Posts Tagged ‘cycling’

Dare you to walk over to that ridge...

It has been a good year and a half since we officially started working to this project; a good couple of years or more since we came up with the ideas. A lot of things have happened and a lot of things will still be done. It goes without saying that without  sponsorship, the more ambitious parts of the projects, the Poles, will simply not be possible – the whole logistics of these parts would be prohibitively expensive. But, in cutting down our daily expenses on little luxuries; spending less money going to restaurants, more time training and building the project, we have been able to do a lot more than we ever could have imagined that we would do prior to committing ourselves to this, and we still will be able to do a lot more.

Riding through the snowWorse case scenario and it doesn’t work out (yes it’s a worry!), we still will have opened up a completely new world of adventure and sports that we wouldn’t have done otherwise. If we hadn’t committed ourselves to this… goodness knows what we would be doing, but am pretty sure that we would not have gone mountaineering in Bolivia, and am pretty certain we would not have ridden from Land’s End to John O’Groats in winter. We probably wouldn’t be going to the gym and be in anywhere as near as good health as we are today, and I doubt that we would be entering into the various races we are going into now. We probably would be just working away, content but not happy with everything, in a standard city life somewhere, wondering what wasn’t quite right.

But fortunately we did come up with this whole mad-cap crazy project, and the world that has been opened to us is incredible. So much to do! Kite surfing (training for the polar training) in June… (hopefully) a two-week adventure race in Chile in February 2014, to be swiftly followed by our polar training at Baffin Island for a few weeks in February-March 2014… followed by either another mountaineering expedition or a traverse of the Greenland ice-cap (something that no Brazilian woman has ever done, as far as I have seen, so Natalia will be the first!)… exciting stuff! And then off… in August 2014.

The question is, do we wait a year longer if we can’t get sponsorship, or just go anyway on a round-the-world bike ride…? that is a good question and one that I do not yet know how to answer.

Since the end of our last training project, riding from Land’s End to John O’Groats in the British winter, we have settled back into Brazil, something that has been much harder than it does sound (I know, that sounds silly… settling back in Brazil… how hard can it be to settle back into such a wonderful country..?!). It has been over three months since we got back, but it is still a bit difficult.

Sao Paulo Metro rush hour

The daily rush on the São Paulo metro system… and this is a good day.

Well the first thing is that we are back in the daily grind of the work place, earning our salaries to try to pay for all the training projects that we are still yet to do and all the equipment that we need; going through the São Paulo traffic can make life hell for the commuter – going to work by bus in the morning can take 40 minutes (at night, 30 minutes)… if you are lucky. This morning, like many other mornings, it took two hours. The alternative is metro, where in the rush hour, the stations and trains seem to be operating massively over capacity, and it isn’t fun.

Coming through the snow - beautiful but tricky conditions

Coming through the snow – beautiful but tricky conditions

The second thing is that, though it might sound crazy, riding that challenging route in the UK, even in the middle of winter, was simply a massive amount of fun as well as nice and challenging: every day, we had our goals – we needed to get to our next place in accordance with our schedule; trying to get there before dark; every day different challenges… The first day, absolutely miserable weather, cold, windy and raining cats and dogs… arriving at our host’s house completely soaked, like drowned rats; the next day, nicer, cooler, fresher… until we got over Dartmoor, when the weather closed in before we went down to Exeter… every day was different…  snowy days, icy days, fresh days, wet days and the gale force winds on our last day. Every family with whom we stayed was fantastic, welcoming, interesting and incredibly helpful. The HD with the photos and the videos of the journey may have been lost, but it is hard to imagine any of these memories fading.  I guess the adrenalin of doing all of that really was much higher than it is with us now back in São Paulo… back in this concrete jungle.

So back to São Paulo where we have had to think and prepare for our next training projects, and keep developing our fitness and skills to make sure that we are in as good a shape possible for the kite training; the polar training and a number of other projects that we want to complete before embarking on the actual expedition. For me, the mini-projects like the half marathons help to keep me sane as they give additional goals to keep going in the short-term, but the daily training at the gym and with our personal trainer, Alercinho, with the functional training, is absolutely essential.

Time is flying – it is unbelievable that we are in May already… almost half way through the year… almost a year before we should leave. There aren’t enough days in the week to be able to do everything we want and need to do, though at the same time, being here rather than on the road, just keeping to regular training schedules… is hard. I mentioned in my previous post that I missed the mountains. I miss the UK as well. I miss being out and on the road, and really can’t wait till we get out of São Paulo for the next project.

Rob Lilwall - Cycling Home from Siberia

Finished off reading another book the other day, this time by Rob Lilwall, Cycling Home from Siberia, and it was a pretty enjoyable read about a great journey.

Rob was a Geography teacher in England and decided to leave his job to go with his friend Al Humphries (who was on a round-the-world cycle journey) from the far east of Russia back to the UK, via Japan… though it ended up, for Rob at least, going over 30,000 miles through Korea, China, Papua New Guinea, Australia, China (again) and Tibet, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan…. to name but a few of the places! So quite an epic journey, and one that would take Rob a good three years to complete.

Rob's RouteAlong his journey he would face bitter and freezing temperatures and winds, jungles; highly dangerous and life threatening situations in some of the most hostile countries in the world; malaria… though at the same time, he shows how he met so many remarkable and fantastic people who would help him on his journey and show massive generosity to him so as to be of help. He even met his future wife along the route! While showing this, Rob also explores more into the spiritual side of things, particularly with his Christian beliefs, and it his interesting seeing his take on the various different religions that dominate the different countries he goes through. The way he respected and was open to learning about other beliefs – Islam, Buddhism, Orthodox Christianity, among others along the way, was also extremely interesting, especially as some of these subjects can be so sensitive these days.

