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Key West

An iconic destination for many Americans, it’s even worth spending $140 on a 7 hour return ferry crossing from Ft Myers, to have just 4 hours on this southernmost point of the continent

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Linked with famous personalities such as Harry Truman, Audubon and Hemingway

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the crowds come for the tropical climate, the beaches, and to raise a glass or two to the memory of Hemingway in his favourite bar

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I raised a glass of Budweiser…..
His image is everywhere, on T-shirts, porcelain and glassware, is almost as recognizable as the image of Che Guevara, and has spawned an association of Hemingway look-a-likes.

The journey out was a high speed catamaran ride, averaging 40mph (gps confirmed) over 3.5 hours

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and this was the turbulence left in its wake

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with mine, a lone bike, strapped up alongside the luggage

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As I stepped off the boat, it was like stepping into a sauna. Heavy humidity, easily in the mid-30s C, that opened the sweat pores immediately.
When I eventually found a campground, 5 miles out of Key West (at Mile Marker 5 to be precise), it didn’t surprise me that my square metre of space would set me back $72. As a camping neighbour pointed out: the prices of camping are governed by the cost of hotel rooms on the Keys, which are generally $400-500 per night for a very ordinary room. Relatively, then, camping is cheap.
A major entertainment each day are the sunset celebrations on Mallory Square, where you will be kept amused by acrobats

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tarot card readers

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piglet trainers

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and the occasional performer who cracks his whip to summon his audience

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when, really, the most effective ploy would have been……to perform!
For those who would like to see the mapping of the final few days of my journey, apologies for the crude picture of my map, but the broken orange line on the left marks today’s ferry crossing from Ft Myers, and the continuous line marks my 120 mile journey through the Keys,

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crossing over 40 bridges, including 7 mile bridge, to Florida City, then onwards through Miami to Ft Lauderdale, where I started my journey 10 days ago.
The whole experience has been an adventure, with surprises round every corner.

Great buddies…

A long day in the saddle to get me to Fort Myers Beach, where I hope to catch the ferry to Key West, the most southerly point of the US mainland.
But passing through Fort Myers itself, I discovered why it’s called “palm city”

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but it’s even more famous for having been the winter hideaway of both Henry Ford and Thomas Edison. In fact, they were such close buddies, they had their houses built next door to each other

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This was Edison’s house

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and not many metres away is Ford’s

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Amazing to think that two of the greatest inventors in history should be next door neighbours.
Fort Myers city has a delightful tropical feel about it, with this dramatic approach crossing the Caloosahatchez River

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(and try saying that after a few drinks!).
But Ft Myers Beach (17 miles away) is another kettle of fish. Packed with beach holidaymakers, it had the feel of Benidorm on the Gulf, but the views from the bridge promised much

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and it’s popularity meant I had to cycle 5 miles out of town to find a place to pitch my little tent….and part with $50 for the privilege!

Anyway, the holiday weekend celebrating President’s Day is finally over, kids are back at school, so tomorrow should see a return to some kind of normality.

Wild camping…..

Last night’s campground was the nearest thing to wild camping. It had over 100 acres of wilderness, people cooking on campfires, and quad bikes and scramblers whizzing around on tracks, some ridden by young kids under 10……no comment.
It was certainly warmer last night, instead of 7 layers, I only wore three (a 60% improvement?) but it was chilly in the morning as I was packing up

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but the site had been devastated by a hurricane back in 2004

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and since then they had installed a pool..
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..the very best welcome I could have at the end of 65 hot, sticky miles to Arcadia.
These two oranges just happened to fall off a tree, and they were deliciously sweet and juicy

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Now I have an issue with house numbers in the US…..they go into the tens of thousands….

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Now imagine in the UK, your sat nav takes you to a postcode and says you have reached your destination. You look up to see you are outside number 1, and the number you want is 12569…..OMG, you’re going to think this place is way up in Scotland! How can a street have so many numbers? The campground I stayed in last night was15898!

After 7 continuous days of riding, my bike needed a bit of TLC…..Answer? Call by a motor mechanics workshop with cap in hand…

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They were very gracious and obliging. They even invited me to use their bathroom to wash my hands……. Americans invariably show me an open and generous spirit…..(but the English accent may also help from time to time!).

The scent of orange blossom…

Where would travelling bloggers in the Land of the Free be without MaCD’s? But you may have to make sacrifices ….

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…this is their version of Powerade. Just don’t look for the ingredients!
OK, this morning’s route has been one of the most interesting stages so far, across open country through orange groves filled with the scent of new blossom

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and as I was preparing to take this next photo,

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a fire engine and ambulance raced past, and when I caught up with the scene of the incident (in a private house), one of the fire fighters by the roadside greeted me and informed me that the sandhill crane is an endangered species. “You’re lucky to see one” he said.

