Vera to the rescue.

Our ride has come to a halt for now but it isn’t over by any means. Here’s a quick update on where we are and, more importantly, where we go from here.

This is my brother in law, Gordon, known to all his friends and family as Bunny.

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He’s a microlight pilot and distributor and all round glass-half-full if not overflowing kind of bloke. He also does some part time work for this company:

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They buy and sell used motor homes and seem to do it rather well judging by how incredibly busy they were when we went to see them the other day.

And this is Vera, the Nissan Vanette that Tom who owns the company has kindly offered to lend us so that we can continue our dream.

Vera to the rescue

Vera to the rescue

(We called her Vera by the way)

Put the three together and add my sister into the mix and they have made it possible for us to continue our trip around the coast of Britain.

Bunny and Christine

Bunny and Christine

I phoned my sister in Taunton last week to explain that Gill was in need of some serious TLC and asked if we could come and stay for a few days. Of course she said yes, as I knew she would, and I gave her the full details of our situation and just mentioned that amongst other ideas we had discussed hiring a vehicle so that Gill could drive while I continued to cycle along the coast. The very next day Bunny said he might be able to get hold of a small van for us and within a couple of days of arriving in Taunton we were introduced to Tom at Somerset Motorhome Centre and given the keys to Vera.

Thanks Tom

Thanks Tom

I can’t believe how kind some people are and how much this trip has done to strengthen my faith in human nature. So a great big thank you to my sister Christine, Bunny and Tom, you are all now very much a part of our story.

Now that we have the van we are very excited about getting back on the road but we can’t now set off again until Monday. Insuring the van short term proved to be slightly tricky plus we have been invited to a family party on Sunday so we will be resting for another few days yet. It’s a hard life. The plan is to drive down to Penzance and camp and on Tuesday I will continue cycling around Cornwall while Gill takes on the role of support. Vera is big enough to take both bikes and all our gear so all options will be available if Gill decides she wants to do any cycling or we want to go and visit other family and friends. We will be able to meet up at points along the route, get together for lunch and spend the evenings together at a campsite. The suggestion that Gill will be able to set up camp and prepare a delicious three course meal each evening is still under discussion. That’s the plan and we are both very happy with it.

It won't be an easy ride for Gill either. She bought this in Taunton.

It won’t be an easy ride for Gill either. She bought this in Taunton.

But not everybody is. Some people have suggested that there are only really two options. Either we finish the ride together on our bikes or we go home and come back another day to complete it. Everyone is entitled to their opinion of course but the problem with those suggestions is that they aren’t what either of us want. We can’t wait indefinitely for Gill to want to carry on, (she may never do) and neither of us wants to go home because we are still enjoying the adventure. This blog is called Clockwise Words and the strap line is: “Round Britain by Bike – probably”. I added the word ‘probably’ because it was both amusing and summed up our whole attitude to the trip. We never wanted it to be an endurance event. We didn’t set out to break any records and we certainly never told anybody that we would complete the circuit no matter what. We also, privately, and without voicing it, knew that whatever happened the most important thing would be us and the very special and precious relationship that we share with each other. None of that has changed. As far as we are concerned it really doesn’t matter if one of us decides to complete the trip on a space hopper and the other on roller skates, all that matters is that we are both happy with the plan and we are.

It’s really all about the sharing for us. I realise that some people can cycle alone to the top of a hill and get complete satisfaction from seeing the view that is the reward for their efforts. That isn’t enough for me or for Gill. For us it has to be shared to be complete and preferably shared with each other. When we gasp at a breath taking view, get to the top of a particularly hard climb or come through a period of really horrible weather that is when we are closest.

That was one hill that was definitley worth a kiss.

That was one climb that was definitley worth a kiss.

That is when we are most likely to exchange a kiss, a hug or just a knowing look that binds us in the shared experience. The beauty of our new plan means that even though Gill might not be cycling alongside me we will still get some of those moments to savour along the way. Not as many admittedly, but enough to make the journey ours. We are already talking about coming back to ride the remaining part of the coast together next year but we will see about that when we look back at the whole experience over the coming months. A tandem has also featured in those talks which might be fun.