The way that Rob just left everything behind to do this journey certainly attracted my attention – not even with any sponsorship; just life savings, and it’s quite inspirational in many senses. For anyone who is afraid of travelling around on a budget, the book is an eye-opener… he managed the three years on a total budget of about $18,500 (though his friend Al went around the world on about $11,000). He would camp and stay with people he met along the route and people he met through charities and organizations. Even in the most hostile of places, he was able to get support.

So yup, I would recommend this, even if you are not planning on going on a long distance bike ride like this – and who knows, by reading it, it might awaken ideas in you that might see you take off and get to know the world in ways you had never dreamed!

Aside from the book, check out Rob’s blog, – since completing his journey he has also been on a few other adventures including walking home 5,000km from Mongolia to Hong Kong. He has also a television series for Nat Geo Adventure and you can find on YouTube 0 definitely worth checking out!

Banks of the River Ness

While waiting for the hard drive and the CF disk to be recovered (with the tecnicians now!! Hopefully should only need one more week or so to come back… hopefully they manage to get all the data!), I remembered that we had a few photos from Inverness that we took on a spare CF disk. I think I talked a bit about Inverness when we were going up through it, but this time we were coming down from the Orkney Islands, where we had met up with my mother.

Going back down south to Inverness from Thurso after we left the Orkney ferry, we took the bus rather than the train, though we would get a sleeper train down to London. It meant there was a bit of a hassle as we had to put the bikes into boxes to be able to put them into the bus – they wouldn’t let us take them otherwise, so we had to dismantle them and get them in one piece, and then reassemble them in Inverness to get to the train station.

Views back over the hills we had gone through and the coast we had cycled along. Very different going back down south by bus.

Views back over the hills we had gone through and the coast we had cycled along. Very different going back down south by bus.

The good thing about going by bus, however, was that we got to see over the route we had taken. The bus driver was crazy and was going pretty fast along the roads which seemed much narrower being in the bus than when were on the bikes – both Natalia and I looked at each other, thinking that we both must have been nuts to be going along that road with drivers like this! And am sure that this particular driver must have passed us a couple of times when we had been riding as the service from Thurso to Inverness was quite frequent. It was nice though – the two-and-a-bit day ride that we had taken from Inverness compressed into a four hour bus journey. This time we were able to sit down and relax, and enjoy the views as we went.

In Inverness we had a good seven hours or so to wait before the train, so plenty of time to put everything together, leave everything at the left luggage point in the station, have a nice long drawn-out lunch (at Zizzi again, where we had eaten on the stop-over coming up – as I say, definitely liked that place a lot), and then a stroll along the river. We could see mountains in the distance, mountains we had been and sweated through. It seemed a bit strange not having to ride any more, and the journey really was coming to an end with just a couple more days or so before going back to São Paulo. Both of us felt like we were in shape to continue for another couple of thousand miles or so, and I don’t think either of us really wanted it to stop and go home. So we sat down in evening on the sleeper train to London, much as we were pleased with ourselves for doing it, it seemed slightly anti-climatic… here we were going back down to London, and it will be a long time before we do anything like this again… Admittedly, the next time will over considerably longer distances and the challenges there will be fantastic, but all we could think about was that it would have been nice to have been able to keep going.

1,480km in cycling through the British winter

1,500km in cycling through the British winter

Right, we are still waiting for the hard drive and the CF card to come back along with the recovered data. The good news from the technical guys looking into it is that they will be able to recover the data. Great news, really, as imagining losing all of those photographs and videos is really not a very nice thought at all. Just when we will get everything back is another question. There are loads of posts that I want to write, but I think it would not be so good without some of the photos I want to show – just a short clip of the hellish conditions on the final day of cycling would be nice! But no, not until we get back all the recovered data. I just hope that no files have been corrupted…

On the start line... 1,500km to go..!

On the start line… 1,500km to go..!

So for now, here are a few pictures taken from the course of the winter ride from Land’s End to John O’Groats (excluding the final day, which is the time from when no files had been downloaded from the drive). It was an incredible experience all round, really. I feel (justifiably, I think!) quite proud of myself and Natalia, though at the same time a little worried about Paulo and his knee – as I mentioned in an earlier post, this would need to be sorted out as we definitely don’t want a repeat of that on the expedition itself – hopefully there is no long-lasting problem. Coming back to the positives, however, and it was great as at the end of the day (though I had a couple of problems with my knee early into the ride before I got by saddle height sorted out), we both felt like we would have been able to just keep going indefinitely; a feeling that bodes well both psychologically and physically for the main expedition to come.

Plenty more training to come,  however (next one will be in the Arctic circle for a month or so, and also there are thoughts about returning to Bolivia as well as plans for a traverse of the Greenland ice-cap…!), so please keep following and supporting! It is great to have your support for the project particularly because we have never done anything like this in the past and we are learning all the time to make a dream (a particularly ambitious dream, mind!) come true…!

Naty e Ben em John O'Groats

We did it!!! Completed the Land’s End – John O’Groats route, through the British winter! Tiring, but at the end of it all… great fun and I guess we are pretty pleased with ourselves!

