Sunday, 21 December 2014

Apologies Galore

Location: Sheffield, South Yorkshire, UK
I'd just like to apologise for the complete lack of activity on the blog lately. It's the rather boring and overused excuse of "being busy". We have been organising and sorting out but it's all the boring stuff.

One such essential but boring activity of getting ready to go; spending time at the doctors getting stuck with needles.  Because I have never been away I have had quite a few jabs, with many more to come. We still need to sit down with the nurse and sort out all the malaria tablets, joy of joys!  But needs must, and with every little prick the adventure becomes more of a reality.

We've also had a rather fruitless conversion with US immigration where we learned nothing new and they actually used the line "A law is a law".  And the first leg of the journey, cycling around the western states of America, is based on the Customs and Border Patrol Officer that we interact with at 8pm on a Friday night.  We'll all just have to find out how that goes.

I'm also going to say sorry because we have changed the way emails from the blog are sent to people who have requested them.  We weren't entirly happy with the pervious arrangement.  We had no control over the database of contacts or when or how you were notified, so we are now the custodians of a fancy new newsletter that we write, manage and organise when and to whom it goes to.  However we have to ask all of those who want to get it to sign up here.  Just so you know, another benefit is that if you reply to the email then we do get the response and we can strike up a conversation and keep in touch with you lovely people.

And last but by no means least we have also added a Facebook page for Detour to Moose Jaw.  Some of our loyal fans were finding it difficult to comment and share the blog post from the blog page, so we have been beavering away moving a lot of the content over to good old FaceyB.  Just head over on this link to find us.  Please be aware that the posts are just summaries of the longer blog entries, a bite sized chunk if you will.

So without further ado we both wish you all the happiest of Christmas' and a fantastic and wonderful New Year.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Friends and Strangers

Location: Sheffield, South Yorkshire, UK
As the clock ticks down to when we fly out of Manchester to start the trip; thoughts move to the people we will be leaving behind and also of the people we haven't met yet.

While we are away we will be interacting with so many different people and at some point we'll have to rely on some of these people. There will be the people we ask for simple directions or a recommendation for things to see and do.  Others we might need something more vital, maybe we'll need a lift because we can't ride the distance in time for whatever reason or the weather has turned on us and we need a place to shelter for a short time.  In all of these situations we will be relying on the kindness of strangers.

There will also be times when we need to rely on the kindness of our friends and family.  Be it a simple email telling us how things are back in Dear Old Blighty or some of you kind folks might be able to point us in the direction of a brilliant cycling route that is off the beaten track but unmissable if we are in the area.  A few others may want to put us up for a couple nights if we find ourselves round your neck of the woods.  Also, some of you might have folks we can hook up with as we pass through.  If any of this interests you then head over to the maps page and write a comment about where to go or see, who to stay with or any other suggestion.

Over the next couple of years we're going to try and log as much of this as possible.  Get photos of the people we meet and make a note on our map how and where people helped us out.  Hopefully this way we'll be able to let all the friends and family at home know that we are being looked after, and that strangers are indeed just friends we haven't yet met.

Monday, 10 November 2014

What is a Rohloff hub and why do you keep banging on about them?

Location: Sheffield, South Yorkshire, UK
LONG TECHY POST ALERT!  We got asked to do a post about what a Rohloff Hub is so this is it.  I am in no way a bike expert or bike geek so this will be in very simple terms.  Basically there are 2 types of gear system for push bikes - external derailleur gears which is the type found on most bikes and internal hub gears which is what we've opted for on our touring bikes.

This is your average external derailleur gear system.  You probably recognise it.  There are a series of different sized cassettes at the back and often a number of of different sized chain rings at the front with a chain running between the two and derailleurs to move the chain up and down the cassette and chain rings.


An internal hub means that all your gears are packaged neatly away inside the bit in the middle of your rear wheel (the hub).  This has a sprocket attached to it and at the front, where your pedals are there is one chain ring.  These are connected by a chain, which continually runs in a straight line, unlike with a derailleur where it moves up and down the cassette and chain rings.  How does all the internal stuff work?  No bloody idea.  You can read about it on Wikipedia if you like or watch this video on the Rohloff website.

