2017 The Sahara

Bonjour, is this Italy?

It was going to be an early start. There were only about 50km to go to the border, but I also knew that it was such hard work the day before and potentially it was going to get worse. Anyway the tech was packed away, the GoPro mounted on the bike and my phone plugged into both the extra battery pack and headphones. Then off to breakfast and more of that astounding view.

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I was out and on the road by 8am with a quick stop to pick up Orangina and water. I cycled out of La Grave and headed for Briancon the last town before Italy. I must have ridden 2km before my legs gave out on the first part of the hill. The road known as Col de Lautaret was what the cyclists the day before had called the last big mountain, accompanied by the ever increasingly annoying hand gesture. The sun was out and already the mountain was making me sweat. It was during one of the many off the bike pushing moments that I heard the distinctive sound of an aircraft nearby. I was stood at the roadside looking when a C133 Fairchild flew past really close. In moments like this the phone is ripped from my pocket, the two leads disconnected and press the home key twice to get the camera function. the plane was so close and so low framed by the amazing mountains and snow, I quickly centred it and pressed the shutter button. what followed was an infuriating 10 second wait as the timer was left on. panning with the plane it slowly slipped out of sight as the counter ticked away. My moment had gone as had the plane. I plugged the items back in and continued to trudge up the road. But then the noise returned and this time I was ready and got some lovely shots as the pilot flew close, low and slow.

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I had a surprising feeling of guilt as I left the wonderful scenery behind but I hoped for more of the same during the day. But first there was that mountain to climb. Col de Lauteret is 2058m (6750ft) high, although some of it had been completed the day before. The sun was really warm and the mountain was really steep. I managed just a few hundred metres of cycling for every 30 minutes of pushing. I had convinced myself I was climbing the 21bends, but later I saw that it wasn’t, however this route has been used several times in the Tour de france. Surprisingly it does not qualify to be part of the ‘King of the Mountain’ section of the race, probably to shallow a slope!!!! Those riders are legends.

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It really was a twisty little road and it sapped my energy massively. It was about 11.30 that I reached the café at the summit. I had two small bottles of Coke with ice, sat outside in the shade but still very warm. Having had a suitable rest I decided to make a move. I picked up my rucksack and saw that there was water running out the bottom of it. I assumed the hydration bladder must have split and quickly pulled it out for inspection, it was fine. I knew I had no other water in the bag. Lifting it once more the water ran from under it pooling on the floor, nothing for it I let it splash on my finger and tasted it. There’s no easy way to say this, it was sweat, my sweat. I had already used huge amounts of energy and I was nowhere near completing my journey to Briancon. What I did know was that the guy on the racing bike yesterday had said just one more mountain until the run down to Briancon. I was confident I had now climbed that mountain and was looking forward to the downhill.

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Leaving the café I was easily able to ride the very last bit of uphill. Quite literally turning a corner I was met with an obvious gentle downhill that seemed to go on forever. I set off and was quickly out of gears and coasting. It wasn’t long before the wind was rushing at me and drying my clothing which was equally as wet as the rucksack. I was happy to sail past a cyclist who was somehow going slower that me. Next thing I was gaining on a car and a British plated BMW GS1200 motorcycle. The road was twisty and the bike was held up by the car. I couldn’t pedal as I was already going faster than my maximum pedalling speed. I got so close to the bike but in a flash both he and the car pulled away from me. I didn’t care, it would have been fun to overtake but the reality was I pleased just to coast along admiring the views and not even thinking about the next uphill. Why would I think about the next uphill it was nowhere to be seen and I kid you not I coasted for nearly 15minutes.

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(I almost overtook the Biker and I did overtake the cyclist on the road down to Briancon)

Before I knew it I had pretty much coasted to Briancon. I had hatched a plan to get some lunch in the town then visit the tourist advice and see what my options were. I was beaming as I turned down the steep road to Briancon town. Happy to have made it to the town I had read about and considered my potential last staging post before the assault on the border. Lunch was quick and then I went to the Tourist Info, they were closed until 2pm. I went to the train station to see if they could help with options for the rest of the journey. I got nothing from that. I went back to tourist info and sat at a café drinking Orangina whilst I waited for it to open. I had read that there was a train station in a town called Oulx in Italy. I had no clue as to how close Oulx was to the border but it didn’t look far.

To be continued…….

The test

It started early with a breakfast at the hotel before bouncing the bike down the stairs and loading it up in the courtyard. The first 500m would be downhill but I was under no illusion the ride from here would be harder. It was harder but initially just a gentle gradient as the road weaved it’s way between the mountains. Within the hour I was starting to climb steeper slopes and before long the first walk of the day. It was a glorious morning with bright sun still hidden behind the mountains. Looking into the distance I was sure I could see snow. Surely not, we have just had the hottest summer on record and its now the hottest September on record. 20180911_112758 The walking became more frequent as the ascent continued. I was passed by two tractors that pulled into a large layby ahead. I walked past and glanced over at the two drivers who were stood eating breakfast, simultaneously they did the wavy hand thing but without the wavy bit, just a steep incline of the hand and a look up the road. I guessed it meant there was worse to come. However the satnav was going to give me a break or so I thought. Turn right to save 6km. the right turn was so steep I had trouble keeping the front wheel on the ground just pushing it. It was ridiculously steep but a 6km saving was to be had. I pushed and gasped for breath as I walked up the massive incline which showed no sign of giving me a rest anytime soon. A car came whizzing down the hill and the driver indicated that the road may not be the best option. By now I was 20 minutes into the struggle and gasping for breath I stopped to check the map and guzzle some water. On studying the map it appeared the road gave way to a path which eventually became ski slopes. Now I like a challenge but the road was showing no sign of relenting anytime soon, the driver had clearly signalled not to go that way and my arse was not going to accept that kind of terrain for any length of time. Plus I had the option to zoom back down the hill I had just come up. Decision made, about turn and climbing on board the wind rushed through my sweat soaked top as I went back to the road and the extra 6km. No sooner did I get back on that road than the speed fell away and I was back down the gears and pedalling with burning legs and rasping lungs. Rasping maybe but alpine air is wonderfully refreshing. 20180911_120348

(At most, this bit of road is flat, I can only imagine the camera makes it look downhill as there were none that I recall)

The long walk and minimal cycling continued but Briancon was calling me. I stopped for my first Orangina of the day, at a little roadside bar. It had a cycling theme and a poster showed a zig zag mountain road that I had knowledge of. Lautaret, or the 21 bends as it is known to the riders of the Tour de France. Having huffed and puffed my way to lunchtime I was in awe of those riders who do any kind of racing, let alone power up what looked like a massive mountain road with its relentless bends and climbs. Lunch was yet another salad with trail mix of nuts and fizzy drink, all available at Aldi in the small village of Le Bourg d Oisans and eaten on the picnic table at the front of the store.

