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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Challenge number 1.

London to Paris in 24 hours. On a bike. Yep, that’s what I’ve signed up for in May. What’s that all about then, I hear you cry. Erm, well, I’m not actually too sure myself. It sounded like fun so I signed up. I’ll deal with the details later. And yes, this is actually true, I don’t know too much right now. I know it’s about 320km, I will get about 4 hours sleep if I’m lucky and I have to have a road bike, but that’s about it. My ex-husband always used to say I was a bit of an idealist and a bit of a dreamer, I guess he was kind of right. But, I know it will all be OK. I know I’ll be able to do it, because I’ll give it my bloody best shot. I figure I managed to cycle 600km around Tasmania without any training, minimal preparation and a heavy backpack and tent; so this should be a bit of a doddle (ha!). I didn’t have a road bike until last weekend, and haven’t had chance to get out and about on it yet but I will be starting a bit of training soon. I’ve still got a few months until May, right? It might take me that long to get used to the weird shoe-pedal clip things that came with my bike.

It’s the first thing I’ve signed up for this year so far. There’s other stuff, but that’s all probably a bit later. This just sounded like fun. Loads of fun. Something a bit different, a bit of a challenge and a way to see a bit of France. Not seen much of it yet so cycling through some of it should mean I get a good look. Anyone who’s done any cycle touring will know that it’s one of the absolute best ways to travel and see a country. There’s 200 places in the sportive so I’ll also get to meet some new people and hopefully have a laugh while doing it. Plus it’s May, it should be decent weather. Might get a tan. Also will get outside; which, as I hate sitting inside on the sofa for too long, will be wonderful. I get fidgety, as people who have ever tried to watch a film with me can testify.

And now I’ve got a road bike, I could possibly look at doing some triathalons later in the year. Just need to have a go at open water swimming first to see how I feel about it. Not really done much of that, barring the lake swim in The Wolf Run, but not sure that counts. We’ll see.

This year, now I’m back in the UK and in one place for a bit, is all about seeing what I can do. Trying a few challenges and carrying on saying yes to stuff. Getting back to being fit and seeing just how far I can push myself. Why? Why not? Life is for living, and it’s how I want to live it. This kind of stuff, this kind of mini adventure, is what puts a smile on my face and makes my heart happy. I don’t want to stand on the sideline of life.

If anyone fancies it, join in here: http://www.londontoparissportive.com/.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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Runs around the world #14

Sihanoukville, Cambodia

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I hadn’t run since Laos. I didn’t run in Vietnam, and I was there for 3 weeks. So it had been about 4 weeks since I’d last run. Various reasons for it – no ideal places to run, bad weather, flooding, too much drinking and eating, too hot. You name it, it happened. I’m gutted actually, because it’s the only country so far where I’ve not ran. I did do a small sprint down the street but I’m not sure I can count that. No, I definitely can’t.

So, I ran in Cambodia. In a place called Sihanoukville, the only real coastal resort in the country. We ended up being there for 10 days, and I ran 3 times. I got into a bit of a routine and it was lovely. I felt like I had got back to normal a bit with my running. Back in the groove. I loved it, I really did. Felt like I was back to being me.

So, I’ll write about the first run I did there. It was hard. But I was expecting that. No running for a month? Of course it was going to be hard. I think my legs thought I had given up.

It didn’t help that it was hot and humid as hell. Over 30 degrees, even at 8.30am. As I didn’t know how I’d feel, I just decided to run as far as I could, which ended up being 3 miles. I totally wasn’t expecting THAT. I reckoned two at a push. Because, I feel like I’m starting again with my running. Which I hate. But, I managed 3. Which I certainly didn’t when I first started running. So maybe all is not lost! As long as I can do 5K, I reckon I’m good to go and start upping it when I can.

I find running in humidity is hard. I might have mentioned it before. Yes, yes, like a broken record. A sticky sweaty broken record.

Imagine running with a hot wet tea towel over your mouth and breathing through that. Or in a steam room. Or when you’ve got your head over a steaming bowl of water if you have a cold. For me it just makes it harder work; I’m slower and the air I’m breathing doesn’t feel clean and fresh.

But, all that gets forgotten. Kind of. It’s there in the background, along with the burning legs muscles, but the happiness of running again took over. I got to take in the new scenery; the fields, the lake and the people as I ran past. People here didn’t really stare, or even look bemused. I didn’t feel awkward. This is a new thing. I liked it.

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The scenery was lovely. And Flat. Huzzah! But, as I’ve found with Cambodia, there’s a lot of reminders that you’re in a very poor country, and a country with a divide between rich and poor. I ran past fields and grass that could be stunning, but they were covered in litter. I ran past grand hotels next door to families living in shacks. But, that’s what’s out there to see. I’m not on holiday, staying in a complex. Running while travelling helps me see the real stuff, the Real World. Real Life. Helps me understand more about the world we all live in.

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Here, I felt I had time to run. To enjoy it. Every bit of it. A lovely early morning run in the sunshine, then a leisurely walk afterwards to stretch out my muscles and just enjoy the post run high. After that I did some more exercises and had a long shower, and a lolloping stroll down to the beach where I had a post run breakfast of a massive fresh fruit salad. 

 

I’m chuffed. I’m chuffed that I can still run for that long. I’m chuffed that I was able to get out there and do it. It was lovely to get back into a routine. I’m chuffed that the passion for running is still there. I felt alive.

I can’t wait for Australia, where I think there will be even more chance to run. Where it won’t be so humid. Where there’s races I want to take part in. Where there’s running groups and people I’ve arranged to run with. Where I want to get properly fit again.

It’s going to be EPIC.