How’s his bottom holding up?

Apparently this is the question my mother’s friends have been asking her most often.

So, here is the answer.

My bottom is holding up very well. It’s not bruised, blemished, sore, mishapen or numb. I think I’ve had a more uncomfortable derrière when attending dinner parties at friends. I won’t name the offending chairs and hosts because the food was delicious and more than made up for the painful wooden chair!

The main reason, I think, is that for this trip I have procured (Thank you sister and brother-in-law for the birthday gift) a Brooks B17 saddle. And, I measured my sit bones before choosing the size. For more info on this, see here.

This has been the most comfortable saddle by a long way that I have ever ridden. Let’s put it this was, I don’t notice it. Ninety percent of the time, I’m just pedalling away. Maybe if its a twelve hour day, I might notice a bit of discomfort at the eleventh hour, but can your comfortable gel saddle do better?

Now, there is a myth that Brooks saddles are uncomfortable at the beginning. There is a wearing in period. Like getting a pair of new shoes. It’s like the dating phase with more immediate close contact and less chat. But not everybody experiences this. I didn’t and I started with a fresh saddle, doing 50-80 miles a day. So, go Brooks. Unless you are vegan. In which case, go vegan! Actually Brooks do non leather saddles, but I am not sure how they compare.

Well, there you go. Hope that satisfies your curiosity. And if you’d like a Brooks saddle, I don’t have a promotional/pay per click link. Just Google it, or even better, find a local bicycle shop that can measure your bottom and stop riding around on the wrong size saddle!

The Bicycle Rode The Flea

In the last week I’ve had this sudden thought. A persistent pondering over a feeling I’ve had at times along the road.

Am I riding the bicycle to Rome?

Or, is the bicycle riding me?

Before you think I’ve cracked. I know I am the one waking up every morning and getting onto the bicycle and deciding to pedal (Well, we could go into the existence of free will debate but we won’t).

No dear reader, I’m talking more about the strange sensation when you cycle a lot and you are carrying some weight on your bicycle.

On a slight downhill or uphill, you can pick up speed but still feel some of the weight and Ive noticed when I get up to about 15mph, I have a strange sensation of the bicycle clinging to me as I power on through. Trying to maintain the pace. When my legs feel strong and I maintain a good pace. I start to ponder.

Is it the bicycle taking me to Rome, or am I taking it? On the downhills it is mostly a free ride. Just balance and go. Apply brakes as required.

Ohh, and remember to steer.

On an uphill, the bikes largely taking a rest and letting me (and the gears)

do the work.

But on the flat, or slight inclines and declines, well there is the perfect marriage of person and machine.

It’s at this moment I feel like a giant humans flea that’s been captured by a steel frame. It’s ingenious machinery powering me forward. Teathered to the ground but going forward with more purpose than the blood thirsty thing I was before the arrival of the bicycle. I don’t know if I can really explain this to you. But nevertheless, sometimes I feel like a giant flea, being ridden by a bicycle.

(Credit should go to Flann O’Brien for some forward thinking on the relationship between human and bicycle.)

Night eyes

The stars are falling into your eyes

And the trees are rustling

In the night time breeze

And the frogs are calling

To the lovers they’ve not yet met

And all is quiet in Luxembourg

Yet



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Killing Whales

Swirls of smoke rise up

To the white square of light

Above my head

On this pateo

Another minute of life

Rising to the heavens

I don’t care

Stabbing the great whales in my chest

With another searing harpoon

And I don’t care anyway

Least that is what I say

To myself

I’m now sat at my friends’ kitchen table enjoying some coffee and toast, but most of the trip so far has been far less luxurious and much more transient.

Fast friends are definitely the order of the day, here are a few but not all (Zaf if you are reading this, I’m writing a whole post about Canterbury!):

Just Married

On my way into Cambridge I met this lovely pair of humans from the Black Forest in Germany, They’ve been travelling for two years on an extended honeymoon. Their rigs and accoutrements were far more sophisticated than mine (excuse me Agnes Nutter, but I have just thrown some bags and a saddle on you).

