Sliding door moments.

You know, those moments that could go either way, in a split second. And then the way moments do go define what happens next and shapes your life. Life is full of them really, and I’ve always thought that it’s better to regret things that you’ve done, rather than things you haven’t done. I hate ‘what if’s’, I find them harder to deal with than the ‘oh fuck, why did I do that’s’. And I’ve got a few of them, believe me. But, they’re all life lessons. Even if they don’t always stop me sometimes making the same ‘oh fuck’ mistakes. Sigh. Anyway, I digress.

So yes, the sliding door moments. The blink-and-you’d-miss them moments, or the make-a-decision moments, or the right-place-right-time moments.

I’ve had a few of those too. I don’t mainly think about what would have happened if things had gone a different way, but this weekend I did. Because I realised that what I was doing was partly down to a sliding door moment. Mainly because the person I was doing it with was met in one of those moments.

Back in 2013 I met Vicki in a dingy hostel dorm in India, which in itself is a one-in-a-few moments because there aren’t that many hostels in India, it’s more guest houses where you don’t always get to mingle with other guests. So there I was, sat on my £1.20 a night damp bed with a barely-there mattress and a pillow you’d never want to take the case off, when Vicki swept in with with a tiny backpack, a northern accent and a massive smile. Over the next couple of days we went hiking, climbing about in waterfalls and ate forgotten birthday curry, and she told me about her plans to cycle the Manali to Leh highway. On her own, with no real plans as such and no bike as yet. I was amazed, inspired and in total fucking awe. That was some serious shit. Part of me wanted to do it with her, and part of me was glad I didn’t have the time, and part of me didn’t think I could anyway. That was what other people did, not me.

We kept in touch, and when I had moved onto China I was pleased to hear she had made it OK and had a sweet little adventure. I was blown away by her pictures and the stories of the ride. And so, a seed was sown. That was the moment that gave me the inspiration to bike round Tasmania. And after doing that, that’s when I knew I could do something like London to Paris earlier this year. And then, that’s when I knew I could cycle to Brighton with Vicki last weekend (we don’t just go to the pub for a catch up like most people, we go climb mountains or ride miles before hitting the pub).

If I had gone out for dinner back in Mcleodganj 10 minutes earlier, would we have met in the same way? Would we have hiked to the waterfall, or laughed at Richard Gere’s picture? If I hadn’t have met Vicki, would I have biked round Tasmania? I don’t know. Maybe, maybe not. But she helped showed me that adventure was out there, if you just get out there and do it. And ordinary people can do the stuff that I used to think only explorers and adventurers did. Well after all, they are just normal people too.

So I’m 100% glad this sliding door moment went this way. And I’m glad I can call Vicki a mate, glad I have a fellow adventure seeker to do crazy shit with and be inspired. She’s moving to NZ for a while at the end of the year, so maybe I’ll just have to head out there next year so we can go climb a mountain or two.

IMG_20151010_160852

How to bike from London to Paris in two easy steps.

1. Buy a bike.

2. Pedal.

Yep, it’s as easy as that.

Kind of.

When I signed up to cycle London to Paris in 24 hours, I didn’t really read all the details. So I didn’t really appreciate how far it was or how much training I’d have to put in. Or how many times I’d fall off before getting the hang of clippy pedals. Or how much nutrition plays a part. And how hard training can be if you want to try and have some kind of social life. Especially when you’ve just moved to a new place and are making new friends. Or how much kit I’d need. And how much it would cost in all. Or how much of a headache the logistics would be.

But, I’d signed up. I’d paid the cash and committed. No going back. I wanted to do it.

So I did what I needed to do. I tried to get out on Bob the Bike as much as I could. Which, when you work away most of the week, is not that much. I got bored with the training. The weather hasn’t been that great and I hate to admit that I’m a bit of a fair-weather biker. Not a fair-weather runner, but biking in the rain isn’t that appealing.

I tried to eat well but that didn’t always work out. I tried not to drink too much. I tried to get enough sleep.

D-day came around pretty quickly. I’d managed to get everything sorted for it, like all the practicalities of getting to London, staying in Paris and getting back again, but did I feel prepared? Did I fuck. I’d felt positive a couple of weeks before after a pretty intensive training weekend back in Lincs. I’d cycled a decent amount, in all weather too and my legs felt good. I’d been going to BMF and still running a bit so felt my overall fitness was alright. But the weekend before the event I didn’t get out on the bike at all. In fact I spent it out socialising, drinking and eating shit food. Not the best way and when the Saturday came around the positivity I’d felt the week before had definitely slipped down the scale somewhat. But, being the eternal optimist I am, it was still there. Because it never really crossed my mind that I wouldn’t be able to do it. I knew I would, somehow. Even if it took me ages and I limped towards the Eiffel Tower, I always pictured myself doing it. Not doing it just wasn’t an option, because I’m stubborn and it was in my power. No one else was going to do it for me so I sure as hell would give it my best shot.

So off I trotted with Bob, my gear for a couple of days in Paris, a comforting sense of mild apprehension and some lovely messages of support. Also walking like I was wearing a nappy, courtesy of some beautiful new padded GORE cycling shorts I’d been given (later to be worth their weight in gold, frankincense AND myrrh).

11069866_10153271098886341_1478173356395510999_n

Thank you, First Great Western for making it so easy to travel to London with my bike. Not so easy on the underground, although I can’t blame TFL for that. It’s just not easy taking a full size bike onto a crammed circle line train at lunchtime on a Saturday (although before you say anything, it’s allowed, it’s off peak and one of the few lines you CAN take a bike onto. I checked. Obvs.). As I would have loved to have pointed out to a chap on the tube. I would have actually acknowledged that I know I was a fucking pain in that car if he been man enough to say something to me about it rather than ranting under his breath to his girlfriend thinking I couldn’t hear.

Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be a blow-by-blow account of the whole 200 miles. You wouldn’t want to read that just as much as I wouldn’t want to write it. But, just while we’re on the subject, 200 miles is quite a long way I think. I still can’t really picture it in my head. But it’s a fairly long way to drive in the car, so even longer to bike. I just never really thought of it as 200 miles. Think that’s the key. Just think of the stints between rest stops. Between 20-30 miles each one. Pedal, stop, EAT, pedal, stop, EAT, pedal, stop EAT.

11214025_10153281540621341_7955740573622761571_n 11265488_10153281540626341_4476936195137518331_n 10501970_10153281540616341_5258631066084370148_n

Yes, yes, you have to EAT. And eat LOTS. This is good for me. I like EATING. The rest stops on this challenge were immense. So much food to choose from. It’s actually amazing how much of a difference this makes. If you don’t eat enough there’s just no energy. Keep fuelling and you can keep going. The human body is an amazing thing. Food is fuel really, that’s all.

So the English leg was a bit time pressured. We had to make the ferry or that was it, adventure over before it began. So, pedal to the metal. Or, foot to the pedal. Or pedal to the floor. Whichever, the legs had to spin round fairly fast. And there were a lot of hills. Good job I’d done most of my training in the Cotswolds. A mixture of riding with new friend Roger, who kept me entertained up and down the hills of the South Downs, and riding alone day dreaming and admiring the view and thanking my nappy shorts for meaning my arse wasn’t hurting yet. About 10 miles to go and the rain started. We’d actually been really lucky up to then and it was only cold and windy. It was supposed to rain all afternoon so an hour in the rain wasn’t too bad. So, it got wet. And dark. Luckily I’d caught up with some riders and there were some behind me too, so we rode into Newhaven in a small peloton of flashing red lights, dripping helmets, big smiles of relief and confusion over the entrance to the Premier Inn. Note: riding a bike in the dark in rain with glasses means you can’t actually see much apart from huge flashing fuzzy red circles. Solution: Stick to the wheel of the guy in front of you and hope he doesn’t brake suddenly. 

Getting to the Newhaven Premier Inn in really good time was a huge boom. I was well chuffed with myself and my legs. It was the most I’d cycled in one go (60 miles) and my legs felt strong and my arse was absolutely fine. Things were looking sweeeeet. Being soaked wet and going inside, eating and then having to layer back up in wet stuff to get back on a wet bike to cycle the 5 mins to the ferry port wasn’t so sweet though, but it was one milestone down and I knew I had a few hours in a [hopefully] warm ferry to dry out. Oh, and of course it wouldn’t be raining in France because that’s abroad and every knows it’s warm abroad, right?

11059718_10153271100251341_9194213874000144991_nI didn’t really think about what was to come. Whether it would be raining or not. What’s the point? It would be what it would be. What I tried to do was go to sleep. Didn’t quite manage it. Think I got about an hour. Dried out though. By the time we’d got through all the passport shizzle and eaten a banana or two, we were all off at 5am french time, riding in the dark on the wrong side of the road, flashing red lights as far as the eye could see.

I’ve only been to France once before, to Nice, so riding through little quaint countryside villages at dawn with silence apart from cockerels crowing (reminded me of Laos, seemingly the SE Asian land of cocks) and no one around was pretty special, but having to keep up the speed, concentrate on where you’re going and try to hug someone’s back wheel as close as possible to get in their slipstream meant that I didn’t really get a lot of time to look around and take it in. I do remember being pleased it was flat though. And smooth tarmac. Lovely.

And the route was fairly flat. Only a couple of hills (one only about 20 miles from Paris when most people had tired legs, but that earnt me the title Hill Monster. YES.). This is a fact to rejoice, although I do like the other side of a hill. You know, the coming down bit. That’s fun. Unless there are potholes. Then it’s not. My top speed on the english bit was 63km/hr. That’s over 40 mph I think (can’t be arsed to look for the conversion). You don’t want to be hitting a pothole at that speed, trust me.

It rained though. Pretty much all the way. Mostly drizzle that you kind of forgot about, but sometimes really heavy. We were all soaked for the whole 12 hours or so we were biking in France. Didn’t notice it after a while. And my kit served me well. Very well.

