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garmin_edge_touringPeople ask me if I have gone completely digital for navigation. I stand back in mock horror, and whatever I say will carry the following message: “Are you kidding?”

You see, I have been trialling Garmin’s newest cycling GPS device, the Edge Touring. Its specification is absolutely perfect for the long-distance, A to B cyclist like me. It is designed to help you navigate through distant, unfamiliar territory with the minimum of fuss, and without the need of internet connection or data downloading. But after 6 weeks of testing it on my home roads, all I can say is that one day it will live up to its USPs, but only when multiple frustrated users have reported enough glitches to Garmin for it to live up to its marketing profile.

Not only did the digital displays frequently malfunction but, despite all the settings being checked to avoid unpaved roads and dirt trails, it frequently wanted to send me across ploughed fields or up stony bridleways or, in some cases, across church yards. These are sorts of glitches you can handle in your own backyard, but in the middle of Serbia or Bulgaria…………?

When I have challenged cycling friends about their use of similar devices (who, by the way, all seem happy with what they’ve got), I generally discover they are not used seriously as navigation devices. The most frequent use is to map the rides they have done and record all the statistics that will keep their racing/personal fitness instincts satisfied. In other words, they are primarily personal training tools.20140418_155924_Android

Even the one or two who have used GPS in far distant countries on long treks, I have found that their primary tool for navigation has still been paper maps, and the device has served as a back-up, or a ‘second line of defence’.

So, rather than asking people at every turn “Which way to Istanbul, please?”, I will be in my comfort zone using paper maps, and my back-up will be cached google maps on my phone for Western Europe, and Open Street Maps for Eastern Europe and Turkey. The theory is that, with the internal GPS of the phone, I will be able to see where I am without the need of Wifi or a data connection. The moment of uncertainty about what the paper map is telling me, is the very moment I turn on my phone and a little blue dot will tell me exactly where I am.

Well, that’s the theory, anyway………….

CIMG9836

Roadies celebrate their mileages and other related stats. Off-roaders, on the other hand, will celebrate wonderful remote landscapes and the technical stats of their routes (boulder and tree trunk hopping, riding tyre-width ridges with precipitous drops on both sides……etc). Today I re-visited some off-roading (but not the technical stuff) after a long absence. I’ve probably become self-obsessed with riding the miles, and lost touch with the sheer pleasure of riding the bridleways and byways that criss-cross our landscape.

Hartham Street

Hartham Street

Ancient rural communities left there mark by handing down an intricate network of packhorse tracks and drover’s roads. Some of these eventually became arterial routes, others remained as dirt tracks across fields and through forests that linked small communities. Those that are now designated as bridleways and byways

Red=Byway, Yellow=Footpath

Red=Byway, Yellow=Footpath

are rights of way to cyclists. But to share these routes with horses and off-road vehicles is very much a mixed blessing. Even full suspension will not iron out the discomfort of the deeply pitted surface from horse hooves, nor the water-filled ruts left by 4x4s. The only hint of suspension on my 25 year old Raleigh is the Girvin Flex-stem on the handlebars, which is an inadequate gesture in the right direction……..CIMG9835

However, the purpose-built track around Grafham Water is ideal for the ‘hard-nosed and hard-tailed’ bikeCIMG9840

and on the way round you might come across anomalies like this 160 ft crane jibCIMG9838

which turned out to be a mobile bungee-jumping outfit

I was staggered to discover that each jump will charge £60 to your plastic card which, at a rough guess, will work out at about £20 per second of free-fall………The 10 minutes I hung around, there was not a single taker. I wonder why?

But then I headed off along a bridleway, which eventually tapered into a byway called Hartham Street….not a street, of course, but a deeply pitted and rutted track that was almost unrideable. But some sacrifices are worth making if they lead you through something that poets might describe as bucolic bliss.CIMG9845

And when I reached the top of the wold overlooking my own village, this was the view that greeted me as the sun was dropping over the horizon.

I set off early, to meet up with the Thursday crowd at East Carlton, not calculating the day’s total mileage. But it was such a glorious day, and the countryside was at its spring best, with the oil-seed rape putting on a special show of colour.

My 30 mile route out to the café was interrupted by a “Road closed” sign which, like a true road cyclist, I duly ignored…..but this time almost to my cost. After a few miles of riding on newly-laid tarmac, I began to pick up the sulphurous smell, then noticed a certain warmth rising from the road……then I saw the tarmac spreader and the heavy rollers, and realised I was riding on very hot tarmac. Had I gone another 50 metres, I am sure I would have been dealing with two melting tyres.

A few of the group.....

A few of the group…..