Returning to the road I once again tried to use the cycle route option, but having been led along a gravel trail for about a mile only to find it got smaller and smaller, eventually becoming a split driveway to two houses, I had to turn round and return to the village, picking up the D1091 again. What was becoming apparent was that the day was going faster than I was. I always knew the journey to Briancon was going to be a push. The initial distance was about 90km but the mountains and steep inclines were eating into the hours of the day. I went through my first alpine tunnel and came out the other side to see a hydro electric dam at Le Freney-dOisans. I stopped to take pictures and get my breath when a cyclist came past with a chirpy Bonjour. I pedalled off slowly and shortly caught up the guy who was waiting for the other cyclist he was with. He pointed out that he knew a route that was much better for cyclists as it was away from the D1091 and I was welcome to join them. 20180911_16003520180911_160308

I agreed and set off behind the guy who’s friend had gone past us as we chatted. He was on a proper race bike but I had glimpsed that the female was on a hybrid bike so I hoped I could keep up. The road had been hastily built after a huge landslide had closed the main road a few years ago. It was now abandoned as the main road was open again. It was decaying and the guy warned me that there were sharp stones to avoid. When we regrouped I saw that the female was middle aged and clearly very fit and active. I cycled along trying to keep up with the guy assuming it was father daughter as he was clearly older than me and she younger. The road was lovely and flowing mostly downhill and offering great views of the lake and waterfalls. There was a slight hill and then it levelled out. We stopped to wait for the lady to catch up. We started chatting as the guy stated “We should wait here for my wife”! It turns out they cycle most days and go quite some distance. I didn’t want to keep them so I was happy to part company and do the last bit at a slower pace.

I was glad we parted company as there was a huge climb to return to the main road and then more uphill. I cycled on but was becoming more aware that time was running out, my legs were burning hot from exertion. It was mid to late afternoon and the heat was, as usual, oppressive. There was only about 20km to go to Briancon but I was feeling tired, hot and I ached. It was time to check for a hotel and then pace the rest of the afternoon to reach that and relax. What happened next was probably the best thing so far. I found a hotel that was only 1km from me at the little village of ‘La Grave’ and the price was good. My body was telling me it was time to have an early night at what looked like a nice place. I knew the scenery was stunning in this area, after all I had been living it all day. At the time of booking the hotel I was in a shaded area between two near vertical rock faces in a little village that offered cheap lodging, but I had chosen my hotel and paid for it. I got back on the bike for the last bit. As I set of I saw the married couple cycling back the other way, still looking fresh faced as I was stood up pedalling in the lowest gear to climb the little rise towards the hotel. They waved cheerily and I managed a smile back. As the steep rocks cleared the view of the hotel was a welcome sight. As was the view from the hotel.20180911_202837120180911_1854221

I was truly in awe of the beauty. This was not going to be an early night as I just couldn’t steal myself away from the views. After locking the bike away in the garage, putting all the tech on charge, showering and changing it was time to hit the restaurant. The food was amazing and washed down with red wine the evening was pure bliss. Other guests at the hotel were adventure cyclists who used the hotel as a base for some serious mountain bike riding. There were a lot of expensive downhill bikes ridden by rugged outdoorsy types. I was very much the only touring cyclist on an inadequate bike. Having said that, yes, the bike was old and had less gears than when we set off. Yes, it was too small for me from the day I purchased it. Yes, it was badly loaded with cheap luggage and a cheap rack. Yes, I was ill prepared and struggling in the mountains but my weary legs and sore bum had pedalled this heavy inadequate bike to the French Alps and I was going to have another day of it tomorrow. Sleep came easy that night.

 

Pushing onto Grenoble

Leaving the chateau I was well aware that the next big town would be Grenoble. To me it signified the end of travelling south through France and the start of heading East towards Italy, the only obstacle being the French Alps! Within minutes of leaving it was obvious the sat nav was struggling as I headed through a small village and up a huge hill along a twisty lane that deteriorated to a gravel track. I held out hope as I could see tarmac at the top of the very steep hill. It was a gruelling push for so early in the day that was not rewarded in any way. The tarmac was in fact another shade of gravel, that in turn headed higher up the hill to the next crest where it turned into an empty field with a muddy track across it. I had wasted yet more time and over the last 10 days all those little diversions, mistakes and hold ups had added up to leave me quite a way behind where I had expected to be. In hindsight expecting to do 100km a day was very optimistic and was probably more due to the time restrictions and deadlines than any real understanding of what was possible for a new touring cyclist.20180919_1822271019273033932507763.jpg

I wasn’t a happy bunny, trudging across the field to the nearest road and resetting the satnav for road only. Off I went headed for Grenoble just 80km away. It was an all day cycle mainly on roads and the words of the landlord of the chateau running through my mind “It’s going to be between 25 and 30 degrees today”. It certainly was and I was glad to find a little village with an bakery to top up on water, salad and cake.20180910_132856

Back on the bike and I picked up the river Selene towards Grenoble. It was a great path full of very fit cyclists who zoomed past me at every given opportunity, yeah but how far had they come? The river was picturesque and led almost all the way to the town itself.20180910_140520

Finally I came to Grenoble, very aware that I was now running behind time and I really wanted to push on. Other than walking through the city centre and stopping at almost every cold drink shop and a chemist for pain killers. (Honestly Declan Donnelly has nothing on me for taking pain killers) I tried not to be taken in by the town so I could get out the other side and get started towards my next goal, Briancon.20180910_161338

It was clear that the journey to Briancon would be more mountainous and I wanted to get as far into that leg as I could in the hope of crossing into Italy within two days. However, what actually happened was that I got about 5km out of Grenoble and the hotels became less frequent so I had to stop and be satisfied that I had done enough to give me a good start in the morning. As per usual the hotel was at the top of a steep hill and I didn’t even get any photographs of it. It was a nice big character house but really it was just a place to sleep. The restaurant was closed, but luckily the superstore at the bottom of the hill was open. I had another salad and tub of fruit. I was shattered and fell asleep by 9pm. Tomorrow would be the test!

The perfect days

(Day 7) I had a great breakfast at the B&B begore hitting the road at 9am. The mapping led me back to the canal Champagne de Bougogne and south a little way until I picked up the route Voiu Bleu which is a track running alongside the river Isele. The river was wide and the sun shinning. It was a great day to be cycling. The bike felt lighter and easier to pedal. Before I knew it there were people

boating and jet skiing on the river. I stopped at a small town and used my improving French to buy a french stick sandwhich and some cake. Next I got myself a can of coke and then sat on the river bank with several hungry ducks enjoying every second.

I wasted quite a bit of time just enjoying the moment before getting back to the task of heading south. The mapping gave me a few headaches but nothing too much to worry about and I was growing in confidence that I may actuallly make it to Italy. Going back to day 2, I had concluded the bravado I had shown in my “I’m cycling to Italy” was perhaps a little optimistic. I had subsequently changed the terms of the trip to “I’m attempting to cycle to Italy”. Despite it being a wonderful journey and havjng been exceptionaly lucky with the weather, I am only to well aware that this plan was hastilly thrown together and badly executed. My maps are whoefully out of scale and having purchased two Itallian maps I packed the wrong one. My fitness has not been tested like this in a long time and my legs had certainly had never cycled this much everyday. The day continued on cycle paths of varying grades but none so bad as to require me to walk, although I did as I felt that different movement in my legs would help. As day moved to evening I booked a cheap motel in Beaurepaire-en-Bressen called the Europe Hotel. It was cheap and I guess being located on an industrial site with shutters on every window, was an indication of the type of area. The first thing the member of staff told me was how to lock and secure the door.