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He wouldn’t have said the same about this bunch of scavenging vultures, who were completely undeterred by my presence. Further on I saw about 30 devouring a wild boar. No chance, then, of me taking a siesta by the roadside! I may wake up missing some vital parts….

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Believe it or not, February is strawberry harvest here in Florida, and I couldn’t detect a single white Caucasian amongst these pickers…..and I wondered how many were illegals.
I stood in the shade having a cold drink, watching this guy fill his tank, with the engine noisily ticking over

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asking myself, is he illiterate? Well, at least he wasn’t smoking, I suppose….
But riding across open country can spell some dangers. I was chased several times by loose dogs, all yapping/snarling at my ankles….they simply saw me as fresh meat. And as I stopped to take a closer look at a raptor’s nest at the top of a telegraph post, the raptor (a big bird) swooped down in my direction. I was out of there!
I leave  you with this view from the saddle….

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Southerly migration

Now I know why birds fly south….the wind is seldom against them! My destination was Lake Wales, but why in Florida (of all places) a town should be named Frostproof?

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Sounds more like a roof insulation company.Then a mile or so further on, I chanced upon this little ‘critter’

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….but don’t be impressed by my courage….he had recently gone to snake heaven (and not dispatched by me!).
I am now riding down central Florida, and I was shocked to find I had to climb a hill or two (that was not a bridge)

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…..now what you see may not seem very impressive, especially if you live in the Rockies or the French Alps, but for Florida, these are impressive, and for once, I enjoyed some views

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and quickly discovered I was in citrus growing country

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When I got to Lake Wales, I approached a police car to ask directions to the campground. I’d been wandering a bit in search, but the first thing he said (gently but firmly) was that I should leave the neighbourhood I was in. The reason he was parked up there was to check a few things out.
Tonight, I’m in another RV park, again surrounded by elderly snowbirds who have little to do but sit around and talk…..some seem comfortably ensconced in the waiting room for eternity….

A merciless westerly..

After two days of a northerly in my face, I decided to head west to Kissimmee (nr Orlando) and guess what……..? You know the answer….65 miles into a 20 mph wind….it was relentless.
To compound it, there were no services for 35 miles, so I dropped by a rough looking dashboard wooden cabin to refill my bottles, and I was greeted by  a true backwoodsman, who spoke with an incomprehensible southern drawl, but I gathered that his drinking water came from a deep well and was perfectly drinkable. The fact that he also disparaged his neighbour’s water quality, made me suspicious. “Yoooo frum Ingerland then? Weeel I got an English guy in ma hawse….my oh my…..”. With that he offered me a handful of Hersheys chocolate (yuk!) and I made my escape.
The first thing I did when I got to a gas station, was to pour the suspect water onto a flowerbed.

Anyway, I started the day with company. Tanner declined the offer, but Leslie was up for it.

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We rode together for five miles and then she turned for home as the black rain clouds gathered on the horizon, so I prepared the bike for a dowsing (note the careful colour coordination!)

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It turned out to be a short lived shower, leaving the strong westerly in its wake.
When you are passing through 65 miles of flat featureless countryside, you get inexplicably excited by little things….like this notice

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What do they mean…..? The nearest house is probably 10 miles away…..who is going to come to cut the verge side grass. But nice to know I’m heading in the right direction should a hurricane or tsunami hit

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and there were at least a dozen of these memorial crosses

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I don’t understand how people get killed on this road: it’s a very wide dual carriageway with little traffic, all going at a moderate pace. I never once felt threatened.

And would you buy petrol at this service station?

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(For the benefit of non-British readers, learner drivers nearly always have kangaroo petrol in their tanks……it’s what causes poor clutch control……!).

In Kissimmee, I got into a nice RV park for only $20, pitched my tent in a tree-shaded spot and “enjoyed” another cooler than expected night…..but no worries, the sun is guaranteed to rise in the morning…..that’s why this park is full of snowbirds, all delighted not to be suffering what their northern co-patriots have at the moment.

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So like a snowbird myself, my trajectory will now take me south, towards Ft Myers. Roll on warmer nights!

Is this really the US?