Back to business on Monday and that all important corner.

Back to business on Monday and that all important corner.

The idea of riding around the entire coast of Britain has been a dream of mine for many, many years. I have been incredibly lucky to have somebody who loves me enough to want to share it with me. I realise how fortunate I am in that, but I have another, much more important dream, that I happen to share with Gill. That is the dream of finding somebody special to love and to enjoy the world with. It is a far more precious dream than the bike ride and I want everybody to know that whatever we do, whatever we decide, that shared dream comes first. We are together on this in every way whether it involves bikes, vans or even a space hopper. So here’s to the journey and arriving back in Freckleton as team G&T. Just the way we left four months ago. Apart from having Vera with us of course.

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A day in the life of..

Here is a description of a fairly typical day on tour. Just to give a flavour for those who have never done anything like this.

We are typically awake between five thirty and seven and begin the morning routines almost immediately. For me that means wriggling out of my sleeping bag and starting my morning Pilates exercises. This consists of taking off pants and sleeping shirt, putting on cycling shorts and shirt and other items for the day which, believe me, is as good as any Pilates class when done in a small tent. I’m then off to the loos because I’m a creature of habit while Gill dresses. Once back I put the kettle on and Gill begins her packing. I’ll pack some stuff while waiting for the kettle to boil and then after tea it’s breakfast of weetabix with added fruit and nuts or porridge if we are having a slower start. I’ll then pack up the stove and cooking equipment and Gill goes off to wash the dishes. It takes a while to get everything back where it belongs in the right bags before we can start on the tent.

Our tent is a Hilleberg Nallo GT2 and it is extremely strong and waterproof but it does suffer badly from condensation on the flysheet on all but the windiest of nights. Rather than carry all the excess weight Gill dries the inside off while I do the outside. It’s amazing how much water we can remove this way. Taking the tent down is very methodical. We tie up all the guylines to prevent them getting tangled and remove the pegs in a particular order. As we take out the poles we always ensure the tent is weighted down with a pannier or two whatever the weather. It’s just a good habit to stick to. As I roll and pack the tent Gill rolls and packs the thin foam mats we use under it for extra insulation.

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Just arrived

All the bags, mats and tent are attached to the bikes then it’s back to the shower block for teeth cleaning and water bottle filling. Finally, we are ready to ride. About two hours after waking.

We usually take the first opportunity to stock up on snacks and food for the day though we always have some stuff in reserve. Fresh fruit and veg is proving a challenge so bananas and tomatoes are more often than not on our snack menu.

We tend to ride for about two hours or twenty odd miles before stopping to brew up or at a cafe if we feel like a treat. (Usually when the weather is really bad). We’ll stop frequently for a few minutes to take pictures, add or remove clothing and sometimes just to stand and gawp at another stunning view. It’s suprising how easy it is to fill the day like this and depending on terrain, weather and how we feel we will be considering our night’s stop after anything between thirty and fifty miles. We have campsites marked on our map and this is supplemented by local knowledge and the Camping and Caravan Club listings and those of the tourist boards. We are usually tired at this point in the day and it’s the time to be careful not to let emotions take over from logic and practicalities. It is also the time that we are most likely to snap at each other over silly trivial things. As time goes by we are more aware of these things and we are getting better at dealing with them.

We’ll shop for the evening’s meal at the last place likely before we camp ensuring we have plenty of comfort treats for later in the evening. Chocolate and tea feature most nights.