I rode with a small peloton all the way. We swapped stories, laughs, interesting facts and Bon Jovi songs. There were wild boar, bike pile ups and accidents involving sunglasses and commando rolls. We got stopped by the Police, who couldn’t really speak English and so ended up just telling us to ‘bike faster’. Pretty sure we were ALL GOING AS FAST AS WE COULD RIGHT THEN. I learnt more weird cycling hand signals used when biking in a group. It’s like another language.

11071548_10153271100616341_9017843767396408680_n

I learnt about nutrition, or mainly what not to eat. I’d not had chance to practice any kind of strategy (in fact most of my training rides were done without any nutrition – not recommended), In my case on this ride it was protein bar type things. Easy to put in a jersey pocket but my stomach did not like them. Not one bit. I spent the last 50 miles (believe me, this is a Long Way) with stomach ache trying not to think about needing a shit. I had to stop twice to be a bear in the woods. I’m sorry to all the people in the bar who got this story first hand that night. But, in the interests of education to all you people who may want to know what it’s like to do something like this, it’s important you know the actual Truth. It is not glamorous. I don’t normally have protein bars or any kind of of protein shakes etc. And I definitely wouldn’t again. Natural stuff all the way. Next time I’d make sure I had time beforehand to prepare some stuff to take with me.

Next time?

Yes, I said next time. As much as I am pleased it’s over and feel like I’ve got my weekends back, it was an incredible experience that I am one million percent pleased that I did. That I signed up on a whim and gave it a go. Because this used to be the kind of thing that other people did. That I read about but never thought I’d be able to do. But now, now it’s the kind of stuff do. I achieved it. ME. I DID IT. I tell you, that feeling of seeing and riding up to the Eiffel Tower for the first time was pretty damn special. And I got there without feeling completely broken! I actually did a little jog once I was off my bike to show my legs still worked. Probably completely high on endorphins and adrenaline at that point but hey, I could still walk. And surprisingly, my arse was not in bits. The ibuprofen I’d been popping religiously probably helped, but also my new shorts. Super nappy strength padding. I could sit down perfectly well. OK, so the whole area was a bit, shall we say, delicate, but this is hardly surprising after riding a bike for 18 hours in wet gear. A bit of savlon and a nights sleep sorted that out.

That smile, that’s for fucking real, that is.

11128625_10153271100871341_3010373041973151811_nThat and for my grandad, who died a week before I did this and so never got to know that I made it. And for all the people that want to but can’t do something like this, for whatever reason. I didn’t do this for charity, although I know a lot of people did. Do feel free to donate to your favourite charity though if you’ve been inspired. Or stick a few pence in the charity tin at the next shop checkout you go to.

I met so many awesome people; all doing the same thing but for so many different reasons. Everyone has their own story, struggles and motivations. All brought together by a common interest and a beer afterwards. The sweetest beer.

11031907_10153271099611341_8743473977839539642_n

So yes, there will probably be a next time. There will be something else. Right now the only things I have signed up for are a few running things over the summer. A half marathon, a 24 hour team relay endurance run and an obstacle course. There will be some summer cycling though, trust me. Me and Bob are not ready to part company just yet.

I’ve realised that the human body is an amazing thing. My body amazes me. I think I’m maybe fitter than I thought. I know I can do stuff, and I’m still figuring out what that is. If I don’t give things a go then I’ll never find out.

Life is for living, and for me, this is how I choose to live.

If anyone is thinking of doing anything similar, I’d wholeheartedly recommend it. You CAN do it, it WILL be amazing and you should totally do it. Give it a go. If you don’t try you’ll never know. What have you got to lose?

You can do anything you bloody want to, you just have to believe.

10432549_10153011642901341_3564291469899418768_n

Bob the Bike.

Let me introduce you to Bob, my new road bike. He’s going to get me from London to Paris in a couple of months. I luuurve him. ❤

IMG_20150221_172955

I do a fair bit of running and exercise generally but if I’m going to ride that distance in that time I need to do some training and get the miles in my legs before May, I can’t just rely on sheer determination and stupidity this time (as much as I’d like to, and just spend my weekends sitting eating ice cream). I did a lot of riding last summer after I got back on my MTB but I’ve not done any for a while and I’ve never had a road bike so I need to get ON it. So, yesterday was the first opportunity I’ve had to get out on Bob since picking him up a couple of weeks ago. It was a beaut of a sunny day and I had a free afternoon so I had no excuse (and I wasn’t about to throw myself down my building stairs to create one).

I’ll start with reporting on the end result: BLOODY marvellous, it felt soooo good to be back out there on a bike and it was pretty frickin awesome to see Mr Sunshine for a day. I also finished with bruises, grazes and my legs felt like they were made from strawberry jelly. Oh and of course, the mildly bruised derrière (Bob is a mean lean cycling machine; not a lot of padding).

Two main reasons for this: 1) I forget I live in a hilly place now and 2) Bob has clippy pedals. I’ll expand….

Didn’t really have a route in mind – I just biked out of Cheltenham along Shurdington Road and thought I’d head out that way for a couple of hours. Didn’t realise until I looked at a map after I’d got back that I headed straight out to into the Cotswolds and ALL THE HILLS. 1716 feet (523m) of elevation to be precise. I’d planned for a nice gentle flat couple of hours out to get me back into it. Not 3 fuck off hills. However, as we know hills also equal amazing views and a sense of achievement so I felt pretty rad when I got to the top of each one. Probably a bit like how Rocky felt when he made it to the top of the steps. Yeah, just like that. Apart from I didn’t run up and jump around, I wobbled around on Bob while trying slow down and upclip my feet (more on the clippy pedals later) at the same time, silently cheering each time I managed to not end up in a mangled heap on the floor (which, incidentally, I managed a higher ratio of – again, another silent cheer).

Riding up the hills through woods in the sunshine with beautiful, green, hilly countryside views reminded me so much of riding around in Tasmania last year. I had such an amazing adventure doing that (read about it here if you want), it really made me smile so much to be reminded of it. The pain of the hills but the rewards at the top, the sense of freedom and time; like there is no where else to be, and nothing to do or think about apart from what you’re doing right there and then. I still don’t quite understand the gears on Bob, so the hills were pretty hard work, but I think that was also just my legs not being used to them, rather than that I couldn’t find a lower (higher?) gear. I’ve got no idea whether there are any hills on the London to Paris route, but I guess that riding up hills during a bit of training will all help. Can’t hurt anyhow. Well, actually, it will – THIGH BURN – but you know what I mean.   Of course, what goes up must come down. I cycled UP three hills on my made up route, but only DOWN one. This felt quite unfair, until I realised the way down was a 1:6 (translation: fucking steep – put it this way, I wouldn’t want to bike UP it). So, MUCH fun, MUCH speed and a few hairy moments. Got to try Bob’s brakes out. Conclusion: could be better (hence the few hair raising moments).

IMG_20150307_151129 IMG_20150307_155320

And that leads me onto the clippy pedals. I bought Bob from a nice chap in Bromsgrove who had decided he preferred MTB to road bikes and so couldn’t get on with Bob. Poor Bob, discarded after just a few miles, unwanted. Lucky I came along and managed rescue Bob and his clippy pedals and nice chap’s shoes; shoes that are too big for me (I haven’t got man feet). I haven’t managed to get any of my own yet so decided they would do for the first couple of rides out. So, imagine this; first time on a bike for a while, first time on a bike with clippy pedals in shoes that are too big, and first time on a bike with weird gears that are also the brakes. What could POSSIBLY go wrong?

Ha.

I spent a fair while trying to figure out how the clippy pedals worked. Leant Bob up against the wall, wiggling my feet around. Managed to clip in but could I clip out? Big fat NO. Even leaving the shoe clipped in and me sat on the ground wiggling it around with my hands I couldn’t do it. Neighbour Jill found it quite amusing, but was no help. Of course, I resorted to doing what I should have done in the first place: consulted the internet. “OK Google, unclipping cleats”. (Aside: bloody love OK Google. Talk to me.) Thank you, cheery American man on YouTube who shows how to unclip from pedals in one easy step. Tried it while leant against the wall. Just about got it, OK, I nearly fell into the flower bed, but panic meant my foot came unclipped like magic before I toppled over. Hurrah! I just figured I’d get used to it. One day.

So, I actually did alright. To start with. I’m near the edge of town so not many junctions until I got out on the open road, and the traffic light gods were smiling on me that day. In fact, although a bit wobbly, I managed to unclip each time I stopped the few times I stopped to take some pictures, admire the view or silently cheer the fact I got to the top of a hill without dying. OK, some of them were using the new panic-unclipping technique, but I didn’t end up on the floor. Until a junction about 2 miles away from home on the way back. Ironically, I’d already unclipped one side (I was a pro by now) but I ended up toppling the other way as I over balanced. As any fall as an adult, it hurt (unless drunk, those falls never hurt). And it’s also surprising. Ever notice that, falling over as an adult? One minute you’re upright, one minute you’re on the floor wondering what the hell happened in a mild state of shock. I landed on my elbow and it’s all grazed. Bob landed on top of me, giving me a massive bruise and lump on the side of my knee. Very giving. Obviously, I jumped back up, congratulating myself for getting a fall over and done with (it was bound to happen, I daresay there will be more to come too) as well as entertaining the stream of motorists driving by (I would have laughed). I like to think I fell and splattered on the ground in style.

Decided to call it a day after nearly 19 miles (I’d done a nice round trip) as I’d been out for just under a couple of hours which is what I planned for a nice gentle intro ride. Now, I know I had hills in that ride, but that’s not that fast. OK, I wasn’t really pushing myself but still. It’s making me realise just how far and how fast I will have to bike in May. If I didn’t go any faster that I did yesterday, I’d have to bike continuously for about 20 hours to cover the distance. So, the 4 hours on the ferry takes that to 24 hours. I’d just do it. But no time to stop, no time to eat, no time to go for a piss. Not realistic.