First of all, however, apologies for the time it has taken to post this, and for the lack of photos: when writing this post, the hard drive with all the photos and video (300GB or so) fell on the floor just as we were about to make a backup and was damaged. Typical timing, really. That was almost a week ago – I wanted to post this with some video and pictures of the final day, so the morning after it was damaged, we took it to a place to try to recover the data (don’t really care about the hard drive; just want the photos and video!!), however, they are still working on it. Enormously frustrating. So no photos or video for a bit, though hopefully this week we will know something at least. So here’s praying that we will recover some/all of it. (The photo posted is one we just saved onto the computer earlier… at least it’s something, though!)

But anyway… yes! We did it!

Route to John O'GroatsThe last day was short and was meant to be a walk in the park, as it were. 15km… 7 or 8 miles… easy, huh?

It was… painful. Winds of around 35 miles per hour, occasionally from the side, occasionally tail-winds… and on the way back from the end point, directly into our heads… Painful. There was snow… it wasn’t falling: it was going horizontally. On the flats where we had a tail wind, we were cruising at 50 kmph without even pedaling… When the winds were coming from the side, we had to ride diagonally into the road in order to go straight as the force of the wind really was pushing us. Then the occasional gusts stronger than ever almost caused us to go off of the road a number of times. Thankfully there was very little traffic so we were not in danger of going under anything, and the cars that did pass us; well I can imagine that the drivers must have thought we were absolute nutters riding in those conditions… and they gave us nice wide berths so as not to kill us! Even more thankfully, there was no heavy traffic at all. In some regards, we were thankful that we didn’t stay at Wick for the night as that would have meant an extra 10km or so riding, though at the same time we regretted not having completed the entire thing the evening beforehand when the conditions were nice. Ah well.

So getting to the end… in the conditions we were more worried about staying on our bikes than celebrating, so I guess we were muted in our vocals! We were probably laughing more at the whole ridiculousness of riding in that weather than realizing that we had just completed almost 1,500km… 1000 miles of riding through often treacherous and very demanding conditions…

We kissed and gave each other a hug… laughed about the conditions a bit more… stopped for a few pictures by the John O’Groats – Land’s End sign… saw another couple of people who had come by car and were taking some pictures, trying not to get blown over, and then headed back into the vicious headwinds and snow that were impossible to look ahead into.

Natalia was exhausted, not physically, but I guess more emotionally as we had finished the course, but still had to go back into that wind a little to a place where we could rest. She ended up pushing her bike the 400m to an Inn where we would stop and have a celebratory soup and coffee; I just looked directly downwards and forced myself to get there. 400 metres of probably the most painful riding I have ever done.

But… while it hadn’t really sunk in when we were at the ending sign… we had done it! wooooohhh!!!

Naty e Ben em John O'Groats 

Antes de começar a falar do último dia, queria explicar o motivo da falta de fotos nesse post, a verdade eh que o HD com tudo da viagem quebrou e está em conserto, assim que tivermos tudo vamos colocar as fotos desse e dos outros dias nas galerias.

Foi um tanto difícil controlar a ansiedade pelo último dia. Na verdade eram tantos os sentimentos na manhã que o mais complicado era saber a qual dar uma atenção maior. A essa altura o sentimento de vitória e conquista ia tomando conta da minha cabeça mas ao mesmo tempo eu me podia me ouvir falando ao fundo que a expedição ainda não havia terminado e que por mais que tivéssemos apenas 15km a nossa frente, olhando para trás eu pude ver que não houveram dias fáceis, até nos mais leves houveram grandes desafios e aprendizados. O inverno costumava ser sempre o maior dos opositores nessa batalha por conquistar quilômetros, e mais uma vez ele se provou duro.

O dia anterior tinha sido frio mas não houve ventos fortes ou chuva ou neve, assim a expectativa para o dia seguinte era que poderia piorar mas ainda assim não poderia ser as piores condições. Olhando a previsão mostrava que o dia teria ventos de até 60m/H, mas como sairíamos cedo do hotel e a distância era curta talvez conseguíssemos chegar a John O Groats com um tempo razoável.  Grande engano! Acordamos e no quarto já dava para ouvir o barulho do vento, abrindo a cortina víamos flocos de neve ensandecidos e girando de um lado para outro, os galhos das árvores balançava forte numa dança sem ritmo definido e tudo mostrava que a jornada poderia ser curta mas também a pior em dias.

Arrumar as coisas a essa altura é algo simples e rápido, cada um já sabe o que colocar em cada alforje e o que no começo levava meia hora hoje leva menos de 10 minutos. Comer o café da manhã é sempre bom e um tanto curioso, a essa altura ainda me impressiono com a capacidade do Ben em comer English Breakfast na manhã enquanto eu fico no chá com torradas e cereais. Se eu comesse salsichas, ovos e bacon frito com tomate, cogumelos e feijão pela manhã meu dia seria com dores estomacais e diversas idas ao banheiro, mas com ele não tem problema algum. Certamente um estômago muito mais resistente!

Começar a pedalar foi apreensivo no começo, os ventos podem ser confusos, e por mais que tenham uma direção dominante eles se rebelam e acabam mudando de direção. No começo vinha do lado e para variar a luta era para que a bike ficasse num canto seguro da estrada, que não tinham muito movimento de carros, o que ajudou já que assim poderíamos ficar mais no meio da pista. O vento contra o rosto tornava a experiência dolorosa, e olhar o caminho ficava quase impossível. Era um tanto assustador ver as placas de trânsito e dos vilarejos cobertas por neve, todas congeladas; os gramados brancos e as ovelhas todas juntas tentando se aquecer o quanto podiam. As aves no céu lutavam contra o vento e pareciam perder a cada investida, era possível ver elas tentando voar para um lado e o vento as levando para outro. Cheguei a rir da insistência das pobres aves em ir para onde o vento não as deixava sem me dar conta de que eu estava na mesma situação. Mas como que se dando por vencido o vento que me segurava passa a me empurrar e percebo que depois de tantas curvas a estrada me colocou no sentido certo. Parei de pedalar e curti o empurrão, as pernas começar a tremer de frio e me dei conta que precisava manter as pernas movendo para me manter aquecida.