I set off yesterday morning from Fort Pierce, destination Melbourne……I mean, how confusing is that? This time last year I was actually cycling into Melbourne downunder in 38 degrees of blistering heat….but that’s another story.
Today, I rode 55 miles on one road, mostly straight, into a head breeze, following a narrow strip of barrier islands that is mostly lined with hotels, private properties and golf courses. You actually seldom get to see the sea. It forever lies tantalizingly close on both sides of the road, but nearly always behind property with its own private beach. I tell you, there’s serious money in these parts.
But just occasionally you get a glimpse of the pounding surf

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This is to show Adam Hirst, of Rutland Cycling, that their shirts can get to some exotic places. (This could be the beginning of a series….).
Now, here is an annoying “did you know?” question: did you know that Florida was the first place in the US to be colonized? In fact, I rode right past the beach

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where the Spaniard, Juan Ponce de Leon, set foot in the early 16th century.

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But I do really wonder if he did jump from his ship brandishing a crucifix, expecting all the natives to rush imploringly to his feet, and ask to be converted?

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Well, I’ll leave you to surmise that issue.
But what I was really looking forward to at the end of the day’s ride

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(no, not taking a photo of my helmet on the beach), but meeting, and staying with, Tanner and Leslie, at their house in Melbourne beach. Leslie is a fellow blogger, and had been following my exploits Downunder last year. She hosts a blog primarily about the paleo diet (http://paleovoyage.wordpress.com), but is also a recent convert from spinning classes to road cycling. Her husband, Tanner, has been a big animal carer in zoos (rhinos, elephants….), and is an enthusiastic and experienced skydiver. In fact, shortly after I arrived, he appeared with his skydiving kit, having just completed three more jumps.
Hearing that, on one of his early solo jumps, he had to resort to his emergency chute to save the day, it confirmed me in my belief that cycling really is a safe sport…..and, indeed, I can sincerely say from experience so far on this trip, none safer than here in the US. (This last comment is going to elicit a storm of reaction from some of my US friends….but I’ll do my best to weather that storm)…..;o)
Sharing conversation over a delicious prawn curry was a delight. Thank you to them both.

So this morning, I will head off in the general direction of Orlando (towards Kissimmee in fact)…and it would seem that both Leslie and Tanner would like to join me for a few miles…..watch this space for the photographic evidence.
(But I am bracing myself for a few more cool nights under canvas…..the cold front from the north is still with us….at least in N Florida. Key West beckons, me thinks….)

A tent amongst RVs

“It costs how much? $30 for a little tent?”. She pointed outside, and all I could see were serried ranks of humungous RVs,

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most of them bigger than our house in the UK. I was amongst the ‘snowbirds’…..mostly rich retirees from the north, who migrate for the winter.

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Seeing what they are currently getting further north, even in the neighbouring state of Georgia, I’m not surprised Florida’s average age profile rockets in the winter.

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So I pitched my “little RV” and parked my ‘humungous bike’ next to it, and prepared for the sleepover. But there was a dire warning…….
Last night there was a dramatic drop in temperature, to 40 F (5c?), Florida’s whiplash from the weather in the north. Oh dear…….and my sleeping bag is only summer weight (guaranteed down to 15 degrees C). So now I’ve survived the night, this is what you do if you are similarly caught out: 1. Wear everything in your luggage (I put on 3 shorts, leg and arm warmers, 6 tops including my waterproof, 2 prs socks, and a buff used as a balaclava). 2. You must lie on an air mattress, great insulation. 3. Zip up your bag, mummifying yourself, leaving a small hole for ventilation. 4. And finally, adopt the foetal position.
Result?……..I was toasty warm throughout the night.
So now, you have no excuse for carrying that bulky 4 seasons sleeping bag and those just-in-case thick woolies.

Oh and by the way, today being Feb 14th, an 80 year old supermarket cashier wished me a ‘happy Valentine’….I was quite touched. So this prompted me to email this to my sweet Valentine back at home:

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Whoever you are with, have a happy day….;o)

Blasted by a northerly…

I took this together shot of Claus and Cindy before I headed out of Ft Lauderdale

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…by their pool …..
This is my first post using one finger on my phone, so you’ll be glad it’ll be short on words.
Today has been payback day: a northerly head wind after the SE tailwind of yesterday.

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It has been ‘redemptive’…….I hope….;o). The senses are bombarded by visuals along US highways

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…and many of them are directed at me, a cyclist. It’s nice to know that State authorities have my welfare at heart, but I have made a note of the finger-wagging.
Part of my journey to Ft Pierce included a stretch along a barrier island road that was populated with grand houses like this

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…and you know you’ve made in life when your property has its own service road

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I believe I passed Tiger Woods place, and I’m disappointed he didn’t invite me in for refreshment….nothing like promoting UK/US entente cordial.
This post is uploaded courtesy of MaCD’s free wifi……so now full of burger and fries, I head out once again to do battle with the wind, and find a campground.
(Postscript to yesterday: the tube mended sufficiently to get me to a cycle shop, and then gave up the ghost 20 miles later).

