Tuesday, 29 November 2011

i never finish blogs properly

so it's now 2 months later and i'm back in england. i didn't find a teaching job in spain and i ran out of money, so we came back, on the overnight ferry from santander to plymouth. we hung out in san sebastian, bilbao, and a bit in santander. bilbao surprised us with its financial centre, san sebastian was bustling and lively, especially noticeable after the deadness of most of france, and santander was a bit of a merde-hole, pardon my french. there was even a sign up apologising for the mess while they re-designed the town. um probably be a while given your financial situation spain. other noticeable things about santander were the spanish flags flying - to distinguish it from the basque country to it's east where we had just come from. interesting fact - the day we left santander on the ferry was basque national day which they celebrate in spain too. nice policy - adopt the holidays but reject the bits you don't like. consequently lots of things were closed, but we did have a crepe in the park. it was average. it had to be done as i had seen ten million creperies en route but not partaken of any.

we stayed in a hostel in san sebastian, as a treat. met a really nice spanish couple, fulfilled all stereotypes by being extremely friendly and relentlessly offering us jamon and cerveza, which we gladly accepted as were dead on our feet after that day of cycling - we'd had a massive ascent and then amazing descent crossing into spain (border crossing very non-descript apart from a series of very unfriendly border police wielding what can only be described as gigantic spikey nunhcuks, and not even reacting to my friendly 'hola' ). the first town you come to in spain after hendaye in france, is called lezo. which at first glance is funny, but not really when you remember that z is pronounced th, therefore this town is letho, not lezo. neither of those is actually funny, but after cycling this far, i can assure you that anything is funny. alternatively, anything and everything is also extremely frustrating. it's a bit bipolar, doing all that exercise. our 2nd night in san sebastian we camped, at a campsite up a very surprisingly long steep hill. given that was all the cycling we did that day, it was ok, but a little bit of a shock as we expected that now our main trip was over, any hills would politely flatten themselves out so we could have an easy ride so to speak. the campsite was expensive but had a convenient shop and fairly cheap internet. i was too tired and emotionally defeated to write a blog. until now in fact which is very belated. we found a spot up the road to look at the view of the mountains in the morning, complete with misty atmospheric sun rise type goings on. that day we departed from nik the belgian, but met up again with him in bilbao - we had taken the train and he had cycled. we should have cycled but that's another story to do with bad planning and not knowing what the heck we were doing, a prerequisite for bad planning.

spent the bilbao day night in a little suburb to the north, called portugalete. very very friendly people, who all wanted to help and all joined in and pointed us, upon noticing our enquiring and confused expressions, to the one guest house who opened his door as though he knew we were coming. he probably did. they probably phoned him from the ayuntamiento as they knew we were going. but that ruins my metaphorical description of how friendly the town was. having spent 30 minutes at the ferry port discussing with the man in the security box about how we'd like to get on the morning ferry but didn't have a ticket, and what did he think about that, and it looking like it would be ok, we then decided that we should stay longer as it was such an amazingly friendly and nice place and we could hang out in bilbao and explore it instead of getting the early crossing back to boring old england. so that we did. we found a giant flowery dog in bilbao, and looked at the guggenheim but didn't go in it. we went up the funicular railway to the top of a hill and looked at the view and i ate another chocolate mousse. we met up with nik the belgian for a drink in the evening. we considered looking for jobs teaching english but it's the wrong time of year and i wasn't convinced it was what i wanted to do anyway. i felt an urge to go home. we decided to go home on the next day's ferry from santander and found out about train times. good job too as they were infrequent.

we got the afternoon train to santander the next day. we met lots of other cyclists in the ferry queue. one couple in their late 60's who had cycled from roscoff all the way to santander on a tandem. amazing achievement which instantly belittled ours, though they didn't try, they were very lovely. they'd done it in about 7 less days, and done the whole of it - we had got the train from san sebastian to bilbao and santander and they had cycled that bit, and it's not flat from what i saw out of the train window. we met 2 motorbikists who'd motorbiked 2 weeks across the atlas mountains in morocco. que buena onda. (how cool). they had to take absolutely everything they'd need as there was literally nothing there. at one point one of them passed out and the other one had to drag him under the shade of a passing tree, they had no satellite phones or anything so it was literally life and death if something happened, but that's how they wanted it to be. jeez i freaked out if i didn't see a patisserie for longer than an hour, not sure how i'd manage on that kind of trip.

i'm sure i have more notes to note down from my many notes (am currently learning shorthand to enhance my life as i like taking notes and this way i can copy down people's conversations as they happen, and potentially become an international spy), but i don't have them to hand right now, and wanted to finish the blog somehow at somepoint which is here and now, now. i leave you with some photos which should be self explanatory but i may write things under/over them anyway. adios muchachos y gracias para leer este escritorio (?), si ustedes leen.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

and then there were three

today we are having another rest day. we are in arcachon a nice town on the coast, not too swanky, my orangina cost 3 euros which isnt the most its been i think. its still hot here but apparently that will all end quite soon maybe tomorrow. this morning we did some bike maintenance - i cleaned my chain with the ghostly fairy liquid as we have gone through a fair bit of sand and gritty things recently, and relined my rims with electrical tape as some bits needed patching up, and checked my tyres for pokey bits of glass or stone that could injure them. i checked ultrapig, he is still smiling, i think he likes france.

we have a cycling companion now. he is called nick the belgian, he is from belgium. i used to know a nick the greek, he was from greece. we met nick just after the ferry we took in royan the last time i wrote a blog, monday. nick has cycled here from belgium, his first day he did 170km which is a lot compared to us but then his knee started hurting so he had to slow down a bit, to about 120km a day.

monday went strangely very well compared to some of the days we have had - internet was open, ferry was running, weather was good, bike paths were all marked and we found a really nice campsite that gave us a deal of 10euros for the three of us for one night which is pretty mega, especially as it was in a lovely pine forest, one of my favourite things (along with chocolate mousses of which i have consumed many). you could hear the sea just far enough away for it not to keep you awake or worrying about tsunamis. there were forest fires to worry about though so we were very careful with our gas stoves that night. if we had been in the states it would have been prime bear territory.