All I know is our Rohloff hub (Rohloff is the make) is a masterpiece of German engineering and we are already very fond of them.  So what is so good about it I hear you ask?  Well these are the reasons we chose them instead of the 'normal' external gears:
1)  Reliability.  There are stories galore of people riding thousands and thousands of miles on these guys with pretty much zero maintenance apart from the oil changes.
2)  Sturdiness and durability.  Because it is all enclosed it doesn't rust or get clogged up with mud/dust/sand.  There aren't any fragile bits sticking out from the frame to get bent or broken.  And because your chain is continually running in a straight line it doesn't wear out so quickly.  You change gears by means of a gripshift on the handlebars, which again means nothing sticking out to break.
3)  You can change gear when not pedalling, i.e. when stationary or coasting.  This might not sound like that big of a deal, but how hard is it getting a bike going if you've accidentally left it in the hardest gear?  Now multiply that by 20 because the bike weighs a ton.  I absolutely LOVE this feature.
4)  It has 14 gears, which doesn't sound like a lot when you get bikes these days with 27 or more, but unlike with external gears each gear is different.  With external gears because it is to do with the ratio between your cassette and chain ring there are a number of combinations you could be in with virtually the same feel.
5)  Amazing customer service.  On the relatively few times I have read about something going wrong with Rohloffs they are renowned for their excellent customer service.  The same goes for Thorn bikes so we're in good hands.

So if they're so amazing why don't all bikes have these instead of external gears?  Well I'm guessing the main reason is probably price, they are very expensive bits of kit.  They added around £1000 on to the cost of each of our bikes, but we personally felt like it was worth it for not having to spend time repeatedly fixing and fiddling with external gears.  Something we have to do on our commuter bikes a lot and don't really enjoy.

There are also these things which people have said against them:
*  They are relatively unusual and so in many parts of the world your average bike mechanic wouldn't know what to do with them, meaning if you do have an issue you do have to rely on customer service 'back home' and waiting around for couriers to deliver a new wheel rather than external gears which are ubiquitous around the globe and fixable by almost anyone.  True, but we trust in their reliability.
*  They can be a bit noisy, especially the seventh gear which is a bit gratey.  This is sort of true, but for us is of utter insignificance.
*  They're heavy.  Well maybe if you're an ultralight touring type this makes a difference, but for us, honestly, we're the heaviest component on our touring bikes and we'd probably eat the equivalent weight in day so...
*  They are really expensive, better to just spend the money on the adventure.  Again we'd agree with this, and if the choice was own this bit of kit and not go away or have external gears and go away then the choice would obviously be the latter.  But we are lucky enough to have saved enough to do both and we are generally of the philosophy of 'Buy Cheap, Buy Twice, or Thrice or...'  So if you have the money to buy the best quality do it as it'll save you in the long run.  We don't expect to ever need to buy new touring bikes, ever again, for the rest of our lives.  So this seems like a good investment to us.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

The Day we met Jeff

Location: Watchet, Somerset, UK
The first time Sophie and I went on a cycle adventure was in 2013 and we cycled from our home in Sheffield down to Lynton in North Devon.  We had two hybrid Specalized bikes and we either stayed at friends and family or with WarmShowers hosts.  The trip was a complete success and we loved our little adventure, but this was the trip when we met Jeff.

It was the last day of our trip and we were heading from Bridgwater (where we went to SJS Cycles for the first time to talk about our future Thorn bike purchase) to our final destination of Lynton, where Sophie's family was having a rather big get together.  So after a good start to the morning we decided to get cash in the, now infamous in our minds, town of Watchet, Devon.  We pulled over on the side of the road just across from the cash machine. Sophie went to get cash, I tended the bikes.

I was standing about 5 feet behind a parked car.  The parked car's break lights flashed on, then the reversing light. I thought that this was a little strange because there was nothing in front of the car to try to manoeuvre around and put it down to them accidentally picking the wrong gear.  But then the car started its slow movement towards me.  Since I was holding two bikes with bags I didn't have any manoeuvring options so just waved and tried to make myself more visible (it was a bright sunny day and I was wearing a high vis and like I said I was holding two fairly large bikes).  But still the car kept coming, so I knocked on the rear window.  Still the car rolled impressively slowly towards me.  So I knocked harder and started yelling.  CRASH.  After more banging and yelling the reversing lights disappeared and the car lurched forward.