To me it looked like a truckers overnight stop and Im sure the rooms had tales to tell. But the fact was it was a clean room with a shower and bed. I needed nothing more. Having secured my door I started to unload the bike and check it over. I had wondered if perhaps the tent on the handle bars was in fact pressing too hard on the cables causing the front chain ring not to accept the third gear. Once unloaded and upside down the gears clicked happily from one to another. Problem solved, I reloaded the bike with everything packed on the rear. I also noticed the panniers had been chaffing, they werent alone, but I’ll spare you those pics.

(day 8) The next morning I was up early and into the ‘all in breakfast’ which was a little disappointing but hey it was cheap right. I set off and within seconds found that the gears had not improved at all. I had managed without the outer ring for a few days so one more wasnt going to hurt. What did hurt were my legs, as I set off it felt very much like the bike was being held back. Sometimes its just my legs not up to speed other times it can be that the road is uphill and doesnt look it, but this was bad. I got off and checked the bike over, there was nothing obvious and the brakes were not binding, so carry on I did. Along wonderful country lanes in the chill of the morning sun. Despite the conditions being perfect I was struggling hard to make progress, the bike even felt sluggish to push. I was concerned that perhaps the lower bracket bearings were seizing, despite having only been replaced 8 years ago!! Then as I turned a sharp left hand corner coming out of the trees into a clearing it was obvious that I had indeed been climbing a hill for most of the morning, but being unsited I had no idea. I was on top of the hill with a stunning view.

I chuckled as for the last few days, whenever I told people of my journey they would do a wavey hand signal to demonstrate that the roads would get steeper, mostly ending in a steep upwards movement of the hand and accompanied with something like “ohh la la”. Maybe this was the start of the increasing wavey bit. The good news is that I then had the downhill bit to regain some of the time lost getting up the there. Its incredible how your mood can change from a sluggish painfully slow incline the the excitement of a fast flowing downhill. This is allied to the thrill of not knowing how much the tyres can take. There is a lot of weight over the back wheel and almost none on the front, exactly what you dont want when hammering downhill. The front was skittish and took every chance it could to slip and slide, when it did grip it sent a shock wave through the frame to the overloaded rear that wagged like a dogs tail. On long downhills I got cramp in my hands from fighting the bike. “Never ease off until its upside down and on fire!” Luckily it was neither upside down or on fire and eventually I rejoined the main road south. By lunchtime I was searching for somewhere to eat and that came in the form of Aldi.

They do some cracking good salads. So salad and yoghurt was the order of the day along with more water and for some unknown reason my body was now demanding Orangina. I will never complain about the weather on this trip I have been exceptionally lucky with sunshine every day and only ever the hint of rain, but the heat in the mid afternoon every day was most unpleasant for cycling and it was then that I did most walking. I will never know why but with a huge bottle of Orangina in the bag I would still stop at bars for another.

However this did mean the drink was laden with ice and I could take one cube out and just smooth it over my boiling head, letting it melt into my hair before putting my buff back on under the helmet. That afternoon was a fly fest.

I think it was hatching season for flying ants and cycling through them was a mouth clamped closed experience. Occasionally a few would hit me unexpectedly causing a coughing fit in order not to swallow the tiny winged beasts.

Soon it was time to select the desired residence of the night and for me it would be a motel with large double bed and shower room. The Premier Classe at Bou-en-Bresse was very pleasant and I could keep the bike in my room. Excellent for maintenance. I had purchased a can of WD40 and that alone would cure the bikes ills, but to be on the safe side I also adjusted the chain mechanism to make it give me that third chain ring. Then it was off the resteraunt across the road with a 10% off voucher from the hotel. What happened next is one of those one in a million chance meetings. I sat eating my pizza royal, which is a normal pizza with a raw egg yolk on it, not as bad as it sounds actually and a van pulls up outside.

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The markings on the van say Solent Cycles, close to where I live and ironically where I brought my bike ten years ago. Several guys came in to dine so I went to say hello. I was surprised to get such a warm reception and some major credit for what I was doing. They had been in the alps riding for a few days, clearly hardened mountain bike riders. I explained my intended route and the main character suggested that getting across the alps was certainly more of a challenge than I had encountered so far, indicated by the increasingly wavey hand until near verticle, but they hoped I would visit them in the shop on my return. They were literally driving back and looking for somewhere to eat when they stopped in the exact same place as me. What I should have done was asked them to sort out my gears but as far as I was concerned they were now fixed and tomorrow would be the test. Back to my room having eaten pizza, drank two glasses of red wine and an Orangina (what is going on in my body?) I was asleep in no time.

(Day 10) Despite each day being long and containing nothing but cycling, walking and eating I was enjoying my journey through France. I wanted to slow down as on other trips I have berated myself for not seeing France as anything other than a necessity to get to more exciting destinations. Well I cant say I’d rushed this one and I’d seen every roadside obstacle, every sharp stone and broken bottle along the way. I also saw breath taking scenery and now on the horizon I could see larger hills, hand wavey hills. My destination was Grenoble and I hoped it would be as scenic as the previous day, but it wasn’t, it was far better, it was far better as the river widened and became faster flowing and those little hills became giants, or so I thought. It was a fabulous mix of rolling hills and rough mountenous terrain.

I was still on the flat but it was getting more exciting. The path along the river Isele was smooth and paved before giving way just before lunch to a gravel path. Nothing too challenging but it still drains your legs. I had picked up some grapes and a bottle of frozen water which, along with some trail mix of nuts and dried fruit, would be lunch on the banks of the river Iselle.

I was following the path headed for the D1071 to Grenoble. It was less than 100km away but I knew by early afternoon it was not going to be my destination that night. Google maps had been very good despite a few hiccups, this afternoon it would excell itself. The river path went from gravel to stones, to grass, to mud, to mud lined with glass and eventually to a single track path through some woods that involved some trials riding and a small river crossing. I got most of it on the GoPro. But then it ended at a barbed wire fence in dense wood. A little reshuffle and I was through the fence and on my way, no way was I turning back. The woods gave way to shrubland and a huge field occupied by me, 2 cows and a bull. Let me correct that, me wearing a bright red top, 2 cows and a bull. I couldnt see a way out and i wasnt going back. I skirted the field and eventually, before being noticed by the bull, found a six foot verticle wall off rock to an upper level of the field. I could see close by there was a road. My bike and luggage are not light and in the mid afternoon sun it was no laughing matter to be climbing and lifting the bike. It added a good hour to my day just to get out of the fields. Once back on the road I followed Sally satnav straight back down the next path before deciding I would rather take the longer road route all the way. As the afternoon wore on i got more and more tired, opting for a snooze in a bus stop type shelter.

It was time to find some lodgings. Tonight I would be staying at a chateau in Vizille. Vizille as it happens has a McDonalds and I was hanging out hungry and had to be at the chateau for 8pm as they didnt accept guests after that. McD’s it was then as I was getting close to cut off time. A salad and box of 6 chicken nuggets with an ice cream and a fizzy drink. Thats dinner done, now just a quick cycle the last 1.5km to the chateau. I kid you not the hill to the chateau was like a trials course. I stopped walking no less than 15 times to get my breath. It was so steep at one point I was 5 meters from a cat sat in the road and we were eye to eye.

