Tuesday, 6 December 2022

We made it across the USA :-)

We made it! We cycled all the way from St Augustine, Florida to San Diego, California. 

This was an amazing ride, through an amazing country. Along the way we've been blown away by the scenery and by the generosity and friendliness of the people we've met on the way. Riding a heavily loaded touring bike is a great ice-breaker with people always interested in what it is we're doing.

The full map of our ride so far, with all the Strava segments joined up is here:


Once we'd finished (in the dark) we spent a night at the Youth Hostel in Ocean Beach. The following day, after some admin, we stayed Maurice and Roni a couple who we'd been put in touch with by a fellow camper (Al) when we were in mid-Texas:


After a restorative evening swapping tales of the road, we hired a car and headed up the West Coast. We had planned to go all over the place, but in the end opted to get to San Francisco and stay put. 



 

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Wednesday, 23 November 2022

Phoenix

We have been rather hopeless at blogging as we've cycled along. In part this is because we decided to do without SIM cards and so the internet has been hard to come by, but it's also because freed of the bonds of paid employment for a while the last thing we wanted to do was to sit in front of a computer!

Anyway, after 49 days on the road, we have made it to Phoenix. We are now only 8 days from San Diego and the end of the American leg of our ride. We're taking a few days off in an Airbnb to do some admin, some laundry and, yes, to update our blog. In fact, having had a nagging sense all along that we had better keep moving, we now find ourselves with time to spare before our December 9th flight. We don't want to get to the finish too early and be twiddling our thumbs. It's a very odd feeling to be still for a while, but not an unpleasant one!

So far Strava tells us this is what we've done:

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Things we've seen at the side of the road

Americans call two-way roads with ample shoulders like this one 'Country Lanes' which makes me chuckle:

Generally, there's plenty of space for us on our bikes. Motorists (especially truckers) are extremely courteous. We could count on one hand the number of times we've felt unsafe or been treated uncharitably by other road users - it's very rare. 

But we do see a lot of junk at the side of the road, some of it interesting and some even quite useful! Here's a taste of what we've stumbled across:

  • Blown-out tyre rubber
  • A rubber duck
  • Nerf gun pellets
  • A wireless speaker (it worked and we've still got it)
  • A cowboy's spur
  • An elephant soft toy
  • Sunglasses (fake Oakleys and a bit scratched)
  • A pillow
  • A dead racoon holding a helium balloon - I kid you not!
  • Cooler boxes
  • Multiple number plates
  • A Pinocchio toy
  • A skeleton toy
  • A bunch of keys
  • US flags
  • A tablecloth
  • Tyre wire (= punctures)
  • A camping mat
  • Spoons
  • Knives
  • Lots of coins (useful for our laundry)
  • A bra (Jo didn't fancy it!)
  • Lots of shoes both pairs and odd
  • Straws
  • Blankets
  • Take-away food rubbish
  • Spanners
  • Nuts and bolts
  • Hub caps
  • A penknife
  • American-style baseball caps
  • A full cardboard case of beer (yep, we picked them up!)
  • Empty beer cans
  • Cardboard boxes
  • Vaping paraphernalia
  • Loads and loads and loads of roadkill :-( This has included: dead snakes, alligators, spiders, deer, racoons, skunks, tortoises, dogs, cats, turtles, boars, armadillos, porcupines, squirrels, and javelinas... 



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Monday, 24 October 2022

New Orleans

We've made it to New Orleans. This feels like a bit of a milestone: 15 days in the saddle, 13 since the official start in St Augustine, and something over 1000 miles on the clock. 

We decided to check ourselves into an AirBnB on arrival here for some much-needed admin (read laundry!) 

Arriving at around 5pm we quickly set to work sorting ourselves out. Tonight we're in a campsite again before heading off in the direction of Baton Rouge tomorrow (Wednesday 19th October). We have manged to stick to an average of 60 miles a day which is what we need if we're to be sure of making it for our flight to Hanoi from San Diego on December 9th 2022. It hasn't felt too pressured, but we've been conscious of the need to keep pressing on whilst we're fresh to buy ourselves a comfortable margin for error.

The highlights? Probably the beach leading to Gulfport which we followed for a whole day...

