Blog Archives

Heading to Mexico….

Bermagui to Eden 106km (65m)

Understandably, you may be mystified by the title of this post. No, I am not jumping on a plane to do an unscheduled stretch of the Pacific Highway. I was chatting to a hairy biker the other day (you know the sort I mean), and when I told him I was heading south to Melbourne, he said “Ah, so you’re off to Mexico then”. He explained that when you go south of the border (of New South Wales, that is) you are going to “Mexico”. I smiled to show appreciation……. But tomorrow, I will be crossing the said border, so …….I am off to Mexico!

Most of my blogging has been done on a little smartphone, using one finger to carefully type the message, and uploading only the pictures I have taken with the phone camera. The upside of all this has been that it has (through fatigue and distraction) limited the word length of the posts. Thank God, I hear you say! Well, sorry about this…..but I have the use of a keyboard for the first time in 10 days. So sit back and allow those eyelids to gently close…….zzzzz

At 5.30am this morning, as I was gently stirring and contemplating an early start, I heard pitter patter on the tent. Yes, it had started to rain, and NSW weather was trying to intercept my plans again. So the tent had to be packed damp, I dressed assuming the worst, but as I set off just after sunrise, things improved significantly, turning very warm and sunny in the afternoon.
If signage warns motorists to beware of wild animals, what does that mean to a cyclist?
Not that I am likely to collide with one of them, but that I might actually see one or more. Well today was my day. You may not be able to see two kangaroos in this photo (the zoom on the phone camera is rubbish) but, trust me, they are there.

But no sign of a koala……yet.

But for much of the ride, I kept passing these,
of all shapes and sizes, scattered about in the forest. Termite mounds?

And then I nearly ran over this little creature.
An Australian porcupine? Imagine the damage he could have done to my tyres! I’m sure that not even Schwalbe Marathons would withstand a porcupine on the defence.

Over the last several days, I’ve lost touch with what it’s really like to cruise along on the flat. There has been absolutley no flat since leaving Sydney, and some of the climbing has had me twiddling in bottom gear for long periods. The maddening thing is: what takes you 30 minutes to climb only takes you 5 minutes to descend. There is no justice in that! But it has to be said, the descents can be very fast and hair-raising. Like this one…..
I began braking at 40 mph. Had I let go completely, I could easily have reached in excess of 50 mph, or even 60 mph. Imagine what it would be like with 40-50 kilos of luggage on the bike!
But to round off the day, I wasn’t lured by this holiday park, the scene of original sin
….but by a cheaper municipal site where I could pitch my tent by a lake

and be entertained by pelicans, cormorants and egrets. (Sorry about the laundry!)

So across the border tomorrow, which will mark approximately the halfway point between Sydney and Melbourne. As they say in Spanish: “la ultima recta”….the last lap. Only 500km to go ūüôā

The Children in Syria Appeal:

Big cycling day…

Manapouri to Invercargill 170km(106 miles)
Everyone has this experience from time to time: you start the day with plan A in mind, and somehow a plan B muscles its way in. I set off this morning with a pair of fresh legs, after 2 days of cruising the Sounds, intending to spend 2 days over the route to Invercargill, but guess what?………after two perfect days on the water, I was now presented with a perfect cycling day: a strong tailwind coming from the north! Then over a perfect flat white coffee, after completing 80km (50m) by midday

I read in the local newspaper that the wind was going to swing round to the south tomorrow. Well, what would you do? To me, it was a no-brainer: ‘carpe diem’, make hay while the sun shines…….so I did………I was making hay all day!

Now, I told you in a previous post about ‘drive-by donations’…….well today I became the (willing) ‘victim’ of ‘drive-by journalism’ when a car stopped ahead of me and a lady journalist (in training) jumped out and asked to interview me by the roadside (while her family patiently waited in the car). After a quick photo, she said she would see me in Bluff the next day, and offered a bed for when I get back from Stewart Island.


Now Invercargill is the capital of Southland, and only 28km from Bluff, my destination. In other words, just one last gasp and I am there……finished…..termine…..finito (well the NZ leg of the journey at least).


