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Atlas Biker by Nick Crane

After reading Journey to the centre of the earth by Richard and Nicholas Crane, I was finally prompted to extract a book from my bookshelves that had been beckoning me for several years (you know the story…..you see an enticing book in a bookshop one day, can’t resist buying it, then it goes on the shelf never to reappear). Well, Atlas Biker by Nick Crane is an expensively bound quality hardback, so I’m hoping I didn’t pay full price for it when I bought it!Atlas biker

Crane is a knowledgeable geographer, experienced adventurer and fanatical journeyman, whose mastery of the English language embellishes his descriptions of the natural world, and whose keen eye for the detail of logistics, coupled with his determination to complete the ‘job in hand’, make him both a demanding but supportive expedition partner, and one who is unlikely to take his eye off the ultimate goal.

This book is all about an attempt to traverse the length of the high Atlas mountains in Morocco, to climb and descend (on mountainbikes) the highest mountain in north Africa, Toubkal (4,167 metres), and to take a film crew to capture the experience in all its graphic detail. There were accidents and other upsets, misunderstandings and unintentional diversions from the route, and the demands of the film crew were always in danger of scuppering the entire expedition, which was strictly limited to a 20 day duration. Why? The sponsor who was financing the expedition had made it a non-negotiable condition.

I won’t spoil the story……but it is certainly worth reading.

The M&M day….

Milton to Moruya: 87km (55m)

Kit dried, limbs rested, body fed, humour restored….I simply could not find a convincing reason to ask the Doc for a ‘sickie’….so on the saddle I climbed, dressed for all the Aussie elements could throw at me. The weather brightened, and off came the layers one by one.
Being the (horti)cultural guy that I am, I began to notice some of the roadside vegetation

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…and I know at least one botanist who might be impressed. But then I was mightily glad I didn’t have to climb this hill

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…because I’m sure it would have crucified me. So many names of places are suggestive of some significant event of the past, and some are clearly signed as to be in no doubt about their importance

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…but when I asked about the chances of becoming an instant millionaire, if I were to spend an hour panning for gold, I was told I should have come in 1850!
Today’s route, because of the changing weather, has been solidly on the Princes Highway, a busy holiday and commercial route, which crosses the lower slopes of the Great Dividing Range…..mountains which separate the outback from the coastal area.

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This unequivocally means that you have to cross dozens of creeks in a day, and creeks always flow down steep ravines from the mountains……ergo, I have just spent the whole day descending and climbing back out of deep ravines. OK, I suppose the legs needed a bit more climbing practice, and I know I’m not going to get your sympathy…..:-(
But I do like to be stopped by ladies on the highway, especially when they thrust a $40 bill into my hand.

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And when I checked into a campsite, the warden gave me $6 back from my pitch fee as a donation. The above family greeted me as I put up the tent, he offered me a ‘stubbie’ (can of beer), gave me $10 for the charity, and said I could have a ‘spa’ (hot-tub) in their cabin in the morning. People’s generosity continues to astound me, and I am the grateful recipient of it.
I’m not sure the following observation is significant, but several Aussies have photographed the sign on the bike, suggesting they would like to donate online. I, for one, will be watching this space.
Children in Syria Appeal: http://www.justgiving.com/Frank-Burns1

Milford Sound

Once called Milford Haven (because of Welsh connections), some say there is only a 10% chance that you’ll catch a fine day there. And guess what? The Maori weather gods were on our side! This place gets nearly 7 metres of rain per year. You may think that 2012 was a wet one for the UK, but that was less than a fifth of what the west coast of S Island can get on an annual basis. So if you have been a whinging Pom about last year’s weather, you obviously need to get things into perspective…..!

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You may think this photo is upside down…..but look again

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The road up to Milford is simply littered with must-see panoramas (sorry about the thumb!)