Eeeep.

IMG_20150307_155348

Keep smiling. It’ll be alreet.

Hobart hobo.

Hobart is Tasmania’s capital. As I’ve said before, I fell completely and madly in love with the city.

Why did I like it so much? I’m not sure. Everything about it I think. It felt like a small city. Everyone knew everyone. When I first got there it felt massive. Busy. Quite noisy. A million miles away from the small villages and towns I’d been to over the previous two weeks. But, it’s not. It’s actually really small. It’s got a population of just under 215,000. For a capital city, that’s not a lot (for a comparison, Lincoln has a population of just under 120,000).

Maybe because it reminded me a bit of Lincoln. The size, the layout, the small-town feel. I was lucky enough to stay with a few different people who lived there and got a good feel for real life there. And it felt a bit like my old life back when I lived in Lincoln. The friends nearby, the things to do, the walks, the old part of town. It feels very homely and cosy, just like I think Lincoln is.

It also reminded me a bit of Cape Town, my most favourite city in the world. Mainly because it was similar in that the city stretched from a beautiful harbour to the foothills of a giant mountain, which was always there, always present. Great for getting your bearings and knowing where you were.

It’s got a great laid back feel, lots of arty places around Salamancer Place (the place to be) and the harbour, with oodles of history on every corner. And the great thing was that there are loads of information boards telling you all about it. So I didn’t have to go to a museum to find it out, the info was there as I wandered around. And wander around I did. Lots. It’s a great place for that. You stumble across everything, because it’s just not that big and most things are in walking distance. And if not, then it’s easy to get buses or boats to where you want to go. I was lucky, as I also got taken around and showed a lot by all the great people I stayed with. Yep, more stranger kindness.

Quick run down of some of the stuff I did:

  • Ate the best fish and chips (well, nearly – the best fish and chips I’ve ever had was in Simonstown in South Africa but these were close) fresh from the sea.
  • Bush walked and climbed up Mount Wellington and Mount Nelson. Amazing views.

SONY DSC SONY DSC

  • Ambled around Battery Point, the Bailgate of Hobart. If I ever live in Hobart, that’s where I want to live, in one of the little old cottages there.

SONY DSC

  • Went to MONA, the Museum of Modern and New Art. Very ‘interesting’. Even if you think you don’t like art, you should still go visit, well worth it. Even just for the approach from the ferry which feels like you’re pulling up to a Bond villiain’s lair.

SONY DSC

  • Strolled around Salamancer Market. Loads of different types of stalls all crammed in Salamancer Place on a Saturday. You name it, it’s there. I will always remember the salmon sausages in foccacia served from an old retro caravan, and the stall offering free fudge for tasting. Great atmosphere and no tat in sight!
  • Took a day trip to Port Arthur, the historic penal colony. Beautiful place, learnt lots about Tasmania’s history (from way back when it was called Van Diemen’s Land) and was entertained in bucketloads by our driver/tour guide Mark who oinked his pig (not a euphemism) to get us to be quiet, and whose catchphrases were “eyes to the front” and “cabin crew prepare for landing”. One of those you had to be there tours.

SONY DSC

  • Read the local papers and stayed with local people. Got a real different view on life there, especially around things like attitudes to Australia Day and stuff that’s important to Aussies.
  • Watched Mystery Road, and Australian film that was on the TV one night. For some reason I  wanted to watch an Aussie film while in Oz. Not quite sure why. And still not sure why. It was weird, a bit rubbish and filmed in the same gritty way as a lot of Australian films seem to be but entertaining nonetheless.
  • Went to the Cascade Brewery and drank beer with Marc (the other cycle tourist I met from Canada). I’d recommend the Cascade Draught. You can do a brewery tour but we decided to just sit and drink beer.

SONY DSC

  • Took a dog for a walk along Kingston Beach. Not just a random dog, but a dog called Biscuit. I knew his owners, don’t worry.
  • Saw the end point of the Sydney to Hobart boxing day yacht race (judging box). Interesting fact: I now know someone who will be taking part in that race this year. Connected I am.

SONY DSC

  • Walked around Kangaroo Bluff (and saw a wedding ceremony) and along Bellerive beach. Walking barefoot along the beach made my feet ache. I clearly haven’t spent enough time barefoot for a while. In flip flops yes, but not barefoot.

SONY DSC

  • Went on stage at the Theatre Royal, the oldest continually operating theatre in Australia. No, not acting (I’m sure my family remember my not-so-good performances in school plays. It’s not my forte.) but for a look round when it was closed. A stage is a lot deeper than I thought. Interesting fact: It actually looks just the same as the Theatre Royal in Lincoln.

SONY DSC

  • Driving round the Cygnet loop with Margaret, my wonderful host who I met in Thailand halfway up a vertical climb up a cliff face in a monsoon at Railay beach. We ate AMAZING cake at the Red Velvet Lounge and saw lots of scarecrows in the villages.

I stayed with some awesome people. Rob, Margaret and Ross in Kingston (who, as mentioned previously, I met in Thailand) who took me in, fed and watered me, did my washing, showed me around and who were just totally amazing and generous. Very comfy bed here too, it was absolute bliss after 2 weeks of camping! I started and ended my stay in Hobart with them, with them dropping me and my bike off at the airport.

Greg, Dorothy and Mary, cycle tourists who offer a place to stay in their beautiful historic traditional house to other cyclists. They took me out bush walking and made me feel like one of the family. They had the best muesli for brekkie and they fed me lots of vegetables which makes me very happy. I got to meet many more interesting people through them too, and also tasted the best ever home made lemon curd. Man, that stuff was INCREDIBLE.

Sandy, Lesley, James and Erica who I met in Freycinet National Park earlier on in my trip and who lived on the Eastern Shore. I got to stay the ‘other’ side of the Tasman Bridge, and drank lots of fabulous red wine with them. They also took me to their friend’s 50th birthday BBQ on Mt Nelson where again I was made to feel like one of the family. And eat great cake.

It’s the experiences like this and the people I have met that made it so hard to leave Tassie. It’s a wonderful, wonderful place filled with lots of wonderful, wonderful people and they all made my stay in Hobart one of the best couple of weeks I have had. They all made me feel so welcome, and I actually felt very sad to leave.

I still, even now when I’ve had time to think about it, can’t get over the kindness that I experienced in Tasmania. It was just incredible, and I just didn’t expect anything like that. I’m not quite sure what I have done to deserve it, but I know that all these experiences just make me want to do the same. To pass it on. One of the things I have in common with all of the people I have met is that we’ve all travelled in some way at some time or another. Have all experienced similar and want to pass it on. But, you don’t need to have travelled to spread the love. To be generous and kind.

Let’s pass it on, people. Start the revolution.

Touring Tasmania….on a pushbike.

Well, I said I wanted a challenge. And f*ck me, did I get that. With bells on.

Just a few things for you to consider before I start. 1) Tasmania is Australia’s hilliest state. 2) There was a record-high heatwave the first week I was there. 3) I’ve not biked anywhere near these kind of distances. 4) I’ve never done anything like this before. 5) I’ve never biked fully loaded with panniers full of gear/a tent etc. 6) I’m not that fit at the moment.

So, as you can see, I was totally fully prepared and ready to bike hundreds of kilometres. Not. My plan was to cycle from Launceston to Hobart, along the North East/East Coast of Tasmania. All in all, around 600km, just me, a bike and a tent. Yep, it’d be a breeze. Right?

HA! Nope. Although, I can look back now and think “hey, it wasn’t that bad, it was quite easy actually.” That’s due to the huge Dame Edna-style rose-tinted spectacles I’m wearing. Funny how once you’ve done something your mind can trick you about how it actually was. That’s why I deliberately made sure I thought about how I was feeling as I was going around (although, some days I didn’t have a choice, it’s all I could think about) and made sure I wrote notes every day. To avoid RTS syndrome.

That’s not to say it was bloody awful either; it was one of the best things I’ve ever done and I enjoyed every second of it (even the really, really hard tough bits). If I were to describe it in a few words, it’d be a mixture: Incredible. Amazing. Tough. Fantastic. Hot. Hard work. Gruelling. Relentless. Rewarding. Magic. Fun.

Oh, and if you’re wondering where the idea came from, I’m not entirely sure. I think a mixture of wanting to visit Tasmania, to do something a bit different, feeling quite unfit and wanting a challenge. I’d been inspired about bike rides by a couple of people along the way on my travels so hey presto, the idea came together and voila!

If you’re interested, let’s start with a few biking facts and stats. Oh, just to be clear, these are just my biking days from the day I set out to the day I finished. I had a bit of time in Launceston at the beginning and a while in Hobart at the end with no biking.

  • Day 1: Launceston to Low Head: Total distance biked 66km (41 miles), top speed 55kph (34mph)
  • Day 2: Low Head to Bridport: Total distance biked 65km (40 miles), top speed 49kph (30mph)
  • Day 3: Rest Day (plus a slight hangover)
  • Day 4: Bridport to Derby: Total distance biked 55.5km (34 miles), top speed 57kph (35mph)
  • Day 5: Derby to St Helens (aka Gravel Hell Day): Total distance biked 76km (47 miles), top speed 47kph (29mph)
  • Day 6: St Helens to Lagoons Beach (via Binalong Bay): Total distance biked 70km (43 miles), top speed 53kph (33mph)
  • Day 7: Lagoons Beach to Coles Bay; Total distance biked 69km (43 miles), top speed 44kph (27mph)
  • Day 8: Rest Day
  • Day 9: Coles Day to Swansea: Total distance biked 28.5km (18 miles), top speed 38kph (24mph)
  • Day 10: Swansea to Orford: Total distance biked 62km (38.5 miles), top speed 54kph (33.5mph)
  • Day 11: Orford to Richmond: Total distance biked 56.5km (35 miles), top speed 68kph (42mph)
  • Day 12: Richmond to Hobart: Total distance biked 30km (19 miles), top speed 48kph (30mph)

So, there you have it. In 10 days biking I cycled a total of 578.5 km (359 miles) and reached a top speed of 68kph (42mph). I’m not normally one for shouting about stuff I do but I’m bloody chuffed with that. I’m sure there’s people who have done way more (like Valerie, the girl I met in Hobart who had biked all the way from Adelaide to Darwin alone – 3000 km in two months. Hats off to you girl!) but for me, this is a huge personal achievement.

