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Cycle Touring: My Way

Cycle Touring: My Way

Below are some cycling specific rules I have given myself whilst touring (usually solo) over the years. It is by no means a bible and I know many other people who do things completely differently.

Water

Always have water. If you are running low then you MUST stop at the next available place as you don’t know when you might get lost!
Never get dehydrated – down what you have and fill it up as often as you can. Remember, if you aren’t peeing regularly then you aren’t hydrated enough!

Just keep drinking water!

There is nothing worse than dehydration – fatigue, grumpiness, dizziness and potentially DEATH. That’s right, KEEP DRINKING!

Ok ok…stop drinking water!

Too much stopping for fill-ups and toilet breaks can seriously ruin your flow when trying to knock off big chunks of distance – everything in moderation – just don’t dehydrate, ok?

Dehydration is awful!
Dehydration is awful!

Food

Cycling for 6 hours or more a day will burn a lot of calories, no matter the terrain or speed. You need to eat. Lots. Fast food is cheap and a great way to pack in the calories, but remember to eat some vegetables as well to make sure your immune system doesn’t weaken too much making you prone to illness.

Do not be afraid of packing in the calories anyway you can though – fast food is your friend here, especially if you need to press on down the road. If you can eat more cleanly (i.e. lots of fresh fruit and vegetables), you should. However this can often be much more difficult, more expensive and time consuming when on the road than grabbing a cheeky kebab. Volume is a priority; make sure you eat enough as there is nothing worse than not having enough fuel in the tank!

Home made spagbol and some wine. Great if you can get it!
Home made spagbol and some wine. Great if you can get it!

It will be hard at times

Don’t fool yourself, there will be stupidly tough hills and some ridiculous headwinds; but like everything in life, these things have a way of balancing out. “This is a game for life, not just a day”: meaning if you spend 4 days going uphill into headwind then you will get some ridiculously amazing downhills soon enough that will massively outweigh any pain from the past. The wind might even turn your way to help you out – stay positive and stay patient.

Some days just don't go as planned.
Some days just don’t go as planned.

Maps

I absolutely hate pieces of paper. I have been given so many free tourist maps which are utterly useless. Despite the smartphone revolution, people seem determined to give me something else to carry. Too many times has someone in a shop or hotel got a map out for me, only to draw directions that consist of “go outside, turn left, walk for about 50 yards”. Just tell me that and I don’t have to take your stupid map!

Some switchbacks are a bad sign!
Some switchbacks are a bad sign!

Phone

I have maps, emails, phone numbers, addresses, notes and photos all on my phone. Everything I do is on there, from work to pleasure. If I lost or broke my beloved iPhone (which I have done several times) then I would be ruined – or rather probably have some ‘fun’ trying to sort out an alternative for everything!

I still don’t see why people would ever buy a Garmin GPS device. Map applications are far better than any other device I have seen for navigation, and there are quite a few apps with good terrain information. Personally I like to use Google maps as it is always up to date and super easy to use – especially with Streetview! It also caches nicely offline. Don’t waste your money on anything else!

There are however some tricks to using any map when planning a route. Look out for rivers as they will help to indicate hills – the source of the river will be high and larger parts of the river will be lower down. Try to follow rivers if you can as they tend to be flatter than the hills or mountains that divide them.

Remember – if a river bends significantly (apart from in cities), it is probably because there is a hill in between. Be prepared!

Follow the rivers downstream to get a nice gentle ride!
Follow the rivers downstream all the way to Fischbach to get a nice gentle ride!

It doesn’t have to cost a lot

I have met too many people (particularly around Richmond and Regents Park in London) that turn up on a Sunday morning with their pristine carbon bike that cost them upwards of several thousand pounds. My relatively cheap aluminium bike with panniers, mud, scratches and real wear and tear still zooms past them and I get a great satisfaction when doing so. Your legs are the most important part of the bike and improving them involves spending time on the bike – not money on it!

In terms of ‘running costs’ on a tour, you can generally find cheap hostels/hotels in small towns. Alternatively camping is a great way to save some money – but be prepared to carry more if you choose this option.

Eric and Loren mostly stayed in cheap hotels, but also took a sleeping bag and tent just in case of an emergency (which happened a couple of times to them!)
Eric and Loren mostly stayed in cheap hotels, but also took a sleeping bag and tent just in case of an emergency (which happened a couple of times to them!)

Remember to enjoy it

Touring is called touring because it’s not a race. Don’t be stupid and push your legs so hard that you can’t stand up the next day. Chances are you have a few more days of cycling ahead of you and you need to conserve your legs as much as possible. Remember to stop and appreciate your surroundings along the route – if something looks interesting then stop and take a closer look.

But always remember – you gotta beat all those riding around on the fancy carbon bikes!