In the last 24 hours, I’ve discovered that Save the Children NZ have put their media and advertising dept to work, and it would seem that I have a series of encounters and interviews in the next 2 days. Tomorrow with the Deputy Mayor, who also happens to own an important newspaper; possibly with the local TV network; and with a community officer at Bluff on Friday. Not sure how to handle this new-found fame……… should I let it go to my head?


Now back to reality……I’ve just pumped some highly noxious calories back into the system in MacDonalds, am using their free WiFi to do this post, and now, at 7.30pm, I need to find a campsite.
See you up the road!

Now for the detail………..

Like accountants and engineers, cycling nerds like to get their noses into the minutiae of the detail. So for those of you wanting to know exactly what has gone into my 8.5 kilos of luggage, here is the list. Enjoy!

Ultra-lightweight cycletouring

Clothing                                      Other

2 base-layers                                               Spare glasses

2 cycling tops                                              Toiletries

2 pairs socks                                                 Travel towel

1 undershorts                                               Comb

2 lycra shorts                                                First aid

Arm/leg warmers                                        Cash/cards

1 cycling shoes                                              Watch

1 Gilet                                                                YHA card etc.

2 waterproofs                                                 Notebook + pen

Helmet                                                              Books (on smart phone)

Gloves                                                               Passport

Flip flops                                                         Money pouch

Buff                                                                    Sunscreen/lip salve

For the bike                                   Anti-chafing cream

Puncture repair                                          Travel insurance (+ EHIC?)

2 tubes                                                            Smart phone

Mini-lube & grease                                     Sun shades

Rag                                                                   Camera

Multi-tool                                                      Charging leads

Pump                                                               Flight socks

Cycle lock + 2 keys                                    Battery pack re-charger.

Pliers/spoke key/spare spokes             Maps

Zip ties                                                       

3 bungees/2 straps

Petzl E Lite headtorch

Cycle computer/GPS

Saddlebag/bar bag

Camping kit                                  

Tent                      Plastic mug + spork

Sleeping bag          Footprint

Army knife             Toilet paper


Inflatable pillow

Total weight (including saddlebag and barbag): 8.5 kilos (18.7lbs).

The boxed bike ready for check-in

The boxed bike ready for check-in

North Island route, hanging in the study, for Jenny to follow

North Island route, hanging in the study, for Jenny to follow

...and the South Island route.

…and the South Island route.


Support the Children in Syria: Justgiving

For more cycling-related topics, go to Love Cycling

Minimalism is alive and well!

Being fastidiously conscious about luggage weight leads one to extraordinary solutions.

I know many of you will have heard of some of the little tricks, or may even have practised them yourselves. The Crane cousins, in their bid to cycle across the Gobi desert and reach the remotest point known as the ‘centre of the earth’, christened a ritual that has become anecdotal in the cycling world, and is frequently quoted by long-distance cyclists as a term of reference in identifying each other. The ritual I am referring to is commonly known as the “sawn-off toothbrush”.

Some would say you can’t be a serious long-distance cyclist if you carry a full length toothbrush. Fail to conform and you will be relegated to some lower form of cycling life. Now, if you want to reach the heady heights of being classed as an “ultra-light cycle tourist” (which is precisely my own aspiration), cutting your toothbrush in half is only the start. Cast your eyes over the following and, remember, this will be a 2 month trip:

Toiletries: bodywash,intradental brush,toothbrush,floss,disposable razors, paste (122 grs)

Toiletries: bodywash, intradental brush,toothbrush,floss,disposable razors, paste (122 grs)

Headtorch,cardreader,spork,ear plugs,flash drive,adaptor,water purification tablets,smart phone + case (282 grs)

Headtorch,cardreader,spork, earplugs,flash drive,adaptor,water purification tablets,smart phone + case (282 grs)

Bungee,pliers,army knife,spoke key,spare cable,pen wrapped in tapes, small pots of lube + grease (344 grs)

Bungee,pliers,army knife,spoke key,spare cable,toothbrush to clean chain,tapes, small pots of lube + grease (344 grs)

Plastic cup,battery charger pack,camera battery charger,medical kit,passport,spare glasses (487 grs)

Plastic cup,battery pack charger,camera battery charger,medical kit,passport,spare glasses (487 grs)

2 tubes,lock,zip ties,multi-tool,puncture repair kit (756 grs)

2 tubes,lock,zip ties,multi-tool,puncture repair kit,speedlink (756 grs)

Saddlebag filled with clothes and tools (4kgs) camping equipment (3 kgs). Total: 7 kgs

Saddlebag filled with clothes and tools (4kgs) camping equipment (3 kgs).
Total:  7 kgs

Handlebar Bag: 1.34 kgs (including the camera used for this photo!).