Ver a placa Welcome to John O´Groats!, me fez sorrir, a felicidade de ser bem vinda pelo lugar que almejo chegar há 21 dias é uma recompensa não só por todo esforço, dedicação e investimento nessa expedição mas sim uma recompensa por todo o último ano de treino e estudo, por toda a nossa mudança de vida para estar mais e mais aptos para o 360 Extremes. E passando por aquela placa, pensando em tudo isso sigo pedalando atrás do Ben e sei que ainda não acabamos, aquela placa é um sinal de estamos completando mas o Final é no marco e não na placa. Seguimos em frente, paramos em um Pub para saber onde exatamente estava o marco e olhando para fora da janela deles pude ver como o vento e a neve pareciam ganhar força. Menos de 1 km nos separava do nosso pódio, então com um sorriso largo subimos nas nossas bikes, clipamos nossos pés e pedalamos. Olhando em frente ansiosos em avistar algo parecido com o que deixamos em Land´s End. Não vou mentir falar que ver algo simplesmente pintado no muro foi um tanto decepcionante, mas mesmo assim descemos das bikes pulando de alegria. Aquele era o nosso momento, emocionados nos abraçamos, rimos, gritamos. Comemoramos do nosso jeito, e o frio estava ali a toda a nossa volta, se mostrando o parceiro inseparável dessa aventura. Eu bem que queria ter uma garrafa de champagne na hora para imitar os corredores da F1. Mas o jeito foi tirar a foto com o rosto gelado e banhados pelas gotas da chuva.

Entramos na lojinha e compramos uma caneca para simbolizar o nosso troféu.

Mas depois de todo esse sentimento de vitória tivemos que subir de novo nas bikes e voltar para o pub para pedir um táxi. Pedalar de volta aqueles 600m finais, subindo na bicicleta eu já realizei que isso seria muito, mais muito difícil mesmo, só não percebi que seria doloroso. O vento incrivelmente forte me jogava para trás e parecia uma parede que não me permitia sair do lugar, mais uma vez senti tapas do vento contra meu rosto e olhar para frente era impossível. As gotas acertavam meus olhos por cima dos óculos e me obrigava a fechá-los. Pedalei com força, tentando me guiar pelo asfalto da rua o quanto pude, olhando para baixo. Avistei o pub e o Ben pedalando em frente, o vento me batia com força e parecia não me querer de volta aquele lugar que me parecia quente, protegido e seguro. Uma hora desci e empurrei a bike. Chorei aqui, chorei de dor, meus olhos doíam por causa do vento e da neve. Subi na calçada do pub e o Ben veio me ajudar. Entrei no pub e lá ele me abraçou e me confortou. Quanto frio, quanta força um simples sopro pode ter.

Essa expedição acabou, depois fomos para Orkney Island ver as paisagens, continuar na companhia dos ventos mas com menos oportunidades de pedalar. A jornada em busca de experiência e preparo físico e mental para a grande expedição continua e esse ano com ainda mais aventuras, treinos e aprendizado.


The end is in sight. Almost

The end is in sight. Almost

Ao acordar de manhã passo a me sentir um pouco mais matemática do que comunicóloga, tudo isso porque inconscientemente me pego fazendo contas de quanto percorremos e de quanto ainda falta, e nessa manhã a resposta da equação me fez sorrir mas também me fez pesar. 100km para o nosso objetivo ser alcançado, tão pouco para que toda essa rotina de desafios e aprendizado se encerre, nessa pequena equação vejo mais que números, porque nesses 1400km percorridos vivi cada metro, suei cada subida, superei cada vento, me aqueci a cada mudança de tempo e cresci como pessoa, como ciclista, como cidadã. Tantas pessoas nos receberam com tantas histórias, conselhos e uma mão estendida para qualquer duvida ou problema. Curiosos pelo caminho nos chamavam de loucos e perguntavam sempre no porque de encararmos a LEJOG nessa época do ano. Os únicos a fazer isso agora, os únicos vistos por aqueles que nos acolheram, por aqueles que nos atenderam nos cafés e lojas de conveniências. O motivo talvez seja mais claro hoje do que quando saímos, é simples: aprender a lidar com todas as surpresas que as mudanças climáticas podem nos pregar. Acredito que isso conseguimos: lidamos com ventos de todos os lados, chuva forte, granizo, neve, icy, tudo isso junto, o dia de ameno e sem ventos se transformar em questão de segundos numa tempestade… Tivemos dias longos, semana inteira sem descanso, melhoramos nosso ritmo, melhoramos nossa potência, criamos uma sinergia e uma rotina nossa. E chega a todas essas conclusões de manhã, ao fazer a simples equação de quanto foi e o que falta, me entristece um pouco, porque parece que estou mais perto de parar de aprender, de parar de melhorar, de parar de conhecer.

The route to Keiss

The route to Keiss

Puxo meu pensamento para o fato de que hoje o dia não será fácil, a rota é montanhosa e promete uma subida interminável logo nos primeiros 20km, o clima dá pra ver que não está o mais amigo e se no dia anterior já não havia opções de parada, nesse então teria menos ainda. Pelo menos sair do Inn era algo um tanto motivador, o lugar era péssimo e eu não via a hora de chegar na próxima parada.

