Winter wanderings

With the burst of colour on the verges and the first warmth of the sun eagerly awaited, the anaemia of Winter finally feels as if it is being shrugged off.  With a new job and training to be a Pilates teacher, my Winter wanderings have been few and far between, but the desire to experience the unfamiliar and be out in nature still runs deep.  I realise more and more the immense privilege of being outside for months on end whilst witnessing landscapes and nature unfold in front of me.

Over the Winter months the Ginger Ninja has been in her stables and I’ve sought other doorstep discoveries on foot. The first of which was a “bothy” in the mist filled Brecon Beacons.  These remote little huts in the mountains have been the shelter for shepherds of old and walkers of new.  They conjure up a nostalgia of a simple life of tending sheep which now belongs to a different era.  Laura and I were prepared with sleeping bags, food and water, and we knew it was going to be a cold night.  As we approached the hut we heard a couple of voices, only to find that our 6 ft squared hotel for the night was already occupied.  Chris and Alan, had travelled up from Cirencester and were as surprised as we were to find that bothies are now rather sought after accommodation.  I mean “accommodation” in the loosest sense of the word.  It is a hut with a wood burning stove and the musings of other previous occupants.  They’d brought coal and a bottle of wine.  We brought the jokes.  Note to self which one is more important for the next time. 
The next mission was no warmer.   The bulrushes and trees slowly emerged into view through the shallow light of dawn as the snowflakes floated down.   Wearing as many layers as I could, my bivvy bag had provided just about enough cover for a dawn raid to watch the starling murmurations.  On a previous trip at dusk to the Somerset levels I’d watched the battalions of birds arriving, performing their swirling air dance before diving into the marshes to gossip.  This time however, like me, the army of birds had obviously woken up and decided it was too cold for morning acrobatics and headed straight off to their next destination.
I have yet to distil my myriad of photos and as time goes by the cycle odyssey takes on more of a surreal quality.  Was that really me?! One of my main motivations (and why I love working for the Youth Adventure Trust) is to encourage children and young people (or any age for that matter) to take a small step out of the comfort zone.  I will be speaking at a couple of events and schools and I’d be happy to do more, so get in touch if you’re interested.
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The murky mists of the Brecon Beacons

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Bothy Wilderness

The first spring excursion on the ginger ninja



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A destination of a different kind

The cycle odyssey started with the luminescent midnight sun of the Summer solstice.  With adventure still running strong in my bloodstream it felt important to book end the year by celebrating the Winter solstice.  So this week, the Ginger Ninja and I were reunited for the first time since the cycle odyssey on a short excursion from Bristol to Glastonbury.  Like old lovers it felt familiar but different.  My legs are a bit creaky, the air is damp and chills to the bone but the whitewash of Winter provides a slowly effusing monochrome landscape that still makes me squint into the sun with wonder.  There are noticeably more cars and I yearn for those long hours of wide horizon emptiness where it is impossible to feel anything but small and insignificant.  Yet the moss covered lanes and high hedged hills of Somerset hold their own beauty and charm.

In Glastonbury I am offered a sofa bed by Matt – house clearance and bric a brac shop owner by day, Orgone artist by night.  According to Matt,  Orgone is made from metal filings, crystals and bits of copper wire and rids the air of harmful electro magnetic fields caused by mobile phones, computers and other electrical equipment.  According to Wikipedia, Orgone is a “pseudoscientific and spiritual concept described as an esoteric energy or hypothetical universal life force” with dubious assertions of lifting the libido.  So I was slightly alarmed by Matt’s 8pm pyjama appearance, but in fact he just wanted an early night and even though my overactive imagination got the better of me and a good night’s sleep, Matt couldn’t have  been a kinder soul.  Once again, I’ve realised that these out of the ordinary encounters come from being open to the kindness of strangers.

The next morning I cycle up to Glastonbury Tor in the darkness – a looming bump in an otherwise flat landscape.  And as the light of dawn slowly creeps, so do the incense spinning bearded and bedecked, jangling and jaded, chanting and cheering.  For me it was more a way of celebrating and book ending a year of change that I could not have possibly imagined.  A simple time of reflection.

