Posts Tagged ‘sports’


Natalia with the kite at “midday”

Yesterday off we finally went to a beach near Cumbuco, just outside of Fortaleza, with our instructor Luciano Cordeiro from 30 Knots, the school we are working with in this project. Fantastic experience!

Getting there took a little while – Luciano arrived at just before 11am – he had on the preceding day say 9am, but apparently the winds were pretty poor in the morning so when we called him, he gave us a new time. At first we were a little suspicious as Ceará state, as is pretty much the entire northeast of Brazil, has a quite a reputation for the laid back attitudes to punctuality, but when we got the beach an hour later, it seemed that we were the only second group on the beach for the day.

Ben with the kite at 9 o'clock, under the watchful eyes of Luciano our instructor

Ben with the kite at 9 o’clock, under the watchful eyes of Luciano our instructor

Luciano was very methodical and straightforward – starting from the beginning, the way I guess you should: unravelling the kite and the strings, pumping up the kite, and then tieing the knots from the trapezium to the kite, and then the basic positions of the kite… from “midday”, with the kite directly above us and the wind coming from behind us; 9 o’clock, with the kite off to the left side, and 3 o’clock over to the right. We just stayed on the beach by a lagoon practicing the control of the kite in these positions, rather than going on to a board where we would have the extra concern of staying afloat. For me the easiest part was at “midday” when there was very little pull from the kite, as off on the sides, I felt it easier to move out of the right position and the pull on my body increase. Moreover, for a big kite (12 metres), it was amazingly sensitive to any adjustments from the hands.

The time we had playing around with the stunt kite was actually pretty helpful, with the principles behind the wind dynamics being very similar – when the kite was in the three positions, there was relatively little pull from it, though any forced movement from our part and we instantly felt ourselves being pulled along. This went against our natural tendencies as when we felt like we were losing a bit of control, we had to ease off on our pressure on the kite bar, rather than trying to grip it and force it back under control. This would just make matters worse, and Natalia felt the consequences of that, when she was pulled from the beach and into the water. Fortunately it was okay and when she let go of the kite, she soon came to a halt without having any damage. Quite funny to watch and unfortunately I didn’t have the camera out at the time!

The three hours sped by all too quickly, and I think we did a decent job for our first time, so here’s looking forward to the next lessons!


Beira Mar small

Walking along Beira Mara, Fortaleza… somethings never change…

Back up to the northeast of Brazil, in the city of Fortaleza. Definitely nice being back – lots of good memories from here, and difficult not to feel a bit nostalgic. We have been staying with Natalia’s cousin, Jeane. When Natalia was younger, she lived with Jeane for a year or so and I guess it has been a good 15 years or so since they saw each other. So lots of catching up there.

We got here at 3am, but decided to stay at the airport until around 8am as didn’t want to wake Jeane and her family up… slightly too early for that, but not worth getting a hotel. The hours went by extremely slowly, especially with the airport television system playing the same clips over and over and over and over again, and no comfortable places to lie down. At least we managed to break my brother-in-law’s record on the Magic Alchemist (thank goodness for the iPad!), though, so something good came out of it! At 8am, we popped over to 30knot’s Wakeboard Park  and registered for our Kite Surf lessons, and then headed over to Jeane’s…

Since meeting up with Jeane, and getting introduced, not much has happened. Have been feeling pretty tired, though last night we went for a walk along Beira Mar – one of the main tourist avenues along the city beach front. A few changes with the addition of a “Japanese Garden”, a small Japanese-style park, though much of it all remains the same as I remembered, with a huge artisanal market along the beach. Nice ice creams as well!

Today we will have our first kite surfing lesson. The guy said yesterday that we would head off at 9am, though we called him a bit ago and he said “because of the winds” we won’t be heading off until 11am. Not sure how much this is due to the winds or to the slightly laid back way of Ceará state life… but still, hopefully we will be on our way in an hour or so. It will just mean that we will be surfing under the midday sun, which is pretty hot up here just three degrees below the equator…

Photo: Rsrsrsrs!!!!

A long way to go to the 13 million score of the global first place… but on our way… who knows, with another 5 hours at an airport, we might get it a little better…!

It has been a difficult few weeks for me in terms of aches and pains. The first problem occurred about a month or so ago – I was going for a 15km run at a gentle pace and felt a pain in my calf muscle. I kept running, thinking it was cramp and that I could run it off. Big mistake as it turned into out to be a partial tear of the muscle, which ruled me out of a 6km race I had entered into. I’m no doctor, but the pain felt pretty much like it was in the location in the image – after the tear, it felt like there was a bit of a lump and redness there, I guess because of slight internal bleeding from the injury. The problem was exacerbated when, after the pain had died down a bit, I tried going for a run again and pushed myself a bit to far too soon… It can be very frustrating not being able to exercise properly.