The group ride was a 28 mile route out and back along the stunning Welland Valley, but not all on the valley bottom. We climbed out several times, enjoyed descents as fast as 40mph, and ended up in Weston by Welland for lunch. By this time I had about 55 miles on the clock, with the prospect of at least 30 miles to get home.CIMG9816

But the wind was in my favour, the conditions were near-perfect, and the route home mysteriously extended to 47 miles…..giving a final tally of 102 miles (164kms). Since my first day on the Istanbul ride will be approximately 100 miles to Harwich, I consigned today’s efforts as a little bit of training for May 6th.CIMG9831

Answering the call of nature, I found a "loo with a view"...

Answering the call of nature, I found a “loo with a view”…

We are blessed in the East Midlands with a huge variety of country tearooms, many of them in sleepy little hamlets, but they manage to survive, even thrive. A mainstay of the numbers that cross their thresholds is the lycra-clad brigade. We arrive, after doing a ‘chunk of miles’, sometimes in challenging circumstances, and expect to be served a gallon of tea and a selection of cakes and scones.

Today, the Old Vicarage Tearoom at Naseby beckoned, along with the pleasure of the company of other like-minded roadies. Except for me, to get my cup of tea and cake, it was the mean distance of 35 miles just to get there, with a similar distance to get back home (of course).

Now I’m not complaining about doing the miles. I mean, someone has to suffer for the benefit of mankind……. But this was suffering of a different order. There was a 20mph (32kph) wind coming from the west, and guess which way I was going………you’ve got it, due west……..all the way.

The last five miles were purgatory (ie. not quite hell). It had taken me about an hour longer to do the distance than in normal conditions, so I was ready for that gallon of tea and endless selection of cakes and scones.

But most afflictions have some compensation……meaning of course, when they stop. But in this case, my route home had the added blessing of a powerful tailwind, making me feel good about the average 20+mph speed. It’s good to be reminded of those days when that might have been an average club-run speed…….

But en route home, I stumbled across this extraordinary sight……..I leave you to imagine the story behind it.20140408_132503_Android

 

When the dates and routes are finalised for a forthcoming bike trek, I bury myself in the research required to make it all happen. I surface from time to time to ride some local miles, both to keep the leg muscles primed and the rump-end callouses in situ. My attention is invariably focused on the feasibility of the project within a given time-scale, and decisions have to made about a multitude of things, not least when to book my return flight from Istanbul.

I have learned much from experience, and experience now informs me that creating a tight time schedule, which is governed entirely by the date of the return flight from destination, is a sure way of putting a lot of pressure on you to complete daily mileages. In one sense, that is not a bad thing. But if you fail to allow for mishaps, diversions, delays or simply getting lost, that pressure can increase exponentially as the ride progresses. And if you started expecting to do high daily mileages from day one…….well, I don’t need to spell it out.Poster 1 - Copy

I have spent many hours poring over maps, using Googlemaps and Google Earth as my route planner, studying the terrain, distances, roads, elevation and places of interest. Very little can be finalised before a ride begins. Experience tells me to leave my starting point with a well-informed but open mind. Have the broad brush strokes of the route mapped out, the time-scale decided, and some of the principal places you want to pass through.

This is the nature of solo riding. You have no-one to please but yourself and, conversely, you have no-one to blame but yourself if things go wrong. You will not have the shoulder of an ATOL or ABTA to cry on. There will be no agent from whom to seek compensation. You have planned it, you are riding it……you learn to take the rough with the rough. But when things go smoothly (and,incidentally, they do for much of the time), it can be like a dream.

2000 miles should be a comfortable month’s cycling, depending on terrain, of course. My route will take me across the Netherlands and NW Germany (gently flat), but southern Germany and Austria will be excessively ‘lumpy’, except where I choose to follow the Danube valley (principally into Vienna). Hungary will provide me with a vast prairie crossing, but once into Serbia and Bulgaria, the Carpathian and Balkan mountains will have me searching for those climbing muscles once again.

When I get to the border crossing from Bulgaria into Turkey, I have an important decision to make. To cross directly into Turkey will mean getting embroiled in the tediously busy roads for 150 miles into Istanbul. If, however, I make a 2-3 hour sortie into Greece before crossing into Turkey, I could find myself engaging with a much quieter, albeit longer, route into Istanbul. That’s a decision I will make at the time.

To provide ‘cushioning time’, I am going to allow 6 weeks for this venture, and if things go unexpectedly according totime_of_gifts plan, this will give me down-time in key places, with time to savour notable local offerings. My background reading so far has seen me delving into the history of the Crusades (both a fascinating and appalling catalogue of events), and I am now piercing the surface of an intrepid walk from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople, in the first volume of Patrick Leigh Fermor’s trilogy, entitled Time for Gifts. This journey promises to be rich in both geographical and historical terms.

I am delighted to report that my venture to raise £5000 in sponsorship is almost 20% complete. The money raised will go directly to the manufacture of wheelchairs for disabled people in developing countries. For more information and an opportunity to make a donation, please visit my Justgiving page.