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First brew is always the best

Once at the campsite the tent goes up first. This is a team effort and takes only five minutes. The kettle is usually on within about fifteen minutes and then it’s off for a shower after tea and biscuits/cake/chocolate etc. Our inflatable sleeping mattresses double up as very comfy chairs and I am usually sitting in mine cooking the tea by six or seven o’clock. We supplement pasta/rice and tins or jars of sauce with fresh veg where we can and to be honest it always tastes like heaven whatever we cook. Last night we went off at a bit of a tangent with pasta cooked with cuppa soup, black pudding and scrambled egg. Don’t judge till you’ve tried it. (Unless you are veggie of course) It was followed by honey and butterscotch cake with custard. More tea and more chocolate round off our consumption for the day. Calories are only an issue if we can’t get enough of them. The evenings pass incredibly quickly just going back over the day, writing notes and sorting out photographs and listening to some obscure local radio station.

With teeth cleaned and one last wee (you really don’t want to be getting out in the night if at all possible) we are usually settling down to sleep around nine. There is often quite a bit of pillow construction to refine as this seems to by the key to a good night’s sleep. The next nine hours or more are lost in deepest dreamland.

And repeat

We have lift off

Well I was going to say that the rocket has been wheeled out onto the launch pad and is ready for take off. Unfortunately the analogy doesn’t work for two reasons. Firstly, our departure will never be, in any way, similar to a rocket taking off and secondly, the launch has already happened.

We have lift off! Sort of.

We have lift off! Sort of.

Ever since we fixed a departure date and time I have been counting down in a NASA type fashion. Firstly in months, then weeks and finally days but I’m not doing it anymore. Yesterday was our final day in the house and we moved our belongings into storage and locked both house and the storage unit up for the last time. We have come to stay with our friends Shona and Les for three days and it feels very much as if our journey has begun. I always thought that nine o’clock on Saturday morning would be the moment that felt like the start but I was wrong. Now I realise that the time we spend with friends, family and as yet unknown other hosts is every bit a part of this adventure as the cycling is, so we don’t actually need to get on the bikes to feel like we are on our way.

So, the big question. How do I feel? That’s what I have been asked most over the last twenty four hours. Excited is the obvious emotion but I don’t think it is the most dominant. Not when I really stop and analyse how I am feeling. It’s a casserole of feelings melded into a general sense of liberation and relief. Freedom, anticipation, fear and excitement are all playing a part but so also is privilege. It’s a privilege to be able to make this life changing journey because not everybody gets the opportunity. To be able to give up our jobs and our homes and take six months to do something we have long dreamed of is a wonderful thing. I’m not just talking about financial freedom or the fact that we have an amazing network of family and friends that are enabling us to do this. Of course they are an essential ingredient and we very much appreciate their support but there is another vital ingredient in this mix. That ingredient is motivation.

People will tell you that they would love to just “take off” on an adventure of their own and then they will explain why they can’t. It usually involves money, jobs, lack of physical fitness and a host of other reasons that are very real to them. I understand that for some people it really is extremely difficult because of commitments to family but they are the exception rather than the rule. Most of these other objections can be overcome if the desire is strong enough. It doesn’t have to cost a fortune, there is no law that says you can’t give up your job and you don’t have to be very fit to drive a car or a motorhome. I think the real reason that most people don’t cast off the bowlines, as Mark Twain put it, (allegedly) is simply because they just don’t want to. And that’s fine. That really is OK. That is why I feel lucky, because I really want to do it. We both do. That’s why it is actually going to happen. Is happening in fact. We’ve been told lots of times that we are brave to do this thing but I don’t see it like that at all. We are just fulfilling a long held dream because we want to. It really is that straight forward.

So if you want to know how I feel right now the answer is happy. Happy and content. Oh, OK then, and a little bit excited.

Champagne and snails

Have you ever been handed a bottle of Champagne at a celebration with the fateful words, “here, you open it, you’re good at these things”? It’s a terrifying moment of responsibility topped with emotions of pride and fear. Of course you are a little bit chuffed because they asked you, but then you are scared to death that you will make a complete mess of it. That most of the precious liquid will end up all over the floor or, worse still, you will hit the guest of honour in the eye with the cork and they will have to be rushed to A & E where they will be operated on in a desperate but inevitably futile bid to save them from mono scopic vision for the rest of their life. The party will be ruined and nobody will feel like drinking champagne anymore.