A night on Jupiter!

There’s nothing like a ten hour flight for getting to meet people, not only from across the world, but from a wide variety of backgrounds: from a Croatian cancer surgeon going out to a convention in Miami, to an Indian businessman setting up a new office in Florida; from a retired couple taking a cruise out of Miami, to Mum and Dad off to visit their son who works as a deck hand on a luxury yacht. All absolutely fascinating, and welcome relief from boredom.

After a ten hour flight, however, no-one should ever want to end up in Miami airport, where the queue through immigration seemed to zig-zag for more than a mile. In other words, you walked a mile to move forward by 3 metres! And then later, to ask ten different people how to get to the Tri-Rail station, and get ten different answers, causing me to backtrack, get lost, and then miss the train I wanted to catch…….The very last person was an hispanic from Cuba, who spoke little English. But when he realized I understood him perfectly in his native tongue, he turned out to be the one who knew the correct answer to my question. I have to say, though, that despite all the misinformation I received, everyone I met earnestly wanted to help me.

And that continued for the next 24 hours. When I got to Claus and Cindy’s house in Fort Lauderdale, they welcomed me warmly, gave me a bed for the night, and have stored my bike box until I return in 2 weeks time. My stay in Florida had started with a note of generosity, and it wasn’t to be the last on my first day.

So, when the bike was assembled, with no detectable damage from the baggage handlers, I headed north up the east coast, following the A1A highway which, for most of the way, had a generous shoulder for cyclists. With a tailwind and the sun behind, the pace was brisk….but that was counterbalanced by the excessive heat. My body was struggling to adjust to the climate change……30 Degrees C is warm by any standards. Hydration was to be a key issue throughout the day.

But so was finding the campsite at the end of the day, with only 30 minutes to go before darkness descended. I knew it was somewhere in the Jonathan Dickinson Natural Park, but I could not find my way into the park. I stopped to ask a couple directions, as they were out on an evening walk. They said they would happily go back for their truck and take me there, so I cycled back to a pick-up point….but they had a 25 minute walk to get back to their house.

En route, I picked up a massive puncture (ie. the tyre deflated instantly), and as I was beginning to attend to the bike, a truck pulled up, and I was asked if I was the English guy who needed a lift. They had been phoned by the previous couple, and Steve and Deborah had generously offered to stand in for them. So, I hoisted my bike on the back of their truck and we set off for the campsite (known as ‘campgrounds’ here), saw threatening clouds and lightening in the distance, and decided that a hotel room would be a much wiser choice, so they ferried me around a few places, only to discover that everywhere was fully booked because of President’s weekend. I must have got the very last room, not only at a Best Western, but in all hotels for miles around. But what could have been a $10 tenting night turned into a $140 rooming night…..gulp! (Please don’t tell Jenny….).

Which now, of course, meant that I could mend my puncture in relative luxury….or so I thought. The tube had been wrecked by a shard of glass. But, no worry, I had two spares……. or so I thought…….the spares were ones I had from my old Raleigh, which I had wrecked in NZ. Same tyre size, yes, but but but but…….different width! In fact they turned out to be too chunky and fat to fit in the new thinner tyres I was sporting on the new bike…..for those who don’t know about these things, tyres and tubes come a bewildering array of different sizes. So, unless I can mend the wrecked tube, sufficiently to get me to a bike shop about 5 miles away, I may have a very long walk tomorrow morning!

Go on, I know the depth of your sympathy will know no bounds…….

Oh, and by the way……..a night on Jupiter? Well, not exactly….but the hotel I’m staying in is in the town of Jupiter…..which is just up the road from Juno. Wonder if there’s a Mercury and Venus up the road?

Florida loop…

“As of 2012, bicyclists are no longer required to keep at least one hand on the handlebars”.

Right, this is my chance to set a new world record……..do the whole of the Florida Loop (850 miles) with no hands on the handlebars! I may lack a certain level of security regarding other traffic, but I will certainly bask in the secure knowledge that I won’t be fined by a traffic cop, or used as target practice by any bored law enforcement agents.

