Sunday, 15 November 2015

The Statistical Analysis of a Cycle Tour

Location: Cancún, Quintana Roo, Mexico
For nearly 9 months we have been cycle touring around the U.S.A, Canada and, to much lesser extent, Mexico.  Today we want to tell you the real reason we have been on this journey; to gather, collate and analyse data of the trip to give you folks an interesting insight in to the numbers.  Whooo!!! (In all honesty we are quite excited about this and we both geeked out over these numbers for a little too long).

From our starting point in California to our final day in Quintana Roo we have been away for 262 days and during that time we have covered 8,709 miles.  This distance was completed in 17 States in the USA, 5 Provinces and 1 Territory of Canada, and 2 states in Mexico (check these out on the map page).  

Pie Chart to Show Distance Cycled Per Country
In terms of analysing the data we we have decided to split the analysis up.  We are calling these 2 sections 'Cycle Touring' and 'Being Away' as since we arrived at our 'destination' of Oshawa things have taken a decidedly un-bikey turn.  We've cycled a total of 135 days; 75 in the United States, 56 in Canada and 4 in Mexico.  As with all exercise one needs to have rest days so as to prevent injury (though Drill Sergeant Soph would often forget to plan in rest days).  Whilst  in the Cycle Touring part of the trip we had a total of 79 days of zero or very little cycling. In the Being Away part we have had 44 days out of a total of 52. Just to put things in perspective.

In the About Us section we talked about doing 2 days of 60 miles and having a rest day (so 1 rest day in 3, covering on average 40 miles per day).  So just looking at the 210 days we spent Cycle Touring we have had more rest days than we thought (we had 1 rest day in 2.7 days), however, we have covered a few more miles that we expected.  The unfeasible regime of 2 on 1 off would have us at 8,400 miles by day 210 whereas as our total was 8,522.  So on average we covered 40.6 miles a day.  Considering the fact we had never done a long cycle tour prior to this we think we had a surprisingly good idea of what a 'good day of cycling' looked like. Incidentally, Sundays, far from being a day of rest, were the day of the week we clocked up the most miles on during the trip.

Bar Chart to Show Number of Times Different Distance Per Day Completed
Having a few more rest days than expected but still covering the distance we expected means we must have done bigger miles when we did ride.  And yep, when you average the days in the saddle we did 65 miles a day.  We can look deeper into these days and get some more insights.  The chart above shows how many times we completed different length rides.  It quite closely resembles the old bell shaped curve of our maths classes, with the apex at 71 - 80 miles.  However it drops off quicker than it rose with markedly less days of over 80 miles than below 71.  The day we covered the most miles was the 30th July (day 154 of the trip, it was a Thursday) and we did 115 miles.  In total we had 5 days where we completed more-than-century rides.  Before we set off Sophie had never done a century ride before and Tom had only done two, both unloaded and fully supported.  Now we have completed 5 on touring bikes weighing around 50 kg each.  We're proud of us.  And whilst the tour absolutely was not about riding far and fast, we think it shows how our confidence & fitness really improved.  All of these greater-than-century rides were clustered around weekends.  With one each being completed on a Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday (Drill Sergeant Sophie says Tuesday and Wednesday are feeling left out and we better plan some big rides in for when we get home!).

Bar Chart to Show Total Distance Cycled Per Month
The month we cycled the most was August, we covered 1711 miles!  Compare that to our first month on the road, March, when we rode 1030 miles.  In August we did an average of 55 miles per day, including rest days.  But if the rest days are removed, then when we did ride we rode an average of about 81 miles a day!  Our total mileage since arriving in Oshawa is 187 miles, so we did more in 3 days of riding in August than we have in the last 52!