A ideia inicial era pararmos em Wick, mas resolvemos percorrer a maior distância possível porque o clima ia piorar ainda mais no dia seguinte. Sair de Brora foi bem tranquilo, a montanha lá no fundo com uma subida constante, longa mas não muito profunda. Agradeci o hotel ficar há uma distância razoável da subida porque consegui aquecer antes. O nosso ritmo estava tranquilo sem muita pressa. Essa seria uma subida bem longa de mais ou menos 15km, superado isso descemos uma ladeira de graduação 13% por uns 3km e no fim um curva fechada e uma subida nada amiga de 13% por mais 3km. Mais uma vez me vi pensando “porque não construíram uma ponte ali!”. Eu parei parar tirar fotos logo na curva e fazer vídeos do Ben, o problema depois foi subir na bike e encarar a subida, a estrada pra variar não tinha acostamento e era mão dupla, e com os ônibus passando ficava um tanto inseguro subir e começar a pedalar. Empurrei a bike até depois da curva e dali pedalei. Paramos no topo, depois de comemos umas barrinhas, tomamos água e combinamos de parar no primeiro serviço para tomar algo quente. Mas quanto mais norte estamos mais difícil fica de encontrar paradas. Passamos por diversos vilarejos, em Helmsdale acreditei que acharíamos algo por parecer um lugar maior que os outros, mas nada tudo fechado, entramos em Lybster e a cidade era super pequena e parecia um tanto abandonada, quase ninguém na rua os café e restaurantes fechados mas por sorte um mercadinho estava aberto e lá comemos e bebemos café. Dali em diante o desafio foi o frio mas sem muitas subidas significativas.

Looking over Berriedale, just north of Helmsdale; pausing for a break up the hill

Looking over Berriedale, just north of Helmsdale; pausing for a break up the hill

Um pouco antes de Wick o vento ficou mais intenso e vindo pela lateral, dava pra ver as ovelhas todas amontoadas tentando se aquecer e se proteger, mas nós não tínhamos muita opção além de pedalar. Chegando em Wick a cidade era bem maior, um mercado logo na entrada e não resistimos de parar para comprar algo para comer. O triste dessa parte é que na hora de continuarmos o Ben deixou o óculos cair sem perceber, parou uns 5 metros depois sentindo falta mas deu pra ouvir o som do carro atropelando e destruindo o seu óculos. Ele ficou bem chateado, mas pelo menos isso aconteceu agora e não há 17 dias atrás.

Seguimos até Keiss onde ficamos num Inn. O dia seguinte seria curto, mas olhando a previsão na internet não era nada animador, era certo que no dia seguinte encararíamos as piores condições da viagem!


Waking up in Newtonmore, ready for the day ahead

Waking up in Newtonmore, ready for the day ahead

Total distance covered (start of day): 1,282km

Distance travelled over the day: 74.46km

Total distance remaining at end of day: 197.93km

The route from Newtonmore to Inverness

The route from Newtonmore to Inverness

In Newtonmore, we stayed at Clune House ( – a family run B&B which was excellent. Unfortunately, not really any members of Warmshowers or Couchsurfing in the area to stay with, but this was a great alternative. The staff were very helpful with our bikes and gave us some good tips of what we could do in the town for the evening, and the breakfast in the morning was very nice as well. The room was very comfortable, and the rate (through gave excellent value for money. So, if anyone is in the area, I would definitely recommend you take a look!

In the morning when we left, it was pretty cold and pretty cloudy above us; a few snow flakes fell though nothing that looked like it could pose any problem for us. Keith, one of the owners of Clune House told us about how the cycle route continued, so we didn’t have to go on to the A9 again. And it did indeed continue, through the nearby towns of Kingussie and Aviemore as well as a small and picturesque place called Carrbridge, further down the road. Definitely much more pleasant and quiet than the A9, though as with the preceding day, we did eventually have to come back to the A9 as the route faded away under the snow and ice.

Passing traffic

Passing traffic

Being a Sunday, there didn’t seem like there was too much traffic on the A9, though they were still going pretty fast. Again as it went to a dual carriage way, we felt more comfortable as cars invariably went into the right-hand lane to pass us. I tried to imagine that happening in Brazil and … was unsuccesful: we would have been run over at least a dozen times…!

The route over the day was nice and short as well. Only 75km which, in comparison to other days, was lovely. What was more was that the first 35km were pretty flat, and while there was a gradual 10km climb (very gradual – only 175metres or so up), after this it was more or less straight downhill to Inverness – over the next 30km, we climbed only 148metres but descended a good 550m… The hills down were not the steepest in the world – my top speed only reached 54kmph – though it was nice to be able to relax and enjoy the hills while they lasted: we got to Inverness at a very respectable time of 3.30pm after having an average moving speed of 18.8kmph – reasonbly high in comparison to normal days of around 16 kmph – giving us some daylight hours to enjoy. Not many daylight hours, mind, but daylight hours all the same and it felt good.

Furthermore, and more importantly, had left the Cairngorms and the treacherous weather that they frequently present, meaning that if we had any luck, the rest of the joruney would be like a walk in the park…

The Cairngorms await us

The Cairngorms await us in the distance

From Blairgowrie into the Cairngorm mountains in what may have been the toughest full day of cycling. This was the day which I was probably most worried about, with 100km or so of cycling planned, of which most would be going up hill. Not just up hill, but up hill in to the Scottish highlands which, as we could clearly see in the distance on the previous day, were well and truly snow-covered.