Florida Loop 850 miles

Florida Loop 850 miles

This will be my route. A total of 850 cycling miles, with a 3.5 hour ferry crossing from Fort Myers to Key West, where I will pay homage to the memory of Ernest Hemingwayhemingway_lg_0 by sampling his favourite drink, vermouth (not  mojito as many believe) in his favourite bar, Sloppy Joes.Sloppy Joes

The route will take me up the largely urbanized east coast of south Florida, to the old colonial city of St Augustine, then across the peninsula through national parks and swampland, to finish with a 120 mile stretch along the Florida Keys. In terms of terrain, there are no real hills to speak of, apart from gentle inclines, but there will be long stretches of remote countryside as I bid to cross the hinterland.

With only 36 hours before departure from Heathrow Airport, this is the sum total of the kit I will be taking CIMG9798

and this is the boxed bikeCIMG9799 which, the Virgin Atlantic website assures me, will travel free of charge in the hold. I will go armed with a copy of the airlines regulations, in case the check-in staff are a little unclear.

Joining the ‘snowbirds’ in Florida

“No person shall operate a bicycle unless it is equipped with a bell or device capable of giving a signal audible for a distance of at least 100 feet, but no bicycle shall be equipped with, nor shall any person use upon a bicycle, any siren or whistle”…….

This extract from the Miami highway code is a clear warning to this unwary British cyclist, who is about to descend onto the land where Beckham is king of soccer, and where “It is illegal for men to be seen publicly in any kind of strapless gown”.

I booked my passage with Virgin Atlantic about three weeks ago, not only because it operates a direct flight to Miami, but it will also carry my bike free of charge (the only restriction being weight: it must be under 23 kgs). VA are definitely the most cyclist-friendly airline crossing the pond. They not only transport your bike free, but you can also have another 23 kgs of check-in baggage as part of your allowance.

At the time of booking the flight, I happened to be back in touch with my American friend, Bob, whom I had met in New Zealand, on a world trip with his wife, Cristine and 10 year old daughter, Anna.

Anna, Bob and Cristine

Anna, Bob and Cristine

Anna, Bob and Cristine had introduced themselves as the ABC family, and I was to share a few very pleasant days in their company as we made our way down South Island.

Hearing of my plans, Bob jumped at the chance of joining me for two weeks in Florida. He booked his flight from California and arranged for his bike to be shipped overland. He ordered maps from the American Cycling Association and did his research on the recommended circuit of the peninsula.

Working as a team against and unforgiving wind.

Working as a team against and unforgiving wind.

But then……(the best laid schemes o’ mice and men) little more than a week from departure, a prolonged dry winter in California suddenly changed, and the snows began with a vengeance. Bob and his family live at an elevation of 6000 feet near Lake Tahoe, and when the snows come at that height, it is serious business. Quite rightly, Bob had to reassess the situation. Flying down to Florida meant leaving Cristine and Anna to their own devices, coping with the routines of daily life midst the worsening weather conditions. So Bob has had to abandon his plans. He was profusely apologetic……..but he didn’t need to be. Though I will sorely miss his company, I did point out to him that it now leaves me in very familiar territory………riding solo and unsupported.

So, in a nutshell, my plan is to do a circular route of some 800 miles, carrying my little tent, and staying at the simplest and cheapest campsites I can find. I have been warned by many to beware not only of the traffic (which can be very heavy in the south), but also of the crocodiles, which can lurk motionless by the roadside. If you appear to be a tasty morsel at the time, they can achieve bursts of speed in excess of 30 mph. That’s when the 100″ gear will come in very handy!

Now for those vital statistics……

Ask a group of experienced long-distance cyclists what would be their ideal expedition bike and, I guarantee, there would be little agreement about the detail. 2014-01-12 12.17.00We might all agree that it should be a (roughly) diamond shaped frame, with two wheels, a wide range of gears and the capacity to carry luggage. But beyond that, everything (I mean absolutely everything) is open to discussion. And that is one of the things I love about cycling and associating with fellow cyclists……there’s never a dull moment! Never a chance to be smug or complacent……2014-01-12 12.20.45

Some will study the following vital stats of my new Dave Yates, and throw their hands up in horror, and shower me with suitably corrective advice. Some will agree, and quietly say “good choice”. Others, who haven’t given much thought to the equipment on their bike, might find some useful tips for a future machine. So let’s risk it and reveal all:2014-01-12 12.21.07

Frame: Reynolds 525 chromoly steel (sturdy and comfortable on long distances and easy to repair)

Wheels: 26″ Mavic rims with Chris King hubs, and 35mm Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyres (26″ are easier to replace than 700c)

Brakes: Shimano Deore XT V brakes (disc brakes are arguably better, but harder to repair and replace in remote areas)

Transmission: Shimano Deore XT throughout, with rapid fire shifters (durable touring stuff)

Gearing: Rear: 11-34, Front: 48/36/26 giving a gear range of 19″- 106″ (high enough for rapid descents, low enough to climb Everest!)

