Communication is becoming much harder at this stage of the trip. Much of last week was spent in South Dakota, and the Badlands and Black Hills have directed me eventually into Wyoming where I am now.
Just over a week has passed since the last post, and as is becoming a pattern recently, it's been a rollercoaster. A great rest day in Sioux Falls with Jason and Paul was followed by possibly the lowest point of my journey so far. As to why it was quite such an emotional crash, I can't truely say. However, in part it was probably due to unwinding a little too much with the guys in Sioux Falls, and perhaps letting myself think of home a little. Despite resting and eating better than I had in over a week, as soon as I hit the road on Monday morning things just didn't feel good. The wind was strong, the road empty and scenery bland. It reminded me of those old platform videogames which only had a couple of seconds of backdrop that kept regenerating every few frames. Cycling out Highway 42 wasn't much different - corn, corn, beans, house, corn, corn, beans, house....cow....corn, corn etc.
It's true - One week to go! I've been slightly dubious about putting an exact departure date on this thing since last time. For those of you new to the blog, my previous attempt to leave ended with hospitalisation and a four month lay-off! But, the procrastination can continue no longer. When next Saturday rolls around, I will no longer have anywhere to live in New York City. I will have my bike and my belongings, and I must ride.
I expect many of you will find this piece of news very exciting, especially those close to me. I am too of course, but currently the buzz lives deep down, stifled by a seemingly insurmountable mound of stressful last minute preparations and gear-gathering. At the minute it feels like it will be more of a relief than anything else to get on the road. It's not an ideal frame of mind to be entering into the trip with, but I guess given the scale of what lies ahead, it's somewhat inevitable. And even as I write this I can sense that bubbling feeling of unspeakable exhileration rising up. Yes, I will enjoy it. And I'm ready.
Firstly, apologies for the lack of activity on my website recently. This has been majorly due to an unfortunately timed operation on a muscle in my chest, leading to an unscheduled 6 days in hospital! Not exactly how I planned to spend my few days 'holiday' in Ireland, and the whole thing has thrown my subsequent plans into disarray. The most disappointing outcome by far was the fact that this weekend I am missing the Explore 2009 conference at the Royal Geographic Society. I've blogged on this a couple of times before, but it really was incredible last year, and I hope the folks this year are having as good a time.
Anyway, these things happen I suppose, and I've decided that I should be thankful for the time to rest and recuperate, and I can aim to come back fitter and stronger than before. Hopefully within another 2 weeks I'll be up and about properly again, and with 5 weeks I should be able to start running and cycling, no doubt desperately trying to regain the fitness that I'll have lost!
So that's the bad news.
The good news is that of my bike sponsor - I'm delighted to announce that I will be riding out from New York on a Santos Travelmaster. Santos (www.santosbikes.com) are a Dutch company for those of you that haven't heard of them, and they really do make the best touring bikes around. They're starting to make big waves in the UK, having sponsored recent riders like James Bowthorpe (Round The World Record Holder) and currently Oli Broom (Cycling to the Ashes), as well as numerous other well-known and exciting tourists worldwide.
The lovely (and extremely knowledgable) folks at MSG Bikes in Lancing, Sussex, provided me with a superb ergonomic bike fitting in-store, and I got word last Friday that my bike has been made, sent, and is now waiting with them! The next stage is another visit to the shop, where they will do a second fitting session with me to tailor the bike perfectly to my needs. What Alasdair and Shelagh at MSG don't know about bikes isn't worth knowing, and it's a real pleasure to have people like that taking care of me and my biking needs.
A few other new sponsors have also got on board - check them out via the sponsorship section here. So, what next? Well, now all I've got to do is get well enough to get a flight back to England so I can sort out the rest of my stuff there, and crucially, pick up my Santos! It's gonna be touch and go, because at the minute I'm still pretty incapacitated. Delaying my flight from London to New York would cost a LOT of money - which rules out that option.
My plane to NYC leaves in 15 days, the race is on...
There always seems to be a lot of discussion about what 'luxury item' to take on an expedition, and it must be one of the most frequently asked questions to adventurers during interviews. As I've been planning what to take with me on my trip, it's inevitably been quite hard to separate what I really need from the things that I think would just be handy to have along. I've always been a bit of a hoarder; collecting things 'just in case'. I don't know where I got it from but I happily store things on the off chance they'll be useful one day (and to be honest, they never are, ever!)