Fortunately the muscle recovered in time for the last half marathon in Rio, but it is still a good reminder about how we need to be careful with our bodies and pushing ourselves too much too soon. After the half marathon almost two weeks ago now, my leg muscles were naturally tired, though just tired rather than any aggravated injury… the problem this time, however, being in my left foot which has been painful to walk on since the race, with the pain on the outside. It felt like a pain in the bone rather than any muscles. It seems completely better now, which is nice, so will need to see how it goes – not sure how/why it happened: the running shoes I wore were the same as the previous race (and gave no problems) and in which I have been training, and this is the first time such an injury has occurred.

Back to the gym this last week, but definitely no impact sports like running while the foot is like this. From tonight  we will be in the water for a week on the tropical beaches of Fortaleza, kite surfing so that should also be good as well as definitely not much impact in that! Swimming in the sea should be good as well for general fitness (so nope, not really a holiday though the location will be great!).

For the kite surfing, though the nice tropical beaches and hot weather will be an added bonus! I lived for a year or so in the city back in 2000, though I hear much has changed in that it has got ever larger. Will be great to be back and catch up with some old friends and definitely looking forward to the coming week. The city isn’t the most beautiful in the world in terms of architecture etc, and it does have its problems – harsh inequalities, crime, and it is not safe to be out away from the tourist places at night. However, it is an enjoyable place to be, and I do miss the ocean breeze, its accessibility and walking along the Beira Mar promenade. Will certainly be the warmest training project (and arguably the most fun…. but then again, every project we have done so far has been challenging and the rewards of managing to complete them have certainly outweighed any “suffering” we have had to endure in the process!!). But yes, flight at 11:30pm on Friday night and back in São Paulo next Sunday. Here we go!

The Niteroi bridge

The Niteroi Bridge and the route we were to take – Photo: Lourenço Alcimar

Back from another half marathon in Rio de Janeiro, my second such race, but this time going from Niteroi, over a 13km bridge, to Flamengo beach. A steady up-hill over the main hump of the bridge for the first few kilometers, and then just about downhill or flat from then on… more or less (there were occasional slight upward slopes that helped make things harder, especially towards the end when you think that the hard parts are over with)!

View over the bay

Looking over the bay from Niteroi to Rio de Janeiro Photo: Lourenço Alcimar

Altogether it was pretty different from the previous course which was straight along the beach for 17km before having a devilish uphill for a kilometer or so before going down to the finish. This time we had splendid views over the bay and it was neither too hot nor too cold, and altogether quite enjoyable as well as pretty unique. With this uniqueness comes the popularity – around 8,000 athletes joined the race, about twice as many as the previous one I was in.

My time last time was 1h54m59s and this race, with a bit more training (which was admittedly interrupted for a little while by my pulling a calf muscle and then re-pulling it when I tried to run too fast too soon), I managed to reduce this time to 1h50m31s. So I was pleased.  I am suffering a bit as I write now – my right knee hurts (just below the knee to be precise), and the outer side of my left foot is not great, so am hobbling a bit and it wasn’t nice getting up this morning!

Also, at the same time as being pleased for beating my previous time, I was slightly disappointed: my pace for every kilometer up to 19km was between 4m41s per kilometer and 5m26s/km and I was pretty much dead-on completing it in 1h46m… In the last two and a bit kilometres, however, my body faltered and my pace reduced quite a bit to around 6mins/km. From then it was all psychological and pushing myself to get to the end.

But still, I suppose this can be my next goal for the Porto Alegre half marathon which happens at the end of June. It looks to be a hillier course for that race, however, so it might be tougher, but hopefully it should go alright.

Medal ceremony with Lourenço! Photo: Lourenço Alcimar

Medal ceremony with Lourenço! Photo: Lourenço Alcimar

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.

North Face Hayasa trail-running shoes - find them at Casa de Pedra in São Paulo

North Face Hayasa trail-running shoes – find them at Casa de Pedra in São Paulo

New running shoes..!


My old Saucony shoes… slightly worse for wear..

My old Saucony shoes have, after a year and bit of solid use running and casual walking, bitten the dust. Shame really as they were great shoes to run in. Nice and light, comfortable, pretty sturdy, and I liked the colour scheme of them. First of all holes started to appear at the front end of both trainers where my big toe is, then  gradually the fabric became weaker and weaker until finally on one of them the side fabric became detached from the sole and the shoe isn’t really useable any more, unfortunately. So it is a farewell to a good pair of trainers.