another thing that went temporarily well on that good monday was the grand fixing of my pannier rack. you may remember i said id bent it from sitting on it the other day. between our three brains we concocted a plan to fix it by bracing the broken part with one of my tent pegs and cable ties and electrical tape. generally you can do almost any bike repair with cable ties and electrical tape i think. so we sorted it all out and i would put a photo here but i dont have my camera cable with me. the next day i loaded up the pannier rack and remarkably it held the weight and we were well chuffed. about 10k down the road i stopped to repack my plastic bag of bread and cheese on my back pannier as it was about to fly off, and at the same time i checked the pannier and rack and noticed it had completely snapped off where we had done the splint. we gave thanks to the god of bread who was clearly looking over us and cycled back to the bike shop we d seen just 5k back. its strange that the 2 times we ve needed a bike shop we have been within 10 miles of one.

so after buying a new pannier rack in lacanau plage from THE moodiest bike shop man in france so far we fitted it and voila everything was tip top again. it is in fact much better and sturdier than the original rack i had so i m pretty happy with that all in all. its nice when things go wrong and then go right again, its all an interesting learning curve. my gears went squiffy recently and james managed to fix them for me by tightening the gear cable. my mudguard at the back keeps sticking, my back light keeps wobbling itself loose, my speedometer senser sometimes falls down to the bottom of the front fork, and ive had 2 punctures so far. james said that at the end of the blues brothers film the car they have been driving in completely falls apart after they get out and close the doors and that that is what is going to happen to my bike whenever this trip ends. we shall see.

so we are now about 2 or 3 days cycling from spain which is exciting. it will be interesting to see if i can remember any spanish from my time in latin america. we are wondering whether to go up and over some of the pyrennes instead of just straight down the coast. id like to tackle the pyrennes just because they are there really, but it may be a bit ridiculous with all that weight.

i ve just updated myself on what's been going on the last few weeks on the road by way of jameses blog and would like to pick him up on a few comments, namely about lists and cap ferret. it isn't that i m not picky enough when it comes to adding men to my list of nice men but perhaps that there have been more encounters with french men in general than with french women. the most recent addition to jameses french woman list was not enough a french woman - i think she was from tooting in fact. it made me giggle quite loudly as she told us to go set up camp and then sort out paying her for the night - as soon as we'd found a pitch james dissapeared like a shot saying i'll just go and sort out the payment then... he came back with a bag of ice which had no purpose other than that he obviously hadnt been able to say no to it as she was on his list.

secondly in my defence on the cap ferret decision which was yesterday - i never didnt want to go there i just was slightly concerned re campsites and that if there werent any then we were looking at another 20 miles or so back round the bay to find others unless there was a boat. this concern was poo pooed with jameses comment of - want to go to cap ferret and i dont care how difficult that makes things. what can i say, that certainly told me. it was in fact very nice and i swam in the sea and we watched a pretty exciting plane fly past and watched some fishermen fishing, and racked up a pretty fast average on the amazing cycling path en route - probably around 19mph for 30 to 45 mins. muscles definitely getting stronger.

incidentally not a single ferret was to be seen in cap ferret - i can only conclude it doesn't actually mean ferret. it's pronounced cap ferr-ay. i think it might have something to do with iron as railway is chemin de fer, meaning iron way.

other high / low / medium lights from recent days are

  • seeing the biggest sand dune in europe apparently here in arcachon - nick says it's 134 metres high - he's pretty clever he did a masters degree in something like paleo climatology and a degree in geology and geography so i believe him
  • having a photo of the 3 of us taken in lacanau plage outside the creperie l'europe - a perfect advert for ortlieb pannier bags as we all have them, red black yellow green altogether
  • me mangling one of my bungee ropes by not realising it was wrapping itself around my back wheel hub as i cycled off to find another closed hypermarché. it still works.
  • james got vaguely excited as there was a football match on tv - james doesnt get excited about anything ever in general
  • i get really puffy eyes from camping but only on grass not sand or pine forests etc. the other day on the farmers field in marennes my right eye took about 2 hours to open properly. must be a form of hayfever.
  • we have now taken 4 ferries - one to france; then 3 in france which have gone up in price the further south we ve gone - first was free, second was 4.70, third was 11 euros.
  • watching the leaves change colour over the last few weeks has been really enjoyable, i do love autumn, even though with this temperature it feels like the middle of july still. i wonder how the trees feel about the heat it must confuse them? the night we camped outside vannes we were bombarded by falling acorns all evening as we sat and cooked. we had a competition where we each left a pan out all night and the winner was whoever had the most acorns in the morning. i heard one hit mine in the night but it ricocheted off somewhere - i would have giggled but it was the middle of the night which is not the time for giggling. in the morning there was just a leaf in jameses pan so he won - his prize was he got to choose which flavour of cerreal to have from the mini cereals we had bought. he felt ill so i got to choose instead. yesss. i chose coco pops.
  • i ate the blandest pasta of my entire life in marennes, the place where we had made the series of wrong decisions and been eaten by mosquitoes and gone to the police station. its hard to believe you could make pasta taste that bland but it really was.
  • arriving at a campsite in bourgenais just below nantes, the owner said it was full and it so clearly wasn't as i could see uncamped on grass everywhere - i said mais nous ne pouvons pas continuer monsieur, s il vous plait pouvons nous rester ici? if i knew how to flutter my eyelashes now would have been the time but i dont so i kind of smiled / grimaced / looked tired etc ( we had cycled 60 odd miles by that point), and he brightened up and was really friendly and opened the closed showers for us and everything (we obviously smelt).
  • cycling down the canal path from rieux to bougenais was brilliant if a little rocky at times - got tons of mileage done on the flat and got to look at a canal for ages and see some little boats and cycle through lots of spider webs across the path.
some questions
  • why are they called earwigs? there was one in our hotel room in bouffere which i removed to outside room 247. james was all for killing him but i warned him that could be him in a future incarnation so he had better not.
  • can butter go off?
  • why so many rock-related place names halfway down france? la rochelle : rochefort : le rochers : la roche sur yon
and the daily stats since the last blog are:
  • day 9:vannes to rieux: 43miles (really lovely municipal campsite by a river with a restaurant which was - shock horror - open!)
  • day 10: rieux to bougenais: 58.5miles (just below nantes campsite)
  • day 11: bougenais to bouffere: 40.3miles (back on ourselves a little bit to bouffere to find the bike shop to fix the spokes)
  • day 12: bouffere to lucon: 50miles (met 3 other cyclists - see jameses blog for more info)
  • day 13: lucon to la rochelle: 41.7miles (camped in municipal campsite in almost centre of the city - a man snored louder than you have ever heard a human being snore before, and we were between 3 main roads so not the quietest of nights, thus prompting my it feels like we re camping in tooting comment. went out and i had a pizza which is a strange choice given that every day we eat doughy products (bread) with cheese on).
  • day 14: la rochelle to marennes: 65.56miles (including the miles spent in the evening looking for a campsite etc)
  • day 15: marennes to royan: 29.03miles (tired and sore feet but nice scenery)
  • day 16: royan: rest day: most needed rest day in the history of rest days: basked on beach
  • day 17: royan to cacauns plage via small ferry: 47.7miles (ferry was smaller than the plymouth to roscoff ferry but bigger than the one over the loire the previous week)
  • day 18: cacauns plage to arcachon: 48.5miles (via cap ferret of no ferrets)
  • day 19: today: arcachon
c'est tout pour maintenant - off to the hypermarché now and to hear about the mega high sand dune from nick who went to investigate it. adios amigos xx

