Bar Bag

Kryptonite Cable Lock and Mini D Lock

Topeak Alien III Multi Tool (+ loose allen keys 4 + 5), Puncture Repair Kit, Tyre Levers x 2, Saddle Bag, 2 Inner tubes, Tyre Boots, spare Schwalbe Extreme Tyres, Emergency WMFG Rear Mech Hanger, Quicklink, spare Kool Stop Brake Pads, NBT2 Cassette Removal Tool, Wet Lube, spare brake and gear cables, spare chain, spare cleats, screw spares, spare dynamo wire.


Hilleberg Nallo 2 GT Tent with Footprint - Pure quality, plenty of space.

Exped Downmat 7 Pump - Almost as comfy as my bed.

Exped Woodpecker WB Sleeping Bag and Cocoon silk liner - Super warm (down to -27, probably too warm!) and waterproof, so it's bivvy-ready.

Hennessy Ultralight Backpacker A-Sym Hammock (if I have space)

Lifeventure Mosquito Net


Primus OmniFuel Stove - Swedish, like the tent, and pure quality again.

Primus EtaPower 1L Pot - ditto.

Primus Litech Frying Pan - ditto.

Fire stick, waterproof matches, lighter

Fallkniven F1 Knife - Another Swedish brand and a very nicely crafted survival tool.


Light My Fire Food Set and Spork

Measuring Spoons

Mini Grater


Ortlieb Folding Bowl - For washing-up and washing in.

Primus Thermos - Coffee on the bike : )

Recipes - Thanks here to my wonderful Mum. I'd be going very hungry without her help.


Katadyn Water Filter (space pending) - For gunky water, hopefully unnecessary.

SteriPen Purifier - As long as the water is clear, this makes it safe.

MSR 6L Dromedary Water Bag

Bottles - 2 x 1L SiS, 1 x 1L Nalgene and 2 x Camelbak Podium - I can carry a total of 10 litres of water once it gets a bit warmer and drier.


Northwave Mission bike shoes, Birkenstocks

Merino socks, 2 pairs Endura, 1 pair DeFeet Woolie Boolie, 1 pair Chocolate Fish possum, 1 pair Sealskinz

Endura Humvee 3/4 shorts, Endura Singletrack shorts

Howies Merino padded shorts, 1 pair Gore and 1 pair Pearl Izumi padded shorts

Endura eVent Venturi waterproof jacket and trousers

Howies Merino longsleeve baselayer x 2, shortsleeve x 2

Howies Yurt Merino jumper and midlayer - I'm a Merino fiend. Warm, cool, doesn't smell - way better than synthetics.

Howies hoody

Sportful Gilet

Endura Merino armwarmers and skull cap, Specialized knee and leg warmers

Endura Deluge gloves, Chocolate Fish Possum/Merino gloves, Northwave mitts

Poncy casquette

2 pairs Merino boxers

Chocolate Fish Merino longjohns


Unicef t-shirt

2 x Craghoppers shirts

Davitamon Lotto bike jersey


Exped waterproof bags


Petzl Headtorch

MSR towels - 1 x body, 1 x bike/tent, 1 x dishes

Biodegradable wash stuff

Star chart - to make sense of all the extra stars away from towns and cities.

DaKine Heli Pack - A day pack for days off the bike and extra carrying capacity for food.

Contact cards

Reflective vest

Pac-Safe - Potential extra security, unsure of its necessity.

Arno and toe straps

Diary and notebook

Books - possibly the most important thing, along with music.

iPod - 80GB full, about 6 weeks' worth of stuff to listen to and watch.

Online details


SD card reader - Removes the need for cables.

Zipties, duct tape, electrical tape - To solve anything.

Nikon and Panasonic charger

Cameras - Nikon D80 DSLR for the best shots and a smaller Panasonic Lumix TS1 for video and handlebar mounted snapshots.

Solio solar charger - For phone and iPod

Plug adaptor


Nail clippers

Small mirror and toiletries

Money belt

Insect repellant

First aid kit and sterile equipment

Needle and thread

Dry handwash



Leatherman Crunch

Trowel - for digging poo holes!

Uno - A fairly language independent game, has passed many an evening.

Brooks Proofide and spanner


Vaseline and Carmex

Pens and pencils

Paramol tablets

Batteries (AA, AAA, CR123A)

Downmat repair kit

Malaria tablets - 1 year's supply

Survival card - knife, laser, fire starter, whistle, tweezers.

Dummy wallet - sure, have this (expired bank cards and library cards)!



iPod speaker, 2 pairs earphones

Normal wallet and ID

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Two Weeks to Go

I feel like I'm at school again. 'You'll enjoy it once you get there' is the motto reverberating around in my head the most at the moment. Invariably it was true and by 10am the fuss seemed to have been all about nothing, but it's still scary to overcome the prospects your mind creates and step over the thresholds out of the house and through the school gates.

I could have talked myself out of leaving forty times over since the New Year, something I wouldn't have dreamt of doing in 2009 or before. It's easy to talk a good trip - run off the list of countries to be passed through worry free, make light of the occasional danger, assume all will be well and, if it isn't, it'll be worthy of a story. In the cold light of day, with no calendar month left to buffer now from then, these details come screaming up into plain view and entirely obscure the sunlight. In equally as slanted a view as the distant rose-tinted one, now worry is the driving force and everything seems like a hurdle. The dichotomy is that the fear centres on the unknown, but the unknown is at the very heart of the trip, and of the joys of travel and discovery themselves.
The fundamentals of the trip still stand, hopefully through this passing morose. I've said goodbye to the love of my life, which I'd regard as the second hardest moment I've ever experienced, so it can only get better from here.

Unfortunately, for probably very logical social and evolutionary reasons, 9 questions out of every 10 seem to focus on the negative (Danger! Bad men! Muggers! Wolves! Spiders! Asteroids! PUNCTURES! War! Bears! Terrorism!), so it's been refreshing to intersperse this with people who have done, are doing, or are about to do the same thing.
A constant source of inspiration and encouragement is Alastair Humphreys, who spent 4 years cycling around the world and now lives a life that seems the epitome of 'seizing the moment'. Once you start getting into this world of travel and adventure, specifically involving bikes, you realise just how many other people out there are doing it as well. I had dinner last week with Isla and Pietro who are preparing to leave in May to ride from Brighton to Japan, taking as much time as is needed to experience everything along the way. We geeked it up on equipment, bikes and routes (that kit list is still to follow, soon) but the simple, basic excitement of leaving what you know and discovering the world outside of what you've come to regard as daily life was evident.
I heard about them after an email newsletter from the US Adventure Cycling Association which mentioned Vinko, who left Brighton in October to ride towards Istanbul - he then pointed me in Isla and Pietro's direction (thanks!). And then there's Lindsey Cole who is setting off this week to ride to South Africa in time for the World Cup. Lindsey has taken the opposite tack to me and left everything as late as possible which has probably kept her mind busier and minimised the amount of time free for doubts.

I'm not so much looking forward to the 15th Feb as I am the 1st March when I should hopefully be arriving in Geneva, and then the 15th April when I'll have 8 weeks of this under my belt and be into the swing of things. For the next 12 days I'm going to concentrate on the positives and enjoy the remaining time with my family and friends.