Brian cycled out with us in the morning, in spite of it being cold and, for want of a better description, darn miserable. There was low cloud and drizzle, and it just wasn’t very nice to go riding through. It was straight forward enough at first, going from Blairgowrie in a westerly direction to join the A9, the main north-south trunk road, connecting Edinburgh with Inverness. Though it was drizzle, it was still lovely country side, passing Loch of Drumelli, Clunie and Loch of Lowes before reaching Dunkeld. There, we said goodbye to Brian, and he pointed us to the cycle path that ran along the A9, and said that it really would be better to go along that instead of the main road which is the centre of a debate about whether or not it should be re-classified as a motorway and is accident prone…

Detour at BallinluigWe took his advice, though it got a little a confusing south of Pitlochry about where the actual path ran. We ended up asking a couple of people about how to get to the path, and we ended up going what seemed to be all around the sun to meet the moon to continue along it in the hills above the main road. Indeed, taking the cycle path as a whole along the route probably increased our total journey by about 10km or so. If it was summer and if we didn’t have pretty heavy panniers it would have been great – it was a lovely, desolate kind of beauty going over those hills; however, occuring on an already challenging day going up into the Cairngorms, the detours weren’t always particularly welcome…

It is worth remembering that on the preceeding day, coming up to Blairgowrie, I mentioned that my bike was making strange clunking noises. Brian had a quick check in the morning as well, though wasn’t able to see what the issue was, though certainly recommended that we get it checked out once we got back to Brazil. As with me, he thought that it should be okay to get up to John O’Groats. However, the noise from the bike gradually got worse and worse, and much more constant (though still on a kind of random basis). So it was with relief that when the cycle path eventually came down from the hills and we got to Pitlochry. There we were able to find a  bike shop, and not just a bike shop that sells, but also repaired bikes. They had a look at it while we had lunch and when we got back, the guy said that some of the ball bearings in the back hub had broken and replaced them – had they gone unchanged, it would indeed have got worse and worse, until the wheel would have pretty much broken completely. So I was very happy testing the bike again and not hearing or feeling any noises at all.

Tricky conditions

Tricky conditions along the A9 cycle track

With time ticking on and us being quite significantly delayed with this problem and the cycle path taking longer than we wanted, we were thinking of continuing along the A9. The guys at the shop, however, advised us to keep going along the cycle path that went alongside it, and also suggested that we stop earlier. Unfortunately, not many other places were open to stay, or had any vacancies, so we had to keep with plans to proceed to Newtonmore. We continued along the cycle path for a while, and it was good for a whole 25km or so, however, with it being a cycle path / B-road, it had not received any salt from the gritters that pass along the A9, and as we got higher, the amount of snow and ice in our way increased, making life harder for us. We eventually gave in as the amount of daylight we had left was quickly running out, and we just wanted to get to Newtonmore, so on to the A9 it was.

It was surprisingly easy and not as terrifying as we were preparing ourselves for. Okay, there was steady traffic, and that traffic was fast, though just about everyone gave us a nice wide berth – am absolutely certain that our good Hi-Vis jackets and multiple back and front lights helped with this. For me the important thing is always to be as visible as possible even during the day. Furthermore, the remaining uphill was extremely gradual and we hardly noticed it, then, with 26km remaining it was just a nice gradual downhill – not too steep to cause us to worry about losing control, though with a nice gradient which allowed us to cruise at a good 25-30km per hour with no problem at all. In spite of all the delays and everything, we still managed to get to our guest house in Newtonmore for 6pm, just as it turned pitch-black outside.

The two bridgesIt was slightly hard mustering the will to leave Edinburgh and continue the ride – I have to admit that the day of rest had been very welcome. Though we had to continue, onwards, northwards, on the final phase of the journey towards John O’Groats. We believed that this would probably be the hardest phase of the route, with no flexibility in terms of weather days or days to rest. We would be going north, straight through the Cairngorms, stopping at Blairgowrie to the south of the mountains, Newtonmore in the middle of the region, and then Inverness before going to Brora, Wick and John O’Groats… a total of 488.23 kilometres, so still just about a third of the total distance of the whole route.

Entrance to the Forth Road BridgeFirst thing’s first: leaving Edinburgh… We were staying with Charlie and Mel in Musselburgh, so a little bit to the east of the city. We still had to get the Forth Road bridge – a good 25km away and a little longer than I thought. It took a while getting there, along an apparently endless cycle path with so many exits we would have got lost had it not been for the GPS. Our next host, Brian, told us that evening that he had been on the path a few times though had taken ages to navigate his way through it to the bridge. Fortunately the map plotted was good though it took a little while working out where the entrance to the path was.

The bridge itself is pretty spectacular: giant, going over the Firth of Forth, with the red rail bridge to its side. Apparently they are going to build one more road bridge right alongside it in the same area  – not sure why. The bridge does close when the wind is too strong, so maybe that has something to do with it. We were lucky that the day was still so there was no problem for us, thankfully. As we were going on it on the cycle path, it was constantly shaking with the enormous traffic that was going on it – very glad that there was a cycle path…!

On the other side, it was reasonably plain sailing. A few hills now and then, but nothing we hadn’t seen before. As the day progressed we could see snow covered mountains appearing in front of us, and it was nice as we were able to cycle along smaller roads that went north, paralleling the motorway, so there was little traffic going along with us. All the heavy vehicles going up to Perth were on the M-road.