Handlebar Bag: 1.34 kgs (including the camera used for this photo!).

Total (excluding water, food and sundries picked en route): 8.34 kgs.

The bike, primed and loaded

The bike, primed and loaded

Notable absence of: books, cooking equipment, pannier racks and panniers; clothing is general multi-purpose, lycra-based, which means it is all easily washed and dried. Warmth is created by thin layers. My secondary footwear is flip flops. I carry 2 waterproofs (one for the campsite) and a high viz vest; my smart phone carries e-books and guides, GPS, camera and can be used for emailing, texting and blogging….oh yes, and for phoning too!

I hope this post opens the doors to some friendly banter and sharing of opinions. I have friends in the world of cycling who would feel distinctly uncomfortable about travelling this light. ¬†One particular friend confessed to me that he would carry much more than this even on a non-camping weekend! Some have no qualms about loading up their machines with 40-50 kgs of kit. After all, it’s not you carrying it, it’s the bike!

But my humble contribution to the world of ultra-light cycle-touring pales into insignificance when compared to a certain Igor Kovse from Slovenia. He will happily cycle across some of the remotest deserts and landscapes carrying less than 7 kgs (and that includes a tent!). Check out his website for tips here.

Support the Children in Syria: Justgiving

For more cycling-related topics, go to Love Cycling

The countdown to NZ begins!

In the final throes of preparations for a two month cycle trip (I will also be cycling from Sydney to Melbourne as a kind of ‘dessert’ after the ‘main course’ in¬†New Zealand), my focus has been almost entirely on the kit I take with me. After every trip, I analyse the stuff I have been carrying for several weeks, and I ruthlessly deal with the superfluous. Without camping equipment, I can cycle for months with just 5 kilos of kit (including spares and tools). ¬†You just have CIMG6959to get very proficient at doing laundry, or live in squalor! However, on this trip, I will be taking camping equipment as well………a different ball-game altogether.

Kitchen and bathroom scales serve much more than the purpose stated by the manufacturers. In our house, they have been used to weigh absolutely everything. I can tell you the weight in kilos and grams of just about everything I will be carrying. My bike is a given: it weighs in at a sturdy 15kg. I have ridden this bike on long journeys for nearly 20 years. It’s made of steel, it has 40mm tyres, and it’s built for rough terrain. It’s like a tank! I could opt for a much lighter alloy bike with narrower profile tyres, but I would be sacrificing comfort and stability. These two latter assets are the most vital when you are spending 8-10 hours per day awheel.

With the rest of my kit, I have a twofold focus:

1. How to beat the airlines at their game: ie. have the bike go as my check-in luggage and avoid excess charges. WithCIMG6992 Qantas, my check-in luggage is limited to 23kgs, and hand luggage is limited to 7kgs. Mmnn, a tall order you might think.

2. How not only to keep the luggage on the bike to a minimum for riding, but to fit it all into a saddlebag and barbag, with tent strapped on the back. For some reason (which I can’t rationally explain) I have an issue with taking ¬†panniers.

To achieve both purposes, I use just two principles: a) decide what I can minimally and safely survive on, and b) find the smallest and lightest versions of everything, without compromise. Both these principles are goals that can never be¬†finally¬†achieved, but then that forms part of the excitement of discovery. Somebody, somewhere will have found a better solution than you to a certain issue, and it’s up to you to seek them out and find out what they know.

In the next post, I will show you how I will travel for two months (but bearing in mind that it will be summer in the Antipodes) on 8.5kgs of luggage (including 3kgs of camping equipment). Stay tuned……

Please support the Children in Syria:

For more cycling-related topics, visit: Love Cycling

Two books to inspire the long-distance cyclist

Adventure cycle-touring handbookAdventure Cycle-Touring Handbook: Stephen Lord

This is a book to inspire, instruct, inform and entertain. For anyone who is inclining towards their first long-distance cycle journey, or for anyone who already has years of experience, this Handbook will take you on a trail of discovery.