A sense of destination has obviously been prevalent in my life this year.  Whether that was arriving in moonscape Norway and thinking of the 8,000 kilometres of untravelled roads to reach Tarifa, or simply identifying a wild camp spot on my map and making that my end of a cycling day.  All those moments of kindness, bus stops tears, tunnel blackness fears have taken on a surreal, dream like quality.  And upon return that sense of destination has been hazy.  The road has no end, the diverging paths are many and that sense of purpose has been challenged.

However life’s twists and turns have taken on a new dimension recently with adventure at the core of my new direction.  Recently I applied and have been offered a job as Corporate Partnership Manager at the Youth Adventure Trust – one of my cycle odyssey charities which supports vulnerable young children through adventure.  I now feel well placed to understand how adventure can change the impossible to the possible; the “I can’t” to the “I can” and the confidence that this can instigate.

So while my long distance wheels are being put in the stable, I started the year with the words of Mark Twain:-

“Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.  So throw off the bowlines.  Sail away from the safe harbour.  Catch the trade winds in your sails.  Explore.  Dream.  Discover.”

And I finish the year with the words of David Bowie:-

“I don’t know where I’m going from here, but I promise it won’t be boring.”

A huge thank you to everyone that has supported me in so many diffferent ways, especially Bharti Dekate my mentor who helped me summon the courage and overcome the fear to take the leap into the unknown. 

Happy Christmas xx 

Quintessentially England

swirling starling murmurations from Scandonavia

Dawn breaking over the Spmerset levels

“all hail to the sun!”


 

 

 

Out of the jungle

As I sit on the train speeding away from Calais to warmth and security I can only feel a sense of being utterly powerless. Following my return from life on two wheels I took a spontaneous decision to spend a couple of weeks volunteering for Care4calais– a refugee support charity. If I thought that the last few months were a time of reflection then I had no idea how the last couple of weeks would slap me with the harsh realities of the world. 
Two weeks ago 6,000 plus refugees were dispersed to 160 “welcome centres” around France. A specifically unwelcome stance taken by the French government with a thinly veiled aim whereby fragmentation weakens, isolation deepens. 
The work entailed much sorting of donations – cardboard box packing, shifting, loading and dispatching. With the jungle demolished and refugees dispatched it was a daily changing environment. Information gleaned from refugees was that in some centres (not all) there wasn’t enough food and warm clothing. Translators are few and far between so documentation and legal issues have become even more confusing and complex. Refugees have four weeks to make an asylum claim for France but for the UK they have to be on British soil to claim asylum. A vicious web of inter governmental “not my problem” with the lives and futures of people hanging in the balance. It leaves desperate men, women and children with hard choices. Either to pay (another) unscrupulous people trafficker; try and jump in the back of a lorry without being arrested, or hideaway on a train. I have heard stories of each. With another camp in Dunkirk there is an irony that 66 years on and the beaches of Dunkirk still hold salvation for people hoping to be saved. The other option of Paris offers a faint hope but like lines in sand they are scrubbed away as the strong arm of the authorities bear down.  
I met Omer from Sudan who tried every night of the six months he was in the jungle. This is after months of travelling up to Libya and then a terrifying 4 hour boat trip to Italy. Omer can’t swim. Those risks and efforts are not the actions of a man who has made that choice lightly. European salvation? I don’t think so. He is now one of the increasing population of police evading wanderers sleeping under bridges and park benches with one small ruck sack to his name. 
The jungle may have been obliterated but the unerring determination of many for a better life has not. The stories I hear of people fleeing war or persecution in Afghanistan, Sudan, Iraq, or Syria is enough to persuade me that we have a duty to our fellow man to provide basic needs of food and shelter. 
Care4calais are In the process of reinventing the way they work – replacing the daily distributions of donated clothes and goods that previously went into the jungle to establishing the need of refugees now spread far and wide. People continue to arrive daily into Calais only to be rounded up and put in detention centres. Just before I left I heard of an Afghan family with two children under ten who had been sleeping in a forest outside Dunkirk after being released by the police. 
On the flip side the collective actions of donated clothes and bedding, hours spent sorting through boxes in a big warehouse like a giant jumble sale, and vans of sleeping bags driven through France’s autoroutes does restore my faith in humanity. 
I don’t know enough about global politics to make an argument for why every man woman and child should stay but on a human level I see a basic need for every person to have the right to the warmth and safety that I have. 
Volunteers of all different ages, nationalities, backgrounds and religions have been spurred into action with the same wish to feel that there is an alternative movement. I’ve met yogis from Sevenoaks, nurses from Cumbria, students from America all of whom have felt compelled to do something, however small. And this is where we have to hold our hopes. 
P.S I have been asked by a couple of people how they can help. I am by no means asking for more donations as everyone has already been so supportive of my cycle odyssey but if you feel compelled then I recommend Care4calais as a grass roots organisation who really are on the ground making as much of a difference as they can. 

