Author Archives: Frank Burns
As I was heading out to Gamlingay this morning, to meet up with the ‘Slugs’ to ‘chew the fat’ over enormous cappuccinos and plates of scrambled eggs, I met with one of those conundrums that frequently blights the, otherwise, joyous life of the cyclist….the false flat. Yes, I do mean the ‘false flat’….
What the eyes see ahead does not always match the painful drag of having to turn those pedals under pressure, sometimes for several miles. Your eyes tell you the road ahead is flat…..but your legs know the truth. You switch down a gear or two, and you grind your way along. It can be very frustrating…..
Even more frustrating when you are in the high mountains, of the Alps or Pyrenees, and your eyes tell you that you are going downhill, but you’re not, in fact you’re having to pedal hard. This is a serious ‘disconnect’ for the brain to cope with….and if you don’t end up blaspheming to the four corners of the earth, you’ll be in line for canonisation by the Pope himself….
Steady on, my friend….a Durham man (such as me) might take offence… But, without doubt, when it comes to wind,
no one would quibble, especially when your outward leg of the day is going west to the café at Manvell Fishery in Walgrave,
leaving you to face 25 miles of dispiriting head wind on the way home…..
There’s no justice in the world….well, in the world of cycling, at least.
Poetry it is not, but a greasy-spoon cafe does its little bit to lift the spirits
…. then open the heart
….and then tempt you to indulge your fancies in a bid to live a ‘full and purposeful’ life…
…all in the tiny space of a WC…
Ah, time to totally use up and wear out the body….!
I sometimes submit articles to journals and, in the undefined period before publication (next month I’ll have another one published by Cycle Magazine that’s been in the editor’s archives for three years), I forget that I’ve written and submitted them.
So, a few weeks ago, when I opened the current Tandem Club Journal, I turned to a page and began reading an article, wondering (at first) why it seemed so familiar to me (had I read it before in another journal?)……then it dawned on me……I myself had written it!!
I submit it here for your perusal……
You know you’re alive when, against a 20mph wind, you’re having to constantly work your lowest gears to even achieve an average of 10mph….
…..then, when the wind is behind you, you cruise at 40mph thinking it’s all down to you…..
Catching the setting sun minutes before it dips beneath the horizon, especially over a lake, can be very special….here is a short sequence over Grafham Water….
30 minutes to go..
Total distance cycled in 2018: 11,141km/6,844 miles. Unidirectional equivalent: Bergen(Norway) to Vladivostok (eastern Siberia)
I have to admit, I am in a phase of regression…..
At a drinks party over the festive season, I was in conversation with a contemporary about my habits of travelling on two wheels. By way of response to some of the things I said, I heard the following:
“Really, you travel all by yourself? What happens if you get sick or have an accident?…… You don’t have a support vehicle to carry your kit? But you must have hotel rooms booked in advance at least? No? You mean, you have no idea where you are going to stay each night? Aren’t you worried about your own safety…….?”
And so it went on. And this is only one example of dozens of similar conversations I’ve had with people of my own generation over the years which, not surprisingly, pigeonholes me as some kind of weirdo, a man out of synch with his contemporaries. Years ago, adventure travel for me amounted to nothing wilder than staying in youth hostels, travelling economy class, and eating at the cheapest restaurants. But I now find I am wanting to push back the boundaries, back to my penniless days, to experience the simplicity of independent travel, finding the food and drink I need wherever it is available, laying my head down where nature allows me, and accepting kindness and hospitality whenever it is freely proffered.
I will never aspire to be a desert-crossing, Antarctica-sledging, Himalaya-scaling kind of adventure traveller, but my comfort zone is definitely in long-distance solo cycle-trekking, with minimal luggage and few concrete plans other than knowing my general direction of travel, the pace of which is governed only by the date printed on my return ticket to the UK. For some, enough to inspire fear and anxiety, for me, liberating and energising.
After chewing the fat with a crowd of cycling buddies over coffee and cakes at Elton Hall Garden Centre, I headed home via the ancient village of Fotheringhay, with its legendary connections with Richard III and the execution of Mary Queen of Scots.