It's been a quite cathartic experience so far whittling down my exisiting possessions as I've moved between houses in the build up to my departure. I say cathartic, I of course mean horrible. At least it was initially - having to give away or dump my precious belongings, but I can safely say I'm winning the battle with senimentality! It's amazing how little of what I owned I actually needed, and it feels very liberating to be (relatively) free of clutter. So that's another plus point for my expedition; it should teach me the value of moderation and efficiency, as well as the importance of wise decision-making.
With this in mind, I'll come back to the luxury item, and what I deem worthy as my one truely unnecessary, burdensom indulgence. Its not music - that doesn't count as luxury, it's essential for my sanity. Books are the same, I must be able to read in my tent at night (the only other option is spending even more time in my own company. and that's not good for either of us...)
So, the winning item is...a mandolin! Okay, so I cheated a bit, and a mandolin is certainly not a small luxury. But hey, it's me that's gotta carry it all, right?! As a guitarist it distressed me a bit that I wouldn't be able to play for my whole journey, but there seemed no way round it. Until my long-ignored mandolin in the corner obviously made it's way into my subconscious to the extent that, a few weeks back, I awoke at 3am from a deep sleep to hear myself say 'I could bring my mandolin on the bike trailer!' So this is what I'll do - who am I to argue with a vague, dream-induced suggestion? Hopefully it'll help to keep me amusing during long nights alone in my tent, and perhaps I can even busk along the way - there's gotta be a market for a bearded, unwashed, mandolin-wielding Irishman on a bike somewhere in the world, right?!
Any thoughts on my decision? Has anyone else got suggestions/stories from experience of their item of luxury? Feedback is encouraged!
Just thought I'd share a sentiment I read recently on the topic of discovery. I think the idea, the hope, the need for discovery lies at the heart of every great adventure. In fact, I reckon the notion of discovery dictates most of the excitement in our lives, whether we acknowledge it or not. From the banal discoveries of a new type of pasta sauce (don't knock it, it brightened up my dinner this evening) to a thrill with slightly more longevity such as all those new species found on the recent BBC2 series 'Lost Land of the Volcano' - discovery is everywhere.
It's certainly a key factor in my wanderlust, and one of the catalysts in my decision to finally get on my bike and hit the road. But what can I discover? Taking cliched responses with little real meaning like 'I'll find myself, man' out of the equation, what is there really for me to discover? Surely everything worth noticing has already been found, studied and probably had a TV show made about it. Well, in a way, yes. But, assuming I don't discover a new Grand Canyon somewhere in the middle of the USA that everyone else has somehow just missed, I think there's still plenty to search for. For me, I'm fascinated by people and what they have to say. Listening to folk talk about themselves and the environment they live in, well, I reckon that can unlock a whole store of information about a place, a time, even a feeling. This idea is perhaps losing a little of its focus as I stray away from tangible discoveries, so I'll leave you with the words of the Nobel Prize winning Scientist Albert von Szent who said:
"Discovery consists of seeing what everyone has seen and thinking what nobody has thought."
Couldn't have put it better myself. In keeping with this blog post theme, here's the famous picture of 'Bigfoot.' I'll try and get a clearer one.
Firstly, thanks to everyone who replied to my last blog – I now have loads of email addresses and phone numbers of friends-in-the-making along my route!Yesterday I took the day off work to attend the 2009 Cycle Show, held at Earl's Court. And what a show! Running from Thursday until today, the event is essentially a showcase of the hottest new bicycles and gadgets, and an excuse for everyone who loves their bikes to get together.
I arrived around midday and was instantly overwhelmed by the sheer size of the arena, the amount of display stands and the throngs of enthusiasts keen to see whats fresh and new. After stumbling around for twenty minutes and making no impression into the vast heart of the event, I finally staggered out onto the perimeter walkway feeling dazed and hassled. I decided that I needed to come up with a plan of action, and, as with most of my plans, it would start with a sandwich.
Moments later I was happily munching on lunch as I studied the show map. It seemed to make sense to tackle the exhibit logically, checking out each aisle from one end to the other avoiding shiny, distracting turn offs which would lead to more confusion. I also took the chance to listen in on the conversations of those around me. They were very, very technical. I couldn't keep up. As I surveyed the show it seemed that everyone walking around also had a much deeper knowledge than me. This isn't hard to be fair, I have a (very) limited understanding of the technicalities of bike construction and maintenance. Until now, it has never overly concerned me, but as I sat in the middle of hundreds of true enthusiasts, I felt like a fraud. I was out of my depth. Do I really think I can make it thousands of miles across vast continents when I don't know my crankset from my brakeset? (Actually, I do know that...but its an easy one!)