I set out in a bit of naivety really, not really thinking about whether it would be difficult or not, knowing it would be hilly but not realising what that really meant (like what it would actually feel like) and being a bit blasé (oh it will be easy peasy) about it all. Well I got my reality check! Although, all the way through I did it with a smile on my face and still thoughts of, well, just how bad can it be? And there was never any question about whether I could do it or not. Ever since I decided to do it I knew I could. I guess the questions were how long it would take and how hard it would be. I guess it helps I have endless optimism and a bit of determination. That ‘mind over matter’ grit. Which came into play endless times. Like when my legs were so tired I had to force them to keep going. When my knees felt like they might pop out of their sockets from pain. When the hill seemed never ending and the sun was relentless. When I ended up on that gravel track, miles from anywhere in the baking heat, only able to go about 5kph and knowing there was another 40km to go. When my shoulders and back were so cramped up from having 10kg hung off them. When I knew I still had two big hills to go before I could stop. You get the picture.

So. Where to start? So much to tell. Hmmm. Ok. Let’s start at the beginning.

Well, actually, let’s start with a thank you. A big, huge, mega THANK YOU. To Bob and La, who lent me a bike, all the bike bits and camping stuff, along with a heap load of help and advice. They have been just truly awesome and this bike trip may not have gone ahead without them. Or if it had, I doubt it would have been even half as successful. I owe them so much. So a big thank you guys, from the bottom of my heart.

So my trip didn’t start out particularly smoothly. I got to the airport and realised I’d forgotten the bike helmet I’d borrowed. As it’s law to wear a helmet over here, it meant I would have to buy one when I got to Tasmania. It also meant I couldn’t really put my bike together at the airport and I’d have to figure out a way to get a dismantled bike in a box into the city. Top tip: When you write a list of things to remember to take, it’s helpful to actually read the list before you go. The next important lesson I learnt was that bikes in boxes usually weigh around 25kg. I got told this by the helpful lady who pointed out that I was 5kg over my 20kg allowance. I might have remarked that it might be helpful to put that on their website for people who had never flown with a bike before and had no idea how much it would weigh. Luckily, she was an actual helpful lady and offset the weight of the bike with my carry on and I only had to pay an extra $30 rather than $60. Top tip: Pay the extra $4 or whatever it is when booking baggage allowance on a flight to get a bit more than you think you need.

I also found out that Tasmania is a lot smaller than I maybe first thought. Or, that there’s a lot less people there. Oh, and shops and other places shut early. I got into Launceston just after lunchtime and most of the shops shut at lunchtime. I wandered around the streets (minus my bike box – I’d left it in a Mountain Designs shop) and it was like a ghost town. On a Saturday afternoon. Prime shopping time and nothing was open and there was no one about. I was on the search for a bike helmet and I knew if I didn’t get one now, then I’d be stuck in the middle of the city with a bike in a box and no shops open until Monday. Luckily, I managed to find probably the only bike shop that was open until 3pm and they hit me up with a nice shiny white helmet. I trotted back to Mountain Designs and started to put my bike together in the back op the shop next to the rucksacks. Oh, let’s be clear, I didn’t just start unpacking my box in the middle of the shop, the manager did actually say I could. I think she felt sorry for me. This was the first of many acts of kindness I experienced on my trip.

IMG_9307

In my first few days in Launceston before I started my biking, I’d already managed to compile a little list of do’s and dont’s. I’m not sure whether these will help anyone but me, but, well, you never know.

  • Do walk around a gorge for hours in a heatwave without water. You won’t get mega thirsty and be praying for a water fountain to appear at all.
  • Don’t look in a mirror when applying sun cream. Of course you’ll manage to rub it all in and most definitely won’t have any streaks of white on your face for the entire day.
  • Don’t take flip flops with you. This way you get to walk around on stubby grass in bare feet or have permanent grass-covered socks.
  • Do pitch your tent as far away from the toilet/shower block as possible. Especially up a hill and in full sunlight with no shade.
  • Do leave your tent flap open – you’ll enjoy sleeping with ants.
  • Do decide to walk to the supermarket to get food rather than going to Hungry Jacks. It’s only about 5km away and you won’t want to eat your own hand with hunger by the time you finally get back with some food.
  • Do go to McDonalds to get wifi. You most certainly won’t look like a weirdo lurker outside and it will work perfectly. (I must be the only traveller who has never been able to get MaccyD wifi to work. In any country.)

I had a couple of days to have a wander round the beautiful little quaint city (it is technically a city, but it’s so tiny it really doesn’t feel like one) of Launceston (pronounced Lon-ses-ton), and the wonderful Cataract Gorge. It was beautiful and I wondered what the rest of Tasmania would be like after this. I was getting an idea for the hills here and also starting to wonder what I’d let myself in for. I really enjoyed Launceston but I was itching to get going out on the bike. Once I’d had a broken spoke fixed (reckon it got broken on the plane coming over) and my assembling skills checked out (turns out I didn’t do too bad), I was ready to hit the road. So, off I went. For about 100 metres. Then, in traffic, my chain came off. Good start. I think it was the bike just letting me know not to get too cocky.

SONY DSC

So, first day of biking wasn’t too bad. It was hot, and I started to realise just how far I’d have to bike, and just how long it would take me. I’d never spent 5-6 hours on a bike before, and after I’d been biking for about an hour I really did think I should probably have got to where I was going. I got a little lesson in managing expectations here. I also thought it was hilly. Ha. How wrong I was. That was actually flat compared with what was to come. By the end of my trip I had discovered the real meaning of the Tasmanian hill scale:

  1. Flat – quite few hills
  2. Not too bad – quite a few big hills
  3. Hilly – mountains

SONY DSC

I got my first glimpse of the Tassie scenery that first day, cycling alongside the Tamar river through wine valley country. Very pretty, with cute houses overlooking the river which was as blue as you could probably get. I got to bike over the awesomely-named Batman Bridge, and rolled into a place called Georgetown only to realise that everywhere (apart from the one supermarket) shuts at 5pm. I came to realise that this is normal for most places on the East Coast. At this point I’d done about 60km and my left knee was complaining quite a bit. After another (slightly uphill, quite hot) 5 or 6km I finally arrived at a caravan park in a place called Low Head right at the top of the island. Not a lot here, just lovely views over the river (especially at sunset) and Bass Strait and an awesome couple called Colin and Linda who gave me a chair, a beer and some bacon & cheese cheddar things as soon as I rolled into camp. Very much welcomed. How friendly and generous? I know. And no, they weren’t some kind of weird swingers or running a sex cult. Just, nice, friendly Aussie travellers.

SONY DSC

Already now an expert in tent setting up and taking down, I was ready in a jiffy the next day to trot onto Bridport. Well, trot wasn’t quite the speed I went at. Not surprisingly, my legs were a bit achy. So would yours be if you’d just cycled 65km without any practice or build up. Also, my left knee was pretty much in agony. It was REALLY painful. More than I’d expected. It felt similar to how my knees felt when I first started running, but much worse. Deep down I knew it was just a ‘getting used to the riding and repetitive exercise’ pain, so I soldiered on, but, bloody hell. It hurt. The only way I kept going was to think in a few km blocks. Like, “I’ll see how it feels after 5km”. Luckily for me, after about 10km the pain went away. Just like that. And I had a pretty uneventful day, although a few things stood out for me on this bit of the journey: 1) There were no villages or towns or anything to pass through. Just rolling fields and bush. So no shops or cafes. Luckily I’d already figured out to always carry a bit of food. 2) It was really hot, as Tasmania was still in the throes of the record-high heatwave. It was like riding a bike in a sauna. I guess people pay good money for that kind of workout. 3) There was a lot of road kill. Tasmania is known for it, mainly because there’s loads of animals here, most of which like to go and play on the roads between dusk and dawn, so it kind of figures. What’s not so great is riding past all this roadkill (some quite big (wallabies) and most that aren’t quite, well, whole any more) in temperature that’s in the high 30’s at a slow speed because you’re on a bike. I was reminded of the smell of DEATH. Which funnily enough reminded me of my childhood in the country. 4) Logging trucks are actually quite big compared to a bicycle. And they don’t give you a lot of room on the road. I was living on the edge. Quite literally, on the edge of the road.

SONY DSC

SONY DSC

After stopping to buy cherries from a guy on the side of the road (there’s a lot of that here. Proper Tasmanian cherries, and oh my word they are good. So dark and so sweet) I rolled into Bridport, my right knee now hurting just a little bit. But only a little bit, so I figured it was all good. Actually at about this point I thought that if I had to stop cycling now, it would be OK because at least I had tried it, done a couple of days and experienced what it was like. But I thought I’d maybe be OK. I’d decided to have a rest day here in Bridport before setting off again; I had plenty of time and no need to be rushing off and injuring myself in the process. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

Bridport is a fairly big (by Tasmania standards) seaside town. A few cafes, supermarket, shops and a beach. That’s pretty much it. I was getting the impression that this was what I should expect for a big town in Tasmania. I’m guessing this is why it’s so laid back. It was a bit like stepping back in time. No wifi, no unnecessary tat shops, no fancy restaurants, no fuss. Just a place with a nice beach full of friendly people enjoying the summer. It was still hot and I must have looked pretty knackered when I rocked up at my pitch, because the couple next door looked at me with pity and then forced me to sit and drink beer with them. Paul and Debbie from Canberra. I remembered their names as I instantly thought of Paul Daniels and Debbie McGee. Not that they looked anything like them. But they will forever be known as Paul Daniels and Debbie McGee to me.  Wonderful people, I spent a fab evening with them at the local pub where we ate good food, drank two rather spiffing bottles of Merlot and chatted about all sorts, including work stuff, as they own a computer consultancy company (who actually provide IT project managers etc), which actually, was much fun to swap stories. And realise that IT project management seems to be the same on the other side of the world.  When the time came to leave I found out they had already settled the bill and wouldn’t let me pay. Again, such amazing hospitality and generosity. Especially when we headed back to carry on drinking. I think we drank their alcohol supply dry, as the next thing I knew I woke up the next morning in my tent, no sleeping bag, still in my clothes (they were clearly not swingers or sex cult people either as I’m sure I probably would have woken up in either a) someone else’s tent or b) naked), surrounded by cracker crumbs (I’d obviously got the munchies). I have a vague recollection of trying to unzip my rucksack but not succeeding, mainly because it was already unzipped. I think it took me a good 10 minutes before I figured this out. Yes, I was that drunk, and I’ve not been that drunk for a loooong time. My rest day in Bridport turned into a hangover day. Have you ever tried to sleep off a hangover in 35+ heat in a tent? It’s not pleasant.

