Blog Archives

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….

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…..

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Deflation is rife: Devizes to Hungerford

Canal tow paths are not always suitable for bikes, so we steered off along the lanes, but that inevitably meant hills……….aarrgh, they go upwards. And that ain’t no easy task on a tandem. We may have two people pushing the pedals, but that definitely does not equate to twice the efficiency.

OK, we accept the hills, and we even welcomed the rain (after nearly 8 weeks of near-drought conditions)…….but what do you say to a puncture or two……and in the back wheel?IMG_20180730_111203657_HDR

I go weeks and months without a puncture on my solo bikes, and we seldom get them on the tandem, but when they strike, they are mean. Even meaner when you discover that the spare tubes that you have been carrying for years unused have the wrong type of valve for the hole in the wheel rim. The process of repairing a back wheel is tortuous….you have to take the panniers and the rack pack off the back first, and a Schwalbe tandem tyre is difficult to get off and to get back on again, and when you have to repair the puncture road-side in the wet, that is the most cruel and mean-spirited fate to befall the tandemist.

Of course the repair didn’t work, so we wheeled the tandem a couple of miles into Pewsey and, being a Sunday, found the only bike shop closed, so sought comfort in an all-day breakfast in a local café. When all was lost, a couple of cyclists walked in, I grumbled about our cursed situation, when one of them said he happened to have a spare tube of the right size…….. (sorry about the pun) but it saved our bacon. The moral of this little story is: always help out a fellow traveller if you can.

We finally made it to our destination in Hungerford and relaxed over an excellent meal in one of the local hostelries. All’s well that ends well…….IMG_20180802_155109

Throwing in the towel: Hungerford to Newbury

A logistical challenge was looming. The canal tow path was still too narrow for balancing on the tandem, with the added risk of falling into the water, so we headed off over the hills, making our route to Reading much longer than anticipated. And I had a logistical problem to solve…….how to get back to Bristol to pick up the car and get back to Reading in time.

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So we got as far as Newbury, I checked out the trains, there would be two changes to Bristol, but…….and this was a BIG BUT……the trains were disrupted by engineering works. To cut a long story short, I got to Bristol and got back to Newbury about five hours later where Jenny was patiently waiting for me on the station, and we headed off to a service station on the motorway and had ‘our lunch’ at about 7pm.

It’s never too late…….

 

“Twicing it”: Bristol to Bath

If tandeming is ‘twice the fun’, why aren’t there twice as many people ‘twicing it’ on two wheels?

“Ah, we used to do a lot of that when we was courtin’ in our youth. But then I got me first car……”

“Yuh know lad, me and me wife used to do a hundred mile a day on one of those when we was young and half the weight……….but now…..well, you now how things go…..”

“Them were the days……me and the ‘owd git’ used to take a ‘drum-up’ to have by the roadside…..the things we used to do…”

“Hey, she’s not pedalling on the back…..” (we force a smile at hearing it for the thousandth time….)IMG_20180727_101534140_HDR

Today, we began the first of a four day tour from Bristol to Newbury, stopping our first night in Bath. After spending the morning checking out the Clifton Suspension Bridge and the M-Shed museum in Bristol, IMG_20180727_130829061_HDRwe headed along the old railway track that took us into the heart of Bath, passing through the 300 metre Staple Hill tunnel, along deep cuttings, until we saw some of the amazing Georgian architecture of Bath.

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Cycle Magazine October 2016

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CTC Birthday Rides 2016

About to head off to Framlingham College, Suffolk, to join some 500 other cyclists for a week of cycling, sightseeing and entertainment………and looking forward to getting back to some simple camping in my little Vaude Hogan.

Back to a few basics…… here is my transport, shelter and wardrobe. The simple life.IMAG2472

Way of the Roses: day 4

Boroughbridge to Dunnington 30 miles

Unbelievably, we had the prospect of a whole day without any significant hills! And what’s more, the breeze was in our favour…..surely we hadn’t died in the night and gone to cycling heaven?

Crossing the Ouse

Crossing the Ouse

The pace was brisk, we followed the Ouse in the direction of York, when I remembered there was a café on the site of old railway sidings near Shipton. We found it, sat in the conservatory, and vacantly watched trains speed by along the East Coast line. But this was no ordinary café……..it was also a restaurant and B&B….but the accommodation for both was in old train carriages that had been specially refurbished. I wondered if a night’s stay included the rhythm a sway of a train in motion, and the clickety clack of the rails under-wheel…..now that would have been original.