And the generosity of those we have met along the way (including having our restaurant meal paid for on two separate occasions!) 



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Sunday, 2 October 2022

And we're off...

The last ten days have involved a whirlwind of activity to get things ready for our extended absence from normal life. We've set things up to work on auto-pilot whilst we're away and got in a few days' supply teaching to top up the coffers before Le Grand Depart.

Bike boxes were squeezed into a taxi at 0645 in the morning and we set off for Manchester airport. At the airport there followed a period of being passed from pillar to post as the authorities scratched their heads wondering what to do with our unfeasibly large bike boxes. But we got through in the end and are now ensconced in a cute little AirBnB in Orlando whilst we get ourselves set up.


You can follow our progress on Strava and we'll post here occasionally too of course.

The main purpose of this trip is for personal enjoyment/fulfilment. But we do have the ambition to raise a little money for two Far East-based charities that have links to Bangkok where this will all wind up sometime in January. If you feel inclined to show your support with a small donation it would be much appreciated :-) Here's the link to click to donate.

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Wednesday, 21 September 2022

MCS to MCSUK

As a prelude to the big ride we have planned for later this autumn, we decided to test our mettle by cycling from Malvern College Switzerland to Malvern College UK. 

With all our belongings safely transplanted from Switzerland to the UK, we returned to MCS one last time - this time with our bikes - to say our goodbyes.

The route we chose would follow the Rhine Cycleway (Eurovelo 15) from Leysin to Rotterdam. Once in Rotterdam, we'd catch the ferry to Harwich and finish our ride with a three-day dash across the south of England to Malvern.

By way of statistical summary, here's how it all panned out:

  • 23 days of riding
  • 7 countries passed through (Switzerland, France, Austria, Liechtenstein, Germany, Netherlands and England) 
  • 1832 km covered
  • 9193 of ascent (though it was mostly flat or downhill!)
  • 21 days camping; 2 days in hotels
  • zero punctures
  • 2 worn out brake pads

It was a fantastic ride and we are very grateful to the staff both at MCS and MCUK for humouring us in the endeavour. Cycling is a wonderful way to travel: slow enough to take things in and to meet people, fast enough to cover a significant distance over time. As a way to draw to a close our time in Switzerland and to underscore the ties between MCS and MCSUK it proved a very fruitful exercise.

We took a picture of our departure/arrival at the two schools that bookended our ride. As we head off to the US we leave with very happy memories of both:





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Wednesday, 3 August 2022

We're back on...!

This blog has been sitting in digital purdah for eighteen months or so. COVID put paid to our original plan to cycle from Harrow Bangkok to Harrow London

Back in November 2019, I left John Standen's office with a spring in my stride having informed him of our intention to cycle back to the UK. The idea was to see out the 2019-20 academic year and then stay on for one further term so that we could cycle out of Thailand in January when it's drier and somewhat cooler.

None of that ever happened, of course. In my final term at Harrow Bangkok, it dawned on me that I'd better stop dreaming and get another job instead; and so it was that Jo and I spent the next 18 months on a totally different kind of adventure: helping to set up Malvern College Switzerland

But the stars have aligned such that now is the right time for us to get back on our bikes again. For me, a big cycle ride is an itch I've been wanting to scratch for years. Added to this we're not getting any younger, COVID is less of a problem than it was, and I've got a sneaking suspicion that if we don't do it now we never will. As my son says: 'It's time to **** or get off the pot!'

So this is it. We're doing it. We're doing it very soon - starting in September, in fact.

I've spent the last few days poring over the maps and looking at visas. First off I realised that being in Europe now means it would make more sense to reverse the original route. Then it became clear that the original route is pretty much impassable at the moment: China was always going to be difficult but Turkmenistan and Myanmar look to be totally off limits and we can't use Russia as a get-out-of-jail-free card if visas prove unobtainable. 

So the new plan - considerably tamer, but a huge adventure nonetheless - is to go west instead of east: 


This will take us a couple of months less than the original route would have taken (4 instead of 6) and so will be a bit easier on the wallet. It also takes advantage of the fact that we're leaving in autumn; the Southern Tier USA route should be perfect at this time added to which we'll arrive in Bangkok during the cooler dry season.