Having dithered about a departure date for my big ride to Istanbul, Jenny is now delighted that it is set in stone, and the serious planning can begin. The first leg of the 2000 mile journey will be the 100 miles to Harwich, setting off early on May 6th, to catch the evening ferry to the Hook of Holland. So by the end of day 2, I should be pitching my little tent somewhere near Eindhoven in Holland, and expect to reach Cologne by the end of day 3.

Cologne is generally regarded as the starting point of the People’s Crusade back in 1096. Pope Urban II had whipped up the frenzy and enthusiasm for a march on Constantinople, initially to go to the assistance of the Byzantine Christians in modern-day Turkey, but ultimately to ‘rescue’ both Constantinople and Jerusalem from Islamic control. The huge assembly of some 40,000 aspirants was a vast and unruly mob, and as they tramped their way across Europe, they wrecked havoc along the way. But all of this is a story waiting to be told………

Garmin Edge Touring

Garmin Edge Touring

My immediate concerns now are to begin the route planning. I had imagined that this might be my first sortie into serious GPS navigation, using the new (and largely untested) Garmin Edge Touring. But my early experiences have not been reassuring. My first device had to be replaced by Garmin because of many and varied malfunctions. Sadly, my second device has been little better.

The advertised strengths of the Edge touring include satnav navigation (just like a car device), round trip planning, and a subtle distinction between three types of cycling: Cycling (road), Tour Cycling (road of trail) and Mountain Biking (mainly trail). However, none of these functions have been reliable. I have tested it daily over three weeks, on roads I know in my locality, and not a single ride has been without a glitch. So my answer has been to go back to the tried and tested paper maps.

And where better to find and study the plethora of maps available? None other than the iconic Stanfords in London. In the world of maps, what they don’t have, probably doesn’t exist. So I cycled to15 STANFORDS LONDON my local station, took a train into London (with bike), spent several hours pondering the possibilities and asking lots of questions of the assistants, and when I came to check out, I asked if they did discounts (after all, I was spending some serious money).

“Are you a member of London Cycling Campaign?” I was asked. “No” I said “but I am a member of the CTC”. “Oh well, that certainly qualifies you for 10% discount. Are you going far”. “Just to Istanbul” I said. There was a pause for thought while she calibrated this in her mind……. “What d’you mean ‘just’? That’s kind of a long way, isn’t it?”. I said “Kind of….but now I’ve got the maps, I should get there alright…….” She seemed strangely amused.

The other side of this ride is, of course, the raising of funds for the Motivation Charitable Trust. And I am delighted to report it has got off to a solid start. We are already 9% along the way towards my notional target of £5000, and that is largely because we have received a few very generous donations (of £140 each) to sponsor complete wheelchairs. I always find the generosity of people a great spur for completing these cycle challenges, and I am looking forward to raising a large sum on behalf of Motivation.

You can sponsor me securely on-line at: http://www.justgiving.com/Frank-Burns2

 

If my annual cycling expeditions were to appear on a kind of restaurant menu, my recent trip to Florida would have been the starter, the appetiser. In ‘cycling-speak’, it was an opportunity to get in some winter miles in a place where the weather was not a major issue.

I am now building up to the main course. But like a detailed restaurant menu, when the selection is extensive, the choice is made more difficult. There are many tantalising routes out there, all vying for attention, but in the end you have to make a choice……just as you do in the restaurant. And my choice this year is to set off from my home in the UK (as I did for my recent rides to Rome and Santiago de Compostela) and ride the 2000 miles (some 3000kms) to Istanbul in Turkey, crossing some eight countries in the process.

Like the two previous pilgrimage routes, this route has been inspired by an urge to delve into a bit of medieval history, so it is my intention to pick up the route of the First Crusade (the People’s Crusade) of 1096, when 40,000 people assembled in Cologne, to begin the march to Constantinople (modern Istanbul), and then on to the ultimate prize of Jerusalem. My journey should be at least five times faster than theirs, so I hope to complete the route in about 4 weeks, adding another week as ‘cushioning time’ for wandering off the route and catching my pre-booked return flight at the end.

It’s an exciting cycling project (as all of them seem to be) and, like last year, I will be supporting a specially chosen charity called The Motivation Charitable Trust.

Motivation is an international development charity supporting people with mobility disabilities. It was founded in 1991 by three college friends, including Richard Frost and David Constantine, who is himself wheelchair bound. Their focus is on the development of high quality, low cost wheelchairs specifically designed for use in developing countries. Their wheelchairs transform lives, giving disabled people independence, confidence and hope for the future. Twenty two years on, they are producing some 12,500 wheelchairs per year which not only benefit the recipients, but also some 60,000 immediate family members as well.

As little as £140 can buy a complete wheelchair. Would you care to sponsor a wheelchair yourself? If not, any donation you make will be a valuable contribution to the hugely important work Motivation is doing in the developing world. Thank you for your support.

Further information about the charity can be found at www.motivation.org.uk

And an online donation can be made at www.justgiving.com/Frank-Burns2. Or simply click on the ‘Justgiving Sponsor me‘ button at the top of the right-hand menu.

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