Accommodation at the Sidings

Accommodation at the Sidings

When we arrived in York, to continue the theme of railways, we spent 3 very enjoyable hours loitering with intent in the National Railway Museum. Not only can you enjoy a meal in a re-creation of a restaurant car, but you can also go for a guided tour of the famous royal carriages, and if your stomach is in order, enjoy a simulated experience of the Mallard breaking the world steam locomotive record of 126 mph. When we read the long list of precautions (heart problems, high blood pressure, pregnancy…….etc) we wondered if anyone actually ever qualified to enter the capsule…….

The real Mallard

The real Mallard

And then a quick zoom into the centre of York to have one of those very irritating “we woz ‘ere” photos taken outside the Minster, and then we battled our way out of the city, joining the homeward surge of commuter traffic, to find our overnight stay outside the village of Dunnington, and later to join our friends David and Marion for an evening meal. Perhaps the best day of the ride so far.

Outside York Minister

Outside York Minister

Way of the Roses: 204 miles

The wanderers have returned. In many ways, this has been an epic journey, especially for Jenny. It is 33 years since she has done a multi-day unsupported tandem ride of this length. Why so long? Well, I’m sure there are a few good stories to tell there, but suffice to say ‘life just got in the way’.

The start point in Morecambe

The start point in Morecambe

This was not going to be like one of my own solo treks. It was not going to be a mad dash over the Pennines, ‘busting a gut’ to get to Bridlington in two days, by-passing everything of interest on the way. It was calculated to give both of us a good daily work-out, but with time to have relaxing stops for refreshments, pay the odd visit to passing landmarks, and stay comfortably in a B&B at the end of the day. I wanted Jenny to finish this trip with a sense of achievement, but with a smile on her face……… ;0)

We shared the planning: I sorted out the logistics of the ride itself, the projected stopping points, and how to get to and from the start and finish (always a problem with linear routes, especially with a tandem). Jenny sorted out the accommodation which, given that it coincided with the first week of term, should have been easy……but far from it. September is the time for the silver generation to head off on late summer breaks, so there was much competition for just about everything.Route map.1

Day 1 Morecambe to Giggleswick 37 miles

It was just by chance that we met Gary at the start of the ride. He happened to be one of the volunteer route designers for Sustrans, and he was waiting for a colleague to arrive to confirm a bridge closure on the route. Thanks to him, we set off forewarned of a diversion which could have made a big difference to the projected day’s mileage.

The first ten miles were a delight, following dedicated cycle paths along the River Lune. At the Crook o’Lune, we climbed away from the river and started heading up into Bowland Forest. This was where the serious climbing began, but not before negotiating this odd tunnel that seemed to be designed for a badger run rather than a cycle route

Badger run?

Badger run?

Astonishingly, we managed to climb a 16% hill, but then thought the better of such lung-busting exertion when more such hills presented themselves. There’s no shame in walking. Many solo riders were doing the same. If you have never ridden a tandem, you need to know there is a law of physics which will limit your success at climbing hills but, conversely, that same law will see you descending at break-neck speeds, hurtling down much faster than the average solo rider and, sometimes, much faster than your brakes will safely permit.

If not on their bikes, cyclists will generally be found skulking in tearooms!

If not on their bikes, cyclists will generally be found skulking in tearooms!

And so to Giggleswick, just outside Settle, to the Craven Arms, where they were able to squeeze our tandem into their shed, and provide us with a comfortable room. Chatting to one of the locals in the bar, we were quietly informed of the challenges of the next day’s route. The climb out of Settle, he told us, is difficult even in a car! But more of that in the next post…….the-craven-arms.jpg Giggleswick

What’s good about Yorkshire?

God’s own county? Really? I’ve heard Lancastrians say the same about Lancashire. Is this just a hang-over from the Wars of the Roses?

I could wax lyrical about my few days cycling the highways and byways of one of God’s own counties, but I’ll let the images speak for themselves. All photos taken by Edward Shirley.

'Aloft' in the north Yorkshire Moors

‘Aloft’ in the north Yorkshire Moors, at 1200 ft.

The main objective of any ride....tea and cake!

The main objective of any ride….tea and cake!

Inspecting one of two Paul Hewitt bikes

Inspecting one of two Paul Hewitt bikes

The campsite....

The campsite….no shortage of space.