Monday, 3 October 2011

c'est chouette

Hello tout le monde and happy monday morning from le francais

apologies for the capital letters and apologies if any letters have strayed into the wrong places, like zs or ws or qs or as. the french keyboard still insists on being different to the english one. instead of qwerty it is azerty.

Yesterday we had a much needed rest day, I spent 5 hours on the beach reading my book (ghostwritten, by david mitchell – he is a genius and I highly recommend it). I also sat and watched the local francaises enjoying the heatwave and generally being very french. royan is auite a swanky area, stark white houses with the endless blue sky and coffees that cost 3 euros instead of 1 euro 50. it’s not my kind of place in all honesty, but it was hard not to be happy as I basked like a beached whale on la plage and rested my very weary muscles.

james found an internet and did a blog update instead, I was emotionally defeated yet again by the total lack of internets to be had in francais. along with hypermarchés that close at 8pm on a weekday and 1230 on a sunday, it’s all a bit much sometimes. I know sunday is the holy day of rest, but even god must sometimes need to do some shopping on a sunday afternoon. I suppose that’s what you get in a socialist country like this, but it is too early on a monday morning to be trying to make political and societal comments so i’ll shut up.

james thinks I am good at French, in reality I am good at saying the following things in french.
  • It’s closed? What a surprise.
  • Where is the nearest internet/campsite/hypermarché that is open in this (goddam) town?
I feel like they should put a sign up as you get off the ferry in roscoff that says: francais est fermée pour septiembre.

I actually cracked and went into the police station in marennes on friday afternoon and said in my best French please can you help us find a campsite please? They directed us up a road we’d been to just 2 hours earlier. ah yes I said, you mean en face de la piscine, that one is fermee. ah no he said not opposite the piscine but straight on, you will find the municipal camping. you owe me 2 hours of my time I threatened james, as I had suggested we go straight on at the piscine rather than the other way. that day we had made so many wrong decisions after a really beautiful day of cycling – if we’d have been up everest then we’d be well dead after that kind of series of wrong turnings and bad decisions. question – why at altitude does it take longer to boil your cup of tea – is it due to the lack of oxygen in the air, or the air pressure, or are those 2 things the same anyway?

Anyway, I digress. we are in royan, going to get the 12noon ferry, unless it’s decided to close since we checked the timetable this morning. we will then be in Verdun, over the water. from here it looks sandy and beautiful, so I don’t imagine the coffees will be any cheaper. we will then tootle down a coastal path towards the end of france, with bordeaux to our left and the sea to our right. we may have another rest day on tuesday to enjoy the last of the heatwave if rumours are to be believed. cycling in 36 degrees, once you get used to it, is really lovely. I have got a bit of a tan. james has got some sunburn, which he refers to as a sun tan. he wants to buy some aftersun. I wondered why not just use before sun instead. 

Round these parts of france (the south), they don’t seem to like cyclists as much as in the north. I think they are too busy trying to look beautiful to be able to give you much space on the road, one even honked at me as he went past and it wasn’t to say hello. I cursed him in my best French. 

Here are some statistical updates
  • Croissants consumed so far – surprisingly few, probably only 3 or 4
  • Pain au chocolats consumed so far – 1 this morning - more than croissants, but less than baguettes all in all
  • Compliments on my French – 1 from the bike shop man in boufféré, I said thank you but it’s not true, and one from one of the campsite owners.
  • Complaints by me – countless – more than baguettes even – about various things, but mainly the lack of open shops, internets, and signs directing you to campsites. James has the patience of a saint whereas I have the patience of a piece of dead lettuce, ie none. interestingly we stayed at a hotel called saint james on the day his bike spokes broke in bouffere as there was no camping near enough to the bike shop. Funnily enough we haven’t yet seen anything called saint lucy.
  • mosquito bites – countless. all incurred in the 15 minutes of putting tents up in marennes (police station town) on Friday, the day we would have died if it was everest. the campsite was a farmers field of brown spikey grass, with rock hard ground and some long term campers in their little mobile homes with fences round them. there’s a lot of sites that seem to have people living there year round, perhaps because they like it or perhaps because times are hard? The farmer on this site was friendly, he had cows and a really cute cat who sat on a haystack in the barn and looked at me, and a giant spider in the sink I was going to brush my teeth at but then changed my mind.
  • Punctures – 2 – one on my front wheel, one on my back wheel. in the space of 30 minutes. it was a hot day, and i’d had both tyres pumped up the day before, thus forcing them into the bits of glass and stone that were lodged in my tyre, or in the case of the back tyre forcing the inner into the top of the spoke as the rim tape had broken somehow.
  • Broken spokes – 3, all on jameses bike resulting in the bike shop trip mentioned above.
  • Other things bike related to note at this point - my pannier rack has become bent due to me sitting on it one day as we had to leave jameses bike at the bike shop and both ride back on mine. Not the best idea.
Have to go for our ferry now, so I will leave you with this parting thought/question – how does fairy liquid manage to get through plastic ziploc bags? It’s like a ghost going through walls; it’s amazing. I wonder if you left some fairy liquid for long enough in a ziploc bag if the 2 would merge together and make some kind of fairy liquid ziploc bag composite. is it because they are both oil based? In that case wouldn’t everything oil based merge with everything else oil based; ie everything in the whole world? There are so many things I don’t understand.