A restless soul

A few days after returning to England, I was asked if I was a restless soul.  I am still trying to work this one out.  Of course, in many ways the return to family and familiarity is welcome.  A bed that I can starfish in, belongings beyond the cycle bags, knowing what is round the next corner and the low beamed warmth of the local pub are all small pleasures that I am really enjoying.  Conversations don’t need to start with where I’m from, what I’m doing and where I’m going.  

With it’s splash of russet colours, this time of year has been kind to me and whilst I am hibernating in rural rolling Sussex, I have the joy of waking to misty mornings and the subtle kaleidoscopic graffiti over the landscape as if spray painted by Autumn.  To get my fix of the unknown there are doorstep discoveries of paths never previously explored, viewpoints unseen and all within a few hundred metres of the farm where I grew up. The same eyes, a fresh perspective. 

On the other hand, I miss the simplicity of life on the road.  Eat, cycle, sleep, repeat.  I miss the luxury of being outside in the elements all day with few distractions other than pot holes and lorries.  And I miss that sense of unassailable freedom and fitness that 8 hours in the saddle gives. 

I’ve been dislocated from a world of news bearing stories that upon return seem increasingly sad and hopeless.  Two jungles burnt – one accelerating our chance to turn back the clock on climate change and the second causing a dispersal of shattered dreams of a better life.  

It is too soon to determine the repercussions, other than a desire to lead a life less ordinary. And so this restless soul will be making its way to one of those smoke filled jungles to try and assuage the collective guilt of many in our shameful politicians to handle young lives seeking hope.  We are global citizens. 

A few days after my return I reached my target of £8,000 through the generosity of so many and  I may even get to £10,000 – thank you so much to everyone who has supported them ..and me.  I couldn’t have imagined in my wildest dreams that this would be possible.    Thank you from the bottom of my heart and on behalf of all the people you are helping. 

For the Youth Adventure Trust £4,000 allows one vulnerable child to compete a three year activity programme and gain long lasting confidence and self esteem.  

For Re-Cycle £4,000 will allow school children in rural Zambia to attend school regularly and avoid a two hour walk daily. Anthony says “With my bike I can carry water much better and I always get to school on time”. Anthony’s bike saves him energy for lessons and homework and is a tangible help to his life.

Youth Adventure Trust – https://www.justgiving.com/cycleodysseyYAT
Re-cycle – bikes for Africa- https://www.justgiving.com/cycleodyssey


 

Epilogue – the end?…

I feel honoured and privileged to have had the opportunity to witness the incredible beauty of a landscape unfurl in all its wondrous variety. As a cyclist you feel part of it. You feel every bump in the road; you bounce along tracks like a pea on a drum or glide down effortlessly through high sided mountains. You smell the fresh cut hay; the tarmac after it has rained, or the stench of recent roadkill. You hear the gentle cow and sheep bells; you grip the handlebars hard with the roar of an approaching lorry. You hear the silence. You witness the farming calendar unfold as crops grow verdant green, are cut golden yellow and ploughed earth brown. You feel small, you feel exhilarated, you feel lonely, you feel strong.