Headset: Chris King Sealed Bearing “no Thread”

Bottom bracket: Chris King MTN

Handlebars: Ritchey Pro (straight bars with bar ends….my preference for long days in the saddle)

Stem: Thomson Elite x4

Seat post: Thomson Elite

Saddle: Brooks Pro (when it’s broken in, it should be the best)

Pedals: Shimano XT (with a platform for some comfort, and recessed cleats for walking off the bike).

In a nutshell, my choice of bike design was guided entirely by a need for comfort and stability, and my choice of materials and equipment was guided entirely by performance and replaceability.

I rest my case……2014-01-12 12.18.542014-01-12 12.19.28

The nine month pregnancy……..

Ah, the gestation period of the child in the womb….. nine months, give or take a week or two. Even the most impatient expectant parent would not dispute that those nine months are worth the wait.

In that period of time you could also grow 4.5 inches (120mm) of hair, watch the extended edition of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy 532 times, or cycle the length of the equator doing 92 miles (148 kms) per day.

Now, did you know that the gestation period of a bespoke bicycle can also take nine months? Well, to be honest, many bespoke bicycles take much, much longer than that. I have heard of two and three year waiting lists.CIMG9696

The broken bicycle I nearly dumped in Melbourne, Australia, nine months ago, has finally found its replacement. The gestation period included my somewhat lengthy search for a frame-builder, the four months it took for my frame to enter Dave Yates’ “to do list” and be built, and the remaining months for the protracted delivery of the parts (from across the globe) and then the kitting out of the bike itself. Of course, I could easily have cut down drastically on the time required for each of these phases, either by simply buying a bike ‘off the peg’, or alternatively, buying a ready-made frame and having it kitted out with parts off the shelf.CIMG9699

Well, that had been the story of my cycling life to date. Every bike I had bought in the past had been ‘off the peg’: ridden and tested thoroughly, comparisons made with multiple other models, before the pin number released money from the plastic card. This time, every minute detail of the final product would be pored over and discussed, measurements would be taken (and then taken again), subtle braze-ons for the frame and colour scheme had to be decided. Would it have disc brakes or V-brakes? 26 inch wheels or 700c? What angle of rake for the forks? Would I be doing off-road as well as on-road? Two or three bottle holders? Front and rear panniers? What finish would I like on the paint?CIMG9703

Never before had I done so much decision-making in the production of a bike. Never before had I acquired a new bike without having test-ridden it several times beforehand, studied its finished profile from several angles, and been absolutely happy with the “feel” of the finished article. Making the commitment before seeing the finished product is, for me, a leap of faith into unchartered waters. But it couldn’t have been achieved without the expert input from professionals in the trade: both Dave Yates and Simon Nix of Grafham Cycling were the backbone to this process, and I owe them both a huge vote of thanks. I also owe a special vote of thanks to Ian Rushton of Cambio Ltd for his company’s generous financial support, both in donations to Save the Children’s Syrian Appeal, and for help in replacing the bicycle that came to grief in New Zealand.

For the cycling nerds among you, I will post the vital statistics on another post. But you have a few photos here to whet your appetites.CIMG9704

To be steered by a satellite?

Is this man going soft? What’s wrong with traditional paper maps and following your nose/instinct/wind direction, or even being guided by the sun? Is this just a bid to clutter up the bicycle handlebars with yet more junk, and find that on long journeys I have to carry yet another charging cable?

I have side-stepped the inevitable for several years now. I have watched my club mates progressively acquire their Garmins over the years, progressively become more dependent on, and attached to, the stats, and now find that they can’t find their way around the Sunday morning route without the directional promptings from their handlebars. In fact, they can become so dependent on satellite navigation that, if the device begins to malfunction, they are lost……….I mean, absolutely and completely lost. Do I really want to be like them? Dependent on stats and navigational hints?

Garmin Edge Touring

Garmin Edge Touring

Well, the short answer is a resounding “no”! So why get one (you might ask)? Well, I suppose I could use the excuse that I found it, quite by chance, at the bottom of my Christmas stocking……… but then I would be hiding the fact that I used my cyclist’s discount to get 20% off in my local bike shop (Grafham Cycling). OK, so I had a hand in it.

I could say that I didn’t want to appear different from anybody else, to be able to join in with the stats comparisons and join the Strava road wars. I mean everyone at club level wants to be a Strava warrior (see their website for details). But I have to confess that none of the above is really me. The only stats of any interest to me are distance and, very occasionally, time lapse. But all that could change. If it does, I hope it will be subtle and in line with my kind of cycling.