Back on the road again, I biked from Bridport to Derby (pronounced Derr-bee), stopping to have lunch at Scottsdale, where I got some impromptu advice from a Tassie local about getting a bike mirror from the shop round the corner so I could see the trucks behind me. I didn’t get one, but I guess it was nice of him to be concerned. It was pretty hot and pretty hilly again, but I’d started to get into a routine and it certainly didn’t feel as much as a slug as the first couple of days. I’m guessing the day off/hangover had helped in some way. And the stop to eat a trail bar in a graveyard.

Derby was a cute place. Tiny, tiny village. No shop but a couple of pubs, some B&B’s, cafes and a tin mine museum. I camped in Derby Park for freeeee and chatted to John and Nerryl who were on holiday from Adelaide. They fed me cups of tea and actually apologised that they didn’t have enough food to invite me for dinner. Sweet. I was alright with my tin of tuna and bit of bread though. Decided to go for a walk to the other end of the village to see what was about. It took me about 10 minutes. As it was about 6pm, of course everything was shut. Apart from the pubs. Heard voices coming from the one nearest to the camp site so I decided to go for a beer (yes, the hangover of the previous day was miraculously forgotten). Ever see it on TV where someone walks into a bar and the music stops, everyone stops talking and turns around to stare? Well, that happened. Apart from there wasn’t any music playing. But, if it had been, I swear it would have stopped. There was a handful of locals who clearly weren’t used to outsiders strolling in, cheerily shouting hello in an English accent. Mouths had actually dropped open and I got a bit of a steely stare from the landlady (who I later found out was called Betty) behind the bar, who, when I asked what beers they did, sarcastically pointed to the [one] draft pump. Boags of course. I ended up having a great night; getting to know the locals, finding out all about Derby and the pub’s history, and being bought drinks by Terry, the local ex-rocker who, after every drink, was ‘just leaving’ (and who was still there when I left….). The couple of young lads there invited their mates and everyone found it hilarious that I was biking around, let alone about to bike the two massive hills the next day, and wanted to know all about my travels. It was the kind of pub where you left your money on the bar and your glass just got filled up and money taken, no need to order or pay for a drink. I’m surprised Terry had any money left on the bar, the speed in which Betty would whip his empty glass away and refill. The kind of pub where you had to go behind the bar to get to the ladies toilet. The kind of pub that if Betty was out the back you just filled your empty glass up from the pump and put the money behind the bar. Proper local, honest and full of characters. In the space of an evening I went from being stared at to hearing cries of “No, don’t go” when I got up to leave. All in a day’s travel. This night is one of my fondest memories actually.

SONY DSC

More stranger kindness (honestly, I could write a whole blog post on it’s own about this. In fact I will. Soon.) followed the next morning as I had packed up camp, ready to tackle those two massive hills. A chap walks over with a box of Coco Pops in his hand and asks me if I’d like to join them for breakfast. Who could refuse an offer like that? Soon I was chomping on Coco Pops (not had those for YEARS) with Derek, Margot and Ruth. They even gave me a little chocolate bar to take with me for energy on the way (and unbeknown to me at the time, I needed it!). I also had a separate guy some over with some water as he’d seen me filling up my water bottle from the untreated water tap. Little did he know I have a Travel Tap which means I can fill up my bottle pretty much anywhere and it will filter all the nasties out. Even the Brayford Allister, although I never did try before I left the UK.

Derek also offered me a lift as they were going the same way. I knew I had two massive hills to get over. It was tempting. But, I decided that might be cheating. So, I told them that when they passed me later, to ask again. But, fate decided to intervene. Or maybe not fate but roadworks and bad road signage. This was probably the worst day of biking for me. It was the hottest and sunniest day yet (maximums of 35/36; pretty unheard of for Tas). I ended up on the wrong road (I’m still not quite sure how, as I didn’t actually leave the road. But still. One of life’s mysteries.) and only realised when I was about 10km downhill. Now, here’s the choice: do you a) go back 10km uphill to get back to where you’d come from and know that you still have two massive hills to climb, or do you b) see an alternative gravel road route that will take you to the same end place without really going out of the way? Looking back, I’d choose a). But of course I didn’t, I chose b). It seemed the best idea at the time, but then I’d never biked on Tassie’s gravel roads before. Now, it would have been OK if it was just a little gravel road, say, 5km? IT WAS 40. 40. 40km. That’s nearly 25 miles. 25 miles of rough, massive, bumpy, slow gravel roads. In 35 degree heat and no shade. With no passing cars and just state forest all around. Let’s just say I felt very isolated right then. And because it was such slow going (averaging 5kph) I was there for a LONG time. I actually didn’t know whether I’d get to the end of the road. Not in a dramatic “I’m going to die” but more a “shit, will I get a puncture or will the bike break it’s being shaken around that much” or “I’m going to have to camp out here in the forest” or “I wonder whether I’ll get heatstroke” or “I wonder if I should have taken that little road back there as I don’t know whether I’m going in the right direction” or “Have I got enough food”. That kind of thing. I can say the day that will forever be known now as ‘Gravel Hell Day’ certainly reminded me of Mind Over Matter. When you’re out in somewhere like that, only yourself for miles around, having to push on even though you’re running out of energy because it’s so hot and the road is so bumpy and hilly (oh yes, I avoided the two big hills but had to content with lots of [slightly] smaller ones), losing more fluids than you’re drinking, knowing that you’ve still got at least 6 hours more biking to go and no apparent end in sight, you have to dig deep and just Get On With it. So I did. There might have been a time when I told the sun to Fuck Off (sorry for the language Nan, but I was pretty hot and a bit irritable at that point!) but I pretty much managed to keep smiling. When I got to the end of the gravel and saw the tarmac, I very nearly got off my bike and kissed the ground. Nearly. What I actually did was laugh and pedal manically, rejoycing at how easy it seemed. Until I got to a hill and realised I had naff all energy. Cue the little chocolate bar I’d been given that morning! Gave me the sugar boost I needed to do the last 20km to St Helens before I collapsed in a heap at a hostel in a proper bed rather than a tent (only because it was cheaper to stay there than it was to pitch a tent – Tasmanian summer madness).

SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC

St Helens is a bit of a funny place. Quite big, but not a lot there. A few shops and cafes (thanks Cafe Banjos for the free wifi) but not a lot else. Oh, I did get a guy with a 70’s porn moustache and a cowboy hat walk past me at night and drawl “Howdy” with a slightly creepy smile. Bit weird. Felt like I had biked through a portal and ended up in Southern USA. Not that I’ve been to the deep south but, it’s kind of what I imagine it’s like.

St Helens is more a launching pad for the beautiful Bay of Fires, which is actually lots of different bays which are stunningly pretty, especially in the sunshine. I had a ride up to Binalong Bay the next day before carrying on. Unfortunately for me, the weather decided that after nearly a week of record high sunshine that the day I bike to Binalong Bay was the day it would cloud over and be a bit drizzly. Thanks for that. Still, it was beautiful, even in the rain. And it gave me a good excuse to go to the cafe there and eat a chip mountain (literally, I am NOT KIDDING) and half a cheesecake (again, NOT KIDDING).

SONY DSC

And I can’t complain about the drizzle. After a week of nearly melting while riding, it made a nice change to have some cooler weather. Pretty sweet actually. Not so good to set up camp but as I was an expert tent setter-upper at this point I had it done in approximately 10.8 seconds*. *could be a slight under-estimation

More stranger kindness at the Lagoons Beach campsite. Trish, Richard, Barry and Molly (the self-named Grey Nomads) not only gave me beer when I arrived, they brought me a plateful of steaming hot chicken, potatoes and veg. Room service to my tent. Followed by chat, tea and homemade chocolates in one of their nice warm campervans (very welcome on a chilly damp night). How amazing is that eh? Australian’s are so damn friendly and generous, and these guys were just lovely and great to chat with. They also offered me a lift but again I said no. This bit is the flat bit so it definitely would have been cheating!

It was about now that I started bumping into old friends. Colin and Linda from Lowhead drove past so I had a quick chat with them. In a bakery in Bicheno I met up with Marc, a fellow cycle tourist from Canada who I met back in St Helens. Then Colin and Linda joined us in the bakery. Small island. This day I learnt about the phrase ‘on it’s last legs’. I was. Literally. You ever heard about the ‘Toxic Ten’? I first heard this when I started running. It was used to describe the first (and sometimes last) 10 minutes of a run where it would be really Hard Work. Well, I had the Toxic Ten and more. It was a nice day of riding but for the last few km my legs hurt. Really hurt, and it was such hard work to get to the end. I got to the campsite at Freycinet National Park and pretty much collapsed. My legs honestly felt like they couldn’t go much more. My last legs. That night I thought about walking up to Coles Bay to go and get some food but I just couldn’t face it. It was only just up the hill, but my legs really didn’t have any strength left in them. I’d already planned the next day as a rest day, which it would have been no matter what, because the next morning I just couldn’t face getting on my bike. I wasn’t going anywhere. The start of the walk to the famous Wineglass Bay lookout was about 5km from the campsite and I couldn’t even face getting on my bike for that, so I hitched a lift with a passing car.  Good job, because the walk up to the lookout and then down to the bay (which, by the way, is beauuutiful) and back was bloody tough. Some rest day eh. Obviously I rewarded myself with a snooze on the beach and two massive bars of Milkybar.