The kindness of strangers and generosity has been overwhelming and humbling.  There have been countless incidences of warmth and humanity along the road.  Whether it has been Thomas, the Vespa driving German policeman making sure I was OK in the longest, deepest, darkest Norwegian tunnel, or Corinne & Herve who invited me in and gave me a guided tour of Loire chateaus after I pitched my tent by their watermill .  If there is one thing I’ve gained over the miles in a world where materialism and self absorption often seem to dominate, it is my desire to keep that wheel of altruism turning.  As a solo female traveller, one of the questions I have often been asked is “Aren’t you afraid?”   I would be lying if I was to say there haven’t been moments in my green tent bubble where I have thought that the bogeyman was coming to get me.   These have been temporary and entirely fabricated in my over imagination.  In many instances, being alone has worked to my advantage, and hospitality offered more readily.

As the dust of Southern Spain gets replaced by the dew of Autumn chill, and the wonder of the midnight sun metamorphises into the long low shadows of Winter, the “What If’s” at the beginning of the trip are now becoming “What Next” …. and so the adventure continues.

As a newbie to blog writing it has been a surprisingly interesting and enjoyable element of my journey which has passed many minutes of thought time on my bike.  A huge thank you for everyone’s encouraging feedback and comments.  I hope to find home adventures to continue writing about for those that are interested on a more domestic view … until the next exploit emerges.

It feels appropriate to finish with the words of my father for this particular cycle odyssey.  For it is my parents I have to thank for never curtailing that sense of adventure or independence of spirit. My mother’s encouragement and support when I have called crying by the roadside with fatigue and frustration or with high pitched excitement at a jaw dropping vista has been unflagging. I know she is proud of this endeavour as my father would have been and I am eternally grateful for the nurturing unconditional love given to all their children with an unwaivering encouragement to discover, to be curious and to follow our hearts no matter what direction it has taken.

My father wrote in his diary after travelling with the army at the age of 21:-

“It has been a year of experiences, staying in any one place no longer than three months, seeing new countries, new cities, new people, new customs, gaining knowledge everyday in many spheres, which one may call living a life. No one can live a life unless he is conscious of living it by absorbing and appreciating, accepting and rejecting the life in which he finds himself. My interest in life has been stimulated by variety. To be ever interested in life is possibly an idealistic philosophy. It is certainly a claim against the office desk.”

I am dedicating this post to them.

Youth Adventure Trust – https://www.justgiving.com/cycleodysseyYAT

Re-cycle – bikes for Africa- https://www.justgiving.com/cycleodyssey

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the wonderful Lofoten islands

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an early morning start

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my beach apartment

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Spains plains

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Spains not so plains

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there is no place like home

 

 

 

 

36 00′ 15″ From Tarifa with love

8 countries, approximately 8000 kilometres and 101 days. The cycle odyssey is over (for the moment at least). Although I have reached my end goal, it is the series of small victories and challenges won that have brought me to this point. Whether that is the physical burn of groaning muscles as I’ve crunched up a mountain or the sense of being self sufficient and utterly alone as I’ve unpacked my tent in a secret corner for another night of hobo life on the road.  

When I consider the overwhelm of getting off the plane in northern Norway with 8000 kilometres of unknown ahead of me, it feels like a different world, a different me. I have entered each country with a sense of trepidation but it is Norway and Spain that have provided the biggest rewards and opposing challenges. Cold versus heat, rain versus sun, mountains versus plains. If they were people, Norway would be the slightly neurotic friend with a good job and a life plan. Spain would be the temperamental friend who doesn’t always turn up but when they do, you know you’re going to have a good time. 
My last week of life on the road has been one of mixed emotions. Pride that I’ve got this far, a sense of the surreal and disbelief that it is shortly coming to an end. From Seville I headed over to Cadiz, the oldest Western European city founded by the Phoenicians and an important strategic trading link between the Americas and Europe. With its bustling alleys and shouting down the street, its not difficult to paint a mental image of its previous lives. That is, until you see a group of larger than life, older women in bikinis sitting in a circle playing bingo and cackling.  

Spain with its Latin passion, heat, and disorder has stolen my heart. As I wake it is only just going to bed, and as I head to bed with another day on the road my priority, it is getting its party shoes on. It was still able to throw a curve ball my way in my last couple of days. I had been told many times that the Atlantic coast and Tarifa were amongst the windiest places in Europe. The elements were in full throttle and it felt as if they were trying to stop me from getting to my final destination. Winds so strong I was blown from side to side making a crooked swaying path southwards like a zig zagging drunk after a big night out. 