Stacked Bar Chart to Show Number of Nights Per Day of The Week We Stayed in Different Types of Accommodation
Some other interesting day of the week stuff is shown above.  First of all we have stayed with a lot of people through the wonderful online network that is WarmShowers; we stayed 64 nights with hosts throughout Canada and the US and it is spread pretty evenly through the week.  Although we stayed slightly more times on Monday and Saturday nights and a little bit less often on Thursdays and Fridays.  The few times we stayed at Hotels/Motels/Hostels it was during the week and never at the end of the week or weekends, mostly this was due to serendipity (e.g. the snazzy hotel in Santa Barbara that some friends hooked us up with) or need (e.g. the hostel at Pigeon Point on our second night out after Tom broke his bike) but on the 2 occasions we splurged on a motel just because we felt we needed it, the fact these days fell midweek and were therefore a little cheaper, sure helped us to go ahead and book in.  The fifth night in this type of accommodation was Sophie's birthday, which was luckily a Monday.  Since being in Mexico we have paid for all accommodation, be it a hotel, an Airbnb or a home-stay; there are WarmShowers hosts in Mexico, but almost none in the Yucatan Peninsula.

Infographic to Show Total Weight Lost Across 30 Weeks of Cycle Touring 
It's hard to know, but we probably burned something like 5000-7000 calories each per day of riding our average 65 miles.  And we lost a bunch of weight.  Sophie lost something like 20lbs or 9kg, Tom lost around 39lbs or nearly 18kg!!  The best infographic for this our Friday Photos.  The photos on the left were taken on the morning we flew, 27th February 2015, the ones on the right were taken in Oshawa on 25th September 2015.

So that's about it from us on our statistics and our tour.  We leave in a few hours to fly back to Manchester.  We don't really know what's going to happen next, but if it turns out to be interesting and fun (and we are both very much hoping that that will be the case) then we will probably write about it.  We're so looking forward to catching up with friends and family back home and to all of you that we met along the way remember our door is always open and we can't wait to repay the hospitality you've shown us.

Friday, 13 November 2015

Roadside Meltdown

Location: Valladolid, Yuc., Mexico
Saturday morning was thankfully and luckily not rainy. I can't say it was dry as there was still a lot of water about from the previous hours of torrential onslaught, but the stuff had at least ceased to fall from the sky. We were soon loaded up and on our way Cobá. Outside of Tulum the road was good quality, with a nice wide shoulder and we took a gentle pace. Partly this was because despite being 9am it was already fairly warm and humid and partly because we have noticed a direct correlation between the speed we travel and the likelihood of Mexican stray dogs barking and chasing us. Admittedly our research has been pretty limited, but it does seem that if you're going at a more leisurely pace the hoardes of roadside pooches seem decidedly uninterested in you. As soon as we ramp up to our normal pace they can't get enough of scaring the hell out of us by snarling and nipping at our heels. So we're cruising along, it's maybe an hour and twenty minutes since we set off and Tom says "urgh I think I have a slow puncture in my rear tyre". I look at it. It's pretty flat. I comment that it does not appear to be all that slow so we pull over in a sort of driveway to fix it. Before Tom has even removed the wheel we spot a gash in the tyre about 1cm long.

This is not good. We don't have a spare tyre at the moment, we put our second spare on Tom's bike in Canada and since we weren't staying out much longer had thought we'd get away without a spare for our little stint in Mexico. We start trying to figure out what we're going to do:
Option 1) Try to fix it by lining he inside of the tyre with a note, we have a CAD$10 note, it's plasticky and we've heard of other folks get by this way. 
Option 2) I ride back to Tulum to get a new tyre from a bike shop.
Option 3) We try to flag down a bus or taxi for a ride to Cobá and hope they have some tyres for sale there.
Tom is cursing the tyre (after all this is the fourth tyre we've had terminal issues with) and is taking this very badly. Actually once we get the tyre off the wheel we realise that, incredibly, the gash doesn't go all the way through. The tyre isn't done yet. We find the puncture in the inner tube and I find a small piece of wire embedded in the tyre which is the culprit of this particular flat. Tom fits a new inner tube and starts the laborious task of pumping up the tyre. He is soaked in sweat. It's over 30 degrees (Celsius) and humidity must be about 95%. Admittedly it is not ideal flat tyre conditions, but at least the tyre is intact.