Then you pull yourself together, open the bottle in an expert manner and everybody cheers and you can breath again. Well that’s more or less how it is for me. Apart, maybe, from the expert bit.

The reason I have Champagne on my mind is that Gill has finished work today (a day earlier than anticipated) and I am in the mood for celebration. Our amazing adventure feels as if it has started now and I am likening the next seventeen days to the opening of an expensive bottle of fizz. It will culminate with the gentle pop of the cork on Saturday 26th April at 9am when we wobble off on the journey proper. In the mean time, tonight feels like the moment when you lift that little wire loop to begin untwisting the muselet that holds the cork in place. There is that exciting tingle of anticipation as you wonder how it will go.

Here we go

Here we go

We have two social engagements on Friday and Saturday this weekend and at some point we will deliver another of our precious artworks to its temporary home. By Monday I expect the metaphorical cork to be fully exposed. Over the following week we will be going through that moment when you begin to apply pressure to the cork and there is a massive anti-climax as it doesn’t move at all and you think you might actually have to give it to the skinny guy next to you for him to have a go. This will involve more packing of boxes and taking them to the storage unit and quite a bit of red tape to deal with as well.

Once Easter weekend is out of the way we will be meeting up with my cousin for a goodbye lunch and then anticipating a boozy night at the pub just two days before our departure for yet another goodbye party. By then we will have moved out of the house and handed the keys in. That’s when, suddenly, the cork moves a fraction and there is a moment of heart stopping panic because you think you’ve lost it. That’s probably how I will feel by this point.

Which will bring us to the magic moment when all that pent up energy that has built up over the last nine months will burst out like the Champagne from the bottle and propel us up the coast on a bubbly flood of adrenalin fueled speed. Well maybe it won’t be quite as dramatic as that.

And they are off!

And they are off!

It will probably be more like shouting GO! at the beginning of a snails race. It’s going to be the best feeling in the world though, I’m sure. We just need to keep that cork under control for a few more days. Just don’t get in the way when it finally goes pop. You don’t want to lose your eye.

There’s always a first time.

I bought some socks last week from M&S. I’m a bit particular about socks so I actually went to the store rather than buy on line. Having waded through a bewildering range of ‘cotton rich’ models I finally found what I was looking for. Wool. Wool for warmth even when wet. Important for cycle touring in the UK. I was then faced with a tricky decision. Three pairs of 59% wool for twelve pounds or four pairs of 56% wool for fifteen pounds. After struggling to calculate the relative sheepishness per pound of each choice I went with three for twelve. It’s been worrying me ever since that I might have made a bad economic decision, despite the prospect of 3% warmer feet. You will be relieved to know that socks aren’t actually the principal topic of this blog though. It’s just that buying them represents something that is. You see I have never gone out to buy socks specifically for a cycle tour before and it was a surprisingly enjoyable experience. It must be something to do with doing things for the first time.

Socks in the making

Socks in the making

As far as planning in general goes, things are starting to build up now. We both envisaged this trip as a life changing, one off adventure. Something bigger, more momentous and more exciting than anything either of us had done before. I don’t think we were wrong in our expectations because the build up is proving to be like nothing I have experienced in the past. I have never felt so continuously consumed by anything before. Yes I have been completely absorbed by something for an hour or maybe even a day at a time, but never for days or weeks on end. I’ve also never been consumed by buying socks before.

I’ve been pondering what exactly it is that is so enticing about the prospect of this journey and amongst other things I think it is simply that I’ve never done anything quite like it before. Which reminds me of a favourite adage; “when was the last time you did something for the first time?” That’s it I’m sure. It’s the thrill of the unknown. The exquisite, slightly frightening feeling of unclipping from the safety rope and taking the first few tentative steps along the tight rope. I’m loving the fact that I’m finding it difficult to think about anything but our plans and the first few days on the road.