I tried to zig zag up it, I tried push and brake push and brake, but nothing made it easier. Cursing loudly helped. I want to say it was worth it and I will because the chateau was exceptional. I had a bedroom, lounge and bathroom big enough for 6. There was a huge terrace to look out from and the guy running the place was an absolute star.

I didnt get his name but he was thrilled to have another Brit staying. The other guy I didnt meet until the following morning but he to was a cyclist, do you like the way I call myself a cyclist? He was on his two week holiday with his girlfriend although she had stayed behind at the last stop to be with friends. He would continue on to the south of France before shipping the bike back. We spoke about the bikes and he was on an old touring bike. My mountain bike looked new compared to it but I suspect his was a far better tourer than mine. The lady of the house made both of us a packed lunch to take with us and we set off in different directions.

The second catch up

Sorry to you all that this is so far behind but I cannot believe the levels of tiredness and fatigue I am suffering.

So day six started at the rather lovely B&B mentioned at the end of the last post.

I went to the bike which was stored in the massive shed or barn or workshop adjojning the premesis. I was loading the bike when I was joined by the host and a guest who both wanted a better look at this special machine. The parts that made them ‘koo’ the most would be the GoPro and the very useless Garmin GPS. Its unfair to say its useless, I have no doubt it is brilliant in the right circumstances. Anyway they insisted in seeing me off as I clunked through gears heading away from them shouting “au revoir” with a hearty wave. Im sure they looked at each other and said “He’s gone the wrong way!”. Obviously they were right, but I was being led by Sally satnav in my pocket, she led me up no less than 3 absolute killer hills that ended in dead ends. Eventually I was forced to go back past the B&B head bowed and pedalling for all I was worth. What followed was a fairly simple return to the canal and more torturous long canal vistas.

I’m not sure Ive mentioned the non too inconsiderable pain my arse has been suffering, but for a gel saddle I would expect more and I was now sporting some pretty sore chafe markings. I cycled on without too much trouble but aware of the low water levels in my backpack and bike bottle. At each intersection with a road I checked for signs of a shop but nothing. I was munching my way through the last of the Moaom mix. Hunger and thirst does weird things to you and I started getting angry that the villages had nothing and at the endless canal. I did find a little shop that sold nothing more than water and an Orangina, obviously they sold more but I didnt need half a pig or a garden tool for pulling up weeds. On I cycled, walked, cursed and moaned. Greeting but not actually meeting anyone. It was very hot and I was pretty grumpy,

(Google considers this a cycle path)

when I came to a canal intersection with a road, the little sign post suggesting a supermarket. I was sceptical but took a look and hey presto out of the searing hot sun into an air conditioned supermarket with huge cafe and chemist. Into the shop I went picking up Orangina, water, Moaom mix and some dried fruits. Then into the cafe for a slice of pizza and a huge slice of custard tart. Then into the chemist for suntan lotion. As I walked back to load up the bike I noticed, in the supermarlket, they sold bicycle tyres. I had previously noticed that the bike was already wearing out the rear one so I decided to take a look. Forget the tyres they had Gel saddle covers.

For about £12 I could be carried in comfort. It was a no brainer, Im paying reasonable amounts for a decent bed to sleep on, why not buy a saddle cover. It was a done deal. The bike was loaded up and again I set off in a little more comfort. The second part of the day was another round of canal tow path and sunshine but I was feeling much better about it. At about 5.30 I started the search for somewhere to stay and located a challet on a camp site about 6 miles away. Having booked, I headed off knowing that within the hour I would be in my little hut at Lake Leiz getting cleaned up for a meal. What actually happened was that the canal path turned into a track and then into a grassy overgrown embankment. Annoyingly I was directed to this by the satnav which insisted the only way to reach the bridge I needed to cross was to plough through this overgrown wasteland on the opposite side of the canal to the perfectly paved tow path. Eventually the bridge arrived and I could clearly see that there was access to it on the paved side. Having crossed the bridge it was a gravel path that just got steeper and steeper, eventually giving out to a tarmac road which was equally steep for the last 500m. (85km for the day) By the time I reached the reception it looked as if i had riden from the UK in a day. Sweat poured off me, I expect I was unpleasantly odourous and I was grumpy. The young girl who booked me in was very kind and even offered to let me get settled before attending to the paperwork. Subsequently I was given challet number 5 with enough room for six people it really was very nice, even if the melamine laden challet was straight from the 1970’s. The shower was fine the room was fine the kitchen was excellent and the views out over the lake amazing.

Plus I had all that hill to ride down first thing in the morning. Washed and refreshed I headed to the resteraunt for dinner. A huge tuna salad for starters followed by chicken supreme and fries, concluded with praline ice cream floating on a cold coffee.

I went to bed that night very contented. Little did i know how much I would need all the food I ate that day.

I may have gone to bed contented but for some reason sleep didnt come easy and I remember seeing 3am. Eventually I slept and woke about 8.30, this wasnt going to be an early start. I went to the shop and purchased 3 croissants, a pain au chocolade and some cheese. I only ate one croisant the pain au chocolade and two slices of cheese. I was having a clear out of stuff I no longer needed. I ditched the sachets of coffee I had brought along, some dead batteries that I couldnt dispose of before. I threw out some clothing that really didnt need to laden my panniers. Then I packed up ready to get going. The bike felt no lighter but that helped as I hurtled down the tarmac road heading for the nearby canal. I was still pretty tired, my legs felt drained before I started. Google was telling me that today would be a mix of trails and roads which I have to say I was quite looking forward to. I was slow out of the starting blocks and it was after 11am that I set off. Whisking down the hill from the campsite I was directed into a gravel path that required me to cross a live railway line. I could have done it but it would only have taken a small slip to ruin the day quite badly, so I opted to cycle a little further by road. I set off with the first real hard pedals of the day and instantly felt drained. I was off and walking within 20 minutes. I was annoyed as it had been a late start. I struggled for quite some time and the route seemed to take me through many twists and turns before dumping me back on the canal only 2km further up the road despite it having taken an hour to get there. I think that set the mood for the day. What followed was a long day of trails and canal paths in searing heat, with a saddle sore arse and lack of energy.

(Trying to keep the heat off and head cool)

The weather was set to become stormy so there was that oppressive heat in the air. I had managed to get water from the camp site and chill it in the fridge overnight but that soon lost its chill. I seemed to continuously end up on huge long straights of canal that took forever to complete. I was not a happy bunny especially when the bike decided I could no longer have the third and largest chain ring at the front. That limited the top speed on any downhill, of which there seemed few. The rear set of gears were fine so I disregarded that and carried on. At lunchtime i started to look for somewhere to eat. Endless excursions proved fruitless in the search for anywhere to buy even the simplest of foods. I was furious at leaving uneaten croissants and cheese back at the campsite. I couldnt even brew myself a coffee as I had thrown it out. I took one last look as the signpost looked genuine and pointed me to a cafe on a campsite less than a kilometer away. I headed off to the gravel path that led through a gap in the trees to a campsite at the side of a small stream. Instantly as i rode through the gap I could tell the site was closed and probably had been for some time. I stopped and sat at one of the collapsing picnic tables. In my bag I had some dried fruit from the day before and some water which was warm. It would have to do. Back to the canal for the last few hours before finding a home for the night. As the clouds rolled in I found a quiet hideaway as the first drops of rain fell. I used the time to book a little B&B at a place called Athee about 10km away. I didnt really look at it ,as it was the only thing in my price range. I was back on the roads and headed through some small villages, not finding one open shop or petrol station. I had less than a kilometer to go and I was seriously hoping the landlady would have something for me to eat. But then, a vision on the horizon, a small white van parked on the verge, could it be? Oh yes a mobile pizza van! I was very restrained, apart from the whooping noises, and only ordered one pizza, I mean it was a large one, I’m not a crazy person.

