Wales

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Snowdonia, the Brecon Beacons, everything in between – it is all hills! Big hills, long hills, steep hills, country hill, urban hills and then you get to the mountains.
For the past week I’ve been riding with Will and Ollie from Gloucester in England, down to the bridge over the Severn and up through every single hill to Bangor (next to Menai) (but not in the shire). To say it has been hilly would be an understatement, to say it has been amazing would be a downright crime against how beautiful this place is. Wales has been the first place in the UK where it has felt remote or like you aren’t just riding between villages. The mountain passes have been high and covered with flowering heather while in the cold valleys on the northern sides of the mountains the trees are showing their autumn leaves.

It has been such a great week I can only relate a few highlights and challenges, so here is an attempt at daily highlights.

Friday – riding along a rough canal path, getting my second puncture of the trip while with two mechanics and then discovering the puncture occured 500m from a pub with a beer deck where there was sunshine!

Saturday – getting to the top of a very large hill and finding ourselves dragged into a local’s birthday party, being fed and watered. Oh and my only 100km day of the trip.

Sunday – group photos in an abandoned priory and cresting our first major pass

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Monday – dropping in on a local agricultural show to see golden sheep, eat local beef and lamb burgers, watch a demonstration of wood chopping and then watch dogs herd ducks.

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Tuesday – finding a spare £4 pedal in a junk shop after mine seized, climbing the steepest pass I’ve seen and then riding at sunset down the rail trail beside the tidal estuary to Aberdovey Bar (location not venue)

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Wednesday – another long day topped off with 20 odd kilometers of rail trail after some massive and brutal climbs that had me wondering if we could make it.

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Scotland and England

So the past week has been a little crazy. I got back from Iceland on Tuesday morning and took a taxi straight to the bike shop to get my back wheel fixed. By that afternoon my wallet was substantially lighter, my bike was even heavier, and I was ready to get going again!

In the morning after a little faffing around to buy a new pump and some chain lube I was off. My initial plan was to ride south west and then east from Glasgow to Ayr to Dumfries, but on arriving in Ayr in the rain at 8:30pm with 90km under my belt I realised two weeks off the bike is a long time and more fitness was required.

Not to worry, Clare had plans for me and through a stupid number of train trips and some beautiful riding (Dumfires to Carlisle) I made it to Penistone in Yorkshire at night with no where to stay and was needless to say a little stressed. Luckily a kind farmer/prospective campsite manager sorted out a patch of ground for the tent.

Saturday morning saw Clare arrive on a train from London and off we set. Now Penistone is in the Peaks District which seems to be appropriately named, we rode up hills, down hills, and up hills again all day. Looking at the stats we rode 1122 vertical metres in 59km which is a fair bit on fully loaded bike last time I checked. The steeped gradient warning we saw was for 25% but luckily we were headed downhill on that. Some of the up hills mamust surely have been approaching the 20% mark as the rain and storms set in.

The highlight of the ride though would have to be the amazing rail trail we rode on for a good 20 miles. Virtually flat and following the cuttings and bridges of the old line it was both spectacular from an engineering and scenic perspective.

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How did I end up in Greenland?

Well it is ten days since I put up my post explaining how all plans had fallen to pieces and my bike was not far from doing so either.

In that time things have happened. Lots of things. Amazing things. Amazing things facilitated by amazingly
friendly people who really had no reason to help me so much. Most of what has happened hasn’t even involved me in the planning process which has certainly been an experience in itself.

Firstly there is that minor point that I somehow ended up in Greenland. Not quite sure how that happened but I will be honest and say a confident and pretty smile was possibly involved, as was an not insignificant amount of money and one and a galf business hours between descision and a flight. As part of this I ended up landing in Greenland with my stuff packed into a borrowed hiking pack and the name of a town written on a piece of paper and instructions to negotiate with the locals at the wharf.

What transpired was one of the most beautiful hikes of my life.

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After all this excitement I some how ended up in central iceland (again coordinated by lovely strangers) for another spectacular hiking adventure.

Silver linings (and the shit hits the plan)

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I’ve never had such a massive component failure, and I admit I never expected it to happen in such a perfect location.