(Notice the much more chipper and convincing thumbs up than mine. Seasoned tourers)

We chatted for ten minutes, got a guy to snap a photo and then miss his bus. Sorry. And that was it. They are heading to Edinburgh, and I offered to keep in touch in case they needed anything, The power of bicycle bondageing.

Two Cheerful Chaps

As I was heading off the ferry into Calais. I became aware of two other people wearing the Lycra. And indeed, they both had two wheels as well. We were both heading in the same general direction and they invited me along. So in convoy we were escorted off the train by a support car with flashing lights. It felt exactly like I was in the Tour De France, if the Tour did not involve leg shaving and had been routed through the maze that is Calais Port. Maybe next year?

(Saying goodbye at Béthune after allowing me to ride behind their speedy non-pannier clad bikes. )

They were two friends with grown-up families travelling from London to Lille over two days. On a mission to meet up with family who were visiting war graves. It reminded me of the first trip I made at 21 with my friend Paul. We travelled from Birmingham to Cornwall over a few nights and had planned at one stage so cycle around Iceland together, Maybe one day in the future?

It was fun to ride with other cyclists for a while. We received boulangerie generosity and drank Coca Cola under the shade of a children’s playground outside a McDonalds. The only place open on a Sunday in France after 12pm. There was less decision making to be made, some chat and camaraderie and I probably pushed myself harder than I would have done alone.

It was the first day of what has turned out to be an early heatwave. Thanks human-induced climate change.

Nicolas? Nicholas? Nick?

Most recently, I had a two minute chat with a cyclist when departing Lille for Brussels.

He was preparing to leave for Turkey by bicycle, and then onto Iran (“Maybe, you know there are visa issues. Ce ca”).

He told me he was going to escape from phones and technology and all of this digital mess, as he looked down at my Garmin and iPhone mounted on Agnes’ handlebars. I told him I comprehended and then realised I had missed my right turn about a mile back. Brief friendship can sometimes lead you astray…

…I pedalled back, and then on towards highs of 36c on the second day of the heatwave.

[Firstly this is not a post about how to wild camp. People have already covered that in detail online. Google it or email me if you want my advice. Secondly, I’m not advocating that you go trespassing. OK.]

I’ve never actually slept in a hedge, though a friend of mine at university once failed to make it home. In a mad effort at self-preservation, he crawled into a hedge outside a bank’s office tower-block near in Birmingham. He snoozed for two hours and revived or woken by confused birds, he made it home for dawn.

Now, I would classify that as extreme spontaneous wild camping. My own experiences tend to have been driven less by drunken necessity and more by economic and personal desire.

Let me be completely honest, there is something deeply satisfying about sneaking in to somewhere you are not supposed to be, and bunking down for the night, with the field mice, the crickets and an owl. It’s a mild form of deviancy, but one I take pleasure in. All of us find our little ways to break out of societal rules, and I think this one is far less damaging than the more common weekend revelry which I enjoy from time to time.

BUT, the big question.

Isn’t it scary?