I can't say I was pleased about the flat or even the prospect of a dead tyre, but I just see overcoming these obstacles as part of the whole journey. Tom sees them as getting in the way of the journey and in his current state it causes him a great deal of anxiety and stress. I was finding it hard to relate to this, but then I had a little epiphany; if you recall back in Utah we faced a day of very strong winds and I ended up in a state of utter terror until I just got off my bike and walked. Tom is at a point where cycle touring in general is causing him the same level of stress and angst as I was feeling battered by the wind and so when things go wrong he has no reserves to cope with the problem. Coming to this realisation made me more sympathetic and also made up our minds about how we would spend our upcoming days. The remaining 16 miles to Cobá went without note, we checked in to our hotel, and headed straight out to the ruins. We'd been told it was a large site and better seen by bike so we pedalled down, however they don't allow you to take your own bikes, so our trusty steeds stayed chained up at the gate and we set off on foot.

The ruins at Cobá are the second Mayan city on our trip, the first being the ones in Tulum. They are indeed spread through the jungle and are impressive and thought provoking. There are bits where it really looks like the jungle is winning the fight to reclaim the area and you cannot help but think how much effort it must have taken to clear these patches and build these enormous constructions, the most magnificent of which is the Grand Pyramid. It is monstrous and from its summit you can see across miles of jungle, occasionally spying what look like little hills but which are actually overgrown pyramids. 

On our way back to the hotel we saw a crocodile! It was conveniently lounging on a collapsed pier under a sign saying 'Visite los Cocodrilos'.

The following day we ride to Valladolid, our first colonial town. It's a very picturesque town with colourful buildings lining cobbled one-way streets, beautiful old convents and pretty little squares dotted about and a behemoth of a cathedral, which looks like it was built to withstand a seige.

Valladolid is to be our staging post to visit Chichen-itza, probably one of the most famous Mayan cities and somewhere that has been on our detour list since before we set off, thanks to Rhys. We take our first bus out there and arrive at 8:30am. All the online guides tell us that arriving early means you miss the tour buses and the worst of the vendors though it seems pretty busy to us already. Almost by accident we stumble upon the castle, the iconic pyramid you may well recognise. 

The next few hours are spent wandering the site marvelling at the buildings, the carvings and the increasing hordes of people.

Towards the end of our visit I manage to trap a bee between my flip-flop and my foot and get stung on the sole. I've not been stung for many years and it was surprisingly painful, but Tom was quick to get the sting out and we had some insect bite stuff on hand so we were soon toddling around the site again and then back to Valladolid on the bus.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Scuppered Schedules, Sunburn and Snorkeling

Location: Tulum, Q.R., Mexico
Yes we said we were going to wring out the last drops of excitement and fun from our trip and we had all intention to hop on the bikes the morning after the last post and pedal South to Laguna Bacalar. Then we got an offer to go to Akumal with Meg, the Coloradan from the homestay, and we thought we can postpone a day to go snorkeling in Akumal, which means 'place of the turtle' in Mayan. So Monday morning we got up early to pack and get sorted so we'd be good to go first thing Tuesday. That's when we noticed that Tom's back had taken quite a cooking the previous day at the lagoon & cenote. Ok so I know it might look bad getting so sunburned, but here's the thing, you're not allowed to wear normal sunscreen in the cenotes or the lagoon as its damaging to the wildlife. What we should have done is wear a shirt, but we didn't, so here we are. Tom is as pink as a camarone and we have an afternoon of snorkeling planned. We've learned our lesson and we pack long sleeved tops for Akumal.

We have our first colectivo experience, which was surprisingly straightforward and easy. They are little minibuses that hurtle up and down the coast and are the primary way most the locals travel making them extremely cheap. We are dropped off on the highway by the Akumal turn off and walk towards the beach. Meg has had a recommendation of a place by the lagoon that has cabanas for rent and so we get in a (totally overpriced) taxi who says he'll take us to the lagoon. He starts saying the words 'caro' (expensive) and barato (cheap) but none of us are sure quite what he is getting at. He then pulls up outside a person's house and it transpires that he is saying we can access the lagoon here for 150pesos each or we can pay US$40 each at the 'other place'. It all felt a bit odd, like in India when the rickshaw drivers try to take you where they will get a commission, rather than where you want. But we paid the lady our money and followed her down this little alley. I was extremely dubious. We wandered through a garden, past a pool, and out to a little concrete area where two other gringos were sunbathing with a palapa umbrella and steps into the lagoon. Still a bit odd, but at least there's the lagoon and they're going to rent us snorkels pretty cheap.

