Part way through a ride the other day, I stopped in Oundle to pay a quick visit on some friends so I could wish them a happy new year, discovered that a big birthday was about to be celebrated, and I came away the happy owner of a spontaneous little gift….(there’s something awry about that little equation).
Notwithstanding that I was dressed in lycra and had arrived on a bike……they obviously saw me as a cycling enthusiast……….wonder where they got that idea from?
I was delighted with my spontaneous gift. It is an enamel mug with the “I love cycling” logo. I thanked them, said my farewell, got ready to climb on the bike……then wondered how I was going to carry the mug. No room in a back pocket, nothing to hang it on around the bike……….
But the solution was right there in front of me. It fitted snugly into a bottle carrier, and my rain top simply popped inside it. This will definitely be a mug that will travel with me on my future long-distance treks….plans for which will be appearing in future posts. Watch this space.
Grammes are being shaved off every which way……..
And that does, of course, include camping kit…..now, how do we shave grammes off the camping stuff……….?
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!
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)
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
Multi-tool Charging leads
Pump Flight socks
Cycle lock + 2 keys Battery pack re-charger.
Pliers/spoke key/spare spokes Maps
3 bungees/2 straps
Petzl E Lite headtorch
Tent Plastic mug + spork
Sleeping bag Footprint
Army knife Toilet paper
Total weight (including saddlebag and barbag): 8.5 kilos (18.7lbs).
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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:
Total (excluding water, food and sundries picked en route): 8.34 kgs.
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.
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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 to 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. With 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……
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Riding the Camino de Santiago puts you in touch with some extraordinary people and circumstances. The Camino del Norte is a much less populated route than the Camino francés, and some would say (rightly or wrongly) that it attracts a more adventurous, discerning type of traveller. I can´t comment on that, after only three days on the Camino del Norte, but I can say there is something special about the kind of pilgrim you meet on this route. The landscapes, and seascapes, are both dramatic along the north coast, but you have to accept that means long ascents that can seriously challenge the legs, particularly at the end of a long day.
The effect of added kilos. I chanced by Enrique again, whom I had met in Guernica, and he was having
serious trouble with his front wheel. He had left his bags at a garage and was cycling on to a town where there was a cycle shop. When we had shared a drink and pinchos in Guernica, he had quizzed me about my small saddlebag and how light I was travelling. He must have decided I had given myself an unfair advantage, only carrying 6 kilos compared to his 15 kilos, and he confessed that this morning he had posted 5 kilos of his stuff back home! I am frequently accused of “minimalism“………. and I confess to it unapologetically. After every trip, I analyse what has, and has not, been useful in my luggage, and I make modifications. It is well documented that amongst the thousands that start their journey along the Camino, the vast majority are carrying far too much, and Post Offices in the early towns are inundated with people posting things back home. The great ´sin´ we all commit is adding the “just in case” things, when many of them are superfluous. A great lesson on the Camino, and for life in general, is how to survive happily with much less. Travelling light is a supremely exhilarating and liberating experience.
They come in threes? I hope not! Half way up a long climb, I was hit by my second puncture, but not because of debris on the road. The tube must have been in a terminal state of decline and just blew around the valve. I sought shade in a shelter by the road to fix it, and Ramiro (from Marín in Galicia) was resting there in the shade. We easily fell into conversation, and he regaled me with stories and
personal reflections that kept me well entertained while I fixed the puncture. He had been a sailor all his life and I suspected he was illiterate, but he was a very wise man who had learned much from the ‘university of life’. I could have spent hours listening to him. I even ended up being grateful for the puncture! Otherwise I would never have met Ramiro.
Albergue at Güemes. I put in a few extra kms today just so I could get to stay the night at the highly recommended albergue at Güemes, about 12 kms from Santander. This had been recommended to me by one of the readers of my blog, and I am eternally grateful to him. The man running it is called Ernesto. The property had been purchased 100 years ago by his grandparents, who had had 15 children, the youngest of whom was his mother. He and his four sisters were born in the house, and now, with the help of a group of 50 volunteers, it has been extended and converted into a pilgrim hostel. And it is a stunning place!! Not only in its hillside location, but also in the quality of its accommodation. Large inglenook
fireplace with blazing fire, comfortable multi-bedded rooms with modern washing facilities, communal meals………… no charge was made, but you could make a voluntary contribution before you left.
Ernesto, who happens to be the local parish priest as well, gave us an illustrated talk about the Camino and its ecology. When he discovered I spoke both English and Spanish, he asked me to be his
interpreter. As I looked around the room at his ‘class’ of 26 pilgrims, I realized that nobody (other than me) spoke English as their first language. In fact the majority were German speakers, and not all understood English. As the talk progressed, I heard my words being translated into German over in one corner, and into French in another. It was a fascinating study in communication.
The evening meal, with a blazing fire in the background, was prepared by a local lady, and she had prepared portions that would filled any hungry traveller. And the wine flowed very freely, freeing the channels of communication in any language…..nobody cared. And when we discovered that a young German called Lucas, walking the Camino on his own, was celebrating his 21st birthday today, out came the cakes and ice-cream, sparkling wine and aguardientes (home-made digestifs), and the party atmosphere was raised another notch.
If anyone decides to travel the Camino del Norte, this albergue at Güemes is a ‘compulsory stop’. It represents the confluence of all the Caminos: both the physical journey and the interior journeys that we all travel through life. It’s a place to rest your weary bones and from where you can leave refreshed, physically, mentally and spiritually. I recommend it highly.
I am frequently asked if I have started my training for the ride. The truth is, I ride bikes for pleasure, and frequently. So my state of physical fitness should not be an issue. What is always an issue is the repetition of high mileages day after day, sometimes in terrain and weather conditions that are little conducive to comfortable riding, and carrying luggage that will inevitably hamper the pace. As I cycle southwards, I will catch the backend of a continental summer (which can frequently be hot and humid) and the terrain will inevitably go skywards as I approach the Alps. The vital thing is to adjust your pace and expectations to suit the conditions, and adapt your schedule to make it more comfortable. Starting early to catch the coolness of the morning, and avoiding the heat of the midday sun are essential ingredients if it is to be a success.
My trekking bike, far from being an expensive bespoke machine purchased specially for the venture, is no more than an old adapted (pre-suspension) off-road bike. I’m a great believer in adapting and making-do with kit that I already have, and it’s a lot cheaper! My old Raleigh has been thrown about on rough tracks and bridleways for the past 15 years, and the only modifications I’ve made to it have been to put on semi-slick tyres (allowing both on and off-road riding) and a pair of SKS mudguards.
In terms of luggage, I might be classed as a lightweight (or even super lightweight) adventure cyclist. I seldom carry a tent (though frequently a sleeping bag) and I try not to carry anything that might be superfluous (what the average traveller might include as a “just-in-case”). The fewer “just-in-case” items in your luggage, the easier it will be to climb over mountain ranges and less to drag behind you against a headwind. My policy is: what I can’t fit into an average-sized saddlebag and small bar-bag, does not go with me. This does, of course, mean that careful calculations have to be made about luggage contents, and sometimes I get it wrong. It is always a calculated risk.
I have met far too many long-distance travellers, both walking and cycling, who have been severely encumbered by the luggage they carry. I was much encouraged by Nick Sanders’ account of his attempt in the 1980s to cycle around the world in 80 days. His entire luggage fitted into two small front panniers and, even though he slept outside most nights, he didn’t even carry a tent! Impressive.