"Don't just drive away!" I yelled.

The brake lights appeared at the same time as a passer-by moved towards the driver's door.  I was relieved that other people were around and getting involved so I didn't have to face this driver alone.  But that's when he showed his face, the driver got impressively slowly out the car (speed was not his strong suit) and looked at the passerby then to me then back to the passerby. The driver was an elderly gentleman. The following is not verbatim but it's pretty close:

Driver: "I'm sorry I didn't see them.  I didn't see you"
Passerby 1: "What have you done now Jeff?! I bet you scared him out of his wits.  Are you OK? Are your bikes OK?"
Tom: "I think so, let me check"

The bikes were fine, the car was moving very, very slowly.

Driver (Jeff): "I am sorry I didn't see you"
Passerby 2: "I saw them from the top of the hill, Jeff, how could you not have seen them?"

I am still not entirely sure where this new person appeared from but now Jeff was getting assaulted on two fronts by two very irate women.  Forever rooting for the underdog, I was starting to feel sorry for Jeff.

Passerby 1: "That really is the last straw Jeff, you shouldn't be driving, they should take your license away"
Driver (Jeff): "I'm sorry I didn't see them.  I didn't see you"
Passerby 2: "I saw them from the top of the hill!"

Then the first lady said it, the words that I couldn't believe that I'd hear at about 11 in the morning in a small town.

Passerby 1: "For God's sake Jeff, that is the second cyclist today!"

Wow!!! How?! Really!!

The rest of the conversation carried on the same way for a wee while. Sophie returned with the cash and we headed up a hill towards the coast road out and away from Watchet. I was feeling conflicted about the whole situation.  Jeff had hit two cyclists in a morning but I was fine and I'm sure Jeff wouldn't be driving around if he'd done any damage to the first, but those women were fierce and didn't give Jeff an inch.  I really did (and do, if I'm honest) feel sorry for Jeff.  But as we were climbing the hill out we saw a cyclist was heading into Watchet loving the descent and with a massive smile on her face.  Later Sophie and I commented on the similar thought we had.

"Watch out for Jeff!"

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Last Leg Home

Location: Wisbech, Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, UK
The challenges of cycle touring continued for the last few days of our little tour, testing our resolve and our stamina.  We left Southwold and wound our way up from sea level and along country lanes heading towards Thetford Forest again.  Didn't get to go along the same lovely roads we had done the previous week, but it was pretty good cycling.  We even had a lovely truck driver hold back to allow the truck behind us to pass us safely and then give us a massive cheesy grin and a thumbs up.  We arrived at Everetts Farm campsite near Foulden in good time, set up the tent and then squeezed into a single shower as we only had one 50pence piece required for said showers and with the timer ticking down from 6 minutes we lathered and rinsed as fast as we could!

The next morning we awoke to drizzle which turned into a downpour as we packed our stuff away and set off.  As the rain eased and the sun tried to come out I got a puncture.  We got it fixed up pretty promptly and continued a little wearily.  Then the wind kicked in.  Everyone talks about how flat this part of the country is, but they don't tell you that flat equals wind, lots of wind and that wind on a bike, if it is not a tailwind, can be much harder work than a hill.  We had about 65 miles to get to the final campsite of the trip and the only decent sized town we were going to pass through was Wisbech where we planned to have lunch.  Normally we'd been stopping for lunch after about 40 miles so we only had the last 20 miles to do on full tummies, but Wisbech was about 25 miles in so we still had the bulk of the ride to get through after our Morrisons Cafe lunch, but at least it dried us off and warmed us up after our damp start.  The next 40 miles were accompanied by a constant headwind or occasionally a gusting side wind which zapped our energy, caused our arms and hands to hurt from gripping the handlebars so tightly and dried our mouths out.  It was slow, hard going and soon enough our water bottles were almost empty. There was nothing but farmland and no obvious source of more water.  Thirst is horrible and I'd started eyeing up puddles, but then we came across a hand car wash and got our bottles refilled by the kind workers there.