There is nothing better than learning from others’ experiences, people who have blazed a trail before us, encountered all the highs and lows of journeys around the world, and are prepared to give you a ‘warts ‘n all’ perspective of what has happened to them.

This Handbook is an absolute must for anyone straining at the lead, spending hours pondering on where to go next, what kit to buy, what kit to leave behind, the logistics of getting to the start-point and coming away from the destination. Whether its the¬†bureaucracy¬†of visas, how to deal with traveller’s¬†diarrhea, how to pitch a tent in a gale, what type of bike to take, how much luggage to carry…………….. Many of these questions have no definitive answer, but it’s inspiring to read of how others come to their decisions.

As you will see from my next post, a not-so-secret fetish I have in the long distance world is: how to carry as little as possible, yet be self-sufficient on the road. This Handbook has been a mine of useful tips in my futile bid to be the lightest of all long-distance cyclists: commonly known as ultralight tourists.

Cycling New Zealand: Lonely PlanetNew Zealand Lonely Planet Cycling Guide w

I have spent weeks poring over the details of this book, reading between the lines, analysing the route maps, counting the kilometres, weighing up the pros and cons of taking this direction instead of that direction.

Beyond the mere mechanics of getting from A to B (in this case, from Cape Reinga to Bluff), the volume gives just enough tantalising information about the history, environment and must-see places to visit en route, without having to carry around a bulky volume for the duration of the trip.  Nevertheless, it does still weigh just under 300 grs, which makes me inclined to leave it behind. Can I rely entirely on the e-books I have on my phone?

However, the structure of the book is much more suited for the more casual cycle-tourist who is happy to do a series circular routes to cherry-pick the best bits of NZ, and less suited for the end-to-ender like myself, who is very much on a specific mission. And I have been much amused by the occasional NZ inflection in the use of English: the word ‘then’ has been used repetitively to mean ‘than’, for instance. You can almost hear it being spoken……..

Having said that, a very good volume for laying out the plans of a trip to NZ and filling in most of the detail.

Journeys of discovery

Gerard W Hughes. Kind friends have loaned me their copies of seminal pilgrimage accounts by Gerard Hughes SJ, both of which have harnessed my attention and made me think carefully about the rationale of long-distance journeys to holy places.

In Search of a Way: two journeys of spiritual discovery.¬† Hughes’ pilgrimage walk to Rome, pre-dates our awareness of the re-established Via Francigena. He started out from Weybridge and calculated his own route across the continent, appealing to the charity of parish priests, convents and monasteries for accommodation when circumstances and weather prevented him from camping. Instead of using sabbatical time for higher or further study, Hughes donned his boots, loaded his rucksack and set off on a venture that turned into two journeys: the physical journey of walking to Rome and the inner journey of his mind and heart as he explored the inner mechanisms of the Catholic Church, his own place within that ‘machine’, and how his own Christian beliefs have guided him towards proactivity in the name of peace and justice in the world.

Walk to Jerusalem. His walk to Jerusalem, from his home town of Skelmorlie in Ayrshire, is also a story of two journeys. Alongside the physical challenge of walking through Holland, Germany, Austria, Yugoslavia and Greece and then by boat to Haifa, we follow his inner spiritual journey through life with copious flashbacks that occupy his thinking as he walks the highways and byways.

Neither book is a marketing attempt to sell the idea of long-distance walking. Both books dwell on the inevitable mixture of the highs and lows of the physical effort, the challenges of surviving the elements and meeting with both helpful and uncooperative people. The capsules he describes of each day’s journey are an opportunity to create links with his past, people he has met, places he has worked in and projects he has supported. He takes a critical look at the role of the Church in matters of unassailable importance: peace and justice, nuclear disarmament, the role the Church played in Nazi Germany, its attitude to the role of the laity, to mixed marriages, to ecumenism, and much more.

The long-distance traveller, especially the lone traveller, will spend many hours each day absorbed in thought, and the cadence of the journey (walking, cycling, riding horseback) can be a catalyst to reflection, meditation, planning for the future, and generally getting things¬† in our lives into perspective. Hughes used both journeys to explore his own inner self, and through his ‘mental meanderings’ we gain a privileged insight into who he is and what he stands for.