From there it was a 500m wobble, pizza ballanced on the bars, to the B&B where I was greeted by Sandrine the hostess. She was pleased I had managed to get food as she had nothing other than the next days breakfast to offer.

I went to bed having clocked up another 85km

Catch up you lot

Ok there are some things you need to know, firstly this is much harder than i ever expected (I am days ahead of this post) and keeping a blog going at the same time is far more difficult, what with also using the GoPro to do a diary type thing. The problem is that I am either cycling, eating or sleeping. So I will try and bring you all up to speed. This is just a catch up page and I have had no time to check the spellings or distances and locations so please bear with me as I hurridly type up what has been a busy few days, for my legs anyway.

Day 3 started with me deciding that the roads are the way forward as in an instant I wrote off 50km. I set off after a small breakfast at the travel lodge near Cambrai, south of Arras. The roads were going to be quiet as it was Sunday. I did my usual trick and got straight on a road clearly signed not for cyclists, but the satnav didnt seem to mind. During the previous night I realised I had got quite sun burnt, my knees were suffering most, so I had donned my running lycra under the padded shorts. This causes issues as the padding no longer sits where it should and any seams are going to chafe. Having got back onto normal roads I ploughed on up an ever increasingly steep hill in the hot morning sun. Obviously the uphill gave way to a great downhill which was cut short at the bottom as I entered a village that promised a chemist to get sun lotion. Bringing the bike to a halt from 30kmh is a horrible thing to do as it feels like you are cheating yourself of that energy for the uphill that will follow. Stopping under the flashing green cross that indicates a chemist. You can imagine the Sunday morning prayers I yelled as the green neon only indicated the location of a closed shop. I would have to wait, but I already felt the heat through my cycle helmet and my upper arms started to burn. I stopped at the top of the next hill and looked in my bags. I have 3 long sleeved items with me. The first a thermal vest for those cold wintery camp sites, the other two for protection from the rain. So it was, that I cycled the rest of the day in what is effectively my pyjamas! In my PJ’s defence they did a great job. The material let the air flow through but kept the sun off. The leggins likewise did a good job but the discomfort from the saddle was getting worse causing me to refer to it as Satans Saddle.

I visited a war memorial and another cemetary for more soldiers in the first world war. This time it was an American monument and British cemetary. I spent some time walking around the relatively small grounds reading some of the names and ages. Boys and men as young as 18, none I saw older than 30. In my mind we cannot allow these things to be forgotten, for fear that we make the same mistake again.

Later in the day I had a Top Gun moment. Fans of the film will remember the scene as Tom Cruise rides his GPZ900 alongside the runway as an F14 Tomcat lands next to him. It was just like that except it was me wheezing along on my bike as a Eurofighter Typhoon went past fully banked and at full afterburn. It must have been half a mile away but the thunderous exhausts pounded at my chest. I love aircraft and had several more sightings that day.

5pm and it was time to look for a hotel. I was at a place called Laon and my chosen site found me a motel just 3km away. The Kyriad at Laon is another generic travel lodge although it has some links to motorsport and a formula 4 race car adorns the reception.

Most memorable though was the fact that my room had a bath. I wallowed in that bath until the water was cold before heading to a Buffalo Grill for yet more food. I tell you Im eating my own weight each day. I had completed some 86km. Laon is near Saint Quentin, north east of Paris.

Day4

It was another inclusive breakfast and I found myself filling bowl after bowl with cerial and drinking loads of orange juice before taking a coffee to my room to pack. It was going to be a warm one again so Pj’s and lycra were the order of the day. I mostly cycled busy roads with one section of undulating uphill lasting 2 hours. There was a lot of walking and cursing before eventually finding a suitable celebratory downhill. My overriding memory of this day is the busy roads. Lots of lorries and heavy goods vehicles, some with trailers all passing me at speed. Some felt the need to sound their horn from 50m behind me until fully past me. A word of note, if you are a French lorry driver, sounding the very loud horn presumably means removing one hand from the steering wheel. The noise doesnt make me any less wide, nor you any thinner. Just a thought, why not ease off, indicate and move round me, that way we all get home safely. Rant over. At lunchtime I found a McDonalds and ordered large. I mean big chicken sandwhich, big fries, big coke and big sticky ice cream.

Refuelled I got back on the road, I was surprised that I was not full of energy from the meal, in fact the opposite, it felt heavy in my stomach. Quickly I made my way through both the 2L water holder in my rucksack and what was left in the bikes bottle. It was so hot, I ended up knocking on a lock keepers house and asking for water. The guy was so helpful filling the bottle with ice cold water from his pride and joy of a fridge that he insisted on showing me. What I quite liked was, that I could mostly understand him and he, me. My French is improving. Later I stopped at a petrol station to get more water, where I met an English couple who were riding their motorcycles home from Croatia, having ridden the Stelvio Pass. Well almost ridden it. The lady had a Triumph Tiger 800 and on the 37th corner of the pass she lost all drive. They had breakdown cover and soon enough they were taken to a garage where the insurance company supplied her with a hire car for the 17days it took to repair the bike. It sounded like one of my trips. However her bike was fixed and now some 10 days behind schedule thay were headed home. For me, it was back to peddaling and trying to get some kilometers in.

I stopped about 5pm and looked for a hotel in Chalons de Champagne. It was over 10km away and the cheapest was the Ibis. I booked it as I know you get good rooms and it would have a private bathroom. I was so wrong, for cheap read £100 a night. I was allowed to keep my bike in the room. The room was so small that to get from the bed to the bathroom I had to climb over the bike. The room was musty and the pillows smelt damp, along with the smell of cigarettes. The food was good even if it did take twenty minutes to get a coke. Anyway it was a bed. I had clocked up another 92km. The only other shock was that the meal and breakfast added a further £50 to the bill. I tried to eat as much as i could in the morning. I watched two cyclists leave and the lady next to me said she didnt think they had much luggage. What followed was a discussion with her and her husband about my trip and then about their incredible adventures as youngsters when they took a Bedford Green Godess fire truck across Africa. Returning several times with paying customers. The tales were incredible and I encouraged them to write a book such was the enthusiasm they had for travel. I really hope they look up Horizons Unlimited as they would be so welcome to go and give talks, that I have no doubt would be enjoyed by many.

Day 5

It was back to the canal Champagne de Bourgogne from Chalons du Champagne . It was the best thing to be cycling along flat tow paths, although rough in places and the locks always seemed to be going uphill.

I plodded along in the sun, which got to be quite oppressing at times. I found myself walking quite a bit but the way I looked at it was that my body, mainly my legs deserved a rest now and then. The hours and the kilometers ticked by. The issue with canals is that they dont run through so many towns or villages. I found several times that a detour to a village proved fruitless in the search for food. Eventually I found a little cafe and managed to order the croque monseuir and salad in French (cheese and ham toasty to us).