This café occupies the premises of the old Yorkshire Penny Bank. I tried claiming back the 6 old pence I left in my Primary School account!

This café occupies the premises of the old Yorkshire Penny Bank. I tried claiming back the 6 old pence I left in my Primary School account!

Riding through a glen.....

Riding through a glen…..

Note the ominous hill in the distance....

Note the ominous hill in the distance….

The 'bike shed' at the festival....holding some 400 bikes

The ‘bike shed’ at the festival….holding some 400 bikes

 

A day to hit 100…….

I set off early, to meet up with the Thursday crowd at East Carlton, not calculating the day’s total mileage. But it was such a glorious day, and the countryside was at its spring best, with the oil-seed rape putting on a special show of colour.

My 30 mile route out to the café was interrupted by a “Road closed” sign which, like a true road cyclist, I duly ignored…..but this time almost to my cost. After a few miles of riding on newly-laid tarmac, I began to pick up the sulphurous smell, then noticed a certain warmth rising from the road……then I saw the tarmac spreader and the heavy rollers, and realised I was riding on very hot tarmac. Had I gone another 50 metres, I am sure I would have been dealing with two melting tyres.

A few of the group.....

A few of the group…..

The group ride was a 28 mile route out and back along the stunning Welland Valley, but not all on the valley bottom. We climbed out several times, enjoyed descents as fast as 40mph, and ended up in Weston by Welland for lunch. By this time I had about 55 miles on the clock, with the prospect of at least 30 miles to get home.CIMG9816

But the wind was in my favour, the conditions were near-perfect, and the route home mysteriously extended to 47 miles…..giving a final tally of 102 miles (164kms). Since my first day on the Istanbul ride will be approximately 100 miles to Harwich, I consigned today’s efforts as a little bit of training for May 6th.CIMG9831

Answering the call of nature, I found a "loo with a view"...

Answering the call of nature, I found a “loo with a view”…

All-consuming preparations…..

When the dates and routes are finalised for a forthcoming bike trek, I bury myself in the research required to make it all happen. I surface from time to time to ride some local miles, both to keep the leg muscles primed and the rump-end callouses in situ. My attention is invariably focused on the feasibility of the project within a given time-scale, and decisions have to made about a multitude of things, not least when to book my return flight from Istanbul.

I have learned much from experience, and experience now informs me that creating a tight time schedule, which is governed entirely by the date of the return flight from destination, is a sure way of putting a lot of pressure on you to complete daily mileages. In one sense, that is not a bad thing. But if you fail to allow for mishaps, diversions, delays or simply getting lost, that pressure can increase exponentially as the ride progresses. And if you started expecting to do high daily mileages from day one…….well, I don’t need to spell it out.Poster 1 - Copy

I have spent many hours poring over maps, using Googlemaps and Google Earth as my route planner, studying the terrain, distances, roads, elevation and places of interest. Very little can be finalised before a ride begins. Experience tells me to leave my starting point with a well-informed but open mind. Have the broad brush strokes of the route mapped out, the time-scale decided, and some of the principal places you want to pass through.

This is the nature of solo riding. You have no-one to please but yourself and, conversely, you have no-one to blame but yourself if things go wrong. You will not have the shoulder of an ATOL or ABTA to cry on. There will be no agent from whom to seek compensation. You have planned it, you are riding it……you learn to take the rough with the rough. But when things go smoothly (and,incidentally, they do for much of the time), it can be like a dream.

2000 miles should be a comfortable month’s cycling, depending on terrain, of course. My route will take me across the Netherlands and NW Germany (gently flat), but southern Germany and Austria will be excessively ‘lumpy’, except where I choose to follow the Danube valley (principally into Vienna). Hungary will provide me with a vast prairie crossing, but once into Serbia and Bulgaria, the Carpathian and Balkan mountains will have me searching for those climbing muscles once again.

When I get to the border crossing from Bulgaria into Turkey, I have an important decision to make. To cross directly into Turkey will mean getting embroiled in the tediously busy roads for 150 miles into Istanbul. If, however, I make a 2-3 hour sortie into Greece before crossing into Turkey, I could find myself engaging with a much quieter, albeit longer, route into Istanbul. That’s a decision I will make at the time.