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then the launch that took us up the Sound (a modest affair but it did provide lunch)……

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to be entranced by waterfalls in full flow

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then when the sun came out the lingering clouds took on a special outline

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providing a framework for the soaring peaks. It’s remoteness is essentially a contributing factor to the conservation of such beauty, which proudly has the status of a World Heritage Site.

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If you come this way, hail rain or shine, put Milford Sound on your itinerary. You will not be disappointed.
To conclude the day, I sped the 20km to Manapouri to put me in place for a trip out to Doubtful Sound, even more remote, and accessible only by boat.
Children in Syria Appeal: http://www.justgiving.com/Frank-Burns1

A flood of road companions!

Omarama to Cromwell: 110km (70 miles)

CIMG8669A day to share with travelling companions! When I do solo expeditions like this, I expect to spend long lonely hours on the saddle, but fortunately I am happy with my own company, always fully occupied with inconsequential thoughts. But today was different…..

During the long approach to the famous Lindis Pass (965 metres) I teamed up with the ABC family (Anna, Bob and Christine) and we helped each other with draughting. When the climb reared upwards, I found myself breaking away and then…….from nowhere, some large insect (probably a bee) struck me in the face and within a few minutes my lips and cheek began to swell up. The numb feeling was akin to what you getCIMG8679 in the dentist’s chair, awaiting a deep filling or extraction. An hour later, I could feel it disappearing.

Over the top, down the other side………….and blast! that headwind coming from the south was still with us……which meant pedalling again just to go downhill! It was that sweet Mother Nature again…………….. The first settlement in over 50 miles was Tarras, and a little congregation of cyclists was beginning to form, sharing stories of the road, and giving tips about the route ahead.

Japanese tourist

Japanese tourist

One Czech family of three were cycling South Island with their little boy of only 18 months! Two lads from Belgium were taking a year off to cycle the world. A young Japanese lad, with little knowledge of English, was spending two weeks cycling between Christchurch and Queenstown. And, of course, my ABC friends were half way through their year’s journey through the continents of the world. Some of all this made my little journey seem small and limited.

But the run down into Cromwell had us going full face into a strong southerly wind, and the only way to survive (with a smile) was to work as a team. And this we did. There is nothing to compare with the camaraderie of cyclists on the road. Wherever you are, there always seems to be a natural bond.

Czech family with 18 month son

Czech family with 18 month old son

 

Belgian cyclists

Belgian cyclists

 

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Working as a team against the wind

Working as a team against the wind

To donate to the Children of Syria: www.justgiving.com/Frank-Burns1 

Mt Cook to Omarama

After the stresses and strains of the last few days, today’s 90km route was like a ‘light day at the office’. The early morning cloud lifted to reveal long empty roads that disappeared the length of the valley

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and the glowering peaks in the background began to reveal their curves and folds

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The views on either side of the road were stunning, and the pace of the return journey along this 55km valley was unnervingly fast.
Several of my hostel companions were being ‘coptered’ into the heart of the Alps to embark on multi-day mountain and glacial treks. There had been an atmosphere of eager anticipation when I left.

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When I arrived at Omarama, and checked into another donated pitch at the campsite, I met up again with ABC…..Anna, Bob and Christina…an astonishing family from California halfway through their world cycling trip. They have been through some struggles, faced several challenges, but are still thriving. I was particularly intrigued by their tandem, a Hase Pino, a German built design with a semi-recumbent front, ideal for 10 year old Anna.

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Tomorrow promises a climb to 1000 metres…….who would want to be on the flat anyway?
Children of Syria Appeal: http://www.justgiving.com/Frank-Burns1

Time for a good rant!

