Hello everyone, Having been back at work (and on my bike) since I returned in August, I have finally managed to get myself together and get the first blog up about the little challenge I have set for myself!
Over the next 2 years I am attempting to cycle 18,000 miles around the world in 5 stages – Europe (Roscoff, France to Venice, Italy via Switzerland) – Africa (Kenya to Cape Town) – Asia (Nepal to Myanmar) – Australia – USA. People often ask why I am doing this? A very good question and there are a couple of main reasons really. The first is to raise money for 2 fantastic charities – Inspire Malawi (to build a classroom in rural Malawi) and the other is a mental health charity in North East Scotland called Networks of Wellbeing (helping to establish better mental health facilities for people in the area I grew up in). The second reason is really just to see if I can do it, to challenge myself and see what might be possible of a freelance musician and teacher who had never really been on a bike until New Year 2017. I have been struggling a little over the last year or so, trying to do my best at work (I help to run a great music charity called Superstrings) and keep my violin teaching and viola playing going, but there remains this feeling that I really need to go and explore, meet people of different cultures and see different countries. We’re not here for very long (a bit of a cliche – but true!) and I just have this feeling that if I don’t try and do this now then I will really regret it. I’ve read lots of amazing stories about women and men who have been doing incredible things and it’s really inspired me to see what might be possible.
So, I needed to get fit. My weight has always been a problem, just not healthy and always used to get me down – yo yo would be putting it mildly. I popped to my local bike shop – Pewsey Velo (you’ll probably hear me chat a lot about these heroes) – and they kitted me out with my first proper bike, a Dawes Karakum, and off I went. I got into road biking soon after. Having a road bike helped me to keep up on group rides (my Dawes is a little on the heavy side – great for touring but not so much for speed!) Cycling has helped me to be healthier and happier and I highly recommend it to everyone. Especially people with dodgy knees like me (broke one in a car crash a few years back so could never get into running!) It’s really good for clearing your mind and getting things into perspective too. Especially if you’re out for a long time, no-one can get to you, it’s just you and your bike – start small and then ride a bit longer each time. You’ll be surprised at how far you can go after a few weeks!
Roscoff to Carhaix (via Morlaix ) – 90km.
As I rolled off the ferry at 10am it all seemed quite familiar as I had done this section of the Velodysee over a week in Summer 2016. Luckily, this time, I found the correct path pretty easily and off I went. I was feeling a little apprehensive but, as soon as I started pedalling, the nerves soon passed and I was enjoying being on the road with just my bike (affectionately known as Hamish), my mascot Harry (a heilan’ coo) and my tent! I only messed up once on day 1 when I was slowing up at a crossing and put too much weight on one side of my bike. One pannier hook pinged off, never to be seen again. Not critical but I had to tie it on for the next 24 days!
I went by the rather marvellous viaduct at Morlaix and had a coffee in the town. I met some lovely cyclists en route. Sadly most cafes are shut on a Sunday so I had to go to that fine exponent of French cuisine, Subway, for lunch! Still, it kept me going all the way to Carhaix – must’ve been a few calories in there I guess! Over supper some older chaps from Switzerland started to tell me that it would be WAY too dangerous to cycle over the Alps, ‘traffic…..weather….it could all be very, very bad’. You get the idea. So I spent the next week or so wondering if I should completely change my route through Switzerland (Swiss route 3) but I’m glad I didn’t listen to them! Lovely as they were.
Carhaix to Rohan (Day 2)
120km – I was supposed to do 95km that day but sun was shining and I had good tunes on 🙂 so pedalled on!
I decided it’s better to think of each day as a sportive. The whole trip seemed like such a massive undertaking it became much easier just to think of the trip as a series of mini-adventures!
I started off by following my new friends Eliza and Jacques (very lovely french cyclists) for an hour or so, mostly a bit lost, trying to find our way back to the main route from the campsite! Not the best start but I guess we all needed time to warm up. I learned early on not to blindly rely on other people’s sense of direction when mine was telling me we were going the wrong way. My sense of direction isn’t brilliant, my cycle buddies can verify, but it has definitely improved!
Having had no breakfast (as we were meant to stop for brekkie after 10km), 2 hours later we found a cafe! I munched my rolls and jam I nabbed from the ferry the previous morning and bought a coffee.