SONY DSC

Stranger kindness again? Yes, in buckets and spades here. I met a couple of families from Tassie on their annual holiday to Freycinet and they took me under their wing and invited me to dinner on both nights. I met Sue, Terry, Lesley, Sandy and Erica and, like everyone else, were just so friendly. They really welcomed me in and made me feel part of their family for a couple of days. I later stayed with Sandy, Lesley and Erica again in Hobart but that’s for another blog post.

Coles Bay to Swansea should have been a long ride back, along 30km of the same road because there’s only one way in and out of Freycinet. BUT. I was sneaky. I had achy legs, it was a mega windy day and I just couldn’t really face the thought of riding 30km along the same road back again. So, I diverted about 10km out of Coles Bay to a place called Swanick, which is just across the river from a place called Bagot Point, which, once you’re there, is about a 15 km ride to Swansea (rather than having to go all the way round and down again). Luckily for me two guardian angels appeared and after a quick chat, offered to give me and the bike a lift across the river in their boat. I will forever be grateful for that. My legs were so grateful, only 30km instead of a 70km ride. BONUS. Plus, the river and the ride along Dolphin Sands was so pretty. AND FLAT. With the most beautiful sky.

SONY DSC

Here’s a few random things I learnt along the way. 1) Everyone waves. I’m not sure whether it was because I was on a bike, but car drivers, lorry driver, pedestrians, farmers and everyone in between waved and smiled at me as I went past. Some also beep. It took me a while to realise they were just beeping and waving to be friendly, rather than beeping because I might have a wheel hanging off or something. 2) The spork that comes with the John West tuna lunch pack will hold you in good stead for a camping trip. You can (and will) use it for EVERYTHING. Of course, it might be easier to remember to take cutlery, especially when your friend offers you some from their camping gear. But, if you happen to forget, this makes a good tool and you’ll be very inventive with it. 3) I found biking alone for hours a day to be a bit like meditating. Lots of time to think, with random (and often strange) thoughts popping into my head. It was great to have that time and space though. And apparently I am not odd to make up games to play or start talking to the animals, other cycle tourists do it too. 4) It was inevitable I would fall over. But, it only happened twice. Once, as I stopped the bike and realised there was no ground to the left where I was leaning, so, plop, over I went. The other was when I was trying to put leggings on, over shoes, while standing up. Yep, I fell face first onto my tent, arse into the air. Top tip: Don’t be lazy and take your shoes off.

There’s loads of wildlife in Tasmania; I saw and heard plenty of it when I was there. Echidnas (very cute small spiky anteater thingys), wallabies (like kangaroos but different), possums (one tried to get into my tent one night), kookaburras (sound like monkeys), crows (sound like they are laughing), loads of different birds, including some birds of prey, and many many more that I either can’t remember or don’t know what they were. One of the great things about biking is how close you can get, and how you see, hear (and smell) all these things. Like the laughing crows. Probably wouldn’t have heard them in a car. They made me smile and laugh every time I heard them. Mainly because it just sounded like they were laughing at me cycling along. Either that or I had got sunstroke and had gone a bit delirious.

Swansea was a cute little seaside town, with a beautiful walk around the headland looking out over Freycinet, and the bike ride to Orford was really nice. Passed Spiky Bridge (an old bridge made by convicts) and some odd things like post boxes made out of toilet seats, and fences made out of trainers. Orford was a bit of a nondescript place, and I got there quite late so didn’t do much. I guess the only thing of note was that I stayed in a free camping place that had no toilets, and the nearest public toilets were a 15 minute walk away. Lets just say I had to strategically plan my evening and didn’t drink much. I’m pretty sure you’re finding this level of detail fascinating. Sorry, I felt the need to share. There might be people who are thinking of biking round Tasmania who may need this vital, important information.

SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC

Onward to Richmond was only a tiny ride of only 30km. It felt like it was over before it began, it was that quick! Although, it did have the fabulously named Bust-Me-Gall and Break-Me-Neck hills which were pretty hard going upwards, but bloody good fast fun going downwards! Got to the bottom with no broken galls or necks. Another bonus. Richmond actually reminded me of a little English village, with lots of old stone Georgian-style buildings, rolling hills, meandering river, Australia’s oldest bridge and a couple of pretty little churches. And a bakery that did an amazing vegetable quiche (yes I like quiche now Mum, who’d have thought it? I also appear to like mushrooms and nuts.). But the most random thing about Richmond was Harmony. Harmony was, quite clearly, a man dressed as a woman, who was driving around Tasmania. Harmony told me that she (he?) had healing hands and proceeded to have a good look at my legs, have a bit of a prod/stroke around and tell me that I had a bit of a dodgy left knee at the back. It wasn’t far off where I had a poorly knee at the start of the biking, so maybe there was something in it. Either that or she (he) just wanted a feel of my leg. Either way, I seem to attract them. Remember my spiritual healing encounter in India?

SONY DSC

From Richmond I had my last day’s biking to Hobart. A great last day’s biking, with a couple of big hills which by now had become, dare I say it, easy. OK, maybe easy is a bit flippant, but I’d definitely say manageable. Bearable. I think my legs had got used to it. I think I had got a little bit fitter. A bit stronger. I’d found a rhythm and got used to getting somewhere when I got there, taking however long it would take. I no longer felt like crying when I saw a hill coming up.

Hobart felt like an assault on the senses when I got there. Loud, noisy and busy! It’s actually a very small city (population of just under 215,000) but compared to the places I’d been to it felt like a metropolis. It didn’t help that I ended up on the main dual carriageway into the city. There’s only three bits of dual carriageway on the whole island, and this was the busiest. For my friends back in Lincoln, it was like the Lincoln bypass. Yes, that’s a major road in Tassie!

I ended up spending about a week and a half in Hobart and fell completely and madly in love with the place. I could have stayed much longer. It reminded me of a mix between Lincoln (for the small, friendly feel where everyone knew everyone) and Cape Town (for the sheer beauty of the place, and the fact it was looked upon by a mountain and had the most beautiful harbour). I’m going to write about my time in Hobart in a separate post. There’s too much to say, and this post is too long already, and I’m sure you’ve either a) stopped reading or b) fallen asleep by now.

So, I guess I should wrap it up now. But I actually can’t think how to. I think I said it all in the beginning. So, I’ll leave you with this.

photo (9)

Australia: the story so far.

I’ve been in Melbourne for a month now. A MONTH. How has that happened?!!

I adore it. I’ve not been doing the normal travelling stuff here. I’ve been staying in one place for a start. I’ve not done a lot of sightseeing stuff. Or any tours. I guess you could say I’ve been living here rather than travelling. Which suits me just fine. I was about ready for a break from all the moving about. It’s been like going home without actually going home.

I’ve been staying with some friends who have just been brilliant. Made me feel right at home and have done so much for me; from giving me a place to stay to taking me out and about, to feeding me copious amounts of amazing food, to buying me a Christmas present and lending me a bike and all the gear so I can get around. Amongst other things. Not sure how I will be able to repay them!

I’ve not just been sat on my bum for a month though. Oh no. I’ve actually been quite busy. It’s hard work this travelling lark. What have I been doing? Read on.

I said I’d be back on the fitness stuff when I got to Australia, and OH YES I HAVE. Just check out my Runkeeper stats for the proof!! I’ve been running, walking, biking and running some more. It’s been GREAT. The weather has been much better for it (cooler, no humidity and a bit unpredictable. Just how I realise I like it!) and there’s so much opportunity for it here; it’s not an abnormal thing. I have to be careful to not do too much too soon though, so I’ve been trying to take it a bit easy but I’ve been so excited to get out there and get moving I’ve probably done a bit more than I should. I have to remember I’m probably not quite at the fitness level I was back in May 2013 before I left! My left knee is a bit whingey at the moment, and I need it to be on top form the next few weeks so I need to keep an eye on that. But most days I’ve done some kind of exercise. Whoop! I’ve biked, ran or walked to and around Westerfolds Park (beautiful) and Bundoora Park, along the Yarra River and Darebin creek. There are hundreds of places to explore here, all along bike and walking trails, so no need to go along any roads really. It’s just wonderful.

photo (2)

So, what else?

I’ve been into Melbourne city a few times. It’s only 20 minutes on the train so not far away at all. I’ve had a good wander around the streets looking at all the buildings, done a bit of window shopping (I have neither the spare funds, space in my backpack or inclination to do anything more than that to be fair), went to the Botanical Gardens, took the City Circle tram and went up to the top of the Eureka Tower. I ate my lunch in the Carlton Gardens, walked down by the river where I watched people eating and drinking on the outside BBQ’s there (BRILLIANT facility) and marvelled at the Melbourne street art. I watched live music in Federation Square, got lost in the laneways, visited the State Library of Victoria and saw the famous Myer Christmas window display with Bob and La.  Melbourne’s great because the CBD is small enough to wander round really easily, and on a grid system so if you do get a bit lost you just keep walking until you come to a main road and you can soon sort yourself out again.