Sadly we still had to endure hours more of cycling into the headwind.  We got grumpy, we got tired and while we didn’t have a falling out, we didn’t have our best times.  Still we made it to the campsite in the quaint village of Folkingham.  It was a great campsite and after a well-earned dinner of Stag chilli and rice we headed to the local pub for a couple of drinks and the chance to recharge our phones.  The following morning we awoke to sunshine and got packed up in good time, we were just about to mount up when Tom noticed he had a puncture.  We unloaded Tom’s bike and had to fix an inner tube before being able to get going.  Then only a couple of miles out of Folkingham he had another puncture.  We’d obviously done a bad job of fixing the inner tube so we sat at the side of the road patched up all 3 inner tubes and used the best looking one for Tom’s wheel.  We had a headwind again and our legs were a bit heavy after the previous day’s endeavours, but we only had 27 miles to Lincoln.  We’d planned to get to this lovely city we’d heard lots of good things about and then have a look around, but by the time we got in we just wanted to get on the train and get home.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

The Mental Side of Cycle Touring

Location: Southwold, Suffolk, UK
Sophie and I cycle fairly often and are both, I would say, both pretty competent, confident riders.  The first few days on the trip showed that we have planned well.  Our kit, for the most part, is good and we know how to use it.  However, setting off in the morning from the campsite near Isleham and other challenging of the aspects of the days ahead really showed that there is so much more to cycle touring than confidence and good kit; you need "Mental Toughness".

We awoke in Isleham to another dreary day and packed up our damp stuff in the drizzle.  A lot of our clothes were damp, our tent was soaked, our tarps were wet, our shoes were soggy and our solar chargers rendered useless so we were very low on battery for Nokia Lady.  Needless to say our hearts weren’t really in it as we headed off for our third 60 mile day in a row towards a village called Campsea Ashe.  We planned to stop in Stowmarket after about 40 miles, have lunch and find somewhere to charge phones.  Two miles from Stowmarket I got a puncture.  It was pretty painless, and all sorted out in less than 30 mins but I really find things that slow me down or get in the way of the cycling frustrating.  Sophie is much more measured and sees punctures, wind, rain and dangerous car drivers all part of the rich fabric of cycle touring.  I do not, but the colourful language I would use is probably not publishable here.

The people of Stowe Market that we came into contact with were brilliant and lifted my spirits after the annoying morning.  The library staff let us leave our bags in their office so we didn’t have to lug them around town, the nice staff in a cafĂ© let us charge our phones and the bike shop pumped up my tyre with his track pump.  We left Stowmaket rather lethargically and after a few more hilly hours of cycling arrived in Campsea Ashe.  The campsite was cute and had an indoor kitchen area so we enjoyed the novelty of eating at a table and set about looking for a hotel in Southwold.  We’d had enough of the dampness and needed a bit of comfort.  We got ourselves booked in for a dinner, bed & breakfast package at The Crown Hotel and hit the hay.

The 20 odd miles to Southwold were unexpectedly hard.  The weather kept changing, sunny one minute then raining the next so we were constantly taking our jackets on and off, we were really tired and Nokia Lady had a few frustrating little mishaps.  As an aside, shouting at a computer voice in your ear that is telling you to turn left for the sixth time in a row around a triangular field, might feel like it helps but in reality it just makes your cycling partner worried about your state of mind.  But I digress, we made it to Southwold, the sun came out, we ate delicious crab and crayfish sandwiches and drank refreshing Adnams beers and checked into our lovely, comfy hotel.  We spent the afternoon mooching about after handwashing some of our kit, had a delicious 3 course meal and melted into our bed.

The rest day was well earned and fantastic!  We walked down the beach and looked at the beach huts.  We drank cider at lunch time with fish and chips.  We just rested and chilled out.  In the late afternoon we checked out and headed down to the seafront campsite.  Once we set up camp, we cleaned the bikes and listened to the sea with a drop of whisky.

