Author Archives: Frank Burns

Routes: Days 1-3 Vancouver to Belfair 260km

Vancouver to Bay ViewAnimation:

Bay View to Port Townsend

Port Townsend to Belfair


Vancouver-Port Townsend

My connection to mobile data services is so poor that postings may be very sporadic…..and short (you will be pleased to know😊). It’s even a 50/50 chance that these words will appear…

So far I have enjoyed being hosted twice by members of the Warmshowers community, once in Vancouver and this evening in Port Townsend. What a great international group it is. The other night I pitched my tent in a state park campground, and my jaw dropped when they charged me the same as an RV without hook-up….$25. The Ranger seemed genuinely apologetic….

The first few days have been characterised by sweeping vistas of both countryside and coast, dense forests and hills that demand the best from you in the ascent, and a steely commitment at the break-neck speeds on the descent.

I’ve been treated to a donation of breakfast food on the campground, to inquisitive conversations with people in eateries, to whole family histories from people who have ancestors from the British Isles. They hear the accent and unhesitatingly ask where in the UK I live…to which I answer “near Cambridge”. This is guaranteed to elicit knowing nods and the odd “Wow!” or a more conservative “yuh’re not kidding, uh?”. Undeservingly, I quietly bask in the unearned glow…

Highlights have included crossing Deception Pass bridge (look up the history), buying food supplies in quaint little shops in Edison and zipping along leafy forest trails.

Apologies for the lack of even one photo, but my data connection will never handle it….

…and over the bridge

With an 8 hour time differential, I assembled the bike outside the airport concourse

climbed on to ride the 45km to my overnight stop at 3pm local time (11pm body time), laboured over the impressive Fraser Bridge

got lost on muddy tracks in a nature reserve, curiously called Burns’ Bog, and arrived at my hosts’ house (just a few kms from the US border) when my body clock chimed 3am.

I climbed into bed 3 hours later, after a superb meal, and I don’t remember my head hitting the pillow……zzzzzz

Getting to the starting line…

Getting to Gatwick Airport turned out to be a major adventure, and I was glad I had opted to go a day early and overnight in a ‘pod’ hotel just one floor beneath check-in. The adventure and delay had been caused by a fatality on the railway line so, lugging a heavy boxed bike, I was diverted, then held up at St Pancras, then had to join a rush hour train where the presence of my bike caused not a little friction with one or two commuters. I struggled to keep my cool….

Now the real adventure is about to start. And Vancouver is my starting point, where I will be hosted by a very kind couple, both cyclists, before I head south to the border, where I’m hoping to find that my visa, my ESTA, is all in order, and I won’t be dismissed as an undesirable alien.

Six weeks later, I hope to be hearing the sweet sounds of Mexican Spanish, drinking a Corona, and tucking into tortillas, nachos, burritos and enchiladas……to mention only a few. 😁

Almost taking off….

“So where are you gadding off to now?”. As you can tell, some friends grow a little weary of my restlessness….sigh 😁

This time, a 6 week trek, some 10 hours flying time away….I have my little tent. Watch this space….

Decision time..

Bristling with dental anticipation, it has now come to the crunch. Which toothbrush to take…? Blue=7g. Red=15g. Blue & white=21g. I might need some guidance with this one…..

C2C, E2E, S2S, A2B….

Why do cyclists (well, some at least) have this inexplicable yen to do straight-line routes that begin in one place and end in another, and they have to use transport, other than the bike, to get to the start and get away from the finish? And when it involves a tandem, you have to use your imagination to do just that. Buses, trains and planes are not happy about taking tandems unless, of course, there is a clever way of either folding or splitting your machine. We have neither, so we have to be a little more creative still.

As I key in these reflections about our tandem adventure cycling the 100 mile Devon C2C (Ilfracombe to Plymouth), I am sitting on one of two trains and a bus that will take me back to Ilfracombe to retrieve the car, to shoot back to Plymouth in order to pick up both Jenny and the tandem. We did the same for the Way of the Roses, the Thames: Source to Barrier and, more recently, Bristol to Newbury. It kind of works (usually), but it’s an additional logistical hassle that we could do without.

Having said all of that, it doesn’t detract from the excellent, challenging ride we’ve just had over four days, following the Tarka Trail, continuing along the Granite Way from Okehampton, and finishing off by an astonishingly fast descent to Plymouth over 12 miles on Drake’s Trail, most of the four days spent on former railway tracks, much of them asphalted and traffic free.

The trails climbed and descended through woodland, over the lower reaches of Dartmoor, through parks and along rivers. The climbs were short but very steep….horrendously steep, sometimes……and so we dreamed of electric assist. We were overtaken several times by cyclists gracefully gliding up impossible climbs, whistling their favourite tunes, or chatting to a buddy when they should have been panting…..but the characteristic whirring sound of the electric motor gave them away. Will we cross over into the wonderland of electric-assist one day? The big attraction will be keeping open the possibility of touring in hilly, indeed mountainous, terrain which, on a tandem, is particularly challenging.