We talked quite a bit this weekend about all the ‘firsts’ we will enjoy at the beginning of the tour. The initial departure on the Saturday, followed by saying goodbye to the friends that intend to ride the first twenty or so miles with us. Then there will be leaving my cousin’s on the third morning for an indefinite period travelling on our own. The fourth or fifth day should see us cross our first border from England to Scotland. On the eighteenth day we will enter new territory in terms of tour duration and at 750 miles we will do the same in terms of distance. There is something special about experiencing anything for the first time. A few years ago I ran my one and only half marathon and followed a strict training regime to prepare. The consequence of the training schedule was that as I passed the ten mile marker I entered a world I had never been in before. I had never run more than ten miles in my life and I said so to the runner alongside me. She gave me a huge grin and said it was the same for her. It was a massive boost and to be honest the last three miles drifted by in a haze of new sensations that made the running easy. The beauty of our journey around the coast is that these first time delights won’t stop.

I think this whole ‘first experience’ thing is at the core of why I like touring so much and why I am getting so much pleasure from the final countdown. It’s just an endless succession of firsts. Which is exactly what cycle touring is all about. First time on a new campsite, first glimpse of a mountain view, first meetings with strangers. A never ending list of new and different experiences. Even many of the challenges will probably turn out to be original and all the more stimulating for it. I feel a bit like a child must do the first time they ever see snow. It’s all new and exciting and maybe even a little bit scary but as we all know it turns out to be great fun.

Right, I’m off to wash my new socks. For the first time.

A thoughtful gift

How about this for a really thoughtful gift? We went for dinner at our good friend Jackie’s and she presented us with this collection of envelopes. They either contain money, or a promise, so that we can have some treats during the trip. How lovely is that?

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Thank you Jackie – you’re a star!

It’s never too late

I was pondering a blog post just now when up pops a link on the computer to a video considering what makes us happy. It was narrated by Stephen Fry and that’s enough to make me happy in itself. That man could wax lyrical about root canal fillings and I think I would still enjoy listening to it. But I digress. The video was actually promoting, or simply explaining the principals of Humanism and as such might not be to the taste of a lot of God fearing people but the message at the end of it must surely appeal to everyone. That message was that we only have one life on this earth and surely the best way to make ourselves happy is to live that life to the full. To make the most of our precious slot in what ever way fulfills us. Provided, of course, that it doesn’t harm anybody else in the process.

Which brings me back to my thoughts for this post. Over the last few days several people have made the same comment about our adventure. They have told me that what we are doing is generally a very good thing and that we are wise to do it now while we are still young enough to enjoy it. I believe they are genuinely happy for us but in every case I sensed that their kind words came tinged with a hint of regret. Regret for what they never did and a conviction that now it is too late. Many of these people were older and consequently wiser than I am but I would respectfully suggest that they may be missing the point slightly.

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You see the mistake is to look at what somebody else is doing, or is about to do and to lament the fact that you can’t do the same. But the same isn’t the point. It’s the essence of what we are doing that matters. Just because age, money or circumstance means that you can’t ride around Britain on a bike doesn’t mean that you can’t have your own equally satisfying, life changing adventure. Not a bit of it. We can’t ride around the world because we have commitments and insufficient funds but you don’t have to ride around the world, or Britain, or anywhere else to bring about change. It is change that is at the heart of our plan. Changing where we live, meeting new people, changing our jobs and how we think about our lives. Any or all of these changes can come from a thousand different journeys. They don’t have to be by bike or cover enormous distances. They just have to provide enough of a challenge to jolt you from the now. To create a shift of perspective that allows you to see your world through new eyes.

I believe there is just one common requirement in whatever it is that you decide to do. It must take you out of your comfort zone because only then will it bring about that change. But there are as many ways to stretch yourself as there are individuals contemplating the idea so let your imagination fly.

As so many have said before; at the end of your life you won’t be worrying about what you did do, but rather, what you didn’t do.

 

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