Going along, my bike started to make irregular clunking noises. Nothing very much, but it was an annoyance. Being irregular and with no rhythm, it seemed that there was nothing wrong with the actual drive mechanisms as there would have been regularity with the turning of the pedals and chain. There was nothing visibly wrong, either. So we  kept on going. Past Perth, at around 4pm or so, though we decided not to stay to enjoy the town even though it was very pretty going through it and across the river there: we wanted to arrive in Blairgowrie before night-fall as, as we had found out in the first few days, riding after dark is no fun and on these roads, there are no street lights until you get right into town; and towns were few and far between.

Full speed ahead for 25km (16 miles) and again it was pretty easy-going across the relative flat terrain. It was gradually getting darker and darker though we were doing well enough. As we got close to the town, however, we saw a cyclist passing the opposite direction. I said hello as he went by, and then all of a sudden I heard Natalia calling to me. The rider had turned around and was riding alongside her: he was Brian! He had come out to meet us and guide us back to his place. It was certainly  a great welcome!


With Strachan and Alex

With Strachan and Alex in the morning… preparing to go to Edinburgh

At Galashiels we stayed with Strachan and his girlfriend Alex. As with our previous hosts we had met through Warm Showers and Couch Surfing, they were fantastic people – incredibly generous and helpful, and had some great stories to tell. They built their own bikes and are planning a world bike tour, which I really hope they get to do as they would definitely enjoy it. As with many of the other places we stayed, though, I felt tired pretty quickly – not sure what time it was when I went to bed, but it wasn’t late. I think the daylight hours have a lot to do with it – getting dark at around 5.30pm –  I guess I feel more tired quicker… also I guess riding 80-110km in one day with the heavy panniers probably contributes…! Hope I didn’t seem anti-social, though!!!

Map - Galashiels - Edinburgh

The route from Galashiels to Edinburgh

The journey from Galashiels to Edinburgh was short… only 50km or so. We discussed the route with Strachan and we had a choice of whether to continue along the A7, which was shorter but has more traffic in general and is not the widest road in the world; the A68, which added on 5km plus about 300m or so of extra climbs in total but safer and wider than the A7; or the A703 via Peebles, which is quieter and more of a scenic route. After the long day coming to Galashiels from Carlisle, however, we decided that the shorter route would be the most preferable, and opted to go along the A7…

It wasn’t the easiest of 50km in the world, however, as we had tough head winds pretty much the entire journey; icy ones at that. Though there was much less climbing to do than the other options, there was still enough to do, and the headwinds did not make life easy for us going up them. Also, there were very few places on the route where we could stop to get a hot drink or anything like that. What was okay about it though that while there was traffic on the road, the time that we rode on it, between 10am and about 2pm, meant that we avoided the rush hour traffic in and outside Edinburgh city, definitely making things more pleasant than what could have been. Furthermore, though it apparently was not the scenic route, there was still lovely landscape to go through, though with the cold of the winds, we didn’t stop too much to take so many photographs… sorry!

Finally, the other good thing about the road was that while there was gradual climbing for about 30km, after this it was all pretty much downhill for the rest of the route to Musselburgh (just outside the centre of Edinburgh itself), the town of our next hosts, Charlie and Mel…

Off into the mist

Off into the snow – the whole of northern England and southern Scotland is covered…

Carlisle was the city where I spent three years of my high school life at a boarding school called Austin Friars, up until I finished my GCSEs. It was good to be back in the town as I had never been there since I left the school. Those were… interesting years; the school was good, and I guess I grew up quite a bit after the torture of my first high school back in Lancaster. Played a lot of rugby and was half good until I got a clothes-lined in a tackle and lost confidence; then cross-country. I didn’t expect to remember anyone in this place though. and it was a shame that we were only passing through and didn’t get to see too much.

The route

The route for the day

The first big issue occurred in the morning when Paulo said that his knee was hurting too much and that it had been painful through the night. He decided that he would get a train to Edinburgh to go to a hospital there and meet us there when we arrived. Not much else that could be done really as definitely did not want to risk any permanent damage. The problem had resurfaced during the ride from Lancaster on the previous day, in spite of the additional day’s rest in Lancaster – a point that left both Natalia and I skeptical about his chances of being able to continue up after Edinburgh… but we hoped that things could improve as he would have three days of rest in total while we cycled over the next two days up to the Scottish capital and had our next day off scheduled to explore the city.

Coming through the snow

Coming through the snow

The other big issue came with the weather. It had snowed over night leaving us worried about how the roads were going to be. We had seen a number of gritters, however, making me pretty sure that the A7, which connects Carlisle with Edinburgh, would be well taken care of. Moreover, we would be entering into Scotland, with our last couple of hours in England, and in Scotland I find that the authorities are slightly better to equip with the colder conditions and are generally pretty thorough in gritting the roads.

And indeed it was a great day to cycle. As we left Carlisle, the countryside became steadily whiter and the snow at the sides of the road became steadily thicker, though aside from one stretch on 10 metres or so at the top of one of the passes we had to go through, we did not have to content with any ice or snow on the road at all – which was a relief as ice on the road is definitely not good at all. It also snowed on us as we rode, though thankfully it did not get too hard. It all made, however, for a beautiful day’s ride – the landscape covered in white, with the thick clouds above us, made for dramatic viewing and up to this point at least, the ride from Carlisle to Galashiels was definitely by favorite. This was in spite of us having to cover a larger distance than normal, of 110km or so, over three pretty long and tough climbs.

There weren’t too many places to eat en route and we ended up grabbing coffee and a bite to eat at a Sainsbury’s in Hawick (pronounced “Hoik” – something I really didn’t know and it took me a little while to make the association…). This town is a good 18 miles / 29km from Galashiels, and well more than half way through our ride. The weather seemed to change from then on as well, with it becoming sunnier and also, the snow on the hills above the town had all but melted away, leaving just patches of white mixed with the green grass; Quite lovely contrasts, made even better by the like of the late afternoon sun as we descended the last of the hills into Selkirk.