Some aspects of the previous week's cycling really undermined my mental toughness, but in the coming days it really became apparent that we (read me, Sophie is more mentally resilient) do need to be more laid back about timelines, destinations and mother nature.

Friday, 26 September 2014

From one Hall to Another

Location: Prickwillow Road, Isleham, Ely, Cambridgeshire CB7 5RQ, UK
We left Clippesby Hall on a glorious sunny Thursday morning and had our best day of cycling inland to Isleham (you pronounce the 's') near Ely.

We had great weather all day and cycled through Thetford Forest Park on quiet back roads past Lakenheath Airbase and another MOD army base.  Both of these were actually surprisingly pretty and we got a little airshow off a helicopter which was quite exciting.  We had lunch in a picnic area in the Forest Park in blazing sunshine and then did the last 20 miles to Isleham.

Nokia Lady (the sat nav on Tom’s phone) told us we’d reached our destination, but we couldn’t see a campsite so we carried on along the incredibly straight Prickwillow Road and saw a track leading off to the right with Camping & Caravanning Club signage, we headed down the track past a beautiful field of leeks towards a gated compound passing a couple of occupied caravans and eventually found a buzzer next to the large locked gates.  An oldish gent wandered out to meet us and opened the gates, it was £7 a night (bargain) and we could pitch up where we liked.  I asked about showers and toilets and he said ‘oh they’re extra’ to which I laughed, but he wasn’t joking.  We paid the extra £3 to get the key to the loo and shower, much needed after a sweltering day of riding.

On the Friday we had a vineyard tour with wine tasting and afternoon tea booked at Chilford Hall near Cambridge and we decided since we’d had no luck getting a Warm Showers host in Cambridge that we’d leave the tent and gear and cycle to Cambridge for a couple of hours in the morning, cycle on to Chilford Hall and then back to the campsite, about 60 miles in total.  This seemed like a great plan in the lovely evening sunshine, but we awoke to an incredibly grey, wet day which put a bit of a dampener on it.  Anyway we set off for Cambridge and arrived about 2 hours later soggy and disheartened.  We found a brilliant indoor bike park where we locked our bikes up next to hundreds of others.  Honestly I think this was my favourite bit about the city, but I don’t think we gave Cambridge a fair go.  It seemed to be overrun with tourists and we didn’t find a nice place for brunch/warming drinks, so we were quite pleased to be off again a couple of hours later.  It had stopped raining by now and we got to Chilford Hall in good time and transformed ourselves in their disabled loos from sweaty bikers to semi-respectable afternoon tea company.  The vineyard tour and wine tasting were excellent and it turned out that, Jed, the Chilford Hall wine tour guy, knew my sister and her husband – and I totally love that small world stuff!

We didn’t get back until after dark, which was a bit of a pain, but at least the tent was all set up and we set about making a feast of instant rice and tinned chilli under the red lights from our head torches due to the incredible multitude of daddylonglegs that shared our campsite, singing ‘Roxanne’ and then sipping whisky and looking at the stars.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

First Few Days (Testing, Testing)

Location: Clippesby, Great Yarmouth, Norfolk NR29, UK
Our first multi-day adventure with all of our kit; figuring out what works, what doesn’t and if we like this kind of thing.

So on Sunday we set out from Sheffield, on the train, across to Lincoln.  We decided to hop on the train because we would have been just covering the same ground as the micro trip in July.  It’s always quite nerve racking using trains around Sheffield because on so many of the lines they only really allow two bikes, which means that if anybody else had decided to take a trip on their bike at the time to Lincoln, or any stop on the way, then our holiday would be off to a bad start.  Fortunately, the line started at Sheffield and we were the only folks with bikes so we headed east.

Once we arrived, we disembarked, got fully laden and had a bit of a fight with the tiny lifts at the station which only just fit one bike and rider at a time, but with the loaded bikes probably weighing in at over 30kg carrying them up the stairs and back down was not really an option.  Making our way out the station we headed to our first campsite in Fishtoft, just outside of Boston.  We found ourselves on some very picturesque back roads with no traffic so we could cycle side-by-side and just talk away the miles.  The roads were good quality and almost spirit level flat and we made pretty easy work of the 30+ miles to the campsite; all in all a great start to the first day.  We even managed to get the paraffin stove to roar away, I feel it wasn’t amazing and it took a long time to actually heat water but Sophie is determined and adamant that in Central and Southern America that we will be able to find plenty of fuel for it and any gas powered alternatives won’t be viable.

