Cotter Micro-Adventure

On Friday night I rode out to the Cotter for a night in my bivvy bag, and then rode back through to Canberra the long way. It was an excellent little micro-adventure and well worth the crazy rush trying pack up on Thursday night.

Can’t think of anything else to say really, so enjoy a photo or ten.

Sankt Martin, the Alsace and into Basel

Well it has been a pretty spectacular week riding up Basel slowly meandering my way between historic cities, vineyards, old villages, great campsites and three countries.

Not long after my last post I arrived in the small wine village of Sankt Martin in Germany which is nestled into a valley surrounded by forests of pine and chestnuts. Every building in the village is heavily involved in producing or consuming wine, typically both, and I was luck enough to meet a new friend Ingrid at the campsite my Garmin choose for me. A native german, but with a mixed accent mostly consisting of Irish and Canadian twangs we spent a few days hanging out and chatting about adventures. As with so many long term travelers (in this case through guiding) Ingrid seemed to be able to recall visits to every place I have been to on this trip which only served to provide inspiration to see some of the many things I have missed!

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From Sankt Martin it was time to head south, and the French Alsace wine region beckoned with its beautifully marked cycle routes twisting through the freshly harvested vines that became more golden and autumnal as I headed further south. These trails and flat roads were to dominate the rest of the week with great little interludes to such beautiful cities as Strasbourg and Colmar. I have a feeling I have been particularly lucky with the sunny weather and enough cloud to stop me getting too sun burnt over the past week.

Last night I finally arrived in Basel which is a pretty spectacular city full of old buildings, bustling streets all situated on a magnificent cliff lined bend in the Rhine. Switzerland is phenomenally expensive, but Basel is so close to France and Germany that tomorrow morning I’ll ride over the border to do a big grocery shop and then I’ll be catching a train somewhere to go hiking!

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Lower Rhine (Rhine Part 1)

The Rhine is long. It is roughly divided into three parts, so I’ll blog each section as I ride it and as I am starting from Utrecht which is no where near the end it won’t be complete but I think the bottom 250km that I didn’t ride were probably much like the 400km I have ridden.

First let me get this out of the way. It is boring.

Now let me get onto why. Firstly it is flat. I am going to hate myself for writing this ince I get into the alps I am sure, but it is a ling hard slog riding 80+km a day on flat ground with or without a headwind. Now I am riding a decently heavy bike with silly tyres and although i hold it is the most comfortable tourung rig out there I won’t deny the rolling resistance is noticable. Also flat ground is hard work as you never get a break which is why I am having a half day today 6 days after leaving Utrecht and having covered 420km. The temptation to push on/faster has strained a few muscles I think I need to take care of for the next 7 weeks.

Next, the Rhine is industrialised. Up until Bonn the Rhine ias basically a continuous band of factories and power stations with farming on the opposite bank, then there are the boats and trains. Whilst corn fields, canals and cows are scenic and the indusyrial works make my inner engineer impressed it is a bit wearing. Also the noise is constant so bring your ear plugs, seriously!

Finally campsites on the lower Rhine are few and far between. As soon as you reach Bonn and the middle Rhine they are everywhere but until then theu can be hard to find or are often a long way from the river. This adds distance and means at the end of the day you have to navigate country lanes hoping to find a campsite that accepts tents as a lot don’t. My illusion based on other blogs of millions of options (as long as you accept the odd nudist camp site) has been dashed!

That said I don’t want to deter anyone. As a wise well travelled cyclist explaindd the reason you ride the Rhine from the mouth up is so when you do reach the middle Rhine you really appeeciate it. It is worth it people! I got to the middle Rhine and was gobsmacked and it is getting better as I go.

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Belgium and the Netherlands

A week ago I arrived in continental Europe after my three months in the UK and Iceland to sunny skies and a whole lot of hope about what the next two months had in store for me.