The snorkeling was fantastic. Tons of beautiful, bright fish darted around the clear water. There were lush little islands with large leggy cranes holding still, eyeing the fishes below. As we explored the whole lagoon we noticed there were bizarre currents which you could both feel and see. Warm sea water mixed with the cool cenote water. We've never encountered anything like that before and coming up for air after diving down we both excitedly exclaimed that it was, inconceivably, warmer at the bottom! We spent happy hours gliding back and forth, all previous doubt and dubiousness gone from our minds. Tom is a total pro at diving down with his snorkel despite only ever having been snorkeling once before. I was totally in my element and with GoPro in hand was realising my childhood dream of working as an underwater cameraman, with a David Attenborough commentary running continuously in my head.

Sadly we didn't see any turtles, I don't think they venture into the lagoon, but it was a wonderful experience nonetheless and as the sun began to set we headed back in to Akumal for a meal on the beach before flagging down a colectivo back to Tulum. The three of us went back to Paola and Julio's to say a final goodbye to them and the kids. We ate fresh coconut, drank beer and left with an invite to stay with them again next time we're in Mexico. 

Morning came and with it so did the discovery of a load of blisters all across Tom's shoulders. We decided that spending 7 or 8 hours in the baking sun cycling south was a bad idea which would probably result in Tom losing a significant area of skin and opening up the potential for infection. So we extended our stay in Tulum further. A lively discussion started up on Facebook about the best course of treatment for the burn and after a day of cold green tea compresses we got our hands on some aloe vera leaf and carefully extracted the oozing, jelly-like centre to gently smear across the blisters. The morning after we were utterly amazed that the blisters had almost all disappeared and Tom reported it being much less painful. Nevertheless we spent a second day emulating vampires by avoiding all sunlight to be on the safe side. Thursday came around and we'd planned to cycle to the biosphere but the weather was obviously still concerned for Tom's skin and it poured with torrential rain all day so no outing. Friday morning was pretty fine so we grabbed our chance and went to Gran Cenote for more snorkelling action. 

It. Was. AWESOME. It's a sizeable cenote, 20ft below ground with huge caverns opening up underwater and overhanging areas you can snorkel into, swimming between stalagmites and stalactites with bats flying overhead and fish and turtles gliding along beside you. It really was remarkable. The water was unbelievably clear and we were both mesmerised by the sunlight streaming through the turquoise, dappling the sandstone and spotlighting darting fish. In the recesses of the caverns looking back out to the sunlight Tom and I both commented on how it had the feel of a cathedral. Golden sandstone lit up by the glorious blues and greens of the stained glass windows of water. 

Our photos do not do it justice, but we had a lot of fun diving around, trying to sneak up on turtles and just floating about in utter wonder. We picked up some BBQ chicken on the way home for lunch and just after we got in it started to pour with rain again. If we'd been snorkeling I think we might have drowned. It was relentless and phenomenal; the swimming pool was overflowing, our shower started to flood and the sound was deafening. So much for our planned trip to the beach that afternoon. Raymond, the owner of our little apartment, said there had been between 10-12 inches of rain in 24 hours. We were scheduled to leave the following morning, but were wondering if Tulum would again find a way to keep us there longer still.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Plans Are Made For Changing

Location: Tulum, Q.R., Mexico
My motto, or at least one of them, is 'plans are made for changing'. I love making plans; they give you something to work toward, something to aim for, look forward to. But I don't believe in being tied to them. And I don't think this is because I'm a quitter and give up, I just think sometimes, a lot of the time in fact, what you want changes, circumstances change, priorities shift and to stay steadfastly stuck to the original plan is no longer desirable or feasible. Life is too short to waste trudging down a path you no longer wish to follow so change direction, leap off the path into a river, climb a tree, whatever, but come up with a new plan. Even if the plan is to take some time to come up with a new long term plan, it's still a plan and that's good.

When I was 21 I had a flight to Australia, via India, and I intended to spend two years away - a few months in India, then I had my work visa sorted for Australia and I hoped to make it to New Zealand too. I wanted to get my scuba diving qualifications. Since I was a little girl I'd loved the under water world and since my first taste of diving when I was 13 I had wanted to be a scuba diving instructor. Less than four months in while I was in India I got news my Dad's cancer had come back and they didn't know how long he'd have left. Within five days of getting the news I was back in the UK. I never did use my Aussie work visa or learn to scuba dive, but it was whilst I was in India, reading a BBC World Service magazine, that I learnt about the Department of Peace Studies at Bradford University and so I made that my new plan.