Context: Will, Venetia and I had just crested the summit of a very long pass. Over 10kms we’d been climbing constantly up from sea level to 500m elevation. The hill was almost constantly rising with only a few places to recover a little. I am riding my ECR rigged for touring with slickish tyres and a total weight of 55kgs. The others are riding their Surlys with 3″ knobbly tyres and are pretty much fighting for ever metre.
We reach the pass, and in the last 100m I notice my shifting and gears are feeling weird again so stop to check.

Plans begin to unravel:
Stopping the bike Will comes over and I show him rhe funny noise when I pedal, which sounds like the chain skipping over the tensioners gear wheels (which it is).
Taking the wheel out and checking things out we found the free wheel was barely moving and appeared to be gummed up, in the process of poking and prodding it becomes apparent that the drive side bearing has failed as the axles is moving a few millimetres laterally in its housing. To top it off I think noticed oil had spilled on to the rim and on investigation it is appaeebt that the seal on my alfine 11 speed hub has failed and the gear oil is leaking rapidly.

Analysis: It is a whole world off fucked up inside that hub.

Silver linings:
Despite this all being a bit of a catastrophe it genuinely could not have happened in a better location. The pass we are sitting on top of is 16km almost entirely down hill to a ferry whicch connects with a bus that’ll get me back to Rejkyavik. The axle is still intact and the bearings has just enough life to get me along the roads, and the area is simply stunning. I mean genuinely utterly phenomenally indescribably beautiful.

So we rode down the hill to the pub. I jave never had so much fun in my life. Will and i took the chain off my bike so I have the heaviest balance bike ever made and off we go, flying down this beautifully made dirt road in a spectacular glacial valley with snow drifts, tarns, waterfalls, melt water rivers, massive cliffs and so so much happiness.

I’ll try to put up the video of the descent, but believe me. I have never riden a faster, more exhilarating descent!

Video Extract

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Iceland (pre-riding)

Well well well. I find myself in Iceland. Not find myself in the usual figurative sense of the word but in a somewhat literal sense. I arrived in Iceland on Sunday with no plan, no map, no idea how to get around or even the faintest clue of what I should see think or expect. Luckily two friends from Sydney, Will and Venetia, were in Reykjavik and instead of just offering advice have extended their stay here by two weeks and I now have some riding buddies with bikes even bigger and awesomer than mine.

While we haven’t really done much riding yet, and I have spent a lot of time chilling in the city checking things out it has been pretty spectacular all the same.

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Scotland Cycle Touring Wrap Up

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Well well well. What have we here? A pub courtyard full of frumpy english tourists. Frowning while looking out at the vertiginous ridge lines of the Lakes District. Guess I am not in Scotland anymore.

After 5 weeks of cycling and 2 weeks of faffing around my touring in Scotland is pretty much complete. Yesterday I caught the train into Glasgow from Oban, put my bike in for service, drank excellent coffee,  ate vegan chocolate banana cake (while maple icing) and piss-bolted out of the city which was clearly larger and busier than I was mentally prepared for. Having teed up with John from Lake District Stand Up paddle boards to head out for an overnight camp to see what SUP-touring would be like I made Keswick my destination, but more on that later (perhaps).

I figure after my not so grand tour of Shetland, Orkney, the Outer Hebridies and Skye I should give you some form of collection of thoughts on what my impression of Scotland has been.

Shite coffee. Seriously bring your own coffee making implements. I thought remote parts of Australia were bad on the coffee front, but I genuinely had a guy ask me if he’d made my coffee well after serving a mug of instand coffee.
Instant coffee has some benefits. It often comes with a price tag in the islands of scotland, and that gives you a right to sit in a warm dry place after cycling into wet head winds for 2hrs.
Scotland is an excellent place to visit if you are a a lactard like myself. A surprisingly large range of cakes and biscuits are dairy free, including a few fancy shortbreads.
The people are amazingly welcoming, helpful and friendly. They are always ready for a chat and often have the best info on where to go and what to see. They are mostly infuriatingly considerate drivers too.
Otters are a myth. You will not see one, so don’t get your hopes up.

Happy adventures everyone!

Authors Note:

The cycling in Scotland is undeniably excellent, with an amazing array of resources available for cycling including:
● Comprehensive cycling notes
● Cycling accessible public transport
● Free showers on most ferries.
● Legal right to go anywhere and camp anywhere within the extent of the right to roam.
● Towns so close together you could ride with out carry foods, camping gear and probably even water.

In summary. Go ride people!