To provide ‘cushioning time’, I am going to allow 6 weeks for this venture, and if things go unexpectedly according totime_of_gifts plan, this will give me down-time in key places, with time to savour notable local offerings. My background reading so far has seen me delving into the history of the Crusades (both a fascinating and appalling catalogue of events), and I am now piercing the surface of an intrepid walk from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople, in the first volume of Patrick Leigh Fermor’s trilogy, entitled Time for Gifts. This journey promises to be rich in both geographical and historical terms.

I am delighted to report that my venture to raise £5000 in sponsorship is almost 20% complete. The money raised will go directly to the manufacture of wheelchairs for disabled people in developing countries. For more information and an opportunity to make a donation, please visit my Justgiving page.

It’s now official……date decided!

Having dithered about a departure date for my big ride to Istanbul, Jenny is now delighted that it is set in stone, and the serious planning can begin. The first leg of the 2000 mile journey will be the 100 miles to Harwich, setting off early on May 6th, to catch the evening ferry to the Hook of Holland. So by the end of day 2, I should be pitching my little tent somewhere near Eindhoven in Holland, and expect to reach Cologne by the end of day 3.

Cologne is generally regarded as the starting point of the People’s Crusade back in 1096. Pope Urban II had whipped up the frenzy and enthusiasm for a march on Constantinople, initially to go to the assistance of the Byzantine Christians in modern-day Turkey, but ultimately to ‘rescue’ both Constantinople and Jerusalem from Islamic control. The huge assembly of some 40,000 aspirants was a vast and unruly mob, and as they tramped their way across Europe, they wrecked havoc along the way. But all of this is a story waiting to be told………

Garmin Edge Touring

Garmin Edge Touring

My immediate concerns now are to begin the route planning. I had imagined that this might be my first sortie into serious GPS navigation, using the new (and largely untested) Garmin Edge Touring. But my early experiences have not been reassuring. My first device had to be replaced by Garmin because of many and varied malfunctions. Sadly, my second device has been little better.

The advertised strengths of the Edge touring include satnav navigation (just like a car device), round trip planning, and a subtle distinction between three types of cycling: Cycling (road), Tour Cycling (road of trail) and Mountain Biking (mainly trail). However, none of these functions have been reliable. I have tested it daily over three weeks, on roads I know in my locality, and not a single ride has been without a glitch. So my answer has been to go back to the tried and tested paper maps.

And where better to find and study the plethora of maps available? None other than the iconic Stanfords in London. In the world of maps, what they don’t have, probably doesn’t exist. So I cycled to15 STANFORDS LONDON my local station, took a train into London (with bike), spent several hours pondering the possibilities and asking lots of questions of the assistants, and when I came to check out, I asked if they did discounts (after all, I was spending some serious money).

“Are you a member of London Cycling Campaign?” I was asked. “No” I said “but I am a member of the CTC”. “Oh well, that certainly qualifies you for 10% discount. Are you going far”. “Just to Istanbul” I said. There was a pause for thought while she calibrated this in her mind……. “What d’you mean ‘just’? That’s kind of a long way, isn’t it?”. I said “Kind of….but now I’ve got the maps, I should get there alright…….” She seemed strangely amused.

The other side of this ride is, of course, the raising of funds for the Motivation Charitable Trust. And I am delighted to report it has got off to a solid start. We are already 9% along the way towards my notional target of £5000, and that is largely because we have received a few very generous donations (of £140 each) to sponsor complete wheelchairs. I always find the generosity of people a great spur for completing these cycle challenges, and I am looking forward to raising a large sum on behalf of Motivation.

You can sponsor me securely on-line at: http://www.justgiving.com/Frank-Burns2

 

Kimbolton to Istanbul: a crusader’s route

If my annual cycling expeditions were to appear on a kind of restaurant menu, my recent trip to Florida would have been the starter, the appetiser. In ‘cycling-speak’, it was an opportunity to get in some winter miles in a place where the weather was not a major issue.

I am now building up to the main course. But like a detailed restaurant menu, when the selection is extensive, the choice is made more difficult. There are many tantalising routes out there, all vying for attention, but in the end you have to make a choice……just as you do in the restaurant. And my choice this year is to set off from my home in the UK (as I did for my recent rides to Rome and Santiago de Compostela) and ride the 2000 miles (some 3000kms) to Istanbul in Turkey, crossing some eight countries in the process.