I was back on the canal and making slow progress. I was clock watching, as my plan was to cycle until 6pm each day then find a hotel nearby. At 5.30 I was ready to book. I loaded up the website I use and checking the map for locations I booked a hotel for £60. I knew it was a non refundable payment but that didnt matter as I was going that way and so a refund was not an issue. Great news was that it was only 12km away. As soon as I set off the satnav was telling me to turn round. I checked again to find the hotel was back where I had come from. That was not happening no matter how much it cost. I cancelled, it was less than 4 minutes from booking to cancellation but they still charged me. Easy money for someone. I tried again and found a place 16km away in the right direction. Off the canal the road was quiet but it seemed such a long way to La Vollette a bed and breakfast in Saucourt sur Rognon, which is south of a place called Joinville. I was shattered and needed a shower. The host and hostess were wonderful, as was the lovely farm house and buildings they own.

They even made me an evening meal despite my late arrival. I slept so well, especially pleased as I had clocked up 100km.

Ok that’s enough, more to follow soon. Thanks for all the messages of support.

Day 2

Breakfast was in the price of the hotel and what a breakfast it was. You have to love a country that has doughnuts and chocolate biscuits for breakfast, washed down with apple juice and coffee. As my fitbit told me I had burned 6000 calories the day before I felt no guilt in scoffing the lot. Back at the room I pumped up the rear tyre again and a little in the front before setting off. I was surprised not to have woken with cramp during the night and even more surprised not to have been too saddle sore. I checked myself with that thought, its only day two, the pain will come. The satnav guided me to the local village and through the middle of the market before following some lovely open country roads with little or no traffic.

I must have been about an hour in, cycling along in the countryside when I saw a walled building ahead. As I got closer it looked like some form of monument. It turned out to be the Dud Corner Cemetary at Loos. It is set atop a hill in a beautiful area of France. I stopped and walked around the grounds. Its a British Commonwealth Cemetary dedicated to the 20,000 British soldiers who gave their lives in the first world war to liberate that area. My over riding thought was, ‘if you have relatives burried in the many many war graves throughout France and the surrounding area, you can be sure that their graves are well tended and cared for’. It really is the case, further on in my travels I visited several others all equally well placed and well kept. I have said for many years that I will visit my grandads grave in Belgium and now I am sure it will happen next year.

I pedalled on with the wonderful Google maps directing me through more and more fields, rough tracks and muddy paths. I made the decission that I would somehow change the settings to make for easier riding. Some of the paths were littered with rocks and broken glass. I spent a lot of time walking. Then it was back to canal tow paths as I headed roughly south. The canal system of France was the initial backbone of the countries intrastructure develloped between 1642 and 1966 it links North to South and East to West by joining rivers in what is described as a relatively flat land. What is certain is that on a sunny day it makes for some lovely views.


As the evening rolled in I started looking for a place to stop for the night. I selected a budget Formula1 motel just 6km away from my location at ??. Those 6km seemed to last forever, I ended up walking most of it because the trail was so rough and by now Satans saddle had ruined me. On arrival the place was closed and a note on the door said check in at the Ibis hotel next door. I went to reception and being a polite chap I held the door for a guy who was then in front of me to book in. He was a Brit and wanted a discount on the price for the night because he couldnt book online. The poor girl behind the counter explained there was just one room left and she could not authorise a discount, eventually, like 15minutes later the bloke decided he would go outside and book online for his discount. I duly paid my minimal price for the much cheaper lodge next door and set off to get settled. In the lodge the code to access my room failed to work. I went back to the girl who said she would come over and help. It was no use and only served to give her even more work when she got back as customers continued to arrive. I sat patiently just wanting to get into my room. The Brit came back in and accepted he couldnt get a discount and he would take the room at full price, however by that time someone else had booked it online and the hotel was full. He had, what can only be described as a bit of a melt down, demanding a room, which clearly she could not do. He really did put her through the mill but all to no avail as he had to go and find another hotel. With all the commotion she had clearly forgotten me and so when she was free I appproached her again. The poor girl was so apologetic, but to me it didnt matter, other than I was starting to smell bad. She arranged another room for me. Whilst this was happening another couple arrived but the Ibis was full, they asked to see a room in the lodge. The girl was so busy she couldnt possibly give up any more time to walk over to the lodge again, so I offered to show them around. The result was that they didnt like the place and left, but I got a free meal and drinks from the receptionist as a thankyou for patience and helping out.

Let’s get going, not

Firstly though an apology to those who knew of the trip but nothing of the cycling bit. Asking questions, to be told “Yes I’m going to Italy and yes I’m going on a bike” I simply didn’t want to see shocked faces or hear that its impossible, because I would have ditched the whole idea in a heartbeat. So the stunted answers and secrecy where just to ensure I got the journey underway

On Wednesday evening, two days before departure I stuck my bike in the back of the car and took it to the Holiday Inn at Folkstone. That is the collection point for cycles using the channel tunnel. Its a cheap ticket too, at £20, they pick you up in a van and you are driven onto the train and dropped in France an hour or so later. Anyway the hotel offered to store the bike so I didn’t have to take it to Folkstone on a busy commuter train the next day. I finished work at 3pm on the Thursday, rushed back to my digs and picked up the last of my luggage, a cheap set of panniers laden with the stuff I needed. It seemed awfully heavy to carry, but that’s not my problem, the bike gets to carry that little lot. A few beers and a snack at the hotel and I was off to bed.

Friday morning and I was up in plenty of time to dine on the included breakfast and load up the bike fully. As 8am approached I waited, watching for anyone who may be here to collect cyclists, no one turned up. 8.15 still no one. I checked my booking, it was all correct and the money had been paid. There was a phone number, but of course they didn’t open until 9am. Time ticked on and at 8.40 still no lift. I then located an emergency phone number for the transport. It was an emergency in my mind so I called it. The voice on the other end was a very tired taxi operator who barely managed to say “Ok we will get someone to you” before hanging up. A few minutes later he rang back to explain that my name had not been added to the list but someone would be with me very soon. Very soon was just after 9am and a van in Eurotunnel markings pulled up, my bike was loaded and we were on our way. I was the only passenger on the cycle shuttle. 11am I was dropped off, add another hour for the clock changes and half the day was gone. I had a hotel booked some 70km away.

I had filled the bike water bottle with tap water before setting off but not the hydration pack on my back, so I had about a litre of water. The drop point was in a shopping outlet area, but I wasn’t here to shop and immediately set off with the phone sat nav in my ear. The very first thing was to realise the sat nav was not speaking to me, but i had seen the route and felt I could get a few miles done before needing to sort out directions. GoPro on I was enjoying introducing the first kilometre of my journey as I rode up the slip road onto, well onto the motorway as it happens. Don’t lorry drivers have a sense of humour? It was a short jaunt to the next junction where I picked up the correct road. I had already realised that the rear tyre was struggling under the weight of panniers, sleeping bag, ground sheet and my lardy arse. I stopped again to pump up the tyres as much as I could, sort out the sat nav and get going. My cunning plan had been to create a route on Google maps, specifically for cycles. Part of the set up asks if you are happy to use trails and tracks, I was.