The North Face - Hayasa Running Shoes

The North Face – Hayasa Single Track Running Shoes

In their place I have got The North Face Hayasa trail running shoes from Casa de Pedra – a nice red colour which stands out well enough as well. Nice and light, with a pretty good grip, strong and also reinforced toe-ends to help protect from bumps and the like (as well as hopefully stopping my big toes from poking holes in to them!). The laces are great – a sort of soft stretchy material which just doesn’t come undone. And very importantly for me, very comfortable with a nice and snug fit. They are most decided neutral in the way they are built, so just about right for my feet. In short, it was love at first fit when I tried them on. I needed to get them before the half marathon in Rio, which I did manage to do. Unfortunately, it was only a couple of days before the race. And it really isn’t recommended to start hard running in new shoes without having worn them in. So on the day before the race, the Saturday, I just walked around in Rio for the day, just trying to get used to them and them used to me. Chugging alongIt seemed to work, though how much this was to do with my “walking-in” or the general ultra-good fit of the shoe, am not sure. As I mentioned in a previous post, I managed to get a time of 1h54m59s – a time that I was very pleased with as I imagined taking two hours and I had not done much dedicated running training, and especially not over that kind of distance. And at the end of it all, my feet felt fine, as did my knees. Just the muscles were tired, as you can imagine! But the shoes had done their job and kept my feet nicely protected with just a couple of toe blisters on one foot, but nothing bad. I never really imagined the North Face making good running shoes, and though these are more for trail running (and have received good reviews for this as well – check this one out), they were great for running along the roads in Rio and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them to anyone interested.

Casa de Pedra

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!

Kite surfers

Kite Surfing?

Yup! This will be our next main training project (while we keep up the cycling and the general fitness as well as our own individual challenges…) and one am particularly looking forward to as it will probably be the most fun. But why Kite Surfing? Will we going kite surfing during the actual expedition..?

A very simplified map of how the winds in Antarctica work - plenty out there more comprehensive than this! But basically, until the South Pole, we will be going into the wind, though after it, it will be in our favour...

A very simplified map of how the winds in Antarctica work – plenty out there more comprehensive than this! But basically, until the South Pole, we will be going into the wind, though after it, it will be in our favour…

Well when we are on Antarctica, when the winds are in our favour (mainly, most likely, when we leave the Pole towards McMurdo as the Katabatic winds blow off from the Antarctic plateau down and towards the coast) we will be going by kite-ski. This form of power helps… a lot – when skiing we will be going and hauling our 120kg pulks around 15km or so per day, if things are good. Kite-skiing will allow us to travel around ten times this speed, and so make it possible to cross the continent before the winter closes in.  When we are in northern Canada this coming February, we will be practicing kite ski, and we hope to embark on a smaller expedition of 600km across the Greenland Icecap from west-to-east next May; an expedition that will take a month or so, and which we will do plenty of kite-skiing.

Here in Brazil as you can imagine it is difficult to find places to ski… okay, not difficult: impossible. We would have to go to Bariloche in Argentina to be able to enjoy such opportunities. However, the principals behind kite surfing, in terms of using the wind and maintaining your balance, are similar to kite ski: using the wind is everything. They also say that kite-surfing is harder because it is harder to maintain your balance on water as opposed to snow and ice, which is what it would be like in the Antarctic. So the more practice we get with it better and will hopefully make our lives much easier when we are a) in the training at Baffin Island; b) the Greenland traverse and c) for the full expedition.

So yes, at the beginning of June, we will be going up to Fortaleza, with the glorious sunshine and waves of Fortaleza, to open a new chapter of our training for this whole project. Should be fun!

Kite surfing

Exhausted medal ceremony

Made it!!!

Sunday was the Rio Half Marathon – 21km of running along the beautiful beaches of Rio, from Recreio and through the Barra da Tijuca region to São Conrado. I was slightly nervous as my training has been less than ideal for a running event like this. As I mentioned in the last post, I had run a 15km at the end of the year with the 15km São Silvestre in São Paulo, but relatively little running since then. The only thing I had going for me was a good level of general fitness from the Casa de Pedra gym and climbing training, and the LEJOG cycle ride, though not training specific for running.

Getting ready to run!

Getting ready to run!

My time for the São Silvestre was 1h25mins – about 10.5km per hour. If I managed to keep the same speed, I would manage to complete the Rio event in two hours, so that was my goal. I figured that as the Rio race was almost completely flat – with just one “hill” after 17km – I could do it slightly quicker if things went well; the São Silvestre went up and down plenty of hills in São Paulo, so more challenging in that respect.

