“Life is not lost by dying; life is lost minute by minute, day by day, in all the thousand small uncaring ways” – Stephen Benet
It seems a long time ago since sitting on my bed feeling mixed emotions, bawling my eyes out 5 minutes before setting off on my attempt of a ‘lap of the planet by bicycle’. Luckily for me my friend Steve was waiting to set off together, otherwise I’m not sure I would have had the balls! A lot has happened since 9 September 2015…but a combo of being a little bit useless and to be honest the thought of a travel blog seemed a little self indulgent; it has taken me five months to set up a blog…so to avoid boring anyone interested enough to give this a read I will try to give a brief summary of my bike life to date.
Leaving the UK
- Penrith – Portsmouth
- 9 September 2015 – 22 September 2015
- 752 km
- 3 crossfit gyms
- In the region of 1,000 snot rockets 😱
- 3 nights in the tent
- 1 attempted bike steal 🖕
I will never forget those first few wobbly pedals as I rode away from home on that first day with no experience and no game plan…the bike was so much heavier than I expected (I only bought the bike two weeks before I left and never tested it out fully loaded) and thought there is no way I can get out of Penrith on this thing…never mind around the world! I knew from day one that this was going to be a steep learning curve, with only 2 months planning I was pretty green to say the least! The weigh bridge as we left Penrith confirmed each bike fully loaded weighed 60kg (body weight for me)! Steve found out the hard way on day one what happens when you lose balance on these bikes as he tried to beat a red light hurtling down shap fell and went skidding across the Tarmac road face first…panniers and pieces of the bike flying everywhere!
We were lucky enough to only spend three nights in the tent during our 14 days cycling through the UK thanks to family, friends and some ‘awesome’ (I feel this word is now very much overused by many a crossfitter…myself included ☺️) crossfit boxes. A big thank you to everyone along the way who has helped me in anyway…there are too many to mention so if you came across me..thank you ☺️
Cycling through the UK seems to be nothing but a blur as it became a race to get out of England and unfortunately I never really appreciated the many places we cycled through! Being so determined to get out of England really made me miss out on enjoying it for what it really is! I do remember making it to Stoke until someone decided to try to steal my bike 😡 …outside Asda to be specific! As I came out of Asda with my lunch I saw a man was trying his hardest to tear the bike away from the lock…I ran over and kicked his arse…ok so i didn’t but I ran over and shoved him away from the bike 💪🚴🖕 but he was not inclined to leave and continued to argue with me for the next 10 minutes that the bike was his friends! Some nicer people of Stoke had been filming him trying to steal the bike on their phones and helped to get rid of him! I still remember his name…Paddy Quin…you little shit 🖕
The rest of the UK can be summed up by…sore quads and knees (as we tried to stick to our 75-80 kilometre days to ease ourselves into the cycling), frustrating canal paths, navigational problems, rolling hills, great people, rain, grey days, impatient traffic and punctures.
Exactly two weeks after we left Penrith we boarded the overnight ferry at Portsmouth and left the UK behind for an unknown amount of time! I felt excited, scared and anxious about what lay in front of me and wondered if I’d be attacked by asylum seekers, so desperate to get into our amazing country, as soon as I departed the boat in France ☺️ (obviously that didn’t happen)!
France, Portugal, Spain…and going solo
- Caen – Barcelona
- 23 September 2015 – 12 December 2015
- 5,234 km
- 11 crossfit gyms
- 1 dog attack
- 2 falls off the bike
- 11 punctures 🖕
- 1 night in a convent
- 1 night on a football pitch
- 1 night in a barn
- 34 nights in the tent
- 1 National road cycling team cycled with
We were welcomed to France by sunshine and that held up for the two weeks it took to cycle to Spain! I loved this part of France.
I made the ignorant mistake of thinking that everybody spoke English…they do not…in fact hardly anybody does (yes a lot of people in the big cities but not in the towns and villages) and I could barely speak a word of French…and reverted to an embarrassed mumbling teenager for the first two weeks when approached by anybody speaking in French to me…a northern English accent trying to say an exotically pronounced word in French…it doesn’t work…I sounded and feel like a complete idiot!