As I crossed the ancient packhorse bridge, I passed this group casting lines with metal discs into the water. And yes, I had to ask what they were up to…..and discovered they were ‘pescatorial detectorists’ doing what is commonly called ‘magnet fishing’. And no, that doesn’t mean fishing for magnets, but using strong magnets to fish for metal objects, preferably of a historic and valuable kind.
The only catch of the morning had been a rusty old horseshoe….but they continued casting their magnets with enthusiasm.
I celebrated the summer solstice this year by cycling out to a decommissioned church and spending the night in its hallowed emptiness. This was followed by a ride home as the sun’s orb rose above the north eastern horizon at 04.44am.
A few days ago, on the 21st, as the northern hemisphere reached the nadir of its tilt away from the sun, I set out on a symmetrical ride to observe the winter solstice, and found that Santa had solved his transport problem in the event of a snowless Christmas…
…he misses nothing in his forward planning…very impressive. Present deliveries are now assured…
I wish you all a very happy Christmas, and many happy miles in 2019….and thanks for your company.
I have just finished preparing an illustrated account of my adventure riding from Vancouver to Mexico. It’s a fascinating story (well, I think so!), and I will be taking it to a couple of local groups in the near future.
If you are a member of one such group, or know of similar groups, that like to invite speakers to their meetings, I am happy to entertain locations around West Cambridgeshire, East Northamptonshire and North Bedfordshire.
The story will be of interest to both cyclists and non-cyclists alike. It is principally the story of a journey, with only passing references to riding a bike.
Contact me via a ‘Comment’ on this blog…… (look for the ‘Leave a comment’ icon at the bottom of each post.)
Unlike many memoirs of long journeys, Tim Moss’s narrative of cycling around the world with his wife, Laura, is a real page-turner. Long journeys, by their very nature, provide a lot of material of a repetitive kind, so finding your voice as an author and keeping the reader plugged in is a fine balancing act. The narrative needs momentum, it requires twists and turns, and variations of speed……just like a bicycle ride in fact, except that the really interesting things often happen off the bike, in the variety of vignettes that pepper the journey, giving us an insight into the lives and personalities of the travellers themselves, as well as a flavour of the terrain and people they encounter en route.
Being a long-distance cyclist myself, I know what it’s like to be 8-10 hours a day on the road. During those long lonely hours your mind is filled with inconsequentials like: ‘how far till the next stop, where’s the next foodstore, will this hill never end, should I sleep in this wood or look for the grounds of a temple?’. Your attention, in fact, is entirely focused on survival……which in itself doesn’t make a great story. It’s when you stop thinking about yourself and survival, and turn your attention outwards…..that’s where the real story is, and Tim has created a narrative that keeps you turning the pages.
A great read, for both cyclists and non-cyclists, and a great 5 minute trailer below.
The ultimate in self propulsion is not the bike, but putting one foot in front of the other…..and for me, it’s a pace I have to adapt to…..but the rewards can be rich….especially in the Peak District, hiking the Dales….
From meadows (and mud) and a riverside trail along the Dove, to a rocky stumble up Biggin Dale and the sheer slopes of Wolfescote Dale, this had a bit of everything….including being besieged by a yapping pack of hunting hounds that seemed to materialize from nowhere.
Add to all this an unexpectedly cloudless day (which in Derbyshire is akin to a drought), and you have all the ingredients of a perfect ramble….
In Derbyshire, if you can’t see the hills, it is raining….if you can see the hills, it is about to rain.
And of the Derbyshire born person, it is said: “Derbyshire born, Derbyshire bred, Thick in th’arm, Thick in th’head”. Don’t tell Jenny that…🙃
Waresley Garden Centre cafe, where I met up with one of my mid-week groups, has the best scones in the area, and today they were offering an unusual raspberry and chocolate variety…..but I resisted the clotted cream…..don’t ask me why….I must have been on a mission to appear virtuous.
And the quality of the cafe offerings was matched by the perfect autumnal weather, the countryside bedecked in the orange, gold and crimson of a soon to disappear seasonal feast. Carpe diem…..
Ah, the familiar highways and byways of home, and remembering to ride on the left…..
You see, we Brits know we’ve got it right by driving/riding on the left, but most of the world just doesn’t agree with us. I mean, did you know that riding on the left owes its origin to ‘dexterity’ (right handedness)? Approximately 85% of people are naturally right-handed….so, if you were a knight in medieval times travelling the country, which side of an oncoming knight would you pass? Of course, to their left, so you could defend yourself using your right hand.
