ACA Montana on the North Tier Route

For four or five years now Jacqui and I have been thinking about a trans-America trip, either West to East or the reverse. Most of the time our discussions end nowhere as we get cold feet thinking about the extent of the commitment required – we guess it would take us about four months or so.

So we try to dismiss the idea as too big and too scary. Then up pops a prompt like this video from the Adventure Cycling Association about the Montana stretch and we think – will we spend the rest of our days regretting that we put if off until it was too much for us?

What do you think?  Could we be heroes – or are we just chickens?

Andrew Sykes – Chapeau!

2014-12-14 at 12.29I must have been following Andrew Sykes’ cycling adventures for about 5 years now I guess. I have always found much to admire, but his new plans and schemes deserve a special mention.

I first became aware of Andrew through his excellent Cycling Europe website. This was always an entertaining site, but it has been very special to see it grow into such a successful, useful and much visited touring resource.

Next came his first book, Crossing Europe on a Bike Called Reggie. This was both a great read and a super example of making a self-publishing success through the use of social media. I enjoyed seeing both achieve success.

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His second book followed, Along the Med on a Bike Called Reggie and with the two titles came a growing reputation for other media work and personal appearances. You could see Andrew developing another persona and presence in the world of cycle touring and this too seemed a well deserved success.

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So perhaps it was not altogether surprising when he announced a change of life-direction and his decision to leave his job as a language teacher and set about widening his horizons. He is now 5 working days away from this life-changer. New studies and more ambitious cycle trips lie ahead – and no doubt new publications.

I don’t know Andrew personally, but it has been a pleasure and a privilege to follow his personal and cycling adventures over the last few years, and I did not want to leave his new starts unremarked. All the best Andrew and good luck for the future.  You have been an inspiration on many fronts and deserve all your successes. Chapeau!

The Road Headed West – Five Star Plus Review

Leon McCarron’s first travel book, The Road Headed West, is something very special: as it says on the cover, it tells the story of his adventure cycling 6000 miles across America – and it’s a proper adventure. I read it in three long gulps, unable or unwilling to put it down.

A proper boy's own adventure

A proper boy’s own adventure

McCarron travelled from New York westwards to Seattle before striking out to the south and down towards the Mexican border.  For much of his route he criss-crossed the historic Lewis Clark Trail, battling into headwinds and getting into scrapes with bears, rabid car drivers and gun-totting, psychotic mid-westerners, while dodging typhoons and RVs. All this in addition to ploughing across the endless plains of the mid-west and the high mountains of the Rockies and beyond. A brilliant effort for a novice cyclist who barely made it out of New York on his first day and was tempted to give it all up before completing his first month in the saddle.

The Road Headed West stands out from the peloton for a number of reasons. It has left straight into my favourite top five titles.

Firstly, McCarron writes beautifully and with an easy, loping style that makes reading a pleasure.  Better still he is a natural story-teller and he peppers his text with memorable and amusing tales of his encounters with the Americans he meets as well as the fellow cyclists he falls in with on the road. He neatly avoids the traps of relying too much on a diary of details or inflicting on his readers the all too common tedium of recounting where I slept and what I ate. This is a much more reflective book and all the better for it.

Secondly, McCarron has read several of the travel literature greats and copies their best trait – he combines accounts of his physical travels on the bike with insights into his internal mental and emotional journey as he struggles to come to terms with the challenge he has set himself.  This lifts his offering high above the more mundane efforts of many other cycle touring authors. The result is a much more engaging and satisfying read.

He is also funny, human and at points almost vulnerable. He is not afraid to say that some bits of the travel were demanding just because they were boring in the extreme. Nor is he afraid to delve into the emotional cost of leaving loved ones, family and friends to take on what might be described as a selfish dream.

However, and above all, this is an uplifting book that may deter many from following in the author’s wheels, but for sure, will inspire the brave and footloose few to – well, get on their bikes and go!

New Toys for Old Boys

We have now been using our SENA Bluetooth bike to bike microphones and headsets for about a week on this tour and we are increasingly impressed with them.

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SENA is an American company who produce these devices for motorcycle use. However, they adapt easily and very successfully for use with bicycles. The units are feather light and attach securely to bike helmets with small Velcro pads. The battery packs, control units and mikes are easily accommodated. The speakers take a little more ingenuity to fit, but we have found that they stick well enough to cycle helmet straps with their built in hook and loop backs.

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We had feared that they might be annoying to wear all day on a ride, but far from it. We simply do not notice the weight. The mike stalks bend to sit just off the face and go totally unnoticed in use.

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Their best feature is the sound quality however. Voice communications come over in crisp clear stereo. SENA claim a range of 900 meters. In our experience they work well up to about perhaps 500 meters. From about that point you get a bit of hiss and crackle. Under normal use, say at 20 bike lengths, sound quality is excellent.

Battery life is good. The units will hold out for up to eight hours of constant use at a time. A full charge is needed overnight, each night however.

The units are not cheap, but bought carefully online the dual pack is good value for a device that has transformed our touring together experience. We are big converts and can’t imagine going back to shouting at each other!