Our accommodation was a mixture of B&Bs, Youth Hostel, and one night being hosted by a fellow cyclist through Warmshowers (a 26 year old dairy farmer who was a great cook, to boot!). Each location had its own special character, and its own unique brand of hospitality. One of our B&Bs was a remote farmhouse where we were served pork and bacon from their own pigs. The YHA was a converted railway shed by the old 1960’s station in Okehampton, that also had an excellent cafe on the platform where we tucked into their small breakfast called ‘Branch line’……guess what the full fry-up was called?

The café at Barnstaple was similarly situated on an old-style station, underlining the reality that this part of the country still revels in railway nostalgia, with teams of enthusiasts helping to maintain old rolling stock and preserve an environment that some of us remember from the 50s and 60s.

As I sit on a train to Barnstaple, listening to the clickety-clack of wheels over rails, and wishing they had even a minimal catering service, I try to ignore the hunger pangs by dreaming of the uphill speeds we’ll achieve one day when we get a vra-vra-vroom electric motor on the tandem.

And I conclude by uploading our routes:

Ilfracombe to Bideford:

Bideford to Okehampton

Okehampton to Tavistock

Tavistock to Plymouth

Anglesey: stronghold of the Welsh language

Anglesey Map

A recent week spent in Anglesey reminded us of a trip we took to celebrate Jenny’s retirement, a place of narrow winding lanes, Celtic remains, the Welsh language, bara brith, Welsh cakes, spectacularly located lighthouses


and huge maritime wind farms. Once an island, but now linked to mainland Wales by two bridges, it is still a distant and remote corner of Wales, where you can still meet sheep drovers moving their flocks along the country roads, and narrow lanes wind aimlessly, linking up isolated farms and houses.

With the tandem and solo bike, we explored several areas, taking in Moelfre with its


Lifeboat station, Plas Newydd, with its country residence of the Marquess of Anglesey, the stunning gardens of Plas Cadnant, and the remote cliff-top church at Llanbadrig, associated with St Patrick’s arrival on the stormy shores of Wales.

A dedicated cycle route I took across the island crossed an old, abandoned section of a railway line, completely smothered by brambles and weeds, yet still levying a £1000 fine if you were caught trespassing! Ah, the Welsh sense of humour……

None of the hills may be high on Anglesey, the highest being something over 200 metres, but the inclines can be sharp, so we were not coy about dismounting the tandem and pushing from time to time. But it was a pleasure to be able to pedal out to a place of interest, put in 20-25 miles, and enjoy several hours and lunch at the stopover.


IMG_20180905_104916926On my solo, I could go further afield, handle the hills with greater ease, and get into the heart of the island where the only people I met were locals, and who invariably were speaking in Welsh……especially in the town of Llangefni.

For those who are interested, below are some of the routes we took……

‘Fly me to the moon….’

Cycling groups get their mid-ride carbs and caffeine fixes in some remote places… Conington Airfield this morning. Surrounded by flat featureless fenland, it’s only saving grace are the bacon butties served to the flying crews that pass through…..and, of course, the satisfaction of knowing that you are sitting directly beneath the air traffic control tower.

But when 20 cyclists descend, all wanting to be fed immediately, that sends the serving staff into a frenzy….from serving the odd flying instructor and trainee, they are suddenly confronted by a baying mob of lycra louts…..we need to practise patience…


Little comment needed…


Elevation profile….

Two things of note on today’s ride…..

Look at the elevation profile during the video (top left): for a flattish part of the country, there was scarcely a flat section during the entire ride……..

Then look at the aerial shot of the route at the end…….make you think of anything?

BBC News: New Zealand politician cycles to hospital to give birth

Bravo for her…..!

New Zealand politician cycles to hospital to give birth –

The captive audience….

I never get this when I speak to Rotary, the WI or Probus…..a captive audience of 300 at the CTC Birthday Rides at Yarnfield in Staffordshire. An amazing crowd of seriously experienced and knowledgeable cycle tourists, many of whom have had their own extraordinary adventures in various parts of the world.

I regaled them with my cycling adventure in Cuba recently, discovered that several had already had their own adventures in Cuba, and many others (both during the talk and afterwards) plied me with questions in readiness for them to take the plunge. For some reason, many people are worried about safety issues in Cuba, which has prevented them from thinking about independent travel there, so they have used cycle travel companies to provide the moral and material support. I assured them that Cuba is one of the safest countries in the world for independent travel….within the limitations of my own experience.

Today, I headed into Stafford to spend a couple of very enjoyable hours with Claire, a former student, and a flying visit to both the Ancient High House and the Castle, both bursting with fascinating history.