So my question to the rest of the world is….how do you defend yourself if you drive/ride on the right? Learn to be ambidextrous?
The evolution of words like ‘superb, fab, cool, wicked, dark…’ is fascinating. Here is the latest iteration in southern California:”You just rode from Vancouver? Really? Bad ass….!”
Vancouver to Mexico: the statistics
No. of cycling days: 34
Rest days: 3
Average daily distance: 80km/50 miles
Longest day: 105km/65 miles
Shortest day: 35km/22 miles
Nights camping: 23
Warmshowers overnights: 11
Monastery overnight: 1
Motel nights: 3
Best parts: the giant redwood forests of northern California, and the dramatic coastline in Big Sur.
Least interesting: endless managed fir forests in Oregon.
Toughest climb: Mt Tamalpais 2,500ft, average gradient 7.4%, maximum slope 15%.
Best navigational tool: Google maps
Worst phone service provider: T-Mobile
Mechanicals: 1 new chain, no punctures, replacement lock.
Items left behind and recovered: 3 (barbag, lock and phone)
Items lost: 1 (gilet)
Rain: 2 hours on one day, once overnight. Amazingly dry.
Days of sunshine: 30+
Wildlife encountered: harbour seals, spouting whale, elephant seals, pelicans, egrets, cormorants, kestrels, hawks, foxes, racoons, skunks…should I go on?
Bananas eaten: about 80
Cliff bars eaten: about 60
Beers: about 30 (give or take….)
Worst coffee: French vanilla
Longest ride to my first coffee of the day: 26 miles
Longest stretch without services: 55 miles
Spontaneous assistance from passers-by: numerous occasions.
Encounters with traffic cops: 1….🙃
And as a postscript, if you have been following this journey via my webpage or Facebook, thank you for your company. My blog logged up over 10,000 hits during the journey, which made the effort of writing the posts so worthwhile.
Yesterday was the last gasp. A final fling to get to the San Ysidro Transit Centre was met with an impenetrable wall of security, on this the busiest land crossing in the world. I coincided with a change in shift, passing hundreds of border security guards on their way home, all wearing bullet-proof vests. No way could I get near the border crossing and expect to retrace my steps back the way I came. So getting this shot standing next to the nearest sign was all I could expect.
But….the job is now done, time to relax, have a few beers, eat a few tacos, burritos and enchiladas, and pack the bike for the homeward journey.
On long cycling journeys, I love to camp. It’s simple, cheap, convenient, sociable, and it adds to the sense of adventure, especially when you pitch your tent in remote rustic spots. However, that is not to entirely eschew the comforts of a bed, a shower and a home-cooked meal…..because there is a worldwide organisation called Warmshowers, where cyclists host cyclists in their own homes, and the only payback is to open your own home to passing cyclists who are full members.
So far on this journey, I have been hosted 7 times, by 7 very different people, with different backgrounds and circumstances, but sharing a common love for cycling, whether competitive, triathlons, off-roading, commuting, or long distance endurance. In one case, my hosts rarely used their bikes, but just love the company of travelling cyclists.
In the last few days, I have been hosted by Weej (Louise) and her son Jack in San Clemente
…and had my arrival caught on camera (oops, haven’t learned how to switch it to portrait)
…then in the morning, was accompanied by Weej for the first 20 miles of my route.
The following night, I was offered a bed and pasta meal by Gregg
…a man thoroughly informed about local and national affairs, had cycled around the world in his 20s, and was busy building a computerised irrigation system for his back garden. Fascinating.
Then today, I was met by Julie, 20 miles into my ride…
…and she rode with me on the last leg to her condo in Pacific Beach (San Diego), and again I was caught on camera, this time struggling to the top of a long climb. And no, that is not a smile on my face, but a grimace of pain!
I pretty well had a guided tour of the beaches en route, and over lunch, she introduced me to the art of craft beer appreciation….especially of the variety of local IPA beers….and what an experience that was!
Julie is away on business next week and has kindly offered to let me stay in her condo until my flight home on Saturday.
Believe me, the combination of camping and Warmshowers make perfect ingredients for the long distance cyclist.
Check out: http://www.warmshowers.org