SENA

Alicante to Algoz

We are now three days into our planned month-long micro tour that will take us from Alicante to Algoz on Portugal’s Algarve.  Why call it a micro tour?  We hope to take a full month to the experience giving us plenty time to dawdle along and enjoy the countryside and towns we come across.

imageWe used Easyjet from Glasgow to Alicante touching down just before 4.30 in the afternoon as planned. I was of course worried about the bikes travelling with us on the flight in rather oversize cardboard boxes  – 140x80x25cm – but they came off the oversize baggage carousel in good shape.

It took us just over an hour to reassemble the bikes and get underway.  We had chosen a hotel within 20k and reachable by back roads south-west of the airport and this worked well. We arrived in Eleche just as dark fell – but where was the hotel!  Luckily Paco, on his Honda cruiser stopped and escorted us direct to our hotel through 20image minutes of heavy rush hour traffic.  A true knight in shining armour.

The next day we set out for Jumilla. 85k of steady uphill riding in very hot conditions. Unfortunately Jacqui was on a very bad day and we crawled along with frequent stops as she suffered recurring bouts of nausea and cramps.  We tried to find accommodation to stop in, but failed. Luckily a can of coke finally revived her and we romped in over the final 25 km.  We arrived, relieved, but exhausted.

We celebrated with a short day from Jumilla to Hellín and were rewarded with a splendid days riding through valleys and vineyards – at one point with squadrons of swifts proving escorts.

We were so taken with our hotel in Hellín we decided to stay on for a day to fine tune our planning and bike setup.  We have a couple of new bits of kit with us, but I will save telling of them for another post.

Revised Cycle touring kit list – for non-camping softies who like toys and comforts!

We have been revising our essentials only kit list as we prepare for our month in Spain and Portugal later in September and October.  This trip is different as this time we intend to fly with our bikes. So far we plan to take:

Norman (Jacqui much the same in panniers (2@4.5kg) and bar bag (1.7kg), but has no saddlebag)

BarbagOrtlieb Model 4 (weighs in at 3.0 kg)
Wallet with cash and cards
Passport
Travel Tickets (plane)
Next accommodation details
Travel Insurance Card
E111 Euro Health Card
‘Business’ Cards

Pleased to meet you!

Diary/Journal – Moleskine
Camera – Nikon 1 V1 with 2 kit zoom lens and shutter remote
Sat Nav – Garmin Edge 800
Mobile Phone – iphone 4
Pen
Swiss Army Knife
Keys
Sunglasses (off bike)
Reading Glasses
Bag waterproof cover
Helmet waterproof cover
Micro Towel
Fieldglasses 10×25 – 7Dayshop.com
Sunblock F50

SaddlebagCarradice Long Flap (weighs in at 5.0kg)
Large D-Lock and 2 cables – Kryptonite New York 3000
Insulation Tape
Spare Tubes x2
Spare Gear Cables – Rohloff x2
Rohloff hub service kit
Spare Brake cables Jagwire x2
Cleaning Cloths x2
Bungee Ties x2
Waterproof Jackets – Gore x2
Waterproof Trousers – Ultura x2
Multitool – Toepeak
Eccentric Hub Spanner – Thorn
Allan Keys x5
Latex Gloves x4
Cleaning cloth
Puncture Repair Kit
Tyre Levers
Pedal Spanner – long shaft 15mm
Plyers/Cable cuttters
Cable Ties
Chain Lube
Mini Floor Pump – Bontager

Left Rear PannierOrtleib (weighs in at 4.5kg)
Hotel and Travel Documentation
Paper Road Atlas – Michelin Spain and Portugal
Passport and Card Details (Photocopies)
Emergency Contact Numbers
Bike Details
Toilet Bag and Medical Kit
Cycle Shorts x3
Cycle Tops x4
Cycle Socks x5
Cycle Leggings – Gore
iPad

Right Rear Pannier – Ortleib (weighs in at 4.5kg)
Trousers x2 Rohan
Shirt
Microfleece – Rohan
Sandals
Chargers’ Bag
– iPhone
– iPad x2
– Still camera – Nikon
– Still camera – Lumix
– Garmin
– iPad photo cable x2
– Mains Adapters x2
– UK Multibar
Medical Supplies

The Thorn Raven Sport Tour bikes we have are recommended to take no more than 16kg on the rear rack, so we are well inside that at 9kg and 3.5kg for my saddlebag.  The only downside is the massive 2.7kg for the D-Lock and cables.

Looking back in wonder…

I was prompted the other day to choose a photo and use it to revisit the event shown. In cycling terms the choice was a pretty easy one to make.

Algoz arrivals

Algoz Arrivals

This shows myself and my wife, Jacqui, arriving at my sister’s home in Algoz, on Portugal’s Algarve. Were we just back from a day’s run to the coast? Albufeira perhaps? No, were arriving hot-foot from Paris.

The photo was taken in October 2012. We had been cycling for 29 days with 3 rest days since arriving in Paris by Eurostar on September 24. In our early sixties, it was the first time we had cycled for more than a two-week tour and we had covered a total of 2246 kilometres.

Did we feel elated? Perhaps a little, but mostly we felt different: we knew the journey had changed something in us. Physically, we were fitter and lighter than we had been for many years. Emotionally, we were closer, having matched each other, pedal stroke for pedal stroke over many days as we marvelled quietly together about what we were doing. But it was spiritually that we were most changed: somehow we knew we had shared an adventure that would stay with us and be revisited for years into our future together – and so it has proved to be.

Thanks to writing101 for the prompt to revisit this happy memory.