All being well we'll be done sometime in January 2023, ready to return home fitter, leaner and otherwise rejuvenated. Primed for whatever comes next...

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Saturday, 15 August 2020

Getting time in the saddle


This summer we've been stuck in Thailand due to COVID-19. It's been wonderful. Thailand seems to have dealt with the pandemic extremely well and so there are very few restrictions in place. The only exception to this being that tourists can't come into the country so we've had the place almost entirely to ourselves.

As luck would have it we've fallen in with the cycling crowd at work and so have got many more miles in the saddle over the summer than we ever would have bothered with if it had been just down to us. This particular ride used to completely knacker me out; now both Jo and I can do it with relative ease. It's just 10k short of what I hope will be the daily average on our big trip and takes about 4hrs (including a brownie stop halfway). 

Of course, 100k will take us longer fully loaded and almost no days will be as supremely flat, but this shows that 100k/day is a perfectly doable average, leaving plenty of time for stops and ensuring that we'll arrive at our destination early enough to get on with some admin and relax a bit. 

Here are the stats for the ride as done this morning:



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Monday, 27 July 2020

Key learnings from the Mae Hong Son Loop


A couple of weeks ago Jo and I cycled with some colleagues from work around the Mae Hong Son loop. It was a wonderful trip - epic climbs, hair-raising descents and a near-constant parade of impossibly beautiful vistas.


Our companions on this ride were hard-core mile-eaters, used to hours in the saddle at a pace that we can't sustain, but they were extraordinarily gracious and patient on this ride. We followed Alee Denham's gpx tracks pretty religiously, only deviating in the sense that we missed the Chiang Mai to Pai day, and that we doubled up on the Mae Sariang > Wat Kiew Lom > Mae Chaem section to make a long single day. 

This was our first real test of multi-day 'unsupported' touring in a tropical climate (we carried our bags, but had the luxury of a vehicle popping in on us now and again). 


Here are the things I took away from the experience:
  1. I sweat A LOT in this sort of climate, so much that I'll need to ditch my Brooks saddle and opt for something a bit more like this. The Brooks is going to get trashed. I also get so sweaty that I can't twist the grip to change the gears on my Rohloff hub. A late-on-the-tour-discovery in this regard was the utility of a tiny pack towel tied to the handlebars for when a gear change is required.
  2. It's debateable whether it will be worth lugging a stove, tent and sleeping bag with us for the first section of the ride. On the one hand we'd like the flexibility, on the other camping in that heat with no prospect of a shower, when budget accommodation is such good value, might be a fool's errand. I'm erring more on the side of not bothering now. Safe in the knowledge that there are points on the ride where, if we find ourselves under-equipped,we could get what we need on the go. Less is definitely more.
  3. Cooking for ourselves won't be necessary whilst we're in SE Asia. It is very easy to eat delicious food for less than £1/head with all the savings in time/weight that doing so entails. We could go all Alistair Humphries on the issue, but what would be the point...?
  4. Hills slow you down massively. I'd been estimating that we'd comfortably cover 100km a day, but if it's hilly progress can be painfully slow. We'll need to be flexible. Our 60km days were refreshing - giving time for regrouping in the evening afternoon. I still hope we'll be able to average near 100k and sure some days we'll need to get the miles in, but finishing late day after day will be no fun. And above all, we want to enjoy our trip. 
  5. On previous tours I've felt ravenously hungry all the time; not so on this trip. The heat saps appetite somewhat. Water on the other hand, needs to be replenished about every 20k with at least 2 litres on the bike (3 would be better). Ice (Nam Keng) is 8THB in the ubiquitous 7-Elevens.
  6. Jo and I are closer in speed than we've ever been, either she's got better, or I've got worse, or a bit of both - we might even manage not to lose each other on this trip as we have done so frequently in the past!
  7. Rain is a pain. We'll need to make sure we've purchased decent, cycle-specific rainjackets before the grand-depart.
  8. Foot comfort is tricky in the hot, wet conditions of SE Asia. Trainers felt perpetually soggy and quickly reached a state where they couldn't be kept in the room overnight! I've tried Keen Sandles, as recommended by other cycle tourists, but found that these too aren't quite right. A shoe is needed that keeps the sun off, dries quickly and stays fresh or is easily washed down ready for use the next day - answers on a postcard...
We were reaquainted with the intoxicating sense of freedom cycle touring gives and can't wait to get going...!