Another final comment is – cycle touring is exhausting and it has taken me a long time to get used to my limitations in strength. it is also really good fun. so far its been as hilly emotionally as the hilly bits of brittany we had in the first 5 or so days.

A bientiot mes petits poulets rotis et j espere que tout le monde is enjoying la vague de chauffage (ha ha does that mean heatwave I hope so). xx

Saturday, 24 September 2011

public service announcement

hello again. to make up for the bad moodiness of the last blog (below) please read james's blog as i just have and it has cheered me up out of my french keyboard induced frustration.
now that i'm in a good mood again i'm going to check the lottery numbers as we bought a few tickets before leaving england. bonne chance inquisitive hobbit.

falling acorns

bonjour tout le monde

it has taken me half an hour to figure out a way to be able to type in a non french keyboard way. i am consequently not in the best of moods right now. i am writing to you from a large town called vannes, on the coast in brittany.

here is a small summary if you only want to read a little bit:
  • it's day 8 today.
  • it's seriously impossible to find internet access in france.
  • we've cycled 230 miles since tuanton. ish.
  • my legs hurt.
  • the most we've done is 40 miles in one day. this is not very much. we are not exactly caning it.
  • france is pretty damn hilly.
  • we met a man who told us not to try doing the coast in this area, so we headed back inland then kind of back towards the coast, we're going inland again soon. a bit circuitous but c est la vie non.

here are some little messages
  • abi - your peruvian necklace is safe and sound and having a lovely time. thank you so much.
  • helie - i hope you get that job in swindon even if it is in swindon.
  • mum (or anyone else who is interested in the health of my feet) - my feet aren't hurting too much.
  • sarah/rod - how the HELL did you cycle 100 miles a day when you did the italy trip? respect. did you camp?

i last left you with a small day 2 update, which was landivisiau to chateaulin. day 3 was a rest day in chateaulin. we cycled around a bit, and hung out in a tabac for a while. we realised that french people like tabacs, creperies, and coiffures. or rather if i was an alien visiting from space that would be the only conclusion i could come to, based on the frequency of them. i have seen approximately one million creperies, and half a million coiffures so far (hairdressers). the only places you actually see french people is inside / outside establishments that provide alcohol, tobacco, or lottery games. at a tabac you can indulge all 3 of these vices. great fun if you ve got an addictive personality. a new lottery game comes on the tv every 3 minutes.

another thing that french people do, or at least seemed to be doing on day 3 or 4, just to spite us, is shut up shop at lunchtime and drive around roundabouts out of town. we were trying to get into quimper (pronounced camp'air) to perhaps use the internet (you'll be lucky), but were thwarted for some time by a million roundabouts, which quickly became my least favourite thing, along with stopping every 2 minutes to read the map. we stopped at a roadside quick (like mcdonalds) and bought some fries to cheer me up. disappearing road signs seems to be something that the french take a certain delight in too.

i lost my cycling mojo, so to speak, around day 4 or 5, when i had to collapse and drink a rehydration sachet by the side of the road. later the next day we realised that i'd been cycling with my front brake on the whole day and perhaps day before too. ah ha. if you hear a noise when cycling, it's worth investigating sooner rather than later. that is the lesson i learnt. that day, day 5 (weds), was really hard work because of that, but ended with the most amazing campsite ever. we followed a little sign down a little bumpy track and there was a farm and a field full of haystacks and yurts, and there was monsieur haystack himself. the grass was long and comfy for camping, but sooo dewy in the morning. there were quite a lot of daddy long legs (presumably in french these are known as pere jambons longues, if not they should be).

so basically we are camped just outside vannes today and having a rest day, we have bought 2 new maps for the next bits of cycling, and are going to a hypermarche after this to get some new gas for cooking. i think the plan is to get on a canal route that goes all the way to nantes, but not to go in to nantes, as we are fast learning that going into big cities SUCKS on a bicycle. i'm loving being in the countryside and on little roads.

here's a summary so far
day 1: roscoff to landivisiau; 25 miles
day 2: landivisiau to chateaulin; 39 miles
day 3: rest day in chateaulin
day 4: chateaulin to foret de fouesnant: 39 miles
day 5: foret de fouesnant to le pouldu: 31 miles
day 6: le pouldu to pont augun: 40 miles
day 7: pont augun to muercen near vannes; 27 miles
day 8: today

sorry for the totally boring and very incomplete blog update but its a combination of fatigue and frustration at not being able to use the keyboard properly. there are lots of amazingly witty and insightful things id like to write about but i just cant do it at the moment. one thing i wish id brought is a tiny laptop to do blog updates along the way in the evenings. i recommend reading jameses blog for a more comprehensive update so far.....  he is far more patient than me which is proving very very useful on this trip......

over and out for now and apologies mon amies et j espere que je peux trouver un qwerty keyboard bientot
adios x

Monday, 19 September 2011

ou est le qwerty keyboard

on a french keyboard qnd qll the letters qre in the zrong plqce qs you cqn see: vaguely annoying as now i have to concentrate and look at what im writing: full stops have become semi colons; commas colons and a is q qnd m is zhere the apostrophe should be: that is a lot to contend zith:

here is the story so far, within the limitations of this heqdqche inducing keyboard (please excuse lack of apostotrophes and cohesion)

day 1 _ saturday 17 sep
literally rolled off the ferry after 2 bottles of red wine and some vodka mixed with some random orange concoction, courtesy of benji the random french boy who we met on the ferry and from whom i learnt to say 'il y a beaucoup des vagues' which means there are lots of waves. after stumbling back to our reclining (over optimistic description) seats, at which point i apparently stood on someone's head (cant remember that but that doesnt mean it didnt happen), we tried to sleep but the boat decided to pitch all over the place and get a bit wibbly: youd think drunkeness would help but it didnt. i lay on the floor in my sleeping bag listening to my ipod and then the waves hitting the boat.