As many of you know, my cycling terrain is in the long distance, endurance stuff. Nothing can beat a good 8-10 hours on the road, whizzing through open landscapes, visiting new towns and villages, meeting people from different countries and places. The Garmin Edge Touring (as the name suggests) is a navigational device for the long-distance rider, who may be riding through unfamiliar terrain. This is an opportunity to become unhitched from the soggy paper map, to have a neat little device that can feed me more information about my immediate surrounds, and give me directional hints as I negotiate tricky places like city centres or outer suburbs when directional signposting disappears altogether.

So, will I get rid of paper maps? Not likely. I will always carry some, probably deep inside a saddlebag, to serve as a handy reference and, of course, to substitute the flash Garmin which will eventually suffer any one of several adversities: break, run out of power, suffer a technical glitch, get lost or stolen…….. or just simply give up the ghost.

We do, of course, live in an imperfect world.

…..so it’s goodbye to 2013

I’m not one of those bloggers who likes to do a long, detailed summary of the last 12 months (thank goodness, I hear you say….). They usually end up being tedious “boasts on a post” (sometimes you get Christmas letters just like that). But I have noticed that it is many weeks since I talked about anything cycling-related. And having changed the header photo on my blog to an image of a walker (a picture I took in the early morning just north of Sheffield), you may be wondering if this man has hung up his wheels. Well, the short answer to that is…… no chance!

With Lake Pukaki, leading up to the base of Mt Cook, the highest mountain in New Zealand

With Lake Pukaki, leading up to the base of Mt Cook, the highest mountain in New Zealand

Despite the gales and heavy rains of the last few weeks, I decided not to be deterred, and December has turned out to have been a busy month on the bike….. even allowing for the interruption of Christmas (just shy of 1000 miles/1600kms). But it is also at this time of the year when I cast an eye over mileages, places visited and routes taken over the previous 12 months, that I may be guilty of ‘waxing lyrical’. If I do, please excuse me. If it bores you, just hit that little x at the in top right hand corner of your screen……

I was riding with a couple of cycling buddies a few weeks ago, and one of them said: “Frank, what mileage are you aiming for this year?”. I replied: “Well, there’s an outside chance I might hit 11,000 miles, but I’m not banking on it with these weather conditions”. Someone else teasingly said “Well, I shouldn’t tell you what I once did many years ago”. Well, of course, it invited the question from everyone in the group “So what did you do many years ago?” Almost soto voce, he said “26,000 miles”. My immediate response was “so you mustn’t have been working for a living……”. Well, of course, he did hold down a regular job, but was still covering more than 500 miles a week (including commuting and racing).

Tommy @odwin 1912-1975

Tommy Godwin 1912-1975

Of course, anything achieved by anyone in the light of what Tommy Godwin did back in 1939-40 pales into insignificance. He began on January 1st to ride 200 miles a day for a whole year, covering more than 75,000 miles (120,000 kms), and then proceeded to do the fastest 100,000 miles(162,000kms) on record, which he achieved in only 500 days. ‘Chapeau’ to him…… and remember, nearly half his mileage was during the first 6 months of the War, and he was riding a Raleigh weighing over 30lbs(14kgs)!

Anyway, let’s climb down from the dizzy heights of the super-achiever, and dwell in the realms of the ‘wannabes’ and the ‘might-have-beens’. This humble crank-turner did hit 11,000 miles just 3 days before the end of the year, which is just as well, because in the closing days and hours of the year, an annoying head cold is keeping him (almost) confined to quarters.

Outside the 2,500 miles/4000kms of my expedition Down Under, my biggest month of the year was the 1,250 miles cycled in August (including the CTC Birthdays Rides), and on only 6 days of the year did I exceed 100 miles/162kms (though many were just 5-10 miles short of that).

At the top of Mam Tor in Derbyshire

At the top of the Mam Tor road in Derbyshire

Jenny, my wife, constantly tells me I shouldn’t push myself so hard, and maybe I should listen more carefully to my body. Oh dear, the beginning of a new year means resolution time. Is it time to grow up and settle down…….? Slippers and pipe maybe…..? A good resolve for the coming year might be to find ourselves a more comfortable tandem, and to spend more time pedalling as a twosome with Jenny.

Now there’s a thought…….

La Belle France

Having given France some stick in the previous post, let’s redress the balance a little. This time, few words, just enjoy the images…….

Chateau in Saumur

Chateau in Saumur

...often wondered what the view from the back was like

…often wondered what the view from the back was like

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Along the Loire, heading for Angers

Along the Loire, heading for Angers

Dinan

Dinan

Caffeine.....the legal dope!
Caffeine…..the legal dope!