The night brought heavy rain and restless sleep, while the morning was spent battling with a wet, soggy tent and preparing for the day.  The Monday was the first time we’ve woke up in the tent, cycled, then set up camp again.  It was a full 60 mile day and I wasn’t sure how shattered we’d be after a full day cycling on heavy, very heavy bikes.  The cycling started off fairly dull; just mile after mile of main road with Monday morning traffic and rain just beating down as we just ground it out towards Kings Lynn.  After refuelling and buying some food for the next couple of meals we planned the route to Deepdale Backpackers, and pretty much by chance found a CTC route (Route 1) than followed a similar route to what we were planning, but with the added advantage of passing through Sandringham.  We joined the route and from the get go I was complaining about why I hate this kind of marked out route.  It takes you all the way round the houses to get to the same places.  It covers more miles but hinders any proper speed by making you cross roads or navigate tight turns and gates.  But then, it pointed us back onto the road, turned us right up a country lane and we yet again were cycling next to each other without the issue of cars.  Cycling this way is such a nice way to travel.  You get to see more because there are the two of you looking around and spotting things (like the crazy amount of dead frogs on the roads in Sandringham grounds), you have company to chat too and the miles just disappear and everything just seems easier especially now that the sun was shining.

Wednesday morning we set off in dreary mist along what we thought was the coast road towards Cromer and round to Great Yarmouth.   I say ‘thought was the coast road’ because we only managed the odd fleeting glimpse of the sea and despite being a fairly small road it was busy with traffic and presented us with rather undulating terrain.  Whenever we have talked to people about our holiday they have always commented about the flatness of Lincolnshire, Norfolk and Suffolk.  Maybe it’s the routes we are choosing but the roads are not that flat.  Don’t get me wrong; Sheffield is a very hilly place and I love a good climb, and the hills over the last few days have not been a scratch on the Peak District.  But it interesting how people often comment on the gradient of an area, but only have experience of it by car, where unless a hill is something major it presents no obstacle or even real feature to a driver, but the even slightest incline on a loaded touring bike is noticeable to the rider, and those comments about how flat and easy it will be echo in my ear as I’m spinning away up the hills.  So after a hilly morning of seeing next to no coast line in the rain we have some warming noodles in a car park in Cromer.   The final leg before our rest day was a fast (flat) 30miles to Clippersby Hall in glorious sunshine.

All in all the first days have been a major success.  The heavy bikes have been difficult at times but we’ve managed to get them where we need them to be.  The camping has been a little uncomfortable but I’m sure our bodies will adapt to it.  We have about week of cycling still to do but so far all’s well.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Optimus No. 96 and the Hunt for Fuel

Location: Sheffield, South Yorkshire, UK
When looking at possible stoves options I remembered that somewhere amongst my Dad’s stuff that I had put into storage in Tom’s folks’ attic was a small brass stove, with a name ending in ‘…mus’ if I remembered correctly. 

So we dug it out of the attic and I unpacked the contents of the small cardboard box emblazoned with the name ‘Optimus’ joined by Colin (Tom’s Stepdad) who told me that they’d had a stove like that when he was young.  My Dad had kept all the bits together and I pored over the instructions, spare parts and soon had the bits of the stove assembled.  It’s a beautiful little thing and when I told my Godfather, John, about the stove he said he remembered using it with my folks in India many years before I was even born and I loved the idea of taking this little piece of Swedish kit that my Dad had used away with us.