A motley crowd…

When you put 300 seasoned cyclists in one place with their bikes, you are going to meet all shades of the cycling spectrum. From cool sleek carbon frames to ‘sit-up-and-begs’ with electrical assist….it is all there.

There are three-wheeled recumbents, two-wheeled semi-recumbents, a tandem trike that has been customized according to the owners wishes, conventional tandems, and solo bikes that have been specially adapted to the owner’s physical condition.

Take a glance around one of the two bike storage rooms and you are looking at most of the possible permutations that can be applied to the cycling machine.

Today’s route took us down to Haughton, Gnossal and Norbury Junction, the point at which two canals cross each other. And two excellent cafés en route…..what other reason is there for riding a bike?

A fallen ‘star’ at the nocturne..

You may think a nocturne is a musical composition and, of course, you would be right….but it’s more than that. In the world of cycle racing it is a city centre evening criterium, and Newport is the place where it all started in this country.

On Saturday Newport will host the next nocturne, and several of the High St businesses have incorporated a cycling theme in their displays, including this café where I had a pot of tea….poor girl, she is in the process of falling off her bike which is on the other side of the hedge….the fallen ‘star’ of the nocturne…..

The countryside is settling into the post-harvest stupor where the only activity seems to be the watering of a late foraging crop….but not sure what. But what I find staggering about the Staffordshire and Shropshire countryside are the miles of lanes that seem only to connect farms, and maybe the odd village, which are virtually traffic-free. Perfect for the likes of us roaming cyclists…..

RAF 100th

The proximity of the RAF museum at Cosford made a visit during this 100th year of its existence obligatory….and a fascinating place it is too, especially the huge hangar dedicated to the period of the cold war.

Since I will be giving a talk and presentation later this week on my cycling adventure in Cuba last january, the displays on the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 made poignant reading, and video footage of the events demonstrated just how close we came to all out nuclear conflict.

That aside, the cycling was relatively flat and wind-assisted on the journey home, and I grabbed this photo in case my cycling buddies just happened to fall off their bikes into the ford…..which they had done last year on a tandem. (Sadly) they failed to provide the entertainment….😊

1000 metres of climbing…

Crowden-Alton-Oakamoor 76km

A thousand metres of climbing over 76km is a challenging day in itself, but frustratingly more challenging when I couldn’t change down to my lowest gear at any point of the day, no matter how much fiddling and fettling… I ground my way up the hills fighting to maintain momentum, only being defeated by one especially brutal climb, limping into a cycle shop when the day was nearly over… be told the cable was completely ‘shot’. “Should I put a new one in for you?” he said. Is the pope a Catholic, I muttered to myself….so, within minutes it was re-cabled and the gears ‘retuned’…..and I left a happy bunny.

The ride took in the 13th century Croxden Abbey, whizzed through Alton (of the famous towers) and headed back through Oakamoor…..a lumpy bumpy route…..but it was exciting.

The countryside of Staffordshire is a well-guarded secret… it’s oatcakes, it’s appreciated by the conosseurs….and, of course, by cyclists like ourselves.

I shared the ride with 7 other fellow roadies from the bunch of 300 attending the Birthday Rides at Stone in Staffordshire…..but met up with others both on the road and at the café….a great social experience.

The Ti takes a camping trip..

Will the Ti take to carrying a bit of kit…? Let’s see.

Off to a major cycling festival in Staffordshire…..celebrating the 140th birthday of Cycling UK (formerly CTC)….hoping for lots of thrills….and no spills….

Back to Ti riding….

After several days of riding the tandem, getting back on the Litespeed Ti was a nervous twitchy experience….well, for about 2km anyway. From A to B routes on the tandem, I resume my home-based out-and-back rides on over-familiar roads when my mind dwells more than it should on ride stats.

45km of riding in this area can be made to look more like TdeF sprint for the line with a speed chart like this…

or a stage in the Pyrenees or Alps with an elevation chart like this…

Dream on….

Teetering on the edge: canal-side Bath to Devizes

On a solo bike, I am seldom of a nervous disposition, unless I have to negotiate something ‘technical’: like a narrow ledge with a steep drop, like a winding narrow track that slopes down the hillside, like a narrow towpath along the edge of a canal or river.IMG_20180728_111759859

On a tandem, that nervousness is doubled, because the captain is steering and balancing for two. Canal tow paths are glorious for their views, peace and tranquillity,  but as soon as the track narrows to within inches of the water, the jitters set in.

Today, however, we felt brave enough to stickIMG_20180728_111958605 with the Kennet & Avon canal, and we were rewarded with encounters of mixed and varied life, both on shore and on the water. Stag parties and birthdays were being celebrated on rental narrow boats, travelling communities had formed their ‘scrapyard’ enclosures, craft markets traded their goods, and groups of party-goers began their festivities cycling between drinking venues, mostly kitted out in fancy-dress. There was not a dull moment…..


It is health that is the real wealth and not pieces of gold and silver - Mahatma Gandhi.

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