From the town walls of St Malo

From the town walls of St Malo

Stunning!

Simply stunning!

Threatening weather, as seen from Le Mont St Michel

Threatening weather, as seen from Le Mont St Michel

Getting ready for Toussaint

Getting ready for Toussaint

Bretagne, the land of Asterix & Obelix

asterix

………..the famous Gauls who, under the spell of their secret druidical potion, did untold damage to the invading Romans.

Instead of marauding Gauls, we find a land of Breton-speaking Celts, whose language has much in common with neighbouring Cornish, Welsh, Irish and Manx.

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The Breton countryside in October is awash with ripening apples……’Whileaway Cottage’, where we whiled away our time http://www.whileawaycottage.co.uk

...the smells and taste of autumn

…the smells and taste of autumn

...the pleasure of drinking local ciders like cups of tea....

…the pleasure of drinking local ciders like cups of tea….

...visible signs of ancient Celtic history

…visible signs of ancient Celtic history

To experience the sometimes overcrowded magic of Le Mont St Michel, you have to cross and weather-swept causeway....

To experience the sometimes overcrowded magic of Le Mont St Michel, you have to cross a weather-swept causeway, where we were caught by a fierce squally shower

Forget dieting...just make sure the light is right!

Forget dieting…just make sure the light is right!

My question is...why do the French use this sign to frequently mean a T junction?

My question is…why do the French use this sign to frequently mean a T junction?

.......and to find a 'pissoir', you have to swim out to this little island....

…….and to find a ‘pissoir’, you have to swim out to this little island….

Cap Frehen, at the end of a peninsula

Cap Frehen, the ‘light’ at the end of a peninsula

...it almost felt like a 'finisterre'

…it almost felt like a ‘finisterre’

....and Fort Latte looked beautiful in the autumn sunshine

….and Fort Latte looked beautiful in the autumn sunshine

La Loire à tandem

Sunrise

Sunrise

Alas, the period of silence comes to an end! The pencil went blunt, the inkpot ran dry…..the beckoning world of ‘la plume de ma tante’ was naught but a code for……….this man has been AWOL for a couple of weeks. In fact, with his wife riding the tandem midst chateaux and vignobles of the Loire valley, fueling up on croissant and baguettes, re-hydrating on grandes tasses de café et bières a la pression, and when off duty (ie. off the bike), over the final meal of the day, popping the cork on a wine from Saumur or Anjou, and sampling till the lees tell us there is no more……..

Our host, Yan, took us down into the bowels of his garden, a deep

Le Closeau, our cottage in Courleon

Le Closeau, our cottage in Courleon

cavernous cellar below his lawns, to reveal wine racks that stretched around the walls, and offered us three of his collection……..two full bodied reds and a sparkling Vouvray that we corked to toast our own 37th anniversary.

The quiet days of October, with warmth still in the sun, is an ideal time to be exploring the Loire valley. We covered most of the terrain between Tours and Angers, discovered the chateaux of Langeais, Villandry, Saumur and Ussé, and found time to idle over a typical French lunch, or be distracted by Caves where the invitation to a degustation was too good to ignore.

Chateau de Langeais

Chateau de Langeais

With the Loire in the background

With the Loire in the background

Ah, the joys of peeing in public!

Ah, the joys of peeing in public!

Message.....?

Message…..?

Cabin crew on strike again....!

Cabin crew on strike again….!

2000 divided by 19 = 105

CIMG9311August is usually a busy month on the bike. The CTC Birthday Rides usually occupy at least 8 days, riding a full day’s mileage each day. And, of course, the sometimes fine weather (exceptional this year!) lends itself to frequent sorties out into the countryside, justifying indulgent stops at cafés, and sometimes long pub lunches. The groups I link up with on Tuesdays and Thursdays have a lot to answer for!2013-08-20 12.09.39

In cycling terms, August this year was a three week month for me. A week off the bike at the end of the month came at a good time, both for a rest and for enjoying the company of our Spanish friends, Pilar and Antonio, who came to spend time with us in Suffolk. But more of that in another post.

So when I came to check the final tally for the month, I was astonished not only by the exact round figure (I always measure distances in kilometres), but also by the fact that I had hit exactly 2000 kms/1243 miles in 19 days of riding.

In other words, 105 kms/ 65 miles per cycling day. Respectable for me, but when you think that Tour de France riders will do that distance before they even grab their first musette of food, and then do that distance again before someone like Cavendish does a 65 mph dash for the finishing line………2013-08-23 09.09.31