The instructions say that it requires methylated spirit for the spirit cup and ‘best quality paraffin (kerosene)’ for the actual burner.  It seems a bit faffy to have to carry 2 types of fuel, but I figured these would both be easy to come by and relatively cheap.
We’ve got ourselves some meths from the hardware shop down the road, but getting hold of kerosene or paraffin has proved nigh on impossible.  We’ve tried Go Outdoors, Towsure, B&Q, Wickes, local hardware shops and The Bike Tree which Optimus have listed as a dealer on their website and nothing, no joy.  But on the recommendation of one of the guys at Towsure we tried the garden centre and managed to find lamp fuel with ‘hydrotreated light kerosene EC265-149-8’ on the label having googled this and coming up with an MSDS we were pretty sure we’d found kerosene and this would work in the stove.   Then lo and behold I was in the massive B&Q near my work with Faye, my colleague, and her eagle-eyes spotted a lovely big canister of paraffin.  Bingo!

Since we’re off on our 2 week practice cycling holiday on the 14th September we wanted to have the stove working for this little trial so we had a go in the back garden with the paraffin and meths.  Not entirely sure how to evaluate this first attempt...  We got it to light, but you can see from the photos that this was rather uncontrolled and regulating the flame and keeping it alight were not really achieved.  I am sure this is user error and that with a little patience and practice we can get it working a treat.  Tom isn't so sure.  So we'll take it on our little trial run and report back in a few weeks.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Less than 6 months until we fly!

Location: Sheffield, South Yorkshire, UK
On February 27th at 12:40 we will take off from Manchester Airport to fly to Oaklands International Airport, San Francisco to start our 2 year trip around the Americas on our bikes. That is less than 6 months away; it is such a crazy thought.

Just for the record; I have never done anything like this before. I remember that after Sixth Form I wanted to go backpacking around Europe with some school mates as part of my gap year. Most of them went but I stayed home to work in a factory. While during the summer holidays at uni there were great ideas of travelling around the States or hoping on a train and heading off into Europe then Africa before coming back the next year. Again, friends went but I just found myself working in a shop up in Durham, a bus ride from my family home.

But in less than 6 months time we'll be flying out to California to start our trip. And do you know what, I'm nervous and I have pretty much no clue what to expect.  Loads of questions keep popping into my head:
  • How do you find a safe, comfortable place to wild camp?
  • What do we do if something goes wrong?
  • Will we have enough money?
  • How do I know if I actually like cycle touring?
At the moment I can't answer most of these questions and there is a voice in my head that says "You know what Tommy Boy, this was a nice idea but give it up and just stay in Sheffield, stay in your job and stay nice and safe with these questions unanswered".  However, I am really bored of that voice and I hate the fact that that voice calls me Tommy Boy. So that voice can do one, I want some answers and in six months time I'll start getting some!

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Origins of an Idea

Location: Sheffield Sheffield
Where did it start?  Or when?  We've been trying to figure this out for the last few weeks, when and where did this idea of cycling around the States first take hold?  I've had a desire to traipse around North America for many years now, there's been a keen yearning to set out on those long open roads in my wanderlust filled heart for so long I don't know what lit that particular fire.  Easy Rider?  Wild Fang?  Little House on the Prairie?  Into the Wild?  The Littlest Hobo?  Honestly I have no idea, but that wilderness, that scenery, that vastness, that frontier spirit - it's been calling out to me for some time now.

So I'm not surprised at our destination, but cycling round it?  That's the bit I don't know how or when we decided.  It's not like I don't like cycling, I loved it as a kid, but when I bought my first adult bike 2 years ago it was pretty much the first time I'd been back on a bike since I was in my teens.  Tom's had a bike since we were in Dorset and has been riding pretty much 5 days a week since then and did a couple of 100 mile + rides which seemed pretty epic to me.  And now we have a plan that will involve cycling not just 100+ miles but somewhere in the region of 7,000 miles in North America alone, before heading South for a-whole-nother continent.  And it feels like the most natural, obvious thing for us to do.  Like something we were always going to do, but obviously we must have come up with the idea at some point, one of us must have pitched it to the other.  The origin is just lost amongst the jumble of other memories.

I feel a little envious of the people who are able to say "I remember exactly when the plan was hatched, my friend challenged me in the pub/I was inspired by reading this book/I just took off East on my bike..." whatever.  There's something nice about a definite beginning.  There are a number of things that helped shape this idea, we just don't have a timeline to take us from vague dreams and a bunch of possibles to where we are now, but maybe having a definite beginning to the idea of an adventure isn't nearly as important as having a definite beginning to the adventure itself.  And that we have a pretty good idea of.  183 days to be precise.  Not that we're counting...