A Great Feeling
A Great Feeling

Always ask for a discount

If you don’t ask, you won’t get! Almost every hotel/hostel/bed and breakfast has given me a discount. Even if it’s just a few Euros off the price, it still feels good and over a whole trip it can really make a significant difference. It’s also a really useful skill to have not just for a cycling tour but in life – you can end up saving a lot!

Learn to point

If you are in a country where you know zero words of their strange language, then learn a few phrases like ‘hello’ and ‘how are you?’ This will make a good first impression to most of the people you meet – then you can point to things and use hand gestures to try and explain yourself – it is sometimes fun, but sometimes embarrassing too!

I have had success getting things like a screw that fell off my panniers, water, and many cakes – without knowing a word of the relevant language!

Pointing to explain yourself will help you to get out of sticky situations!
Hand gestures to explain yourself will help you to get out of sticky situations!

Document it

I mean really write a diary (even if it is just for yourself) as you will value it forever. Memories fade, but photos, videos and diaries don’t. Just as important as taking the photos is remembering to back them up too!

Reminiscing about a life changing trip is part of the point of setting out in the first place. You are doing this because it is fun, interesting, cool and it’s important to remember these things in the future. It also serves as a separate purpose to motivate yourself for future trips too!

Learn to tinker with the bike

Like computers, most things can be reset. Unscrew a brake pad, see how it fits together. Play with the derailleur and see what happens. Everything can be fixed on a bike as parts can be replaced (even the frame as my American friends found out!). Oh, and if you can’t fix it yourself, then a bike shop will no doubt be able to!

Fixing a puncture
Fixing a puncture

Safety

Accidents are called accidents for a reason – they are unplanned! For years I never had a proper accident because I always cycle carefully anticipating the worst of other drivers. I was a cycle courier in London for a short period and never wore a helmet – but I never had a problem. Any small scrapes have been my own fault; e.g. misjudging a curb, another was where I got angry at an awful driver and punched their car – I ended up seriously hurting my hand!

Just over a year ago, I was on a charity ride across Sri Lanka where we were forced to wear helmets or we were banned from riding. Begrudgingly, I donned my lid and continued to pedal. One day I was sprinting down a hill on the rental mountain bike which seemed stable enough. I found an opportunity on this clear day, with an open road, to overtake my fellow riders. I moved across to the empty other side of the road. Getting my head down, I pushed hard to speed past my friends at about 35/40mph until suddenly a large ‘BANG!’ came from the front wheel.

A friend to my side screamed instructions at me: ‘FRONTWHEEL BLOWOUT! KEEP IT STEADY! SLOW DOWN! STEADY! EASY ON THE BRAKES! KEEP IT STEADY! SLOW! SLOW! SLOW!!!’ Fortunately my brain was on the same page and I managed to do exactly that.

Slowing to about 10mph the tyre finally gave up and came off the wheel. The metal rim skidded across the ground and immediately the bike slid from under me. I went over headfirst (somehow getting at least one foot out of the pedal). The ground came towards my face and I bowed to it. Fortunately with this helmet I managed to escape any pain. The only thing I had to show was a ruined front wheel and a small scrape on my knee (which later got infected but hey – I’m not brain dead!).

My point is, you can’t plan for something like that and without a helmet that day I am certain I would have been in hospital for a long time, if not worse.

I am therefore writing this article to educate a previous version of myself who wouldn’t wear a helmet out of stubbornness: I thought I was invincible.

Wearing a helmet now, I am definitely more invincible! (The same is true of car seat-belts)

St Michales Mount
St Michael’s Mount: where else can you attach your GoPro if you don’t have a helmet?

Finally: Smile

Always smile. Even if everyone out on a Sunday morning looks like their life has just fallen apart, even if no one returns your smile and they look at you as if you are some strange alien passing through their town. I still urge you to continue to smile and nod your head to these strangers.

Even if your life has fallen apart, or worse yet: your bike has fallen apart, you gotta smile as it is part of the journey of life.

Every cafe or restaurant you go in, smile to the attendant as it will make their day better too – and might even get you a better deal or help to find a special recommendation!

From time to time people may seem unfriendly, but most of the time they are likely just be having a bad moment. The ones who are just simply miserable will always be like that, so move on to the next! Don’t let them get you down.

London to Auschwitz: Day 23, Ústí nad Orlicí to Opava, 140km today, 2075km total

London to Auschwitz: Day 23, Ústí nad Orlicí to Opava, 140km today, 2075km total

Yesterday was a tough day and a long one. I remembered a 10 mile section that stank of manure and the whole area was covered with flies which kept latching onto my legs. You learn to keep your mouth closed in places like this and breathe only through your nose. The people were so miserable throughout the whole day and it really was quite painful with the strong headwind. It was all just rubbish.