CIMG8523Now that I have a full keyboard, this could be a 10,000 word diatribe on why we need to do more for the situation in Syria…..but I rest my case.
I am, however, in the mood for a fulsome rant! After yesterday’s debacle of a mere 90km route (just a normal day at the office) in excessive heat and a crossing of Burke’s Pass CIMG8559709 metres (2200 ft), I fully anticipated that Mother Nature would reward me with a cool breeze at my back for my climb to Mt Cook Village. Well I’m afraid Mother Nature has a thoroughly evil side to her personality.
The first 50km were a ‘breeze’. Fast pace, little effort and a quick time to get to a junction

Good Shepherd church, Lake Tekapo

Good Shepherd church, Lake Tekapo

for the turn-off to Mt Cook. I discovered at the Visitor Centre at the junction that there was no drinking water, and there wouldn’t be for another 35km. That is 85km (53 miles) across mid-alpine wilderness without being able to replenish the water bottles…..mmnnn
The moment I turned NW to follow the great valley up to Mt Cook, I immediately felt the impact of something in my face…….a 30-40kph

It's like moving house every day!

It’s like moving house every day!

(20-30mph) wind that was going to stay with me for the duration. The climb to Mt Cook could be a very gentle (but long) rise to 700 metres. For 55km (35 miles) I was completely at the mercy of this head wind that was so strong that it brought me to a halt several times. When you even have to pedal hard to go downhill just to achieve 15kph, you know you are in trouble. CIMG8583And I knew I was in trouble. 55km would normally take me no more than 2 hours…….today it was over 4 hours. I screamed to the elements, but Mother Nature was not listening………I have decided from now on to be her stroppiest teenager, and throw tantrums at the mere suggestion of not getting my own way in the future.
So, rant out of the way, having reached Mt Cook Village, and having been enchanted by the vast open sceneryCIMG8604 on the way up the valley, I am now slowly falling back in love with New Zealand. I decided not to camp out tonight (because of extreme weather patterns) but everywhere seemed to be fully booked……all except an Alpine Club Hostel, a beautiful wooden-framed building with stunning views of the mighty Mt Cook. Instead of happy campers and motor-homers, tonight I will be surrounded by crampon shod,

Mt Cook in the background

Mt Cook in the background

ice axe-wielding rock climbers and mountaineers who do serious things up and down glaciers. I should fit in well.
While I have your attention, a little anecdotal story: in Wellington I decided to replace my seat-post bolt (after 20 years service it was showing worrying signs of wear) so I went into a Giant cycle shop, only to be greeted by a broad Staffordshire accent saying:”Wow, a genuine Raleigh Apex in NZ. You probably bought it about 20 years ago, made of steel and sporting the (then) revolutionary Girvin Flexstem……..”. I realised immediately I had someone on my side, someone who liked his bikes and had fond memories of well-built bikes of yesteryear. He simply stood there admiring it until…….I told him why I’d come into his shop.

A little friend I met by the roadside

A little friend I met by the roadside

Nice encounter though.
And still while I have your attention: I never realised so many Kiwis were so UK oriented. They know far more about the royal family than I do (which doesn’t say much) and they can quote names, places and events with an uncanny ease. When someone asked me if I followed “Corry”, my silence gave me away completely. What on earth is “Corry” I asked. “Coronation St, of CIMG8611course!”. I quickly realised that some Kiwis follow these soaps thinking they are a genuine reflection of the British way of life. I wonder what Mancunians think of that?

All going well (with Mother Nature’s consent, of course) the NW wind will continue blowing, and will blow me all the way back down the valley. I await with bated breath!

Please support the Children in Syria in their desperate plight: www.justgiving.com/Frank-Burns1

Kiwi English?

Kiwi English?

View across a campsite

View across a campsite

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1950s service station

1950s service station

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Ready for the off....

Ready for the off….

 

 

 

…and into the Alps

Hot, hot, hot…..how can it be this hot in February? 30+C…..hottest day of the ride do far. I was too complacent this morning, chatting to everyone as they passed at breakfast. I paid the price for a 10am start. My 90km ride to Lake Tekapo should have been relatively straightforward, but the heat kicked in early……and there were mountains to climb.