one hour of sleep, if that, and the greeting of pitch black france at 630am with sideways rain made for a slightly delirious and hysterical start to the trip. i had my passport in one pocket and a jamaica ginger cake in the other. stopped to change into cycling attire and fixed my slightly broken wing mirror with a safety pin which made me deliriously happy for 2 reasons - that i hadnt brought safety pins in vain, and that i had already successfully fixed something bike related.

tootled along in the still dark, slightly fragilely, through roscoff, a charming fishing village would be the guidebooks description, and mine too. consulted the map and carried on south on the d something to have breakfast in st-pol-de-leon. observations so far - french people are very friendly, croissants are very nice, hangovers are not the best way to start a day of cycling but they do make for lots of hysterical giggling. for me anyway, not so much for james.

altogether did 25miles today, past lots of savoy cabbage fields but not a rabbit in sight (proabably all been put into pate de la campagne poor little kanninchens - cant remember the french word but german will do, it's all the same innit). weather was flat and grey as was the terrain. not a campsite to be seen in any direction so we bit the proverbial bullet and got a cheap hotel room in landivisiau as the options were either that or continue tout droit in a haze of fatigue and drizzle until we found a place du camping which wasnt looking likely. we made up for blowing the budget at the first opportunity by at least cooking on the camping stove in the room and buying cheap ingredients from the local shopi. thats the name of the shop not a typo by the way.

day 2 _ sunday 18 sep
had a lie in, well deserved. after porridge packed up and left down the d something to a lovely small town called landerneau where we had a coffee on a cobbled street. lunch in le faou another little town on the d something. stayed the night at a campsite in chateaulin.

i am going to have to stop typing right noz qs it is literqlly too ,uch effort for ,e to find the right letters; and by the ti,e ive thought of zhqt i zqnt to type ive forgotten it qgqin zhilst looking for the right letters to zrite it zith: hopefully the next keyboard i find will not have this particular affliction. im going to drink a biere now to get over it. what kind of crazy country would make a keyboard that you cant get a full stop on unless you press shift question mark?

more, and better quality, soon. a bientot x

Friday, 16 September 2011

allez allez

hi everyone

a quick blog as we're leaving in james's mum's car for plymouth in around an hour so are currently in a last minute frenzy of putting little things in ziploc bags and squeezing rogue bits of air out of our compartmentalising drybag thingys.

went to see the tour of britain stage 6 setting off from taunton this morning. i was well excited to see all those cyclists at such close range. james wasn't as excited as me, but perhaps he would be if they were women cyclists. they interviewed mark cavendish, who was typically deadpan and non chatty, but it was just before the race, so fair enough we thought. we watched them all whizz past us for all of about 5 seconds then watched the support cars go past which was possibly more exciting as you get to check out all the swanky bikes on their rooves.

then did some faffing in town to get last minute things. here are the stats so far anyway on my journey:

thursday (day -1)
9.45am: set off from home with a bit of a wobble as i tried to wave goodbye to helie and mum. mum followed me down the hill in the support car as she was going on somewhere else. 
cycled: 8.5 miles (home to station, manchester victoria to manchester picadilly station, taunton station to james's house)
travelled: lots more miles, but on the train. very nice quiet train but no tea and coffee came round after 1pm which was a bit of an issue.
interesting bike related fact: i locked my bike up at manchester picadilly so i could run to starbucks and get a coffee. i had my eye on it the whole time as it was still loaded with panniers. a security guard went over and got on his walkie talkie, so i ran out of starbucks (shouldn't've been in there anyway, should've been busy throwing bricks through its windows and all that). he said he had to report it as it was unattended luggage. i said oh ok, don't worry it's just my tent and clothes and stuff. he said ok but don't leave it unattended. i said ok, well can you just stay with it while i run back to starbucks as i paid for my coffee but didn't get it. he said ok. this is one of the main reasons that cycling with someone else will make life easier, you can't leave your bike and stuff if you need to do anything, even if it's locked up, and it's hard/impossible to carry all your panniers and tent and handlebar bag around whilst leaving the bike locked up. needing the loo for a whole hour after the coffee wasn't that much fun.
another interesting bike related fact: i nearly fell over backwards when trying to haul the bike on the train in manchester. a man in taunton helped me carry it off the train....
interesting non bike related fact: i met some old people on the train to manchester who had a grand nephew who works in madrid.

friday (today) (day 0) (because tomorrow is day 1) (obviously)
cycled: 14 miles according to james's computer, 7 miles according to mine. something strange going on there. sabotage perhaps.
calories consumed: no idea, but i ate some chocolate brownies and a banana amongst other things. apparently we need to consume 4000 calories a day. that's fine with me, i like eating. ate one of the muffins mentioned in the muffin the mule blog, which are now completely flat, more like scotch pancakes than muffins. haven't lost any of their taste or nutritious value though.
last minute purchases: a spanner and some more spoke reflectors for the front wheel.
interesting fact (both bike and non bike related): james is bringing a fishing rod. imagine our delight at having freshly caught free fish for dinner. will keep you updated how that goes. at the very least the fishing wire might come in handy for something. like garotting people. 

that's it as i have to go now. au revoir from england.

ps i've got my valiums at the ready in case the ferry is too wobbly. also a bottle of red wine. i find this is a winning combination, last utilised on the plane back from india after discovering valiums for 28 rupees for 10! do you know what a bargain that is folks. 2 free small bottles of wine and a few of those later and i woke up in a daze on the plane wondering where i was and what was happening, but at least i wasn't panicking and hyperventilating at being on an aeroplane. given the wine was free courtesy of finnair, that's got to be the best value for money getting wasted (for medical reasons) i've ever experienced.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

muffin the mule

preparations continue for the ride. today me and helie made some muffins, i’m going to take them as energy food. they are very healthy and contain the following super foods: nuts, bananas, dates, oats. i would consider sugar a super food too as it is generally super at making things tasty.

i read something the other day about how overuse of the internet is literally re-wiring people’s brains so that they are unable to read long complex sentences and paragraphs. even people with phds and big brains were experiencing this problem - we tend to skim read a lot nowadays, instead of read with any depth of concentration. and information is delivered with such speed and all flashy that our brains are unable to deal with old fashioned style information - ie proper sentences and complex ideas. i ought to write my blog in a bullet-pointed list with punchy bits of information that change colour and link to other small little words that light up and do dances. i’m not technological enough to do that, and i quite like old-fashioned sentences, but i will try to not be too long-winded in general in honour of this new phenomenon. apologies if you have given up already i completely understand.

