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

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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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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Desert Rains

When it rains up here everything changes. The colour of the rocks richer as the dust is washed away, the vegetation sprouts so that sorry looking shrubs suddenly become healthy drab green trees, and the light quality changes so much that you suddenly notice whole mountain ranges you’ve never realised were there before.

Last night I decided to go out and enjoy the light misting rain that seems to have settled over Alice for the past few days and went to out to Simpsons Gap to see what these changes did to the landscape away from town. The photos might no show it, but the difference in the landscape is so significant that I’ve noticed and entire range I’d never seen before.

I hope you enjoy these snap shots.

Can you see the new mountain range?

Can you see the new mountain range?

Simpsons Gap Desert Shale

Rain falling over the distant ranges

Rain falling over the distant ranges

My favourite mountain, Mt Gillen, looks completely different from this direction when it is hidden in rain and cloud

My favourite mountain, Mt Gillen, looks completely different from this direction when it is hidden in rain and cloud

Simpsons Gap from the top of Cassia Hill

Simpsons Gap from the top of Cassia Hill

A beautiful ghost gum just off the track from the Cassia Hill walk

A beautiful ghost gum just off the track from the Cassia Hill walk

The rocks are all much more strikingly coloured once the dust has been washed away.

The rocks are all much more strikingly coloured once the dust has been washed away.