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Wednesday, 15 April 2020

Useful resources when planning a big cycle tour


Trawling through the internet I've stumbled across so many useful resources for planning a trip like ours. We are not the first to have a dream like this, and it's reassuring to hear how other people have done it.

Here's a list of some of the things I've found useful and/or inspirational:

YouTube Channels
  1. Nomads Trails - great gear lists on their website and a superb YouTube channel. 
  2. Adam Hugill - English bloke who started off cycling around the world with his girlfriend, before carrying on alone(!) Useful stuff on his YouTube Channel.
  3. Wheels to Wander - a Dutch couple on a big ride.
  4. Ed Pratt - this guy unicycled around the world at the age of just 19. His kit list is a study in minimalism; his YouTube channel is inspirational.

Books
  1. Rob Lilwall - a mate of my brother's who has written a couple of books. Cycling home from Siberia + hearing him talk many years ago fanned the flames for me.
  2. Three Men in a Bike by Rory Spowers I've ordered this book on Amazon, following a tip-off from a colleague. An old-school adventure awaits :-)
  3. Jonny Ginger's Last Ride by Tom Freemantle. I was given this by a parent whose child I was taking to cycle in Nepal. It's rather a wonderful travelogue but a sad one to be reading now in the sense that it deals so warmly of cycling through Syria.
  4. Alastair Humphreys - I first heard about this guy via my brother and read some of his early books. He's living proof that if you want to bike touring can be done in a way that would please the most hard-core Mustachian (i.e. you don't need much money!)
Blogs and other resources
  1. Tom's Bike Trip - this is the guy on whom the film Janapar was based. His site is an absolute treasure-trove of information.
  2. Caravanistan - detailed information on visas for Central Asia. Looks very helpful indeed.
  3. DHL Race to the RWC - I suspect this might be taken down soon, but it has a useful map and led me to connections to Ron Rutland and James Owens - their Strava tracks are publicly visible :-) 
  4. Pete Adeney - cf Mustachian - not a bike tourist per se (though he does like bikes!) But adopt some of his principles even just for a year and you'll feel less worried about finances and more able to take the leap.
  5. Pete Gostelow - fellow teacher and fellow Thorn Raven Tour owner. Lots of useful hints and tips on cycle touring on his website.
  6. Alee Denham - some useful stuff here, but mainly an inspiration of you're looking to monetise your tour (I'm not).
  7. Travelling two - a useful blog with a lot of information on cycle touring.
  8. Lifetime Trails -  kit lists, reviews and advice.
  9. Crazyguyonabike - a wonderfully retro treasure trove for cycle tourists.
  10. Two on Four Wheels - I've blogged about these two elsewhere, their site is a useful, if sobering, archive of their trip.
  11. A Bike Journey - Guy and Frederike did a ride from the UK to Australia back in 2010/11. They rode Thorn Raven Tours (same as us) and kept a journal while they went.
  12. Cycletourer website - Frank and Jon, a retired teacher couple, have put up a wealth of information here. I love their kit advice which comes from the perspective of years of experience. They've got their gear sorted to a tee.
  13. Complete Tandenomium - these two did almost the rider we're going to be doing on a tandem. There's some useful info here including a piece on electronics which put me off spending money on a dynamo hub and USB charger. Having read this, I think keeping things simple is best. It also happens to be cheaper :-)
  14. Vaegabond - a German couple on a mission to travel around the world for five years. Very organised - comprehensive kit list and links.
  15. Tour on a Bike - some useful kit reviews and other tips and tricks.
  16. Rolling East - smart looking website of a couple who cycled from London to Melbourne. Really informative kit reviews etc.
  17. Riding Round - Adam Riches' circumnavigation.
  18. The Next Challenge - Tom Moss delves into cycle touring with a new level of geekiness.

I'll add to this if I come across any more, but that's it for now (15/4/2020). Please let me know in the comments if I've missed any gems :-)


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