The first thing I noticed about France was how well maintained everything was…the roads were smooth and flat, the grass was neatly cut, there was flowers everywhere, all the buildings and houses were very neat and everybody smiled and said “bonjour” as we cycled passed! We picked berries, apples and grapes as we passed the orchards and vineyards!
One of the great things about travelling by bicycle in this way is getting to meet the local people as you pass through their home towns…people you would never normally get to meet, from different backgrounds with different perspectives, living and doing things you never thought possible!
My favourite part of France was the Loire valley…this is a popular cycling region where a cycle path called the Eurovelo 6 runs from the Atlantic coast all the way to the Black Sea! The region was extremely flat and the quiet roads followed the river weaving through small villages, Vineyards and huge French castles!
It can be pretty daunting at first not knowing where you will sleep that night, or the next night or the night after that, but very quickly you adapt and it’s amazing what you can make your bedroom! Through France we slept in fields, forests, campsites, beaches, people’s spare beds, sofas, floors, gyms, barns and even on a football field! One night we pitched the tent in a park near Tours only to find ourselves locked in the next morning until 11am to the surprise of the park keeper!
After following the Loire Valley to the Atlantic coast we started to head South and picked up another Eurovelo which followed the coast right down into Spain! The coast was beautiful and really easy to find good camping spots! The Eurovelo paths in France are brilliant to follow, it’s hard to get lost and they only follow the quiet roads…I’d advise anyone looking to cycle in France to check these out for sure!
Although beautiful…the west coast of France was all but a ghost town as many places had
shut for the winter…even supermarkets were closed and it was pretty depressing at times cycling through these abandoned towns!
The landscape changed as soon as we hit Spain and begun to cycle inland, South towards the Pyrenees! We spent the first night in Spain in a farmers field who did not speak a word of English but was happy enough to let us stay and even brought us a can of Coke each and milk for breakfast! The next morning was pretty cold and it was difficult to get going! We began the climb towards Pamplona and the beginning of the Camino de Santiago over the Pyrenees, reaching elevation of over 1,000 metres before we dropped down into Pamplona!
Steve had his second fall off the bike in Pamplona as we were riding into town via the river he slid off the path down a 10 foot sheer drop into the rocky river bank! Luckily he was not too hurt but there was no chance in getting the bike back up the bank so he took all the stuff off, passed it up to me, one by one and had to carry the bike on his shoulder whilst wading through the shallowest part of the river he could find! And here begun Steve’s dislike for Spain!
The route we decided to follow along northern Spain was called the Camino de Santiago and is the main Pilgrim walking route in Spain…it was great because we met so many people from all over the world hiking along the Camino…easily noticeable by the big wooden walking sticks and conch shells around their necks! I met a man who had walked all the way from his hometown from Denmark and a Canadian father and son who were walking the route but had done many bike tours in the past, all over the world…the son, Nat, was actually one of a team of four who held the world record for the fastest cycle crossing of the United States (4,762km in 5 days, 8 hours and 17 seconds…that’s an average speed of 37.1 km per hour…blows my mind)! Another great thing about this route is that there are albergue’s in every village along the way for between 5 and 10 euros per night and these are really awesome…except when you get a snorer in the room!
The route was pretty mountainous but the views were amazing as we cycled up over mountain passes, but villages were small and sometimes it was difficult to find food shops especially in the afternoon as in Spain most shops close between 12-5 in the afternoon! We had quite a bit of rain along northern Spain but we’re lucky to spend most nights in an albergue’s so we could get a shower and sleep inside escaping the rain…also the sunsets here (when it wasn’t raining) were pretty amazing.
It was difficult to find a road to cross the border into Portugal…we spent around an hour going in circles but eventually got ourselves over the border! As soon as we hit Portugal…the rain came and it didn’t stop for 5 days…I don’t mind cycling in the rain, it’s far easier than the wind but it makes camping a pain in the ass and it’s difficult to dry your gear and cooking in the tent creates a lot of condensation and more water 😂! The landscape was nice, very similar to Spain as we crossed the middle of Portugal and made our way to the coast…it was pretty hilly, no major climbs but rolling hills!