Like the two previous pilgrimage routes, this route has been inspired by an urge to delve into a bit of medieval history, so it is my intention to pick up the route of the First Crusade (the People’s Crusade) of 1096, when 40,000 people assembled in Cologne, to begin the march to Constantinople (modern Istanbul), and then on to the ultimate prize of Jerusalem. My journey should be at least five times faster than theirs, so I hope to complete the route in about 4 weeks, adding another week as ‘cushioning time’ for wandering off the route and catching my pre-booked return flight at the end.

It’s an exciting cycling project (as all of them seem to be) and, like last year, I will be supporting a specially chosen charity called The Motivation Charitable Trust.

Motivation is an international development charity supporting people with mobility disabilities. It was founded in 1991 by three college friends, including Richard Frost and David Constantine, who is himself wheelchair bound. Their focus is on the development of high quality, low cost wheelchairs specifically designed for use in developing countries. Their wheelchairs transform lives, giving disabled people independence, confidence and hope for the future. Twenty two years on, they are producing some 12,500 wheelchairs per year which not only benefit the recipients, but also some 60,000 immediate family members as well.

As little as £140 can buy a complete wheelchair. Would you care to sponsor a wheelchair yourself? If not, any donation you make will be a valuable contribution to the hugely important work Motivation is doing in the developing world. Thank you for your support.

Further information about the charity can be found at www.motivation.org.uk

And an online donation can be made at www.justgiving.com/Frank-Burns2. Or simply click on the ‘Justgiving Sponsor me‘ button at the top of the right-hand menu.

Bluff re-visited?

One of the greatest pleasures of long-distance cycling is the opportunity of making friends along the road.

Almost 12 months ago to the day, I arrived in Bluff, New Zealand, the most southerly point of the country’s mainland. A few days behind me, covering the same ‘End-to-End’ route, was Steve Wesson, a director of Bike Adventures

The iconic signposts at Bluff

The iconic signposts at Bluff

not only fulfilling a personal ambition, but also doing a ‘reccie’ of the country for a future organized tour. Up to that point, we had been following each other’s progress via our respective blogs.

We met as I alighted from the ferry coming back from Stewart Island, and we shared a ride together back to Invercargill, from where I caught a flight to Sydney and Steve prepared for his trip back to the UK.

Steve has recently returned from leading that planned tour of New Zealand, driving a support vehicle for his group as they enjoyed 4 weeks of near care-free cycling. Nothing of the simple, basic life of tent-camping here. They had their hotel/B&B accommodation waiting for them at the end of each day, to be rested, fed and watered in preparation for the next day’s adventures.

In Great Chesterford

In Great Chesterford

Steve and I arranged to meet up the other day, deciding that a halfway point between our respective homes, with a suitable pub for lunch (Great Chesterford in Essex) would give us both a good 80 mile ride. Steve was interested in my recent trip to Florida, not only because he is going there himself next week, with a few cycling buddies, to put in some personal mileage, but he is also planning an organized group trip in the near future.20140310_115927_Android

And of course, the conversation over lunch was inevitably about all things cycling: from GPS technology to paper maps, from weather conditions to cycling terrain, from the cost of ferry crossings to the cost of motel rooms. These are some of the minutiae that a tour organizer must have at his finger tips for the group’s organization to be smooth and seamless. It forcefully reminded me of the dozens of foreign school trips I had organized as a teacher to far-distant countries. I loved doing them at the time and, strangely, I enjoyed grappling with the details of health & safety, risk assessments, route planning and transport, visas and passports……but all that now is a distant memory.

My principal concerns these days, when I’m on a solo tour, is the organization of one ticket, one entry permit, one bicycle and one tent……. so much easier. But the big downside of all this is, of course, when things go wrong, I can’t turn to a tour operator and seek compensation. In other words, the buck stops with me.

A Hertfordshire hill....great for gathering speed!

A Hertfordshire hill….great for gathering speed!

Parting thoughts…

There are always random thoughts and observations that can’t be squeezed into other posts, so these are my parting thoughts as I pack my bike and head for home:

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Might you be a little nervous staying on a campsite with this warning? My tent was less than a hundred metres from this picturesque lake

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where alligators have taken up home 3 or 4 times in the past. Thanks for the warning!

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My blogging friend, Chris Yardin (whom I met in Melbourne, Australia) asked for a ‘full frontal’ of the new loaded machine. So here it is….total luggage weight (including camping kit, tools and spares): 9 kilos (less than 20 pounds, for Americans).

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Outside of alligators, this was the other big danger on the campsite!

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Glad I was only a spectator at this scene…..

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Schools out……!