SONY DSC

I’ve ran in the city too. The first run was with the Run Bird Crew, a running group from a running shop in the city not long after I arrived in Melbourne. A nice bunch of people, I ran around 7km with them, at a pretty fast pace. The guy from the shop (who incidentally was a better looking version of David Beckham – yes, I didn’t know there was such a thing either. Phew.) said it was faster than they normally go. Well, my body definitely felt it. Although, it was good to be pushed, and great to be running with other people again. Even if I didn’t actually run with anyone much, and was last to get back to the shop, haha! I also ran around Albert Park doing my very first parkrun – you can read about that here. Still on the list to do is to run around the Tan – a bit of an icon in Melbourne and something I have to do.

Albert Park, parkrun #110

Bob and La had a Christmas BBQ to celebrate with all their friends before they went on holiday, so I got to eat loads of scrummy food, drink beer, chat with lots of interesting people and make new friends. In the sun. In December. Very cool.

photo (3)

I went cherry picking near Red Hill, south of Melbourne. It’s is a popular thing here (very similar to strawberry picking in the UK), and one of Bob and La’s Christmas traditions. It was great to see the countryside around the city, as well as have a picnic and eat lots of mage cherries straight off the trees. Yum. On the way back we stopped at Frankston beach which reminded me of South Africa – bright blue sea and golden beaches. Stunning.

photo (4)

Christmas happened. I’ve already written about that though. And of course, New Year follows Christmas. This year, for New Year’s Eve I got invited by a new friend to join them and their neighbours in a 6 course Japanese banquet and after party. Oh my word. So much food. So much good food. So much amazing food. It was a great atmosphere and I love meeting new people. It was wonderful to see this real life, slightly unconventional, community of family, friends and neighbours in a Melbourne suburb. And I met Australian people! Hurrah!

photo (5)

I went for a walk with a new friend in Warrandyte which was just stunning. All trees and river and lovely scenery. These places that are technically in the city of Melbourne are just cracking and could have you fooled that you’re out in the countryside. Definitely a green city here.

I went hiking up and around Mount Dandenong with some more new friends. Spectacular views and a bit of a challenging walk. More fresh air, good exercise, one of my favourite things to do and good company. Oh, and we finished with tea and scones. Not bad eh?

SONY DSC

I went to Brighton beach on a hot day, again with some new friends. Lovely to get to know people who live here as I can experience Melbourne like a local. Experience life here. How else will I figure out whether it’s for me or not, long term? 😉 On this day it was supposed to get to about 38 degrees, so what better thing to do than hit the beach in a bikini? We had about an hour and a half of hot weather before I got to witness the famous ‘Melbourne cool change’! Where the wind direction and temperature changes, and the air temperature drops significantly within the space of a few minutes. Cue everyone on the beach trying to hold onto their umbrellas and day tents, avoid being blasted in the face with sand while packing everything up. Beach abandoned, we did what anyone would do and decamped to a nearby trendy pub to drink afternoon cider.

photo (7)

I’ve watched quite a lot of films. I don’t feel like I’ve seen any for months (apart from the odd one on a plane) so it was nice over Christmas to sit down and watch a few. Especially when they were accompanied by some chocolate. Mmm. Chocolate.

When I was in Zambia last year I made a friend who was from Melbourne. Of course we said we’d have to meet up when I got to Australia. Back then, that seemed like ages away. And all of a sudden it’s here. And we met up. Jenny took me to the Sherlock Holmes Inn. Very English. We had fish & chips. Very English. I had two glasses of rose wine. Not quite so English. They were £5 each. For a small glass. Australia is expensive.

photo (6)

I went to St Kilda for a walk along the beach and a wander round the streets. It’s a quirky little place, with lots of bakeries (yes, I resisted all those lovely cakes as part of my trying-to-give-up-sugar thing I’ve got going on), cafe and little shops. There’s also an amusement park called Luna Park, which reminded me of the fair at Skegness. It even had a theatre right next to it. just like the Embassy Centre. I had a walk to the end of the pier – there’s a cracking view looking back towards the beach with the city in the background. I love the skyscrapers of Melbourne’s CBD. Hopefully I’ll get to go to a rooftop bar or cinema before I leave Australia.

SONY DSC SONY DSC

I saw kangaroos and koalas at Healsville Sanctuary. I’ve not seen any in the wild yet, so this was the next best thing. It’s not a zoo, more a wildlife sanctuary where native Australian animals are taken to be looked after, rehabilitated and breeding programs are carried out to fight extinction for some of the country’s most endangered animals. I loved seeing all the animals, especially a platypus (which is much smaller than I thought, and very cute), kangaroos, koalas, wombats and tasmanian devils. Mainly because I’ve never seen any of them in real life before. And there were so many amazing birds too. Birds over here are really colourful. Healsville is out in the Yarra Valley, which is a pretty nice part of Australia. Quite quaint, lots of countryside and green stuff and very pretty. A popular place for people to visit and live. It also has a place called Badger Creek. I liked this. I’d move there, just to have an address that had Badger Creek in it. Bob drove back round Mount Donna Buang and through the rainforest so I could stop and see it, which was pretty cool. Not quite like a tropical rainforest; this one was a bit chilly under the tree canopy for a start, and all mossy and damp.

SONY DSC

I went out for Afghan food one night with Bob and La on Brunswick Street. Brunswick Street is a famous trendy street in the Fitzroy suburb filled with bars, restaurants and quirky shops. Luckily since I’ve been in Melbourne I’ve bought some ‘normal’ clothes so I didn’t feel too out of place. Although I’m never going to completely fit in somewhere uber trendy. Because I’m just not, well, trendy enough. But the food here was great. Really great. Not had Afghan food before but now I have. Would recommend.

I went to a BBQ at the next door neighbours. Hosted by Kieran, Anthea and their two kids. Oh, and a visit from Anthea’s mum Lorna who lives the other side. As my Film Club buddies pointed out, this was a real life ‘Neighbours’ situation. They were lovely. The food was great. Their house is beautiful; they built it themselves, so it’s all new, shiny and modern. Their kitchen island is to die for. Want. I’ll hopefully see them again when I get back from Tasmania as they are (or more specifically, Kieran is) convinced that this Pom will end up stranded or dead somewhere.

There’s been more. I’ve walked around the suburb of Ivanhoe and pretty much know where everything is now. I know short cuts to the shops and train station, and recognise where I am on the bike trails near the creek. I’ve taken the dog for many walks to Darebin Parklands where there’s a strange egg shaped sculpture near a hill and free dog poop bags. I’ve fallen asleep on the train but never missed my stop, bought a pear as a snack instead of a chocolate bar (progress) and woken up pretty much every day without an alarm. I’ve got to know my friends here more and have enjoyed seeing them in their everyday family life. I’m so pleased I’ve been able to meet their daughter, who is just the most wonderful little person. I’ve been made to feel so at home and welcome, which, after 6 months on the road, was so needed you have no idea.

My next adventure will hopefully start this weekend. I’m going to fly to Launceston in Tasmania with a bike, some clothes and a tent and spend a few weeks cycling down the east coast of the island. I’ve got a vague route planned out, but nothing booked or set in stone; keeping it flexible, baby. I’ll be covering an average of around 50km a day, which is around 30 miles. So not too far. I’ve got my padded shorts ready to go. I’m looking forward to combining some of my favourite things; a bit of fitness with a bit of adventure and travel. Excited? YOU BET. Bring it ON, mofo.

SONY DSC

My Christmas Day in pictures.

I’d been meaning to do a day in pictures for a while, but not yet got round to it. So I decided, what better day to do it than Christmas Day?

My original idea for a day in pictures was actually to take a picture every hour, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t stick to that. Time kind of ran away with me, and I wasn’t clock watching. So, this is my Christmas Day 2013 in pictures:

Chats with the family first thing (Christmas Eve night UK time):

IMG_9003

My traditional Christmas Day morning run (can’t miss that!):

IMG_9008

Going out for dinner so I decided to glam up a bit when getting ready. Not worn mascara for months!:

IMG_9012

Pre-dinner preparations, including champagne:

IMG_9015 IMG_9013

 

CHRISTMAS DINNER! South African/Aussie mix of turkey, roasties, pumpkin, peach salad, beans, cranberry gravy and christmas pudding. YUM.

IMG_9019 IMG_9021

New friends:

IMG_9022

Afternoon champagne after dinner:

IMG_9024

 

Later on, two bottles of champers down:

IMG_9025

 

We move onto Moscato. DELICIOUS!:

IMG_9027

 

Early evening, riding home in the sunshine:

IMG_9028

 

IMG_9030

 

Chilled out evening watching National Lampoon with the cat and dog, eating pizza and Toblerone:

IMG_9047 IMG_9036 IMG_9046 IMG_9034

 

Then some Google hangouts with some buddies. Karl wasn’t too keen on having his photo taken:

IMG_9038IMG_9048

Washing up. Got to be done:

IMG_9049

 

Then a mammoth FaceTime session with the family on their Christmas Morning (late Xmas Day night/early Boxing day morning here). I was in the iPad, propped up on the sofa and it was just like I was in the room for a bit. Lots of laughs and giggles. And I look orange because of THE LIGHT:

IMG_9055 IMG_9060 IMG_9062

 

IMG_9064B

 

Bedtime. Ok, so this was actually the early hours of Boxing Day morning but it still counts, as it’s the last thing I did:  

IMG_9071

 

Pretty perfect day.

Yes. Yes. Yes.

Nope, I’m not watching When Harry met Sally.

It’s how I feel right now at getting to Australia and being able to get back into doing more exercise. YES. More exercise. No doubt a lot of people might think I’m crazy but you have NO idea how much I’ve missed it. Yes I know I’m travelling and seeing all these wonderful things but I also love all the fitness shizzle, so it’s been hard to see that slide over the last few months. I’ve felt lazy and unfit, wobbly and just generally quite bleuuuuurgh. Too much beer and rubbish food, and not enough running and stuff.