Portugal was my longest stint without a shower…6 days 😷 I felt pretty grim! Ok I washed everyday with a bottle of water and a baby wipe but it’s not really the same 😬 We met a Polish couple also cycling and decided to cycle a couple of hours into the night and set up camp with them…was great to be with different people! Once we got to Sagres on the south west coast of Portugal we were approached by a little old lady who offered us a room in a guest house…haggled her down a little but I needed a shower and a day off the bike so didn’t really care too much!
After a day off surfing and chilling out in Sagres we cycled along the Algarve coast on our way to Southern Spain! The weather was hot and the cycling during mid day was pretty exhausting! Was pretty easy to find wild camping spots along the way, but one night we picked a field and was hounded by a stray dog barking by the tent all night long and I was too scared to go out and chase it away!
The Algarve was really pretty landscape but so much built up and touristy, full of English people with footballshirts and st George tattoos and I couldn’t wait to get out of there! Had to get a ferry from Vila Real Santo Antonio to Ayamonte to cross the border back into Spain… Only took around 15 minutes and cost less than £3 but wasn’t until 6pm so meant that it was dark when we got there and a camping spot was difficult to find! As per usual we seemed to find a spot amongst what must of been 1,000 barking dogs…welcome back to Spain!
The weather was great for the whole time cycling the south coast of Spain…pretty much everyday was blue skies and sunshine and the temperatures during the day were reaching between 20-25 degrees. The first day back in Spain we reached a small town called Gibraleon which had a nice little town square…Sunday’s seem to be a real family day in Spain and the whole town seemed to be out in the square enjoying the sunshine and family time! The people were very friendly and interested in my trip and even let me use wifi in their house, play football with them and take me to get some groceries for the day ☺️ I have met some really kind, helpful people on the way who have really made the trip possible and enjoyable and I genuinely can’t thank them all enough!
Once we got to Sevilla we were offered to stay an extra night with our host Remi, which was great as it gave us a chance, to actually see the city, which is really cool! The people are freindly and welcoming and the mix of Arabic and Christian history makes the architecture of the city really cool! This was my second favourite city in Spain! After leaving Sevilla we were coming down a hill on a quiet country road to the usual sound of dogs barking aggressively…but this time the gate was open…’it’s ok’ I thought…they’re tied up…’oh shit they’re not tied to anything’ as four dogs came flying out of the yard barking at me aggressively I swerved to miss them…hit Steve’s trailer and went skidding across the tarmac…luckily I only had a few cuts n bruises n the bike was I damaged…although the smashed eggs in my panniers was a pain in the ass 😂 We then cycled north east to visit Córdoba, which is also a very beautiful city (although I got my helmet stolen here 😢) before heading south to Osuna!
After a few days off the bicycle in Osuna I continued to cycle solo and Steve went elsewhere (I can’t actually remember where 😬)…no major dramas or arguments…but in truth it is extremely difficult to spend all day everyday with one other person in this way…in fact I’d say harder than cycling around the world is cycling around the world with the same person…and truth be told I think we were doing each other’s heads in 😂 I did learn a couple of important things though…1 when getting annoyed you’ve got to realise that most of the time it’s probably not their problem it’s yours 2 don’t put expectations on other people, they often won’t live up to them and really they are not here to live upto your expectations and 3 and probably most importantly…always be truthful, to them and to yourself (unless you don’t respect your friendship then just make up a reason to get out of there ASAP and whatsapp them later bailing 😂)
The first couple of days I felt much happier cycling alone but couldn’t help but worry about the future and how it would be on my own further down the line but eventually I have got used to it and for sure it was the best thing to happen…although I was fairly scared the first night wild camping alone but this is the decision I have made and I don’t want fear of the Unknown to hold me back from doing what I want! Once I got to Granada I was hosted by Zigor and Maria who had just got back from a cycle tour from Spain to New Zealand! They were really great people and I ended up staying here for three nights and got to really explore the city which was amazing…my favourite city in Spain for sure…sitting in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains…it is amazing!
From Granada I decided to cycle through the Sierra Nevada mountains before heading south to the coast and although the hardest cycling (only in terms of elevation) it was worth every minute of the hard work…I love the mountains and this three days cycling was my favourite of the trip so far! The views were stunning and the weather continued to be amazing and the roads were quiet and in great condition!