Aren’t you afraid of sleeping out alone by yourself? Ive been asked this by a few people. As far as i can recall, this question has come exclusively from women. I wonder about social conditioning and gender norms at this moment, but all I can say is that: 
Yes, I’m always a little bit afraid. 
Forests scare me in a primeval way. I fear the stranger lurking in the undergrowth with a knife, who just happens to be waiting on the off chance that a late night wild camper should show up!
Or, perhaps this is when I will discover folklore contains some truths. A vampire, a werewolf or some other kind of beast. Perhaps those stories aren’t just conjuring’s of our collective psyche. A little bit of shadow, rustling and bird screeching goes a long way at the right time of night.
Next, I fear the noises I can hear. Is that owl going to swoop down and pluck my eyes out, leaving me grasping for a tree. But oh no. I fall down onto a sharp broken branch and slowly bleed to death. You see, my imagination is quite macabre! Thanks for letting me watch 999 with Michael Burke parents!
Finally, I wonder if there is a local pagan death cult based nearby. North Yorkshire seems friendly, but then thats how those friendly neighbourhood cannibals get you isn’t it! Is this the night of their midsummer sacrifice? Sounds like I’ve concocted that idea too. Thanks Midsomer Murders. After a few minutes, Ive found a spot, the hooting has lessened and I’m more concerned about finding flat ground to sleep upon. 
Fields make me fear for farmers with guns, and ticks in the long grass. Am I too close to the road? What if a truck ploughs through the hedge in the night? Leaving a solitary mangled battle scene of bike, body and truck?
Am I too close to a city? Does this feel like a place drunk teenagers would come to hang out? Are there cigarette butts about? Traces of other humans? 
If so, I will tend to look elsewhere.
Is the land exposed to the elements?
So yes, I am always a bit afraid, but after a few moments, a tranquility usually comes over me. 
It’s just me and the woods, or the field with a nearby lane. Alive with its inhabitants, who are certainly more put out by my presence. Once I am in my tent or more likely just my bivy bag, we all settle down into slumber or nightly chores of nocturnal creeping and crawling. There is no more to fear here if you choose wisely and prepare adequately than you might encounter at home. And there is so much to gain, whether alone or with friends. Falling asleep under the stars and waking up with the birds and the dawn is a special thing. Every time.

DANGER

I’ve only encountered anything dangerous once. Camping with a friend in a little wood. We were woken by squealing and something rushing around us in the undergrowth. We later rationalised that it was probably not a wild boar, but an escaped pig gone rogue.

At the time it was a great hell beast, about to annihilate us. We did not wait to meet it. Hopping over a gate sharpish, we slept in a damp field of pasture. We never did meet that boar and it didn’t keep us up all night.
Cycling makes you too tired to stay up, even if the apocalypse is sipping on a Cointreau in the corner of your living room, telling you about how work has really been crazy lately and how big data has really changed everything. It may be melting your sofa, spewing toxic fumes over Aunt Berrel, but if you’ve cycled for 8 hours, you really wont care, Sleep finds a way.  

Hello dear friends and acquaintances, 

If this is your first news ramble from me, Sorry about the, well, erm, rambling and half-finished sentences. Apologies in advance for typos (I’m extremely tired and short on time. I’m trying to be more brief! Check out the content below, or read this update.

Dover is in site! Well, nearly…

The truth is the weather has been unforgiving this last week (of the first week of the trip). I pedalled through two days of rain and floods across Northumberland, after Rachel left me in Berwick-Upon-Tweed to catch the train home. 

I eventually got to Newcastle where I was put up by Juggling Jack Flash (aka Simon). Thank you!

I recovered, did a passable street show and then pedalled on past Durham and onto York. Arriving this past Saturday to do two days of shows in a lovely city. Great food, hospitality (Thank you Andy and Taylor for putting me up and feeding me.) and some good weather. The show I’m performer is different from my usual street show. I’m developing it as I go. It started to come together in York and I feel confident that it might work in other countries too. Let’s see!

Since then I have been pedalling over the Humber  Bridge, into Lincolnshire, Rutland and now in Cambridgeshire. Heavy rain and more flooding ‘forced me out of my bivvy bag and assorted hedgerows into a wonderful inn in Chatteris called the Cross Keys (its left me feeling anything but). It’s very quaint and full of antiques and real ales. Lovely owners, who’ve just been to Edinburgh and Rome, spooky…

Well, thats the short of it. You’ll have to by me a drink to hear the rest, or phone my premium rate phone line for live updates!!! (I don’t have one, but feel free to call me. I can do hands free on the bike and chat between learning Italian.)

Hope you are having a lovely week whether in motion or stationary. Thought for the week. 

“The show is in the showing.”

One for the performers amongst you. It’s sounds more profound if you say it out loud with different pauses for emphasis! 

Love to you x

The Hare

At the top of the oldest hill in England
Is a single black street lamp
Its glass coffin casts out a faint orange heart
Holding the memory of a child that never was
Waiting for the end of the world
And across the valley a ghost watches it glowing in and out
Smoking a sodden roll-up
In the morning a hare flees
Across the dew soaked rows of green chard
Startled by no one