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I thought about calling in for a consultation about future mechanicals with the bike……nothing like being forewarned!

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Now, what exactly is being advertised here?

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So it’s not just at McDonald’s where you can do a quick grab and run!

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…and when you get fed up with the bike, you can join the masses busy developing the awesome tan that will be the envy of all their friends when they get home…..

Goodbye Florida. Adios, hasta otro dia. It’s been good knowing you…..

The end is nigh…

As this two-wheeled assault on Florida draws to a close, the bottom line currently stands at 11 full riding days, 720 miles (1150kms) covered, at an average of 65 miles (105kms) per day. Before landing in Miami, I had decided this would be a moderate intensity ride, just hard enough to keep my interest, but nothing too challenging. The reality has been somewhat different, though not entirely unexpected. Flat terrain anywhere in the world will have spells of relentless wind, and Florida provided some of that in abundance, and not always to my advantage.
The weather patterns of the north provided ideal temperatures during the day, but close to freezing at night. The south, on the contrary, was hot and humid during the day, and warm enough at night to dispense with the sleeping bag.

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If your cycling dream is to ride across landscapes unsullied by human presence and traffic, Florida is definitely not for you. You will become skilled at the art of urban cycling, perforce (or give up in the attempt). In fact, I have become such an adept user of sidewalks, residents of my home community better beware…..you may see me whizzing down the High St pavement (“sidewalk” to Americans) and you may have to gently remind me that this is not the USA!

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As a cycle-camper, you will find the infrastructure for tent-camping less than ideal. The market is entirely oriented towards the retired ‘snowbird’, in other words, the annual surge of refugees from the northern weather war zone, who come with their million dollar motorhomes and enormous RVs (recreational vehicles) that require the space and amenities that a house-on-wheels needs.

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So there’s little room for, and profit in, the humble ‘tenter’ like me.

Where there is space, you will be charged exactly the same rate as your three-bedroomed/two bathroomed neighbour. What can be more disconcerting is that you don’t meet other ‘birds of the same feather’ (ie. other cycle campers like yourself) to share tales of the road with, and even link up with for an hour/day or two along the road.

From another perspective, riding over 700 miles in Florida has given me a unique insight into life in this southern state. It has, in fact, been a bombardment of the senses: the unique fragrance of orange blossom and the saltiness of the air along the Keys;

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the tremendous visual impact of the huge sea and landscapes; the star-domed skies from the darkness of un-illuminated campgrounds; not to mention the warmth and friendliness of the American people. If you judge a nation by any single factor, it should be the common touch of the person in the street that counts. Americans are exceptional in their ability to proffer the welcoming hand.

Would I come back to Florida with the bike? Probably not. I say that primarily because I seldom go back to any old hunting grounds, always looking for the new territory to explore, and fresh challenges to embrace.

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These last two weeks, Florida has provided me with an intriguing new cycling environment to put in some serious winter mileage. And for that reason I will fly out from Miami feeling well satisfied…..a job well done, and time well spent.

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And to finish the job, a wheel (and the feet) had to be dipped into the Atlantic……..

Hot, hot, hot…..

South Florida has a decidedly tropical feel, compared to the north of the state. To be riding a bike in these parts, you have to like the heat….and it gets even hotter in the summer….greater humidity and a greater incidence of tropical storms and hurricanes.
I teamed up with Charlie Martin for 15-20 miles, as he was out on his Sunday morning ride. A keen club (or team) cyclist, he has completed the southern route across America with his son, a distance just short of 3000 miles. He told me of the 1992 hurricane that swept through the area, causing huge devastation. His market gardening business survived and his house had fortunately been built to survive hurricanes.

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The campground I stayed in that night had its interesting moments. It wasn’t a private resort site (like so many of them) but a simple city municipal site in Florida City, but it came with security warnings. Some of the long-term residents warned of thieves coming at dead of night, targeting bikes in particular. One said:”Not only will your bike be gone, but they’ll take your tent too….with or without you in it”. He told me he always had a couple of guns at the ready…… Oh, my, oh my……dire warnings indeed. So I took the exceptional measure of chaining my bike to the tent (at least I’d be woken by the thieves)…..and had my little mini-pump loaded and ready to fire…..

Of course, nothing exciting happened……so this post goes downhill immediately! Sorry to disappoint you.