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The roads seemed to broaden out….but that was the effect of less traffic.

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I was soon stripping off layers….

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Then I  entered deeply onto Mackenzie country, only to discover that Mackenzie had not been a Governor General of NZ but had been a mere sheep rustler!

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In Fairlie, taking a break from the appalling heat, my siesta was disturbed by the Mackenzie Marching Pipe Band, rehearsing for an upcoming competition in Timaru. The south part of S Island is a bit of Scotland in exile.

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And as I finger-type this on my little phone, this is the view I have of Lake Tekapo.
With a favourable wind and cooler temperatures, tomorrow I will climb the 103km to the village of Mt Cook, which cowers beneath the 3750mt summit of the highest mountain in NZ. Wish me luck!
Or simply support the Children in Syria Appeal: http://www.justgiving.com/Frank-Burns1

And a note to Steve: where are you? We need to GPS each other!

…and so to Kimbolton NZ

From Auckland my journey has taken me through the largely pastoral landscapes of central N. Island, through the land of hot springs, geysers and mudbaths, and in the last couple of days through the volcanic heartland where the landscapes betray both its recent eruptive past, as well as its current role as a winter playground for skiers and snowboarders.
Today’s 120km route took me over the ominously named Desert Road, a road that crosses the 65km expanse of the volcanic plateau, with no services or watering holes its entire length. This gave me much food for thought, and much thought about food (and drink, of course).
Leaving Turangi, a town on the southern shore of NZ’s biggest lake (Taupo), 10km into the ride had me climbing persistently to over 1100 metres (3500ft) for about 90mins. When the downhill eventually came, it was elusive at first. Cyclists sometimes find themselves in a visual and physical conundrum. Visually, they are convinced they are going downhill, but their legs tell a different story. There is nothing more frustrating than pedalling laboriously down an apparent incline.
But, then the real descent happened, along with tail wind, and it was scarily fast and went on for 12km. I found myself having to apply the brakes at the unsteadiness of 65kph (40mph) especially with luggage spurring on the downhill speed.
When I finally pulled into the first cafe in 65km at Waiouru, I was beset by 2 donors giving me $10 & $20 respectively. The latter was given by the young waitress who said she had never heard of anyone cycling the Desert Road, and I deserved every cent.
I am typing this post on my phone (using the one-fingered method) sitting in my tent after dusk in a remote campsite within earshot of a swift tumbling river, the very one I was bathing in a couple of hours ago. The campsite is so simple that the caretaker may come in the morning to collect my $7 fee. So simple, in fact, that there was no food to buy for an evening meal. Prospect? Go hungry until the morning. Result? A nearby couple, David and Maggie (both ex-pat Brits) took pity on me and included an extra portion in their evening meal. I continue to be astounded at the kindness showed to me in so many ways.
Tomorrow will bring me to Kimbolton NZ, where I am to meet the Headmistress of Kimbolton School. This encounter will be a story for a future post, but I have in my saddlebag some official letters of greeting from the Chair and Clerk to the Parish Council to present to the people of Kimbolton NZ, who are largely unaware this is going to happen. And it will all start with a cup of tea and piece of cake at the only cafe in the village.
Watch this space!

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Mallorca: day 6

For once, an early morning sun greeted us, and arm & leg warmers were stored in back pockets for use on the long descents to come. The country lanes were awash with brightly-coloured pace-setters, and as the pelotons passed, you occasionally picked up a whiff of embrocation. Today was going to be a climbing day……two major summits that would demand about 7000 feet (2,200 metres) of toil against the force of gravity. Oh, what joy!

The first ascent was to be the Coll de Sa Batalla (so aptly named!)…..nearly 8kms of a 5% gradient to a height of 576 metres. The great incentive was the excellent watering-hole at the top, shared by hundreds of other roadies, all out on a mission to conquer the last few major ascents before the end of the week.

Who is this man?