First thing was first, it was good to be in Rio again and away from São Paulo, though this was my first time in Barra da Tijuca – I stayed in a hostel in the central area, near Novo Leblon, called Adepta hostel – a fantastic price of r$88 (about US$ 40) for a night – pretty low for Rio, especially in the wealthy area of Barra. And it was a great place – very safe neighbourhood, very quite, and near plenty of places to eat and relax. Definitely would recommend it. A couple of runners from São Paulo stayed there as well – they arrived at the same time as me – and it was good to wander around with them. The taxi driver taking us there was slightly crazy and dodgy though – he almost crashed in to the back of a car stopped at a red traffic light and braked and swerved at the last-minute, before going straight through the light. He blamed the driver of the other car for having stopped, complaining that he didn’t need to stop for pedestrians…. I was happy to get out. Aside from this, however, Barra was very nice – extremely different from the main southern and central zones of Rio – it was almost like a different city entirely

The day of the race… 7am was the start time, so we got there at 6am. Light warm ups and stretches; a bit more water… psyching ourselves up for the race with music playing loudly in a party-like atmosphere at the start… trying to make the legs feel slightly less heavy… and at 7am, off we went.

En RouteThe first minute was spent shuffling along with the peloton to the starting line – there were 3,000 runners and I was somewhere in the front-middle. The music soon faded away, and it was just the sound of our footsteps on the tarmac and the waves. While at the São Silvestre it seemed like the entire city was out watching the race and cheering everyone on, here the event was much less popular, and only a few early-morning drinkers and surfers were watching – probably more bemused than anything else. My legs felt heavy still for the first ten minutes but I was able to establish a nice rhythm of about 5m24s per kilometre and felt good after those initial minutes.

There were water points every three kilometres and I was grateful for every one of them. I would take in general two cups of water and a gulp of Gatorade at each point – one cup to pour over my head and cool me down, and one to drink for hydration. Definitely helped as it was 25C so pretty warm. I had a couple of “Gu” energy sachets, which were fantastic – I took one after 8km and the other after 15km. I prefer the taste of Blocks, but Blocks are more solid, so harder to eat when running, where Gu is what the description says… Gu-ey! So easy to eat and swallow.

I managed to keep up the rhythm for the first 17km or so, up to the main uphill. I was pleased that I managed to beat my 15km São Silvestre time by about six minutes, reaching that point at 79mins. At the uphill, though, I felt my pace dropping a little and then it turned more into a mental battle with myself. It would have been easy to slow down or maybe just have walked a little, but I refused to let myself and had to push myself forward. Am pretty sure that had I done more training, it would have helped a lot here. After the hill, it was okay again, until the final kilometre, or, to be more precise, the final 800 metres…

At that point I could see as sign saying “500 metres” to go… then a bit ahead “400 metres”.. etc… I had been quite happy with just kilometre markers before this, so the time it took me to go every one of those last few hundred metres seemed to take forever; it was like some twisted form of torture!! I am sure they did it for good reasons, to encourage people those last few hundred metres, but for me… well, I was glad to cross the line! And I was elated to have completed my first half marathon!

My final time… 1 hour, 54 minutes, 59 seconds!

Definitely extremely pleased with myself for this, and confident that I will be able to do better next time: Porto Alegre in little over 82 days on 30 June. Check the website of the organisers – if you are around, give me a shout!

(Final note… Aside from the photos from Asics, I didn’t take many pictures from Rio this time, so have included a few from last time I went – such a great city!)

Rio Half Marathon

This Sunday I will be running in the Rio half marathon… slightly nervous really as I have never run this far before, and am not sure about my capacity to do it well. With a bit of a flu the last week or so, I haven’t been able to train as much as I would have liked to. I know we completed the LEJOG a few weeks ago, but cycling is very different from running especially as cycling is a non-impact sport, whereas running is… well, very much impact!

São Silvestre - Paulista

The São Silvestre run in São Paulo – slightly shorter at 15km, but a few more hills…

In the São Silvestre at the end of 2012, it was a lot of fun, a nice route up and down through São Paulo with a great long up hill at the end. The Rio half marathon am sure will be beautiful – running along the coast of the city from Barra da Tijuca through to São Conrado. Pretty much completely flat except for a couple of small hills towards the end, so it doesn’t look the hardest course in the world. I guess the biggest problem will be the heat, though it is starting at 7am so it should be around 25C or so. Hot enough, but not blistering… hopefully!I managed a few seconds over 85 minutes over the 15km of the São Silvestre, which averages out at around 10.5km per hour, so if I manage something similar or just a little bit slower than this, then I will be happy. I guess that doing it in two hours would be pretty respectable, but let’s see. As I say, maybe confidence isn’t as high as it should be!

Off to Rio tonight by bus – it’s a good 6 hour ride and there, so it’s the midnight bus (one of the great things about Brazil are the inter-city buses – pop on a “Leito” from São Paulo to Rio and you will be in chairs that go back almost 90 degrees; pick up the kit from a place (somewhere!) in Rio and then just relax before the main event. I suppose I can’t complain; Rio for a weekend won’t be bad!

A view over Rio from the Corcovado - lovely city!

A view over Rio from the Corcovado – lovely city!

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!!!