But somehow when I reached the hostel for the night I was fine, everything felt good. The long and tiring day which made me want to throw the bike away and get on the next train was over. Somehow the memory of the pain had fallen away. I felt good and the suffering was forgotten. I was living life at that moment in the evening and everything was great.

Two small deer ran across the field ahead whilst climbing one of the hills
Two small deer ran across the field ahead whilst climbing one of the hills

However today also started badly. There was something wrong with the bike. I stopped to oil the chain and pump up the tyres by the side of the road, but back on the bike, my speed was still cripplingly slow. I had somehow destroyed all the muscles in my legs and I was just unable to pedal anymore. I spent a good 2 hours at this 12kmph speed (7.5mph – not that much faster than walking). I figured I just had to press on and knock off as many miles as I could.

I was in a lot of pain both physically and mentally. I had a long way to go and my legs were having none of it. I tried to stand up and push harder, but I couldn’t sustain it for more than a minute – maximum.

Suddenly it became clear what was wrong with the bike and my legs. I reached the crest of a hill. I had been climbing a gradient for several hours, but was unable to tell by the landscape as it was consistent and continuous. I was so relieved to suddenly be zooming at about 50kmph downhill without pedaling for almost 30 minutes before stopping to buy many more energy bars.

The roads had a lot of switch backs like this!
The roads had a lot of switch backs like this!

Alas the hills didn’t stop. Suddenly I found my speed was back to the snail pace of earlier in the day. I was climbing again but this time I knew it. I spent about 2 hours and 20 kilometers doing nothing but slowly climb through the trees on a lonesome road. Pulling into a parking area, I sat on the grass verge with my head hanging low. I wasn’t at the top, it was endless.

I was not enjoying myself. I was not happy. I contemplated why I was doing this. Surely I could have just driven here? Or taken my motorbike? Or even taken the train, or better yet flown? The whole motivation of the trip crumbled away in my mind. What was the point? Why should I be on my pushbike suffering like this? I was mentally defeated. I tried to motivate myself back up by thinking about the pain I had overcome just yesterday. Surely it will all be better once I get there? Thinking about my original keenness I had for the trip and remembering of the highlights so far, I managed to pick myself up and get back on the bike.

Eventually I reached the top to find myself not needing to pedal much for a good 30 kilometres. The sun came out and I was singing again.

Sunset on the open road
Sunset on the open road

When I first arrived in Germany a couple of weeks ago, I didn’t know what to expect in terms of cycling. The roads were perfectly smooth and the drivers a lot more courteous. Now I have been in the Czech Republic for almost a week; the first couple of days I was incredibly frustrated at the quality of the roads, despite them not being that different from English roads I’m used to. I was just used to the smooth German roads and it was annoying to be back on the bumpy broken tarmac. Today, however, the roads were the worst they have ever been but I was expecting it, I didn’t even think about complaining.

My point is that we, as humans, get used to things. Whether they be the quality of the road, perhaps living with your parents at home and having a full fridge, or just always having loved ones around you to support you. Putting yourself in a situation where you don’t have these things is tough. Unfamiliarity is difficult. This is a lesson I personally learn again and again, and of course humanity learns it over and over.

There are so many analogies that you can create from familiarity: having a loved one pass away, moving to a new town perhaps for university, if you live in the South of The United States of America then it might be rare to encounter a homosexual. These things might be tough at first, yet somehow we can get used to them.

I have had uncontrollable emotional responses throughout this trip – both good and bad. When rationalised, I could overcome the challenging ones, but it wasn’t easy.

I have tried to relate these human feelings to the World Wars: I imagine that if you are used to fighting all day it becomes strangely normal. If you are an SS guard then perhaps seeing and inflicting suffering unfortunately becomes normality. From some accounts I have read, people in concentration camps manage to put aside the poor treatment and take pleasure in other small things.

We are all adaptable creatures but remember there are always limits. If you are a good person then there is only so much pain you can inflict on others; if you are being tortured there are limits to how much you can take before you give up. Regular evaluation is always valuable to work out whether these limits have been reached – but you need to push through the limits to know where they are. Mine was probably a few days ago but it’s valuable that I now know that.

I have just a couple of days left of this trip. I have had to overcome low points of pain but lived some incredible highs (probably endorphin related!). The lessons learnt from this trip don’t have to just be in regard to a physical challenge, but they can relate to any challenge. Whether it be a project at work, a personal project, completing a course or just reading a book. Something that you know is good for you but sometimes hard to get up and do. I hope that you reading this can relate it to something in your life and hopefully this can spur you on to do something you know you should do, but it’s just difficult right now.

Get up. Do it. Be happy.