But the Sa Batalla paled into insignificance against what was ahead of us. The infamous, and much-feared, Coll dels Reis ( Sa Calobra), which descends for nearly 10kms, from a height of 682 metres, to a little remote bay from which there is only one way out……….. the very same 10kms (7% gradient) climb back up to the summit. The descent alone inspires terror in some, as it snakes its way ever downwards. If you are nervous of steep, winding descents, it is best not to contemplate it from the top…..just get on with it! Save your nervous energy for the 50 minute arduous climb back to the top.

Every such climb always has a pay-back. As we headed back to Pollenca, the descent was very long and very fast, with little need of brakes.  An exhilarating finish to the final day of the tour.

Distance for the day: 107kms/67 miles

Distance for the week: 749kms/ 465 miles

Tony Cork

 

 

 

Recommendation  If any of these reflections on Mallorca have caught your attention, and you fancy ‘dipping your toe in the water’, you need to contact Tony Cork. Click here for his website: http://www.majorcacyclingtours.com/. Tony has spent many decades in the world of cycling, both as a practitioner and organiser. His training camps and tours are organised with every attention to detail. They are superb. If he could arrange the weather, he would do that as well!

 

Coll dels Reis, Sa Calobra

Off piste.....!

 

Tenerife: the enjoyment of pain?

Focus Cayo Carbon

Is it madness, stupidity or both that entices a seemingly sane human being to spend a week pedalling the contours of Tenerife? Now, those of you who have been to Tenerife probably remember the nice cosy things about the island: warmth, sunshine, pleasant sea temperatures, good food and wine, nice drive to the top of the

Relief model of Tenerife

volcano El Teide…….. To appreciate the sinister side, however, you really need to scale the top of El Teide (the highest mountain on Spanish territory) on a pair of wheels.

El Teide 3718m

I mean, how do you explain to normal human beings that some cyclists love to feel gut-wrenching pain? And for it to go on continuously for 4 or 5 hours at a time? To experience ascents that take you into ever-thinning oxygen levels, but the effort required to continue climbing remains the same? Then, when you are looking forward to the 30 mile downhill from 10,000 ft, your whole body freezes with the inactivity of the descent and the wind-chill, and your hands seize up applying the brakes to prevent yourself going into a head-spin over the side of the mountain? When you get to the bottom of the mountain, you are so chilled to the bone (even though it’s 25C at the bottom) that you struggle to dismount from the bike. You go into the nearest café and order a glass of very hot milk spiked with a large shot of brandy. And when you have thawed out……….. well, of course, as to be expected in a masochist, you begin planning your next ascent from a different side of the mountain ;0) Does this make any sense to anyone?

During the quiet week before Christmas, when prices were cheap and the numbers of tourist low, I ‘snuck in’ a week before the onset of the festivities. But instead of laboriously packing one of my own bikes, I decided to hire one from a dealer on the island, which actually cost about the same as freight prices for sports equipment. I had ordered an aluminium-framed road bike (for 90 euros) but ‘sadly’ they had to upgrade me to full carbon for the same price. I said to the German dealer: “What a pain!” and he replied “Are you complaining?”. I said “No, it’s just British humour”, to which he retorted “And my reply was just German humour!”

Above the clouds

(game, set and match to him……..). If you ever hire a bike on Tenerife, I would highly recommend Bike Point in Playa de las Americas.

My week consisted of 6 full days on the bike, nearly 400 miles and over 40,000 feet of climbing. There are very few flat areas on the island, so be warned. Of the 36 hours I spent on the bike, I reckon at least 30 were spent ascending, sometimes continuously for 4-5 hours. Your overall average speed will be low (mine was only 11mph). But whether it is for base training for the coming racing season or simply for the pleasure of scaling the heights, Tenerife is a great place for getting a good dose of ‘winter pain’!

The ubiquitous Red Bull cans

Above Los Gigantes cliffs

Rancho Canario stew: delicious!

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