I decided to push on myself a bit since I had to make Pontivy by night fall. I met a lovely group of people from Orleans and drafted them for a bit too but then had to push on again. Good banter though.
I got the tunes on and the sun came out so I did some extra miles and reached Rohan around 6:30pm. I had never really had tunes on whilst riding before but, on the quiet tracks and when I was feeling a bit tired, it was really great. I had some great tunes loaded up onto my old Ipod and it really kept me going and stopped me from over thinking things sometimes. New favourites became Goodbye Jumbo (check them out) and Stevie Wonder Greatest Hits!
Rohan to Redon (Day 3) – oh dear, broken gear cable!
90km today…felt like much more – was so hot.
Nice day pootling along the Brest / Nantes canal.
Had a coffee stop at Josselin (one of my favourite places from last summer) and chatted with some folks from the UK. Then lunch at Malestroit. A lovely couple from the UK saw me and let me join them, they even gave me some cash to buy a tasty supper as I left, very kind indeed. Having been on the road a few days, I always appreciated when people would chat with me and were genuinely interested in what I was doing. They had some great stories too and were clearly having a lovely holiday.
Later I passed the little pub in St Martin that I had had a drink in the previous summer and saw a bit of the Tour De France – I have no idea who won as I had to head onwards just as it got interesting sadly. Ah well, on I went. Found a nice campsite in Redon, on the outskirts. Did some washing and decided to cycle into town for supper when the bloomin’ gear cable snapped! A lovely local chap told me where the bike shop was for the morning. I could’ve been in the middle of nowhere, or up a mountain, so I considered myself lucky I was in a town. Off I went back to camp in one gear to get a good night’s sleep and commence ‘Operation fix the bike’ in the morning. Legs were already feeling a bit achy but not too bad!
Redon to Blain (Day 4) – half day of sightseeing and then quick blast to Blain.
About 50km but I lost track – oops!
Up early and popped up to the local bike shop, Soul Cycles, where I met some very nice chaps who fixed Hamish for me. They got him rolling along nicely again but I had to wait until afternoon since the shop was very busy (reminded me a bit of my local bike shop, so many bikes needing some TLC!)
I went around Redon sightseeing then on to an Irish bar after lunch to watch a bit of Tour De France and get out of sun. Even Factor 50 wasn’t stopping those rays turning my pasty Scottish legs pink!!
Around 4pm I had to get a serious wiggle on to get to Blain – only to discover the camping was shut for the summer when I got there. The next camping was 6km away and it was already 8pm. As I was making my way there, who should I meet on their way to supper but Eliza and Jacques again. They had saved me a bed in the little hostel they found near to the castle and wondered if I wanted to come for supper. Amazing luck!
Blain to just past Nantes! (Day 5)
75km – rest day. (No rushing as it was supposed to be a rest day but I got a tiny bit behind. I did get back on track again though. Was nice to pootle along a bit!)
Along the canal most of the day with friends Eliza and Jacques which was nice. Gravel and dust was making Hamish look decidedly grotty but gave him a good clean that evening.
Stopped at a supermarket and had a picnic for lunch then braved Nantes city centre with the trams, people, cars and loads of bikes. Getting to the Loire was the first step so was pretty chuffed when I got to the bridge!
From here I would use the ‘Loire a Velo’ route – Eurovelo 6.
Later I sat at the campsite called ‘Camping Belle Ville’ past Nantes and made myself a camp feast of couscous and mackerel with my pocket rocket stove. Washed down with a coffee and leftover tart au pommes – tasty! Early night that night….off on my own the following day to try and make Angers (106 km). I read lots of the messages of support and tried to reply to as many as possible.
The first 5 days had been pretty successful all in all. Eurovelo 1 (Velodysee) is so straight forward to follow and, apart from a few slopes around Morlaix, it’s generally really flat. It’s really well signed too, if I managed to arrive at my destination unscathed then they must be good! It’s a great route for anyone thinking of having a go at cycle touring. There are plenty of cyclists on the trail and they’re always happy to chat.
The next stage is Eurovelo 6 following the Loire all the way from Nantes to Basel.