I was on my way with my water bottle full and no money. Within a few miles I was cycling through gorgeous countryside and then a few cycle paths across fields and through parks. It was all good in glorious sunshine, however the spoken words from the sat nav were few and far between, causing me to doubt its ability which in turn caused me to stop and check it. All this was very time consuming. At one point I was directed to take a right turn, but there were two. I took the one slightly more to the left up onto a bridge, this was not correct so I dropped back down onto the canal path. It was very scenic and I was making steady progress along the gravel path, which turned into a shale path and then pulped wood, each stage sapping my strength a little more. Along the way small but very steep bridges crossed the tributaries adjoining the canal. Then the path became just a grassy track. I was 4km into it and going back to find another route was out of the question in my mind, but then the decision was made for me as the path was blocked off for construction. Harris fencing stretching across the path. At the time I was using the GoPro to explain how I was enjoying the ride! So the only option was to turn round and cycle back to the bridge and cross to the other side. It was soul destroying. Once I had trudged back, pretty much cursing all the way, I saw that the bridge was at the end of a tiny village that not only had a cash point but also a shop that was open. A limited selection meant that lunch was a bar of chocolate, 2 litres of water and a bag of Moam to keep me going. I cycled off along the very nice road on the other bank of the canal. I knew it would be a longer route but I needed to make up some time in order to get to the hotel. The theme of canal tow path continued well into late afternoon. It was beautiful but by 6pm was starting to bother me. I wasnt fully trusting the sat nav and I was right not to. Once again the path deteriorated. I was off the bike and wading through a collapsed canal bank which had the monopoly on stinging nettles.

It was sore and hard going, the luggage catching on pretty much every bush. I stopped momentarily and with my next step I fell down a hole hidden by the foliage. The bike remained upright and once I had finished desending into the boggy pit I was at eye level with the pedal crank. Sally satnav told me there was another 2km of this to go. I opted to pull the heavy bike up the canal bank to a ploughed field some 8metres above me. It was hard, sweaty, hot work but once at the top I could easily push the bike around the outside of the field until I re-joined the road. By 7pm I was sick of canal paths and was pleased to join a road that flowed with minimal traffic to the village of Ecquedecques, about an hours ride. The hotel Le Jardin Helant is a picturesque little place with gorgeous little chalets. The staff were so welcoming and even let me keep the bike in my room despite the courtyard being very secure. I was pleased to see the power shower. I was even more pleased to see the menu and get stuck into a vegetable pie, followed by chocolate truffle and a nice coffee.

Before long I was back in my chalet and sleeping, having clocked up 84km

2018 What’s he doing now, the fool?

2018 has seen many changes in my life and plans to travel. I missed this years Horizons Unlimited (HUBB) meeting in Wales as my bike (DJ) the XR400 was still in bits at various stages of rebuild. My original plan was to ride to Wales and then head from there to Russia for the Russian HUBB meeting a week later. I did buy another bike but wasn’t really ready to ride that to Russia, plus I had changed my job and was in the early stages of learning what they required. It’s now August and in 6 weeks it will be the first HUBB meeting ever held in Italy. Firenzoula is not far from Florence and about 1000miles from home. I have booked a place at the event, what comes next is something special for me. I have currently 5 modes of transport, excluding public transport. I have a good pair of feet, a bicycle, Dubless the VW Polo that took me to the Sahara last year, DJ the Honda XR400 and Angry Bird the Honda VTR1000cc road bike. So Im not walking to Italy, nor using public transport. My bicycle is a ten years old mountain bike. DJ remains in various workshops being cleaned and powder coated. That leaves Angry Bird, 1000cc of 1990’s sports bike with a bright yellow colour scheme and exhausts that sound like thunder. She wheelies like its going out of fashion and pulls your arms out of their sockets under acceleration. It’s a thousand miles to Italy, comprising of some amazing roads, mountains and countryside. At Horizons Unlimited they
say the adventure bike you need is the adventure bike you have, so taking that advice I’m cycling to Italy, no really I’m cycling. Many off you, if not all of you are asking the same questions about now, unfortunately I don’t know what the questions are. But thankfully every situation can be addressed using the 5WH system. The five W’s Who, What, Where, When and Why added to How will pretty much
clear everything up.
Who? Me
What? Cycle to Italy.
Where? ITALY!!
When? Right now, I’m on my way right now.
Why? Let’s come back to that….
How? On my bicycle
There, see it’s all as clear as mud. As for the ‘Why?’ element. A few years ago I was in a dark place and my life seemed somewhat irrecoverable, however I knew it had to be recovered as the other option was for it to decline to a point where I wasn’t going to carry on.
I was working on dragging myself, kicking and screaming if necessary, back to normal,
whatever that is. I had nothing, but needed a plan. Well not exactly nothing, I had my home
(just) and my bicycle. My home was in danger but they wouldn’t repossess my bicycle. My mind was active and needed to be kept active with encouraging things, whilst I got on with saving myself and my home. Finances were a mess and the reality was that it would be years before all the debt was cleared. I couldn’t allow my mind to rest because that brought on the realisation that pretty much everyone would be better off without me. Don’t be misguided here I was seeking help and I was hugely lucky to have a wonderful family and a few close friends that helped so much to get me back on my feet. In the time I waited patiently to get my life back I planned two things, maybe three but two definite ones. One was the wish to ride a motorbike in the Sahara and the second was to plan a long cycle and that cycle ride turned out to be to Italy. Nothing much came of the plans and eventually I believe I sorted out my issues and got back into work. I bought a motorbike and tried to ride it to the Sahara. It didn’t quite happen the way I expected but I made it to the sand. If you want to read that story you can find it under ‘Morocco 2017’ on the home page and for the 2016 adventure, it’s the ‘Portugal 2016’ tab. If you’ve read both you will be
wondering why on earth I would leave the house for fear of something going wrong! As for Italy that was filed under, never to be done.
Anyway whilst almost on track, I was lucky enough to be invited to a charity event in aid of Teenage Cancer Trust. The Stephen Sutton charity ride out happens every year from
Lichfield in the Midlands. I went along with my good friend, who also offered huge support to me. Some of you may remember Stephen Sutton, at 19 he died from cancer but not before becoming a huge social media and all forms of media hero for his attitude to his terminal illness and the desire to get the most out of his short life. His signature thumbs up sign remains a prominent feature of all the support events. Before he died in May 2014 he raised over £3.2 million for Teenage Cancer Trust and continues to do so with his inspired events
orchestrated by various groups and attended regularly by his mother, Jane. It was at that
event I realised not only was I getting back to normal but actually I owed it to myself to move
on. Stephen had endured a torrid time and died way too early, but he had filled his short life
and left a legacy that continues to draw attention to the trust and raise funds for a massively
worthy cause. I try to go every year, 2018 was proving a issue as I didn’t have a bike, but at
the last minute I got hold of a bright yellow Honda VTR1000 and rode that. It was a huge
honour for me to be chosen out of hundreds of bikes to take Stephen as the posthumous
pillion. My bike was adorned with more yellow ribbons and a laminated sheet taped to the
back with pictures of Stephen and some of his quotes. I have kept that and it is mounted on
the wall at home to remind and encourage me to do my best in all walks of life.
So there it is, a trip I thought of long ago never got completed. This year sees the first ever
Horizons Unlimited overland traveller meeting in Italy. I wanted to go and decided I would go, having missed the UK one. It was much later that I considered cycling and much much later before I put that plan into action. As I type this there are just 14 days until I set off and I am woefully ill prepared. As for cycling long distances, I did cycle to Birmingham from my home
in Hampshire in a day. 158miles, however I was 14 at the time!
As mentioned, in the overland community they say that the vehicle you need to complete
any adventure is the vehicle you have. This is born out by so many revered travelling gods.
Nathan Millward rode a 125cc postal bike from Australia to England, Ed March regularly
takes his little Honda C90 on epic adventures all over the world, Lois Pryce rode a small
250cc Yamaha from Alaska to Tierra Del Fuego. Sjacc Lucasson rides his Yamaha R1
superbike across deserts, through forests, and next he intends to tackle the North Pole. So with that in mind the bike I have is a ten year old Cannondale SL5 mountain bike. I have used it infrequently but when it gets used it gets put through its paces. I had a trailer that I would attach to it so I could tow my disabled son and his wheelchair, we did a lot of miles like that. It had minor amounts of maintenance and then for the last two years it has sat rotting in a greenhouse awaiting the inspiration to get back on it again. Suffice to say it has been stripped and rebuilt with new chain, rear cassette (gears), tyres and tubes. Oh and a gel saddle.