My friends Mel, Lou and Katherine were there to welcome me in to the most Southern point in mainland Europe, after 8000 kilometres of road travelled. A wonderful end to an incredible journey full of highs and lows with all expectations of adventure, challenge, exhilaration and wonder of our amazing planet fulfilled. And as I look over the Straits of Gibraltar to Africa the blue grey mystery of a different continent’s mountains whispers like a lover beckoning. But for now, I turn my back and head to the green and pleasant land that I call home. 

Thank you to everyone for your encouragement and support not just of my cycle odyssey but of the charities I am supporting. I have raised £6,000 so far of my £8,000 goal and if I get to my target, that for me will be one of the biggest achievements. 

Youth Adventure Trust – https://www.justgiving.com/cycleodysseyYAT

Re-cycle – bikes for Africa- https://www.justgiving.com/cycleodyssey

the most southern point in Europe

the wind shows me who is boss

beach bingo

Arcos de la Frontera

my amazing welcome committee


Some statistics:

Lost – 10 kilos, 1 penknife, 5 tent pegs

Punctures – 0 !!!! 

Replaced – 2 new chains, 1 back cassette, 1 gear set

Fiestas and Flamenco

I’ve discovered that Spain is not difficult(as I first thought), it’s just different. I’ve become accustomed to the warm air like a giant hair dryer as I cycle, and I just need to wake early to beat the heat. I hit upon one town just as they were “running the Bulls” – the tradition of tormenting confused animals through narrow streets and then jumping over the safety of a huge wooden fence. Although not a vegetarian my sympathy lies with the animals rather than the jeering crowd safely behind barriers. 

No matter how small the town or village there is always a bar open for a watering stop, often with bull fights on a TV in the corner. On one occasion exclamations of “Madre Mia” and offers of lemonade and ice cream from afternoon sherry drinkers when they asked me what I was doing. 

I have had the pleasure of another VIP road companion as my brother Jeremy joined me for a couple of days. Together we headed southwards off the high plateau of Madrid with busy but joyful downhills to smaller roads leading to the jangled maze of the cobbled streets in Toledo. Here the melting pot of different cultures and mudeca (mix of Christian, Jewish and Muslim architecture) is evidence of the rich history over centuries of invasion and co existence in this part of Spain. 

Back flying solo again and the dustbowl of central Spain is a harsh and inhospitable landscape at this time of year. Women in long house coats sweep away the dust of the day from their doorsteps and men sit on benches, legs apart, walking sticks in hand watching the world go by and gossiping in the shade of a tree. 

I’ve cycled through enormous plains where there seems to be few beating hearts apart from mine. The sun bleaches the mountains surrounding into a shadowy and flickering shimmer. In the distance a lone farmer with a couple of wolverine dogs and a flock of sheep or goats graze on the few scraps of brown grass left at this time of year. Not so far from the Spain of Laurie Lee even after eighty years.  Birds of prey soar overhead and the only green is the dark Spanish home oak and scrappy thorny bushes. For the few passing lorries and cars I must look a strange sight as I eat my picnic lunch – a lone girl taking cover under a sparse tree straggling by the side of the road.  

As the villages turn Andalucian white they cling to mountainsides providing gasp inducing climbs and exhilarating hair pin bend descents. The arid landscape has almost imperceptibly turned more verdant with the canals and irrigation systems introduced by the Arabs centuries ago and still in use today. These provide enough water for the plentiful olive and orange plantations breaking up the dusty landscape with ripening oranges soon to be ready for our tea and marmalade. 

So I leave behind the Flamenco city of Seville tomorrow with Laurie Lees words ringing true in my final leg:-

Spain enclosed me once more with its anarchic indifference, asking no discipline but the discipline of manners. I was back on the road, cushioned by its unswept dust, and by my anonymity, which would raise no eyebrows.”

Once again thank you to the huge generosity of everyone who has sponsored me. X

Youth Adventure Trust – https://www.justgiving.com/cycleodysseyYAT

Re-cycle – bikes for Africa- https://www.justgiving.com/cycleodyssey

worth the cruching climb uphill

this little piggy…

sherry drinkiing fans

a giant horror clown

heading out of Toledo