After cycling through the mountains I headed south to Almeria and back to the coast and had my first night wild camping on the beach…it couldn’t of been a better spot…although a car coming down to the beach and people hanging around on the beach close to my tent freaked me out a little and it took a while for me to relax and fall asleep…clutching my pen knife in one hand and my de-icer spray in the other hand 😂 Heading north up the coast through the Cabo de Gata national parc was amazing…although my unlucky run of punctures continued which was frustrating as each time I have to take everything off the bike to take the wheel off and I never expected to have 10 punctures so early into the trip…7 of which were on my extra wheel…a new tyre was in order for sure!
I spent one night in a little campsite by the coast free of charge thanks to a very kind campsite owner who even let me use his house for a shower. The campsite was full of retired Northern European sun worshippers and all were very intrigued by my presence…on returning to my tent later that night I found a can of beer, some chocolate and a camp bed inside ☺️ Heading up towards Alicante things started to get built up and touristy and the cycling was less enjoyable as the roads got busier and the drivers got less tolerant of me and again I became aware of the presence of English tourists, who sadly have not been particularly friendly to me 😢 I’ve got to give the award of the friendliest travellers I have came across so far to the Dutch…on two occasions Dutch cars have pulled over and offered to give me a ride or take my luggage to the next city…no thanks that’s cheating but thank you ☺️
After making a visit to crossfit Alicante I was lucky enough to be invited to stay with the coach Antonio and his girlfriend Patrice who were really great people and even tried to help me learn a little Spanish…that hasn’t gone so well unfortunately! I continued from here up the coast past more tourist hubs such as Benidorm on my way to Denia…I took the national road out of navigational laziness but it was not the best stretch of road and quite weirdly was full of prostitutes scattered up the hundreds of kilometres it stretched to Barcalona…it was pretty weird they were just sat by the roadside in the middle of nowhere on white patio chairs…in heels and mini skirts and cycling passed them I think was as puzzling for them as it was for me. I also met the national Khazakstan road cycling team on this stretch of road close to Denia and tried to cycle with them…I lasted about 30 seconds before they left me for dust but they were very friendly and even took photos of me…but my battery had died so I was gutted to get none 😢 I had a couple days off the bike in Denia thanks to a kind friend From England who arranged for me to get the keys to her holiday home there and from there I continued up the coast to Valencia!
After Valencia I had three long days each between 120-150km per day as I made my way north up the coast towards Barcelona! I managed to get hosted each night which meant no camping (don’t get me wrong…I love the camping but setting the tent up and packing it away is a pain in the ass so it’s rare I’ll be declining an invite into somebody’s home)and my host Joan in Terragona even cycled 65km to meet me and cycled another 65km back to his house with me and even brought me a sandwich ☺️ and then cycled another 25 km with me the next morning.
I finally made it to Barcelona on 12 December…3 months and 3 days since I set off from England and 5,986km. I had arranged to take a few weeks off the bike over the Christmas period so that I wasn’t alone over Christmas in the tent eating tuna and rice for Christmas dinner 😂…plus I wanted to stall on heading north until spring when the weather got warmer. I managed to find a great opportunity with a work exchange program to live with a family and teach the children (aged 2 and 4 years old) English in exchange for accommodation and food. It was a fantastic experience and I would advise anyone to do it! I ended up staying for 7 weeks and really bonded with the family! People think that what I’m doing must be hard…but honestly…taking care of two kids for sure is harder…so hats off to people doing this single handed day in day out 😂 but I loved every minute of it…especially the lack of privacy as they came wandering into the bathroom every time I was in the shower or having a wee and I often came back to random items in my bed…e.g. Carrots 😬 but they made me smile and laugh every day ☺️
I also joined Crossfit Edelweiss and trained with them for the 7 weeks I was there! They were a really great bunch of people who made me feel extremely welcome and even made an effort to try to speak English to me and invite me to things outside the gym! I also joined a language exchange program to try to learn to speak Spanish but I was not so successful with this 😂 but I did meet a pal…Samuel who mocked my every attempt to speak Spanish 🖕I was also lucky enough to have cool as shit family and friends come out to visit me ❤️
After a longer than expected 7 weeks on the bike I left Barcelona to head off on the next part of my journey to reach Istanbul by the beginning of May! Although sad to leave the people I met behind the reason I set off in the first place was calling me back to the road and I was more excited and determined than ever !