Saturday, 23 August 2014

First Outing

Location: Sheffield Sheffield
So a couple of months ago we had our first outing on our new Thorn Nomad bikes.  We set off from our home in Sheffield and headed east to a campsite just north of Lincoln, this covered the kind of distance we are hoping to cover on our two year trip that starts next February; a fairly balanced 60 miles with climbs, descents, city cycling and country lanes there and almost exactly the same on the way back but in reverse (next year we are planning on cycling 60 miles on day one, 60 on day two and then resting on day three, then repeat until we get back to the good old UK).

The first day started wet and steep but the rain stopped and the roads levelled out as we headed into Lincolnshire, but the last 10 miles tried our patience with a crippling headwind that sapped the energy levels and morale, but these were instantly raised when we arrived at out campsite, got all set up, showered and clean.

Getting on the bikes on day 2 was a little tender because our Brooks saddles are still very hard and fresh out the box, but the weather was good, and we felt fit so we decamped and headed off bright and early. With no head wind and feeling confident and positive we chose a slightly different route home to miss some of the outlying towns around Sheffield so we could ride side-by-side just chatting away; this is when the rain started, about 20 miles east of home, oh and the hills - the never ending climbs and descents.  We're not sure why the roads seemed to go straight up and then back back down all those hills but they were tough, I think I counted 5 long climbs that we pedalled up in horrific traffic and much worse rain; but pedal we did and we conquered and kept conquering each and everyone of them, getting into our low gears of our Rohloff hubs and just spinning away.

All told it was a great couple of days, but I couldn't imagine setting up the tent in the thunder and lightening that started not too soon after we got home, but these are bridges that we'll come across; and, much like the hills, all we'll have to do is just get our heads down and get stuck in.  Hills won't climb themselves and tents don't just magically pop up.

Monday, 18 August 2014

All Part of the Fun

Location: Sheffield, South Yorkshire, UK
So yeh, so far everything is pretty much going as expected. We have ordered the bikes, we're getting somewhere with most of our kit and we have started selling/getting rid of the random items that you seem to acquire, so all told pretty happy with the progress.  Granted we've had a number of unseen issues when we properly sat down and started planning our adventure, but that's part of the fun; right?

The first stumbling block was about some visa issue in the United States where you need to leave the continent to be eligible to get the two 90 day stays; oh well, we just changed the route and bowed to international border laws - no biggie. The second was finding out about the Darien Gap.  I cannot believe that I have only just learned about an "... anarchic cartel filled jungle that divides the continents..." of North and South America (great turn of phrase from The Runaway Guide).  We're not quite sure how we are going to tackle that one just yet, there seems to be three main options of yacht, fishing boat or fly - more research is needed.

But I think that the research is one of the aspects I'm really enjoying.  We started off with a vague idea but we built it up and developed it in our heads, and it all seemed so easy, so possible and it was just a matter of determination and time. Then the more we researched and planned, the more we realized that our initial idea was just a pipe dream, but that was fine because now our plans are becoming increasingly based in the real world and not a fantasy dreamland.  Our plan now has facts and figures with actual no-go-areas, laws and boundaries and, personally, it feels so much more real because of these limits and adjustments; now it has a grounding in the here and now, and that is really exciting situation to find ourselves in.

I cannot wait to go away, but before we do I know that there will be more obstacles to surpass, situations we'll have to figure out or major upheavals to sort but all of these will solidify the dream into reality.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Ordering the Bikes

After months of consideration we have finally ordered our bikes; we have gone for two Tonka Yellow Thorn Nomads with flat handle bars and Rohloff hubs.

We visited SJS Cycles in Bridgwater in October while we were doing our first multi-day tour from Sheffield down to Lynton for a friend's 40th birthday bash and were pretty much convinced then to go for these machines but thought it best to keep researching, look at other bikes and get some other opinions before parting with that much hard-earned cash.