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Skye and Uists – a cyclists delight

Well what a week it has been. Again. Last Thursday I arrived Wednesday Uig (on Skye) after a few days of rain left me more in the mood to make miles than stop for breaks. Waiting for the ferry i met a swathe of other cycle tourists all wanting to talk about my bike or how far they had pedalled each day ( they all seemed to be smashing the kms). Of the 8 or so cyclists a young couple from Cambridge kept chatting and turned out to both work for the British Antarctic Survey so we had a great chat about their adventures, their extremely outdoors lifes and various other things. In the morning while I dawdled not really feeling like riding they made me tea and chatted some more basically convincing to start riding for the day. Thanks guys!

As it turned out the day was to be the last nice day for a while and luckily I managed to fit in some castles a nice walk up a rather large hill, thr most expensive coffee ever, an amazing curry for dinner (seriously cycle tourists the MacKenzies Store in Staffin is worth the stop, they even made me a dairy free curry to order while I sat and read my book!), and to top it off a beautiful campsite looling up at the Dolerite Columns and dinosaur foot prints of Staffins coast!

The next day it rained. I mean it rained. Like wet through, more than my rain coat could handle, no more then 200m visibility, missed the beauty of Skye type rain. To top it off the wind meant I needed to pesal hard in my lowest gear to get down hills! After a massive lunch of soup and filled potatoes trying to warm up I made the called it was going to a hostel night! A few hours later I arrived at Raasay house wet, cold and disheveled.

Skipping forward through some very wet and smelly cross country exploring (seriously deer fences are not easy to climb over) i finally made my way off Raasay on Sunday afternoon to discover not only were the hills on Skye big, they are craggy precipitous monstrous things that are far more intimidating than i had ever imagined. Despite this the roads on Skye are amazing for cycling maintaining comfortable gradients and good passing lanes throughout. After a day anf a half riding I made it back to Uig just in time to catch the ferry back over to Lockmaddy and it Uists where I have been for the past few days.

Go to the Uists!

Seriously the riding is spectacular, the mechair almost unbelievably scenic and beautiful, the beaches are wide sandy and spectacular, and you’ll love it.

To summarise how amazing -I rode 25km on Tuesday because I kept getting distracted and turning down side roads and then losing track of time! The one thing I wouldn’t recommend is swimming, because believe it is freezing! Painfully so!

I’m now chilling in the Dunbar hostel on Barra enjoying the good company and facilities after two weeks without using a washing machine. Soon I’ll  head back over to the mainland and chill out for a while before my next adventure begins.

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Thoughts on fatigue and days off

What a bloody week. Not literally, but after consistent rain, fog, strong winds amd temperatures brushing up towards the Sydney winter temps I am tired and exhausted.

As such I have holed up in a bunk room in Raasay House, one of the great british mansions now converted to a hotel, bunkhouse, cafe, pub and activities centre. Yesterday was so wet and miserable, think pedaling hard to get DOWN an 8% gradient with cold rain biting into your face and find the gaps between the waterproofs. Weather like this has not been uncommon over the past week, though the weather gods had been kind with tail winds.

So while I sit in a wind of the cafe drinking a soy latte and eating a bacon and egg roll I have put together some thoughts on rest days and fatigue.

I have now been riding for about 5 weeks, in that time I have had about 5 days of not riding and perhaps 4 short days less than 25km. I am certainly finding it hard on the body sometimes, particularly managing to stretch enough when it is miserable and cold and doing so means lying your bike in the swamp on the side of the road. This seems to necessitate a day off from riding once a week or such just for the chance to sleep in, let muscles rest and such. Equally this is matched with eating the right foods at the right times that I will admit I still struggle with, especially when so many cafes sell extremely bad coffee with bacon and egg rolls in a warm place.

Harder though is the not riding. To paraphrase Bill Bryson ‘riding is what we do’ except there is no we. There have been a few days when I have really not wanted to ride but once on the bike have enjoyed the day immensely, equally there have been days when I have been super keen to ride and pedalled 10km and wanted to set up my tent. Cycling by yourself really is a lesson self motivation, sheer bloody determination and maybe a little stupidity.

I have read a lot of other blogs on this subject but never really understood what it meant until now. The Wandering Nomads for example have written well about the need for a holiday from cycling every 2 months and I think that might be in order soon.

Anyway enough self indulgent rambling from me, look at the nice pictures from when i could get my camera out.

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