The first weekend proved a massive success and I have been riding on a bit of a high ever since thanks to good company, four nights in a row in beds and a swim at the beach. For any non-aussies reading this post it is easy to under estimate just how important salt water and swimming is to the average Australian, and I am certainly no exception so the swim did me a world of good.

Anyway after that great weekend the weather set in and it has been raining ever since. I have been wearing my full rain gear (helmet cover, jacket, pants, overshoes, GTX shoes) the entire time and I am still getting wet occasionally. Yesterday the weather was so bad that on my way to Thomas’ house I had to stop twice to poor the water out of my shoes.

I am now in Utrecht staying with Thomas the slightly crazy dutchman who I met while cycling in Tasmania, and who stayed with me in Sydney and Brisbane as he rode around the country. In the next few days I will finish the replacement of my brake pads, chain and front chain ring and then I am off to finish this little tour of mine with a 1600km slog through to Vienna along the Rhine and Danube (if I don’t change my plans).

For now though here are some stats on my trip so far.

Distance: 3,113.26 km
Time: 216:47:08 h:m:s
Elevation Gain: 30,991 m
Avg Speed: 14.4 km/h

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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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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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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Orkney Adventures

Oh what an amazing place. So much green. So much history. So many friendly people.

My arrival in Orkney at 10:30 was a celebrated affair. The skies opened in welcoming and the rain fell heavy and fast. So dark was it that I put on my lights despite the fact it should have been quite lovely twilight still. Luckily my gps found the way to the hostel and there was a quiet ans sheltered place in which to de rain myself before going inside!

The next day ( Saturday I believe) dawned bright and sunny to make up for it so after a little shopping I managed to get on the road with some new wind proof gloves and so much food! I headed for the island of rousay which sits to the north of the Orkney mainland and has a nice convenient ring road. It also has the highest bit of road, as well as quite possibly the steepest bit of road in town. Luckily I met a lovely british woman (Margaret?) who informed me that at the north of the island was a splendid campsite next to the beach. The day was so warm that when I got there I even went for a swim! A swim may be exaggeration but a repeated series of quick dips could be accurate.
To top off an amazing day some very kind locals rocked up with a bbq and fed me chicken, salad, bread not squashed by a pannier and a toffee apple cider
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Sunday woke to miserable cold rain, but having had a few rest days recently I couldn’t bring myself to stay in the tent so I packed up a very very wet tent and got on the road. Despite the drenching miserable rain for 2 hrs I can not say how glad I am I started riding as iy was a most spectacular afternoon  (eventually) which I spent explorjng Skara Brae, the Ring of Brodgar and the Stones of Stenness. The light anf temperature were just perfect for riding so I made it my first long day in a while and rode into Stromness whistling to myself merrily.

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Monday turned out equally amazing, as I just made the ferry to the island of Hoy, and disembarking met an English couple Dave and Tabitha who were riding the same route that morning I had planned considered with the advantage of having researched so they knew what they were looking for. We saw the Dwarfie Stone, drank coffee at RackWick and walked up to the Old Man of Hoy. Guys I can’t say how grateful I am we got chatting as I probably would have skipped that walk without your invitation to join you!

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Yesterday finished off my list of tops days in Orkney. After a late start in Lyness waiting for the ferry and checking out the EU wave power site I headed up to Kirkwall again to do my token whisky tour (Scapa) and the made the leisurely sprint down across the Churchill Barriers, past the Italian Chapel and down to Burwick for the Ferry to John O Groats.

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27hrs without technology, and cycling a lot of hills.

I’m not normally one to go anywhere without gathering photographic evidence and a whole lot of gadgets to keep me entertained, but this weekend I decided I needed a bit of a detox as it were and decided to head out for a bit of a cycle to try and prove my legs still worked and to return myself to a slightly more normal state.  Now for the very astute among you an observation could be made that it is only half way through a long weekend in Australia, but as my story will fail to justify I’m back on my way home. Continue reading