My route yesterday took me through the wealthy suburbs of Miami

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following the Old Cutler Trail

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then across the Venetian Causeway to Miami Beach

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with distant views of the 15 mile line of development

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along the long narrow peninsula. I began to enquire about campgrounds, but had no luck in locating any along the route. An hour before dark, I entered the only campground I had seen all day but……..yes, you’ve guessed, they were full. The young attendant gave me Google directions to a sister campground 13 miles away, so I made a hasty booking for 2 nights and set off to try and beat the dusk.

I think you guess that this story might not have a happy ending……well, that is partly true. 5 miles into the ride, I realised he had given me directions for a car driver, and his route was taking me on to the Interstate Freeway (equivalent to a motorway in the UK) where, of course, bicycles are forbidden (probably with a pending sentence of death……but at least they do it “humanely” in Florida by lethal injection).
In a quandary of what to do and where to turn, I spied a lone pedestrian who made simply the best suggestion…..if I cycled another 3 miles, I could catch a train, go two stations and it will drop me within a couple of miles of the campground. So off I went, with 30 minutes of daylight remaining….
I found the campground, it was now dark, checked in and pitched my tent in the dark (with the help of my mini Petzl head torch)…..showered, ate something accompanied by a couple of Buds, and climbed onto my air matress to sleep the sleep of the exhausted, interrupted only occasionally by foraging raccoons outside my tent.
When I woke up this morning, I discovered the beautiful woodland setting of the campground

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As with any story that has a potential negative ending, you have to always remember that….worse things happen at sea.

“My kingdom for a bolt”….

The cable on my cycle computer snapped a week ago, but on US1 (the overseas highway) you have no need for a computer/gps or similar. Why? There’s only one road and two directions (north or south), and the entire100 mile length from Key Largo to Key West is furnished with mile markers, like this one

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so when I found a campground with space for my tent, I knew I’d covered 70 miles, because 70MM was in its postal address.
Amongst the campgrounds I’ve stayed at so far, this was one of the best. Plenty of space allocated for tents, a swimming pool and a marina-side location, with beautiful seascapes with the setting and rising of the sun on both sides of the Key.
The conditions are undeniably hot and humid….such that there are times (believe it or not) when my mind wanders, and I find myself half-longing for a little winter chill……but the only way to get it here is to get off the bike and seek refuge in the air-conditioned chill of a McD’s, or some such establishment…..which is where I am now, finger-tapping this post on my phone.

Before I come to the title of this post, here are a few random images of the astounding views and seascapes I encountered along the Keys:

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…and you might see the heron here in the distance…

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Either these fishermen had been on an all nighter, or they were just having time out in the early morning (taken at 7.30am)

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This is a hurricane monument erected to the memory of hundreds of veterans and civilians working on the construction of US1 in 1935, who died in the most severe hurricane ever recorded in history (winds of 200mph), which also destroyed the recently built railroad to Key West

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But now to the title if this post……yes, I have lost a vital bolt…..2 miles up the road my front change-shifter simply fell from its mounting.

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Is this a major calamity….? Absolutely not. Nothing more than a minor irritation and delay. Instead of accessing 30 gears (25 of which have been largely unused here in Florida) I can now only access 10 (which is still probably 7 more than I need). Key Largo is only 10 miles up the road (the end of the overseas highway). No doubt there will be a very friendly LBS……(local bike shop)……….;o)

Riding the Keys

The road over the Keys, back to the mainland, is over 100 miles long……and there is no other road…..the US1 is known as the Overseas Highway because a large percentage of its length is suspended above water. Some 45 bridges link one Key to the next, sometimes running alongside the remains of the old railway line

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that was built by Flagler early in the 20th century. As I write this, I am cooling down from the unforgettable experience of crossing the iconic 7 mile bridge

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that stretches out before you to infinty

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The doom mongers warned me of the dangers of riding this route through the Keys but, as someone who is well used to always sharing the same lanes as traffic in the UK, to ride a highway on a segregated cycle lane is a luxury

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Even though US roads are always awash with traffic, the cycle lane on the shoulder makes cycling over here a relatively safe experience (and I know many will not agree with me). And when the lane disappears, usually in urban areas, you simply use the sidewalk.

On a separate topic, my daughter, Rachael, who is a personal trainer, sings the praises of coconut water as a natural rehydrating drink.

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I’m now a convert. Here in the US, it is available in most stores and, better than all the chemically enhanced sports drinks, this replaces essential minerals and elements…..and it is delicious! Cheers!