Tuesday 26 June 2012

Barcelonette, France - 15,000 miles

I know you are watching so ... please sponsor me as I have just completed 15,000 miles on my world cycle. Bart and I are back on the bikes to take on the challenge of cycling over some of the highest passes in the Alps. Keep reading for the full story.

To sponsor me for Oxfam, click on the link on the right. 

Wednesday 20 June 2012

L'Ecot, France - Technical? Me?

You are probably all sitting at home asking yourself “what does one pack when one is cycling for two years in various parts of the world” and even if you are not, I am going to give you the answer. Yes, the time has come in this blog to give you all a bit of technical jargon … at least as technical as I ever get … which is not very technical at all! 

Of course, the first thing you need for adventure cycling is a bicycle and I’m so happy with my Thorn Sherpa which has been strong, reliable, versatile and very comfortable … although the old girl is a bit on the heavy side. Every now and again I have popped the bike into a local bike shop wherever I am for a quick service and replacement of any worn parts and the only serious problem I have had is a buckled rear rim from riding on the appalling washboard gravel roads of Argentina. I had to hitch a lift to the next town with a “bicicleteria” for a replacement. I don’t carry many spares as in most parts of the world you will find a bike shop of some description but I do have a puncture repair kit and spare inner tubes though to date I have only had three punctures in nearly 15,000 miles thanks to my expedition grade Schwalbe tires. I do carry one of those rather nice multi-tools with secret compartments that reveal all sorts of useless attachments including the one that takes a week to open a tin of beans. Such multi-tools are commonly known in the trade as “the wrong tool for every job”. 

The second most important item is my camping kit which allows me to spend the night almost anywhere I choose and helps me save money by staying in campgrounds or camping wild rather than paying for rooms. Most of the trip I have carried a super-lightweight Terra Nova Laser Competition tent which packs small and light but is still quite roomy, especially if you are my tiny size. When Bart joined the expedition with his strong thighs and bottomless bike trailer, the accommodation was upgraded to a very spacious MSR three-person tent – there were only two of us but, like any couple, you never know when you might want to entertain in the evening! Dinner parties may be somewhat limited by simple cooking arrangements. I have an excellent Primus multi-fuel camp stove which can burn gas canisters, white gas, diesel, petrol and buffalo dung … OK, I’m lying about the buffalo dung. I cook with two titanium pots so I can make decent meals on the road and one of them is non-stick for goodies such as scrambled eggs and steaks! I also have a Titanium mug for enjoying the best part of any day – relaxing with a cup of tea or coffee. Titanium is very lightweight and, unlike aluminium cookware, doesn’t give you Alzheimer’s Disease.   For a comfortable night’s sleep I have an inflatable Thermarest camping mattress which fortunately has never punctured and a down-filled sleeping bag.  A silk liner for the bag keeps it clean, is all I need for sleeping in hot climates and adds a touch of luxury to my boudoir! 

Now to my wardrobe! Mostly I have followed summer around the globe, so shorts and T-shirts suffice for most of the day. But in the Andes, the east and west coasts of the United States and the mountains of New Zealand and Turkey, I cycled and camped in snow and freezing temperatures. So I also carry some really warm clothes including a thermal vest and long johns – had I known Bart was going to be joining me, I might have packed some sexier underwear! In the electrical department I have a Toshiba netbook computer which has allowed me to use free wifi, a Panasonic Lumix digital camera, a mobile phone for emergencies or sending texts to friends when I’m bored, an ipod with some favourite tunes and one clever device called CamCaddy that can charge all of these through the computer’s USB port!   

All of this stuff gets squashed, rolled, pushed and forced into four waterproof bicycle pannier bags – two on the front racks, two on the rear rack, with the tent strapped on top. Easy peasy! Most days the total weight of my kit, bicycle, food and water is about 37kg. And, despite devouring copious amounts of food, I still only weigh 47kg myself. Phew … no wonder I’m exhausted at the end of the day! And rattling off all this technical jargon is also quite exhausting so I’ll just hit the “off” button on my thingummyjig, pack away my dibberywotsit and worry about the hole in the blubberydooda tomorrow.

New photos on Flickr.

Sunday 10 June 2012

Les Chapieux, France - Kidnapped

Please help me … I have been kidnapped and am being held in a remote location in France. My kidnapper’s ransom demands will follow at the end of the blog.  Here is my statement for the French police.

After crossing the Col du Pillon, I cycled out of the Alps via the beautiful lakeside Swiss town of Thun with its trendy waterfront cafes and turreted castles. The excellent system of Swiss bicycle trails then whisked me along the course of the River Aare, whose fast-flowing, broiling waters took me by pretty little villages of wooden houses and through deep forests of tall pines. In most Swiss villages you will find a water fountain of some description which is always great for topping up your water bottles or retouching your hair which is usually matted like felt after several hot hours under a helmet. In the village of Wolfwil I was charmed by a dozen water fountains, all of a different design – on one you had to turn a handle to make the water come out of a dragon’s mouth and another was powered by a waterwheel. A local man told me that the water here comes from deep underground and gives you great strength. I would need strength for the drama that lay ahead.

An easy climb in the rain took me north from the River Aare and over forested hills to join one of Europe’s great rivers, the mighty Rhine. It had been my plan to follow the course of the Rhine north to Rotterdam to catch a boat home and so I cycled on through Basel and picked up a beautiful cycle path along a quiet canal close to the river. I cycled passed a system of huge locks on the river that allow the long, squat cargo boats to pass the hydroelectric dams. It was here that I met trouble. On the opposite side of the canal, parked in a picnic spot, I spotted a large white van, with two high windows, a satellite dish and a good-looking Belgian man. I went over for a closer look but before I knew what had happened, my kidnapper used his charms to entice me into the van and I was driven hundreds of miles back to the Alps. My kidnapper is now forcing me every day to do terrible things … things such as … climbing high mountains covered with spring flowers, cycling up impossibly steep cols and whizzing down the other side, eating delicious homemade bolognaise, drinking glasses of wine as the sun dips behind the peaks and snuggling under a warm duvet each night, reliving the memories of the day. It is a living hell!

I ask my family and friends not to be concerned as I am sure I will be released soon. But please, please send my kidnapper’s ransom demands as soon as possible … a large bag of fun-size Snickers and two Belgian beers.

Photos of my ordeal on Flickr.