the tour of britain bike ride is in taunton on friday - how coincidental is that. must be fate as that is where i will be. sorry that was 2 sentences when i could have just used 1. i’m not very good at this. that’s 5 now including this one. is anyone still reading i doubt it?

in our continuing cash in the attic quest (we don’t actually have an attic, just a roof space with birds’ nests, fallen roof slates and a few ghosts in it), we took a few small golden looking items to the antique place en route to hebden bridge yesterday. i say golden looking items as i don’t know what they are made of - gold? brass? gold-plated silver? foolsgold? pinchbeck? (don’t ask me what that is, mum said it is some kind of golden looking material). the antiques man looked them over and ummed and ahed. then he asked mum what kind of price she was looking for for them. she said she’d prefer him to say what he’d offer. he said he’d prefer her to say what she was looking for. they said that to each other for a while in a polite english way. i shouted out 'two hundred pounds please'. he laughed politely and ridiculously. he had in mind more like fifty. well why didn’t he just say that? mum got all hard-nosed and bargainy, and said she’d take the fifty only if he’d throw in the small penguin/weasel that i’d been eyeing up on the counter. done. and here he is, isn’t he amazingly cute and like a penguin made from a description of someone in the 1700’s who had glimpsed one a hundred miles away and reported back later what it looked like and they had drawn it in the fading light of an old oil lamp, on a ship that was wobbling around in the high seas somewhere after drinking some captain’s rum. ie not quite right and slightly strange. i’m going to call him wilfred in honour of an old pickles relative who was famous in the olden days. 

i realise this has nothing to do with my cycling trip. here is something that is (very slightly) more relevant - a picture of a cycling avocado. on the summer school i taught at this summer we each had a poster of us with a little snippet of info, and 3 things we liked (so the students could feel like we were real people and not weirdo teachers). my 3 things i liked were cycling, avocados, and grammar (i was under pressure and don't have a ready made list of likes/dislikes). anyway they missed out the comma between cycling and avocados, which resulted in much laughter and this:

given i'm not very talented at drawing, i was pretty impressed with my rendition of the cycling avocado, i hope you are too. 

Monday, 12 September 2011


as i explained on an earlier blog, one of the aims of my bike ride to spain is to try to raise some money for the school in india for tibetan refugees (e.s.tibet / kunpan cultural school - a name given to it by the dalai lama himself), where i taught english from november 2010 to april this year. if you would like to donate to this very worthy cause, here are the hows and whys.

WHY- you will be helping to support a small school for adult tibetan refugees who desperately want to learn english and broaden their horizons and future prospects. they are a stark contrast to us westerners who often have countless opportunities and almost non-existent motivation. at the school they learn english and computing skills, and often have other workshops in such things as buddhism, tibetan language (so they don't forget it!), business skills etc. whilst at the school the students have a safe place to live and learn, and develop as individuals. it is the most welcoming community i have ever been part of, and they are some of the kindest and most selfless people i have ever met.

the students are housed and fed for up to 2 years at the school, thanks to private donations and bits of fundraising like this - currently the school doesn't receive any funding from the tibetan government in exile. at the end of their 2 years there, they all take cambridge TEFL exams in english, and gain either the KET, PET or FCE certificate. i am still helping the school as their volunteer teacher co-ordinator - if you are interested in teaching english over there, please let me know and i'll send you all the info and book you in!

you can read about my time at the school here: www.tibetanpickle.blogspot.com

you can read about the school and the students on our website here: www.estibet.ch

HOW - e.s.tibet is a swiss registered charity, so i wasn't able to set up a justgiving website for donations - sorry about that as it is by far the easiest way to fundraise.

this means you have 2 options for donating to them.

you can do one of the following things:
  • visit this website page and fill in the online form:  

  • email me at lrpickles@yahoo.co.uk, and i'll give you my bank details, you can put money in there and i'll move it over to the swiss account that supports the school. 
i know some of you already very kindly donated funds whilst i was over there,and we bought a table tennis table for the school, which they loved. thank you again for that.

IMPORTANT NOTE - i hope nobody feels obliged or annoyed that i am, yet again, asking for money for something i feel strongly about. if i only raise one pound, it'll still be worth it and hugely appreciated by me, the students, and lugyal (the founder of the school). thank you for reading, and tashi delek (tibetan greeting).

phileas fogg

so you can have a less one-sided view of the coming trip, there is a link to james's blog below. here are some facts about james:

  • he is coming with me on the bike ride to spain
  • it was his idea in the first place (as he pointed out on a previous blog post comment)
  • he used to work for shell 
  • i met him in taunton
  • he once cycled from vancouver to l.a. (thus has more cycle touring experience than me, so he can wear the yellow jersey for this trip. and maybe the king of the mountains but we'll see about that)
  • his name is james but some people call him wez or wezo. i don't know why. i don't think he knows why either. i call him james at the moment. 

more facts to follow as i learn more about him on the way. ha ha.

here is his blog:



my bike is heavy


my bike now has mudguards and a wing mirror installed, and is pretty much ready to go. as usual i had to call in the specialist help of ben at cycle:recycle as i had given up after approximately ten minutes of faffing around and realising that mudguard fitting was not within my limited bike capability or patience levels. also the mudguards i had bought didn’t fit, so i used an old mudguard from helie’s boyfriend ben, which was destined for the car boot sale, and another old mudguard from ben the bike man. they fit perfectly which is well pleasing.

in terms of training i still haven’t done much, which is fine, as james has done even less than me, and it wouldn’t be fair if i did anymore. i did cycle up to the motorway yesterday (not on to it) and was nearly blown over by some sideways wind (it’s the high part of the m62). this was well worth the effort for the  down hill on the way back. obviously i then stopped for tea and cake at a local church which was having an open day. i was going to go up the tower with helie and ben on a tour, but it was far too claustrophobic so i ate some more cake. interestingly the tour was being led by my old latin teacher from school. i told him i couldn’t remember any latin, but that it wasn’t his fault. then i cycled home.