But now I’m in Oz, I’m back on it with a vengeance. The weather helps. It’s much cooler here, and not humid, so it’s oh-so-pleasant to run in. There are lots of other runners here; it’s nice to run somewhere where it’s a popular pastime. I don’t feel like an oddity. I’m staying in the same place for a bit, so I’ve got time to run, to join running groups, to see what stuff is on at the local leisure centre. I’m lucky enough to be able to borrow a bike here so I can get out for bike rides. All that normal exercise stuff that can be fitted around a bit of sightseeing and mooching about.

You see, I enjoy it. Exercise that is. I don’t do it because I should, or because I have to. I don’t do it to lose weight. I do it because I enjoy it. It makes me happy. It makes me feel good. It’s a huge part of my life. It’s not something that has to get squeezed in; rather it’s something that time is made for, in place of other things. I like to feel fit. I like that post-exercise high (especially after running). I like to be pushed to go that little bit further, or faster. It’s how I spend my spare time. It’s my hobby, my passion. Especially if it’s outside. That’s my favourite.

So I am LOVING Australia for how easy it makes it for me to crack on with my hobby. I’ve been for a few runs, a bike ride and done plenty of walking already. There’s a leisure centre just round the corner from where I’m staying which I’m going to check out soon. There’s a real outdoors vibe here in Melbourne. Bike trails are everywhere. There are loads of parks and leisure centres. Lots of people always out and about. I feel like I belong here. It’s my kind of place.

photo 3 photo 2 photo 1

I’m mixing what I love doing with my travel experience. I’m getting to experience Melbourne as someone living here, not just someone visiting the city for a few days. And I like it. This is travelling for me.

And it’s not just Melbourne. I’ve decided I’m going to cycle round Tasmania soon. Yes, that’s right. Just me, a bike, a tent and some stuff. I don’t know how long for, or my exact route but I’m just going to hit the road and see where it takes me. A proper adventure, and one where I can mix exercise and travel even more. GET IN. You probably have no idea how happy this makes me. I have a huge silly grin on my face just typing this.

If you’d known me 10 odd years ago and told me I’d [slightly] addicted to running, and would be cycling around Tasmania on my own with a tent, I’d have laughed in your face. Hell, even 3 or 4 years ago I probably would have done that. Now? It feels perfectly normal – no laughing here, just excited anticipation. I got the bitten by the bug and now there’s no stopping. This is a lifestyle. My lifestyle.

In fact, I’ve got new fitness goals, inspired by the travelling I’ve done so far and some of the people I have met along the way. Stuff I want to start when I finish my travels. Stuff I can really commit to and throw myself into when I am in the same place for a while. New things I want to try. Being away from that routine and not always being able to do the exercise I love has really made me appreciate it. Given me new ideas and focus for the future. I don’t just want to do a few runs every week. Nope.

I want more now.

Goodbye Thailand.

Chiang Mai was the last place we stayed in Thailand. It’s not the last place we visited, that was Chiang Khong, but as we were only there 1/2 hour before we crossed the river and the border to Laos it’s not really worth mentioning.

We were in Chiang Mai for about 5 days. It’s Thailand’s second biggest city and a popular place on the tourist trail, with umpteen million things to do, although most of these are extremely expensive for what they are, and compared to the price of other things in Thailand/Asia. First things first, the day we got there we had a wander around. This is customary for me and Nick now. Find somewhere to stay, dump the bags then go for a walk to figure out where we are and where the nearest facilities* are. We did this in style in Chiang Mai. We found a little guesthouse which was basic but clean and functional and in a great location for the cheapest price yet (around £2 per person per night). Just round the corner in a quiet soi was a bar with prime seats outside and 7/11 priced beer where we sat in the late afternoon sun people watching, putting the world to rights and chilling out with a beer or four. Or five. After a few we thought we’d best go get some food, and decided to be Westerners for the night and headed to Mike’s Burger Bar, a roadside burger joint with pricey burgers, good music, weird posters and smiley staff. Now, it might have been the beers, or the fact I’ve not had a burger in months but it was the BEST BURGER AND CHIPS IN THE WORLD. Fact. What we should have done then is stop drinking. But we didn’t, we went back and had more beers. Not before I had (apparently, I can’t quite remember the night from this bit onwards) stopped at a street stall, picked up a fedora hat and pretended to be Michael Jackson. And also told Nick that I didn’t need ANY help from ANY man to cross the road. And talked rubbish to some people from Ireland. Oooops. It was a tremaze night though, much fun and worth the fuzzy feeling the next day.

IMG_7124 IMG_7126

Inside the city walls, Chiang Mai is very traveller orientated, with lots of little quiet soi’s full of guesthouses, restaurants, bars and massage places. Very much traveller-town, however it doesn’t feel anything like Khao San Road. It’s very villagey, with no loud music or partying, just a very laid back relaxed atmosphere. We both liked it straight away, and enjoyed a few days of wandering around, finding street places to eat and having a few drinks in the late afternoon sun at our newly found local bar. We spent one day walking the perimeter of the city walls (it’s about 4 miles in total, 1 mile each side), another day having a picnic in the park and another hiring bikes to have a bit of an explore out of town (we ended up in the University area, getting down with all the trendy youths. Chiang Mai is also a surprisingly dirty city – I ended up caked in grime and grit after a day riding round through the traffic. Nice.).

One night we had a traditional Thai massage, which wasn’t anything like any massage I’d had before. Nothing like my sports massages, or oil-based relaxing massages. Nope, this one involved being pulled, stretched, punched, kicked, squeezed as well as knelt and walked on by a Thai lady, with my clothes on. It was relaxing, in a strange way, and afterwards I felt very chilled out. We didn’t do much afterwards, apart from loll around.

On the Sunday night there was a HUGE market where one of the main roads in the old city turned into a walking street where every handicraft under the sun was for sale, as well as all the Wat courtyards being turned into food courts. That night was Snack Night, a night to try lots of different little snacks rather than a full meal. Like omlettes cooked in a banana leaf, or a spicy sausage on a stick, or a little pile of noodles in a leaf, or BBQ chicken wings. Or a bag of insects. That one was Nicks. Although I did try a worm. After freaking out a bit that I thought one was still alive in the bag, and then picking up a worm, squishing it in my fingers and squeaking and dropping it. You know when, before I left to come away, I smugly said “When I go to Asia and see insects on sticks I’ll definitely try one, oh yes I will.”. Yeah. Now I’ve seen them, it’s not going to happen. Can’t do it. The worm was bad enough. Although, it was surprisingly tasty. But. I couldn’t get over the fact it was a worm.

IMG_7156

There was one odd thing that happened while we were walking down the street. Ever been offered a turtle/tortoise for sale by a random man that walks past you in the street? I have. No idea why he was carrying it, whether it was alive or dead, or why he thought I might want it. It’s about as random as the time me and The Marine had gone to Ilkley for the weekend and this eccentric old lady practically spat the words “Stop!..<pause>..Being so..<pause>..intelligent. And..<pause>..Fit!” at us. Weird.

I think I might have decided on my next tattoo. Well, it’s actually going to be an extension of the one I already have on my right wrist. But, I’m keeping the idea until the end of my travels, as I’m sure I’ll get more ideas over the next few months too. It did take a bit of restraint not to go and get one done in Chiang Mai. I need to be 100% sure. And I think what I end up having will actually be a few things, some of which I don’t know yet. So I’ve got to be patient.

Chiang Mai was lovely, but as the days went on it was apparent there was less and less to do, unless you had loads of money to spend. A lot of the activities on offer didn’t really appeal to me, and I think we both felt we were probably there about a day too long. Having said that, it was a nice place to spend a few days chilling out, we ate some good food and did a fair bit of walking and biking. We got a bit of culture by visiting a few temples, and we got out of Traveller Town by walking into the outside areas on the last day. This included Seedy Street where there were many bars, full of young pretty Thai girls, to go to, including one called ‘Foxy Ladys a-go-go’. I’m sure you can work out what type of bar that was. And the tuk tuk drivers ask the men if they want to be taken to have a Good Time.

SONY DSC

The alarm was set for 5 am to catch a 6 hour Green Bus to Chiang Kong (the Thailand/Laos border). Heading out of the guesthouse at 5:35am the heavens decided to open. It hadn’t rained for about 4 days, it had been bright hot sunshine. Hmm. It wasn’t looking good, especially as we’d been told the tuk tuks didn’t start until 6am, so our default option was to be to head down the road towards the bus station, looking out for tuk tuks as we went. However, Travellers Serendipitous Luck occurred. Don’t know what this is? It’s when you’re in the right place and the right time. Speak to any traveller and you’ll find it’s probably happened at least once. This time, I had just stepped out of the guesthouse onto the street and what should be coming up the soi but a tuk tuk, it’s lights shining in the rainy darkness like rays from heaven! If there had been sound effects, it would have been a heavenly ‘aaaaaahhhhh’ sung by angels. Price bartered down (of course: standard practice), we got in and escaped getting a good soaking. This is Important when a) you have a 6 hour bus journey on a cold air conditioned bus b) when you don’t have many clothes and you have to dry them and c) you don’t want wet clothes in your backpack. They make everything else wet and smell like wet dog.

Looking forlornly out of the window at our last glimpses of Thailand, we waved a reluctant good bye and crossed the river in Chiang Khong to Houxay to start our adventure in Laos.

IMG_7199

Goodbye Thailand, you were home for a month and a half and I could have stayed longer. I loved your food, it was truly some of the best, cheapest and tastiest around. I tried new things, and enjoyed all of it. Your people are some of the most friendliest, happiest, smiliest and most helpful people I have met. I never heard a raised voice or an argument. No road rage or beeping horns. Everyone I smiled at smiled back. Everyone I said hello to smiled and said hello back. People would go out of their way to help, even when they weren’t asked. I never once felt pressured to buy something, or to have a tuk tuk ride. I never felt like people were only talking to me to get my money. Your landscape and scenery was beautiful and interesting, and all so different. You’ve got a history I enjoyed finding out about. I thought you were a place that I wasn’t fussed about visiting.

You changed my mind. I’ll see you again someday.

*bars with cheap beers