And Finally

We stayed the night at a little campsite in San Jose. The plan was to travel to Murcia the next day and visit the cathedral there. We set off and a few hours later the trip that was supposed to take an hour came to an end, the rain had been biblical and there was no way I was trudging round a big church in that much rain. As a suitable alternative we found somewhere to eat, after which we said our farewells, Ian heading for Benidorm with three weeks to kill before the Moto GP in Valencia and me heading to Madrid.

The journey to Madrid was slow in the rain and I stopped about two hours shy of the capital, booking into a motel. I looked at the map and realised I still had a day to kill or I would be in Santander for a full day and a bit. I made the decision to book into a hostel and explore Madrid for a few days.

The Thursday morning I packed, had a late breakfast and set off for Madrid. It was a couple of hours and the hostel was in the centre of the city. I located a 24hr car park and made my way to ‘SafeStay’. It looked great, very clean with friendly staff and all the rooms airy with lockers and bedding supplied. I had taken the clean bedding to my room and was battling with the duvet cover when a text message arrived. I continued the battle and then went to the message. “Due to the impending weather due to hit the UK on Sunday your ferry crossing has been cancelled”. I checked it wasn’t anyone I know having a laugh but it looked genuine. I needed food having not eaten since breakfast. I walked to a nearby American Diner and ordered my meal whilst on hold to the ferry company.

The upshot of the call was this set of choices. There is another ferry in a week, so I have to stay a week longer. My cash was running out, I had depleted my reserves for this trip. Or there would be a ferry leaving St Malo at 10am the next morning. They had spaces available, but St Malo is 1250km (776miles) away. There was an offer of £375 to cover the disruption.

I had my hands tied financially, so I finished my meal and went back to the hostel to book out. It was 5.30pm when I pulled out of the car park. As I did so I noticed that the wheel wobble was far worse at slow speed, suggesting a far worse issue with the tyres than I had thought. I didn’t have time to stop and check it, anyway what good would it do the spare is under the bike in the back. I knew I had to book onto the ferry before 8am the next morning. The satnav said I would arrive at 5.30am, giving me a window of opportunity to grab an hours sleep somewhere, or change a tyre if necessary.

It was relatively slow progress getting out of Madrid in rush hour. Once on the open road my mind was occupied with the maths of hours and distance. You see the satnav looks at the speed limits and works out your average, allowing for the time of day and any road works etc etc. It doesn’t allow for fuel stops, re routes and the endless stopping at tolls. In the first hour of clear traffic the satnav added 12 minutes to the journey time, Dubless isn’t the fastest car and is happy at 100kph, but most of the speed limits are 110 or 120kph, the roads were clear and the satnav saw no reason why we couldn’t do the maximum speed. In ten hours the satnav would add two hours to the journey time making the arrival time 07.30am. With no stops along the way, I was in for a long night. Luckily my friend was working on his motorbike that evening and regularly text with progress updates or questions. Hands free texting meant he got some weird messages back but it kept me awake and concentrating. Soon enough the toll roads started. I was driving in my socks for comfort and each toll meant stopping, putting on shoes, walking round to the pay booth, back to the car, shoes off and carry on. That’s all well and good if its twice in a journey, but honestly every 20 minutes and it starts to get on your nerves. Each toll costing from £3 up to £12 didn’t make it any more fun. Most of them are unoccupied, so there was much cursing as I went through the routine. Each one receiving more of a lesson in English swearing and maybe even the odd kick at the silly plastic bucket you throw the money in.

It was about the twentieth toll station that broke the camels back and I lost it, it was late, I didn’t even know where I was, just another toll booth in an endless stream of money making highway robbery machines. A tirade of abuse escaped my lips as I threw the pockets full of change, I had accumulated through paying tolls with notes, into the plastic bucket. The machine spat out some and they were thrown back in, but it doesn’t take small change and I still owed 2 euro. I had a fifty euro note and got all the change in coins. There was more disgruntlement and I turned to walk back to the driver side of the car. It was at this point I noticed the 4 armed Police officers blocking my exit. This was the French border. It was too late to smile and laugh it off but I tried. In fairness they were understanding and after a few minutes of being told to calm down and drive carefully I was on my way.

I had watched the sun set and drove through the night until the sun rose again. It was a long boring journey with a few detours for road works and the like. Eventually I rocked up at St Malo ferry terminal at 8am. I had stopped three times, twice for fuel and once to get a coffee to stave off the tiredness. I joined the queue to board the ferry, switched off the engine, stuck it in first gear, let the hand brake off and laid across into the passenger seat. The next thing I knew was being woken by another gendarme who was telling me everyone else had boarded.

I had a cabin on the ferry and slept for most of the crossing which was pretty rough, waking occasionally as the ferry plummeted down the face of one wave and ploughed into another, the whole ferry shuddering at the force of impact.

Anyway I got home on the Friday evening. Its not often you buy a car and arrive back home to find the ownership document arrived before you did! In all I did 600miles on the bike, 4000 miles in the car and 7 miles on foot. The trip had not been the one I planned or even wanted but it had been the test I wanted. I had been put through the mill and come out the other side intact. I had made it to the Sahara, along the way I had met many interesting people and sampled a different culture. I will go back sometime on a bike and hopefully complete the journey I had anticipated, but for now I was home with a list of things to do before any of that could happen.

In the following weeks Dubless was graced with a new VW badge and a new front tyre as the old one had been slowly disintegrating throughout the journey, I was lucky it held out. DJ has been put into storage and I am working out the best option for her. I want to rebuild the engine, however it is an expensive option and there are other bikes out there.

The last leg of my journey had been a rush and that means there are no photos. However here are some of Dubless and DJ. I hope this journey has been an interesting read and to new adventurers, an indication that you can overcome some pretty major set backs to complete your journey.

Remember ‘The only impossible journey is the one you never start’

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