in other news, we tried to have a car boot sale yesterday to earn a little bit of money in these trying times (i heard on the radio that this recession will last at least another 10 years). as the forecast was so bad, with the remnants of hurricane katia heading our way, we decided to find an indoor sale instead of the outdoor one we had planned on doing. woke up on sunday to the most beautiful weather: obviously that was a wrong decision not getting up at 4am to do the original outdoor sale. anyway we drove around bradford for 2 hours looking for the indoor sale, which seemingly didn’t exist. then looked for another one which also didn’t exist. then stopped in a hotel car park and drank coffee from our flasks and ate a kit kat and generally felt deflated and wanted to tip all our car boots full of car boot stuff over a cliff. instead came home and ate some cake. i did win a tenner on saturday’s lottery so it’s not all doom and gloom. that’ll pay off about a hundredth of what i’ve put in to the lottery so far this year, but nevermind that’s not the point.

anyway here are some pictures of the bike. that's your reward for reading this far on today's pretty boring blog update. perhaps the hurricane has blown away my creativity...

bike with panniers on and tent and handlebar bag. the tent is wrapped up in my thermarest sleeping mat because that's the best place for it. it'll be covered in a bin bag so it's protected. pretty futuristic huh.

 another view. check out the lovely turqouise tent. its turqouiseness is the main reason i bought it.

 a clever attachment that means you can still have a bike light even though you have a handlebar bag in the way of things. i've put a reflector on there too now. the more reflectiveness the better.

some stickers to customise the bike so i don't confuse it with anyone else's bike. that's the tibetan flag to remind me of my tibetan friends and their journey. 

nothing else to report today. other than i'm pretty excited about setting off on thursday and living on my bike for a while and only having to think about my bike and my tent and what food to eat along the way. it's been a bit of a challenge knowing what to pack and what to not pack, you can't take much stuff with you.

will try to do a few more bike rides this week, hurricane permitting. i leave on thursday on the train to taunton to james's, then to plymouth on friday for the night ferry. 

adios/au revoir

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

technical update

today i went to LIDL. it is selling bike things at the moment, which is pretty exciting. i googled it and there was some pretty positive cycling-chat-room-LIDL-related chat so i figured it was a safe bet. here's what i got:

a little saddlebag, that turns into a little rucksack - amazing - can carry my baguettes and wine to the beach in that: £4.99
(i can't actually fit it behind my saddle due to my tent being there. but it will still come with me as i reckon it'll be really useful).
some spoke reflectors, never knew they existed, but how exciting: £4.99
nearly also bought some bungee rope: £4.99 for 9, and a foot pump: £6.99
2 bags of sugar: £1.64 (not for cycling, for helie who is making some damson jam) (could be seen to be part of the trip though as i'm sure to consume some before i go and that will add to my body mass).

if this was a visa advert, i'd now go all soft focus and say:
my happiness from my anticipated excitement of all my future cycling trips: priceless
except it's not a visa advert, so it's not priceless, it's £9.98 (or £11.62 including sugar).
i then went to the bike shop to buy a few more bits that you can't get at LIDL. including, a handlebar extension piece, and a wing mirror. 

i will put a photo of the bike soon in its new outfit, complete with ultrapig if i can find him, he ate too many croissants in preparation for the trip and might have had to go to hospital to have his stomach pumped.  

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

chav lake

i have started cycling most days as an attempt at training for the trip to espana. the most i've done is about 22 miles so far, and mainly on the road bike because it is SO light and i love it. and it still counts as training even though it's not the bike i'll be using. i did cycle to hebden bridge on the touring bike with abi yesterday , with panniers and handlebar bag, as a trial run. it was fine. but it is heavy and you go slow and i like going fast. we had cake and coffee then cycled back in the rain. a good bike ride always involves cake and coffee as any pro cyclist will tell you. there were no performance enhancing drugs in my cake.

so today i cycled over the moors into enemy territory - lancashire. you go up cragg vale hill from mytholmroyd, which is a 40 minute climb - probably not if you're fit, but for me it was a 40 minute climb. it's quite a dark valley with small little houses along it, many of which are for sale. then you get onto the moor, which is huge and the heather was just the right colour of purple today. probably enhanced by the lack of blue in the sky. there was sideways wind and lots of grey. you swoop down a fast hill into littleborough and on to hollingworth lake, where i'd arranged to meet helie for a walk (and some coffee). we had in mind some beautiful lake in a small forest, with squirrels ferretting around (if they do such a thing) and birds chirruping. it was in reality a half full / half empty reservoir, complete with pikey parade of shops selling fish and chips and shit crafts, and of course an amusement arcade where you can win enough to buy a bag of chips. in an attempt to be cosmopolitan, there was an italian restaurant called 'ristorante del lago'. whatever. i guess 'ristorante del reservoiro' doesn't sound as appealing, but it would be infinitely truer.

sorry to be so rude about the lake, but the website i'd read about it had really oversold it, so i was expecting more than i got, especially after my gruelling hill climb. anyway we walked around it, watched some windsurfers and canoers, shared a rocky bar, had an apple each, berated that we'd wasted 40p on the pay and display by overestimating how long we'd be staying there, and then headed back to the mothership of west yorkshire. in the fiesta……. i had decided 12 miles was enough training for one day by that point and it was threatening to rain….  as you can see, it’s not quite the training schedule of champions yet, but there’s still time: ferry is booked for the 16th september.

Friday, 26 August 2011


my bike is almost totally ready to go on its tour de france now. here's the technical info about my bike, more for my information than yours, as it's probably boring reading. it's not that technical in fact, as i'm a girl.

bike: specialized sirrus 2007 hybrid, that i originally bought for commuting in london.
made of: aluminium frame, carbon forks. probably other things to note at this point, but as i said, i'm a girl.

new and exciting things that have pimped la bicicletta up to touring capability:
  • 2 new wheels and some kevlar tyres (kevlar is bullet proof, so no need for a puncture repair kit (over-optimistic comment alert)). 
  • a 34-tooth back cassette, ie lots of low gears. how d'ya like them apples now, pyrennes?!
  • a new mech (eek not sure that's the right terminology - back derailleur?).
  • 2 ortlieb back roller panniers, and an ortlieb handlebar bag. ortlieb are guaranteed for life so that's exciting. i guess they mean your life rather than the life of the bike, presumably those could be the same. i bet they would last the life of the earth until the next ice age, they are made in deutschland after all. i can't put front panniers on the bike as the front forks are carbon and therefore not weight bearing. this is good as that would add a lot of weight and luggage space, and this way i have to be frugal with what i take.
  • new brake and gear cables. 

