After more than eight months on the road, you're probably weary of me prattling on about ballbearings and bruised buttocks. So "The Bicycle Diaries" is pleased to introduce guest blogger Graham Kitchener . . . also known as Base Camp Manager:
That's quite a glamorous title: Base Camp Manager. It conjures up images of rugged types, wind swept and interesting, battling against the elements of a Himalayan tented camp, at the base of an ever-advancing glacier. The reality I'm afraid is far less impressive.
Base Camp it could be, if one counts the flat I live in being the place Pauline left from all those months before, with cupboards containing odds and ends of her equipment, discarded just prior to departure as surplus to requirements. Base Camp Manager I suppose, in the sense that most days I receive a text from Pauline advising of her current position, which I then plot on a world map stapled to my wall. I occasionally get the odd challenge though, requiring me to leave the comfort of my Georgian stone-built, terraced base camp "tent" and venture up into the icy ramparts (it is winter after all) of the city, to employ the services of a worldwide courier company, to carry an essential piece of replacement kit to wherever Pauline may be at that precise moment.
There have been times though when I have had an opportunity to prove my worth. Moments that also show modern day technology at its best. Take the time Pauline was in France. She was in the beautiful city of Bordeaux and was having enormous difficulty exchanging money. Back here at Base Camp, I powered up the internet, searched for the Bureau de Change in Bordeaux, then plotted it on Google maps. Once I found the address nearest to Pauline's location I was able to give her directions, even, thanks to Google Streetview, down to the colour of the door and what shops were either side of the office!
Occasionally in mountain expeditions, where the men are men, and the women are too, opportunities arise to experience an advance camp further afield. So it came about, just 6 weeks after Pauline left, that I was able to venture further afield for a month to Spain and join up with her to cycle the Camino, all the way to Santiago de Compostela. A phrase that was often said, which summed it all up, was : "and we cycled here"! It pales though, compared to the almost mythical number of 5,000 miles now cycled. However, the Camino was a truly memorable adventure and one that still pops into my head often. It was hard to return to the reality of every day life back in Edinburgh, but it did give me a better understanding of the daily life that Pauline has to endure. I recall being quite grateful, after 25 days in a sleeping bag, to be curled up under my duvet in a proper bed. So after almost 250 days living in a tent I can only imagine how feral Pauline must now be.
The other way that I justify my title is to assist Pauline in the production of maps to post on her blogs, which give her readers a better idea of where exactly she is at that moment. It is something I assume most people take for granted these days, but for Pauline to be able to write a blog and within an hour or two have a map drawn up back here in Scotland and added to the blog, still seems fantastic to me.
I'm guessing that when you are the one physically doing the adventure it may not dawn on you just how fantastic the whole thing is. It was only after returning from Spain and the Camino that I looked back at the photographs and the little mementos I had gathered along the way, and realised just how rich and varied it had been, not to mention an adventure of a lifetime. So for Pauline to already be able to look back at having cycled through Belgium, France, Spain and Portugal, to then board a gigantic ocean-going freight ship to sail across the Atlantic Ocean to South America, cycle across Argentina and over high passes of the Andes . . . you couldn't make this stuff up! Rich and everlasting memories in the making, and privileged we are that Pauline has taken us along with her in her personal, colourful and captivating blogs.
Currently I am in the midst of planning to meet Pauline again, this time for a greater length of time in a much further afield advance camp (more on that nearer the time). Part of this planning process is physical training. After 5,000 miles and pedaling almost every day, I'm quite confident Pauline is very fit. For me I'm not sure watching videos of Mark Beaumont cycling and reading books on other peoples cycling adventures are quite good enough training sessions, especially if those sessions take place over coffee and cake. Getting the old gluteus maximus in shape for the pounding it is about to receive on top of that is quite another thing. I haven't looked recently, but I fear all that coffee and cake could have turned mine into something the size of a small country with the softness of a large blamange.
By the time I meet Pauline again it will be more than 10 months since she left the UK, and more than 8 months since I last saw her (not counting the marvels of video calling on Skype). It is a real test of friendship. In the past we were regularly away on adventures together. Although I feel part of her current adventure it's not the same as actually being there, feeling the wind in your face, picking up on the smells and being able to say to each other; "wow, look at that view". The other test of friendship is being able to spend an extended amount of time in each others company, 24/7, something we are about to do. I am reminded of the lyrics to an Abba song:
"Times of joy and times of sorrow
We will always see it through
I don't care what comes tomorrow
We can face it together
The way old friends do"
So in just a few weeks it will be time to go west, saddle up and join her big adventure.
I just hope I can get my duvet and mattress in my saddle bag.
Graham Kitchener, aka, Base Camp Manager
When Graham is not busy as base camp manager he is an independent film-maker and keen outdoors type. If you've enjoyed his blog here, you can follow his musings regularly on his own blog at http://gkitch.blogspot.com