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:

you can read about the school and the students on our website here:

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, 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.