some other (non) interesting facts about me / my bike:
  • i will be cycling in converse shoes as those clippy cycling shoes make my feet hurt, as i have a foot problem in both feet, and really should be having a foot operation (x2) instead of cycling 1000+ miles. if some blog posts just say 'ouch' then that'll be why.
  • i have bought the first map i need - the yellow michelin local map, to the roskoff area in brittany. that is where the ferry lands. these maps mark cycle routes, and places of interest like caves, and windmills.
  • i should have installed a dynamo to charge phone/ipod/camera batteries along the way. will do this for my alaska-patagonia bike ride at some undetermined point in the future (post lottery win?).
  • whilst i am a bit of a luddite, i do wish i had a kindle with 3000 books on it. i am inherently a bit anti-kindle, as i am anti most new technology, as a knee jerk reaction. but kindles are pretty cool for this kind of thing. and in fact pretty cool in general, other than heralding the beginning of the end for books which are one of my favourite things. they have managed to make the text on the screen look just like a book and not like a screen, and apparently the battery lasts for a month.
  • i have been reading 'it's all about the bike' by robert penn, which is a well interesting book about a man (robert penn) who builds his dream bike, and visits all the best frame builders, wheel builders, tyre factories etc etc in his quest. he explains a lot about the history of the bike, which is fascinating. turns out lots of things that were prototyped on bikes went on to be used in all other transport methods, ie cars, planes, rockets.
  • via the medium of this book and my visits to cycle:recycle bike shop in hebden bridge (www.cyclerecycle.org.uk) i am now slightly better educated about bikes and bike maintenance in general than i was 2 weeks ago. cycle:recycle is, as they say themselves, 'a not for profit sustainable project... aiming to get more people out of their cars and into the saddle, by reducing the number of old bikes that end up on the scrap heap, when all they need is a bit of TLC'. ben who works there has taught me lots about my bike and what to do if various things go wrong with it. i have learnt, or at least tried to learn, the following - how to change a spoke, how to true a wheel, how to change a gear / brake cable, how to adjust your gears. if you are ever in the hebden bridge area and need a bike, or some work done on your bike, or to look at some cool old bikes, pay them a visit. there's a cafe, and a 2nd hand book shop. what more could you want. and it's on the canal towpath so you might see some ducks if you're lucky. i saw a mouse.

Thursday, 25 August 2011


i will be taking with me a small pig, who will travel in the back wheel (unless he would rather be at the front, or in the handlebar bag if he gets travel sick from spinning around). ultrapig has previously cycled across mexico, and from land's end to john o'groats. he is a little big grubby, but he is a pig after all so don't hold it against him, and he has travelled far. he is getting pretty excited, and brushing up on his french at the moment.

that's the face of an excited pig if ever i saw one.


some interesting news just in is that my friend james, who i thought wasn't coming with me, has decided he is coming with me on the trip. this is very cool and means it will be less stressful and more fun (err, hopefully).

Friday, 19 August 2011

what am i doing / what i am doing

here's what happened. i came back from india in april. i lollopped around in yorkshire and london. it's hard to find work in england at the moment - everything costs too much and soon we'll be wheeling wheelbarrows around full of fifty pound notes worth nothing, like in zimbabwe. i worked for 3 weeks in taunton in july, teaching english on a summer school. i wondered about moving to spain to teach, as i want to finish learning spanish and carry on teaching, and there are no jobs to be had in engerland, and spain is nice. my friend james said oh we could cycle to spain. i said wow there's an idea. i already have some panniers on my bike as i cycled in the lakes with my friend gemma earlier this year. i had just bought a tent to live in after the taunton job as i was homeless and jobless, so i had the camping kit. it all seemed to make instant sense. james then said it was only an off the cuff remark and he probably wouldn't actually do it - which is fine as it has to be the right time and the right trip and the stars have to be aligned and all that.

i went to the lovely bike shop in hebden bridge (http://www.blazingsaddles.co.uk/), and announced i was cycling to spain and needed another pannier and some new handlebar grips, and a new back cassette so i have lower gears for the hills, in particular the pyrennes. i then went to cycle:recycle (http://www.cyclerecycle.org.uk/), and announced my plan and explained what needed doing to my bike. the lovely bike maintenance man ben gave me some bike maintenance lessons, and fitted my new gears, and explained to me what needed doing to my bike. and that was how that decision was made, it was strangely straightforward and i didn't realise i'd made the decision until i left the bike shops and was cycling home, and said to myself i'd better cycle to spain now i've spent all that money and had those bike maintenance lessons and told everyone i'm cycling to spain.

i then had another realisation which was that i could make it a fundraising trip too - why do a trip like that and not try to raise money. the people who have most inspired me recently, possibly in all my life, are the tibetans i spent 5 months with in dharamsala (see previous blog: www.tibetanpickle.blogspot.com). it's hard to consider my journey a journey compared to their journey over the himalayas and their situation - i joke about being homeless and jobless but i have lots of support and many opportunities, not to mention freedom, which they certainly don't. in honour of them and in support of tibet and freedom and non-oppression everywhere, i am therefore fundraising for the tibetan school i taught at in dharamsala: e.s tibet (www.estibet.ch).

here are some other reasons (post facto decision making), to cycle to spain:

1. cycling makes me happy.
2. going to new places makes me happy.
3. my friend kim cycled through central america on her own for 8 months last year, thus these things are do-able.
4. life's quite short and i want to have things to reminisce about when i'm old and wearing slippers. i probably won't be able to afford slippers at the rate i'm going, but you get the idea.
5. i watched a programme about the history of the world and it put things into perspective - we are a very small part of a very long history and we don't matter, therefore what i do doesn't matter (not meant in a defeatist way), so there's no point worrying about doing the right or wrong thing, as long as you are basically happy and not harming anyone/anything.
6. unless you decide to do things then not very much happens in life.

at the moment the plan is to get to valencia in eastern spain, with bike and tent and some sanity, enough sanity to teach english to some spanish people and earn some money. all this could change along the way, as the subtitle of the blog would suggest. who knows i might be writing a blog to you in a year's time from siberia or mongolia. or even exotic yorkshire again...