As a note, and I didn’t realise at the time, Selkirk is the home of Mungo Park, one of my favorite explorers, the subject of a book I mentioned in a previous post called Water Music. There is a monument to him in the town, though I didn’t know this until Strachan, our host (along with his girl friend Alex)  for the night. I will talk more about them in my next post, though as with everybody we stayed with through Warm Showers, it was meeting them and getting to know them – just a shame we didn’t have more time!

Natalia and Paulo on top of Shap

It was with a heavy heart that I left Lancaster. We took the A6 directly north: as I said, the original plan was to take longer and go through the Lake District up through Windermere and have an evening there, but with Paulo’s knee being bad and having to give extra time to see if it would get any better, we decided to change this and just go north to Carlisle.

The Shap MonumentThis was always going to be a challenging day, whether we had gone the indirect route through the Lakes, or the direct route we did eventually take – it was going to be hilly and it was going to be windy. Going along the A6, we would cross Shap, the highest point of which (covered by the road) reaches about 450m above sea level – not the highest mountain in the world by any means, but a tough climb from sea-level where we had been. And in the strong winds that had settled over the area, certainly not the easiest.

The route took us out of Lancaster past Carnforth and Kendal before it settled into the climb up the mountain. It took us a little while getting up, though the climb wasn’t too steep. We were actually helped by the wind on this occasion as it turned into a tail wind, helping to push us up it, so we weren’t complaining too much. Just at the top it was so windy and desolate, again with that desolate beauty that accompanies the winter in the UK, we didn’t want to dwell too long. We could see dark, ominous clouds as well to the west of us…

Which were coming our way. And with these clouds came not rain, but hail. And hail that came in what turned into be strong side-winds. Now rain by itself when coming in hard and when you are riding quite fast can hurt. Hail, however, stings like anything. We were battered by this hail for some time before it relented, and though we had balaclavas and glasses on, it still hurt… a lot. Not fun at all, really! This happened twice that afternoon, and much as I like dramatic weather conditions from the visual point of view… being in the middle of it is not great!

We got to Carlisle just after dark. Fortunately the hotel was just along the A6 so we did not have to go along any lengthy detours to find it. Nice and straightforward really. The hotel (the Swallow Hilltop) was able to keep our bikes in a meeting room, and keep all our gear safe there. The hotel was pleasant enough though it had an atmosphere of having seen better days, and it made me think of some holiday-camp-like atmosphere from the old TV series, Hidy Hi (not sure how it was spelt!), and there was very retro music playing continuously in the lobby and restaurant. Would recommend the place though as the food was good, the rooms were comfortable and the staff were nice.

Lancaster Castle

Lancaster Castle

With eight days of non-stop riding from the south-western-most point of the country for over 750km, we had reached the half-way point of the entire journey, we finally arrived in Lancaster and the house of my brother, Franklyn, and his family. It must have been around four years or so since I was last in the city – a historic town in the north-west of England – and it was nice to be back. Franklyn had not changed much, though his children all seem so much taller now, and his eldest son is now at high school, playing football for a local junior team. I was pleased that the kids remembered me!

We didn’t do too much there. Paulo’s knee was hurting quite a bit from the exertions over the previous week or so, so much so that we had to take an extra day to give him more time to recover, at the expense of one day going through the Lake District. Instead of having a night in Keswick, which would have been a bit of a diversion from going straight north… we would decided that we would go straight north to Carlisle.

Isaac (in orange) scores a fine goal from just around the penalty spot

Isaac scores a fine goal from just around the penalty spot

In the town, we just wandered around a bit; on the first day I bumped in to three people who I used to either go to school with or work with, purely by chance. I guess Lancaster is a pretty small town, with around 40,000 people there so the chances were reasonably high. We went up to Williamson’s park and tried to fly the stunt kite, though unfortunately there was no wind whatsoever (I had a hope that it might pick up a little being higher up over the town), and on the second day I went to watch Isaac, the eldest of these nephews, play football.  The game was a cup match and was held on a pitch that was heavy due to the recent weather, though Isaac’s team managed to win 4-1, with Isaac scoring a pretty good goal to cap off a decent day. Only half an hour each half, though I wasn’t complaining as it was pretty cold standing there!

The last night, Franklyn had to go down to Norwich where he worked during the week, and it was sad saying goodbye – probably will only be another four years or so before I see him again if all goes well with this whole project. Saying goodbye to his sons and wife was also sad, for the same reasons. I guess Isaac will be going to University by then, and his two younger brothers will be at high school… things change so fast.

Back in 2007... Things change!

Back in 2007 with Dave and Tom… Things change!

So I spent the last night having a couple of drinks with a good friend from as far back as primary school, Tom Wilkinson. Again, I hadn’t seen Tom for a long time, and was great to see him again, although all too brief! It was brilliant to hear that he was engaged and will be getting married later in the year; though I guess I won’t be able to make it for the wedding as we will be back in Brazil. Real shame about that, and it was a shame that a couple of other old friends like Leon and Dave weren’t able to make it, but ah well. We chatted for a fair few hours though unfortunately as it got close to 10pm, I was struggling to stay awake – I guess my body was still feeling the effects of the previous days’ riding, and was expecting the journey up to Carlisle that was to come. Again, it was really sad to say goodbye, knowing it will be such a long time before we will be able to catch up again, and lots of things will happen over this time.