DAY 24, OPAVA, CZECH REPUBLIC TO KATOWICE, POLAND, 105KM TODAY, 2180KM TOTAL >>

Surrounding Yourself with the Right People

Surrounding Yourself with the Right People

A few people have asked me to post about the importance of who you surround yourself with after my post about goals.

I mentioned that at the end of the day everything comes down to you. Which I truly believe it does. However the way we are, and how we behave is a combination of life experiences (and a bit of genetics).

People in life come and go. Life long partners are becoming less ‘normal’ in society; friends can dip in and out of your life; people you live with and work with change. (Oh and people die but we aren’t talking about that here).

I just spent a week staying with a long term friend of mine (we have known each other since we were about 13), but we have gone through periods (at university especially) where we didn’t even talk for years. After one week living together I feel our relationship is as strong as any friendship I have had.

The reason for this bond is no doubt down to familiarity. We have known each other for years and understand one another well because of this. But definitely, and more importantly, it is because we have very similar outlooks on life. We both help to motivate each other with goals, both fitness and work; and we love learning from each other.

Me and Davinder
One of the only photos of ourselves together!

If you want to change the people who are bad influences in your life, it comes down to your decision. You can change the people in your life, or perhaps change their outlook so that you get the best out of each other.

I know far too many who hang out with people who are bad influences on their life; they are too lazy to even try anything to improve their own life. An example are drug users who socialise in a similarly minded group; but, at the same time, say they want to stop. If you genuinely want to get out, it comes down to you. You have to do something. Remember why you are getting out of it to keep yourself motivated. Life was never going to be easy, you need to work at change.

Again there are limitations to this (e.g. work, relationships, financial…), but more often than not, the excuses for not doing something are unjust, you are just being lazy. Remember you are in control of your life.

I cannot describe the amount of additional energy that my friend has given me from our chats. I know I am going to be friends with him until the end. It is great to be surrounded by inspiring energetic people.

But also remember: you can’t choose family!

Staying Motivated with your Goals

Staying Motivated with your Goals

Ever had a problem sticking to your goals? Whether it be eating more healthily, stopping smoking or drinking? Perhaps a resolution to complete a side project outside of work that you “haven’t got round to yet”.

In society today obesity has been and is continuing to grow beyond belief. People all over the world are having direct health issues because of it. On the back of one’s obesity, the families and friends are less inspired and the issue can even become contagious through emotional attachment.

Obesity

People give themselves many reasons to keep living their life the way they are comfortable with. Many people say they don’t actually care about being healthy, they would rather die younger than have restrictions on their diet today. Similarly I know a lot of people who enjoy smoking and won’t give it up because they say they enjoy it.

There are a few problems with this way of thinking which comes from the addiction to these vices (of food and nicotine) as we know for a fact that being healthy causes a much better quality of life. To give an extreme example: someone taking crack who enjoys it; thinking they don’t want to go back to “normal” life as they are happy where they are. It is the same issue of addiction on a larger scale.

It doesn’t take much more effort to create healthy food than grab a takeout, and the food that you make can be more tasty; you will also gain the feeling of accomplishment once you have created a good meal (for you and others). You will save a lot of money from stopping smoking or drugs.

The issue that many people blame is “self-motivation”. We are all here in this world alone; although people around you really do motivate you in different ways, at the end of the day everything comes down to just you (provided you are living a conventionally free life – which I assume you are if you are reading this article).

One problem is impatience. We live in a fast moving society and we want to be able to be fit immediately, within a month, within one week, within one workout. The truth is being fit takes a lot of time and requires consistency over a long period of time. This is true of most life goals as well. Of course there are quick wins, but in terms of substancial projects, everything takes time.

Then comes the issue of sticking with your goals. Many people start off well, perhaps sticking to some plan for a few days, maybe a week, maybe a few weeks or into the months, but then go back to their bad habits because they have forgotten why they started this journey in the first place.

That is exactly the issue: you forget why you are doing something and it seems easier to quit. You forget why you gave up smoking and the allure of it comes back. Suddenly you have completely forgotten your resolution of starting the whole process of giving up.

The same is true of any goal really. Life has ups and downs for everyone, but you have to remember in the downs why you are doing what you are doing. Writing down how you feel when you set the goal to remind yourself of you.

Splitting your goal up into more manageable chunks and ensuring everything is planned out is key. Then you just have to do the simple thing of executing the plan. Yes you can adjust minor details of the plan as you discover more, but you need to remember initial motivation to keep yourself going.

No one ever said this (life) was going to be easy, but having a good support group around you, and most importantly a good memory of why you set out on your goal along with a realistic plan, will help you get to where you want to go.

On the flip side too, you don’t want to obsess about something so much that it damages your life – everything in moderation!