I have many precedents for plan changing and was totally comfortable in the knowledge that our plan when we set off in February would almost certainly change. And it did. If you recall, two days in Tom broke his bike and we ended up stuck in Santa Cruz for eight days and utterly, radically changed our route through the US (Aloha Santa Cruz!).  What a brilliant stroke of luck that was and what a wonderful, circuitous, detour-filled way we ended up taking. Tom, who is much more goal-orientated than I am, sometimes sees plan changing as 'quitting' and hence the recent "What Constitutes a Failed Cycle Tour?" questioning and soul-searching. When we first started talking about going home early, and we have been talking about it probably since July, I said that I absolutely, categorically did not want to go home at the start of the British winter. To go home then would be a terrible idea, we would just find some nice place in Central America or Mexico and just hang out their until spring. That was our aim.  Well if I'm honest, my aim. Tom doesn't hate winter at home like I do. He loves getting bundled up in lots of layers of clothes and feeling cozy. I do not, I feel claustrophobic in loads of layers, not cozy. So I persuaded Tom that we could happily spend another 3 or 4 months mooching about Central America.

But the reality is that Tom has already been putting a brave face on it for the last four to five months and forcing another three months is likely to just put him off cycle-touring, possibly travel, for a long time. And it will ruin this trip as we will be left with a sour taste that will taint the rest of our sweet, bright, incredible memories. That can not be allowed to happen. So guess what? We've changed our plans again. We've booked flights home! We leave Cancun on Sunday 15th November and arrive into Manchester on Monday morning where my wonderful Uncle Brian will collect us in his work van (unlike in the US and Canada where everyone had a vehicle big enough to fit us and our bikes and gear, Uncle Bri is the only person we know who has a big enough one in the UK!) and take us back to his and my Aunty Ginia's house where we will be staying for a couple of months whilst we figure out what's next.

But for now we have two weeks to make the most of this little part of Mexico. We won't get to see everything, not even everything the Yucatan Peninsula has to offer, let alone all of Mexico, but it'll be a good last fortnight of cycling and swimming, of seeing ancient ruins and meeting friendly locals, of sunshine and downpours and racing clouds and lush green jungle. To start the final fling off we planned to cycle to the Kaan Luum Lagoon, recommended to us by Paola and Julio, which is about 5 miles south of town and then we'd call in at a cenote on the way back to town. Unfortunately we needed to get cash out this morning and it took us about and hour and half as we had to try 9 different ATMs before we found one that would dispense cash to us. Not the best start to the day, but it made getting to the lagoon all the more worth it. It's a really beautiful spot. A large, crystal clear lagoon nestled within the jungle with a super deep cenote in the middle of it. It's hard to appreciate the cenote when you're in the lagoon, it's just this roped off dark, slightly ominous area just past the jetty, but if you google it there is some great aerial footage of it. Nevertheless it was a lovely spot to while a way a few hours swimming and lounging about on the jetty watching the schools of fish circle our feet. It was a great shout by Paola and Julio and seemed to only be visited by a few locals.

We finally dragged ourselves away so we had time to call in at Cristal Cenote on our way back. Despite the area being strewn with cenotes, fresh water sink holes, this was the first time we'd got out to one. Cristal is a pretty small one and I don't have anything to compare it to, but it was lovely. The water was cool, cooler than the sea or the lagoon, super clear and an incredible jade green colour. There were a few ropes strung across it and a platform, maybe 15 foot up that you could jump off into the beautiful water. We had a lot of fun messing around with the GoPro and pretending we were slacklining pros on the ropes. This evening we are calling in at Paola and Julio's to say goodbye for the last time and tomorrow we are going to Akumal with Meg, a Coloradan who we met through the Spanish School.

So if you'd don't hear from us much for the next couple of weeks its because we are busy wringing the last drops of fun and excitement out of this cycle tour and we'll be sure to fill you in later. And yes, it is totally true that winter is not my favourite season, but this is definitely the right decision and we have so much to look forward to.