And then, for the first time, I properly acknowledged that for me this trip isn't about the bike. It's about a lot of things, and they are all tied in with the idea of cycling, but the physical bike itself is not what excites me. To put it bluntly, I guess it's a means to an end. This is no excuse for me to avoid deepening my technical know-how, and I certainly will have to before I leave, but it felt good to come to terms with the fact that I'm not a bike enthusiast, I'ma cycling enthusiast. There is definitely a difference.
After that I had a really enjoyable day - meeting interesting people, chatting about my trip, watching masters of their art de-assemble and re-assemble components in the blink of an eye. I have great respect for such technicians, and despite my lack of understanding I could still appreciate their skill.
I also met Kevin Shannon, whose superb proposed zero emissions trip I've been following on his site at www.becauseitisthere.co.uk, and had a good chat about our respective journeys. Great guy, great expedition. I have to say that everyone I've met who has done or is planning a long distance cycle tour have all been really down to earth and easy going. On Kev's stand I also got a look at James Bowthorpe's Santos Travelmaster, the bike he recently rode round the world to successfully break Mark Beaumont's high profile record from last year. A truly lovely bike, with a fascinating device on the front that harnessed the power generated from the spinning wheel, and converted it into energy that then powered his iPod. This caught my imagination, and I've been thinking a lot recently about the possibilities of using the human power involved in cycling in order to create power. The topic jumped straight to the top of my list of things to research. Anyone know how effective it is, or where I can find out more?
So, the cycle show, all in all, was a success. Now it's back to the grind of planning. This week expect more blogging from me as I make a renewed effort to keep the website fresh and interesting for the regular followers – thanks everyone!
You can check out some photos from the cycle show on the site here or via flickr here
Everyone I've spoken to about my trip has been amazingly supportive and helpful so far, which I'm really grateful for. Something I've especially enjoyed has been when people have offered to put me in contact with friends and family of theirs along my route. This kindness still surprises me (although it shouldn't, because the world is clearly full of lovely people!) Anyway, I decided to now take a proactive step in this direction, and make a unashamed APPEAL FOR CONTACTS!
So if you know anyone along my route who you think wouldn't mind talking to me, giving me advice on roads etc, perhaps even giving me a place to stay for a night, then please let me know! Email them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or use the 'contact me' section on the website here, or leave info on the facebook pagehere.
The googlemaps version of the route can be accessed from the expedition outline drop down tab here, but as its not 100% definite (and probably won't be until I'm actually cycling) I'll also leave a list of the major towns and cities I hope to pass through here. It's a little vague, sorry. If theres someone really nice that you recommend I meet who lives a little off my track, I can always detour! Cheers everyone, heres the list (bold indicates larger places where I hope to spend a few days)
New York City Scranton Buffalo Toronto Hamilton Detroit Chicago Cedar Rapids Sioux Falls Great Falls Kamloops Vancouver Seattle Portland San Francisco San Jose Santa Barbara Los Angeles
New Zealand (North Island)
Auckland Tuakua Hamilton Rotorua Murupara Napier Hastings Waipawa Masterton Martinborough Wellington
New Zealand (South Island)
Blenheim Nelson Kiwi Westport Greymouth Darfield Christchurch Ashburton Waimate Palmerston Dunedin
Sydney Newcastle Port Macquarle Coffs Harbour Lismore Brisbane Gladstone Mackay Townsville Cairns
South East Asia
Anywhere! My plans beyond Australia are vague - if you have any suggestions, or people that would make visiting somewhere worthwhile get in touch!
Here is a blog I wrote in the early hours of this morning – I just couldn't quite function well enough to post it then!
It's 3.26am – what are you doing right now? Tossing and turning sleeplessly because you can't stop thinking about adventure cycling touring? I thought not! No-one in their right mind is. Well, I am. I wish I wasn't actually, but I am, to the extent that I've decided to give up hope of sleep now and read something – inevitably, its something to do with my trip.
So what have I learned? Not a lot, but I have decided I definitely want Ortlieb panniers on my like, they look awesome! I think I've also learned that I need to switch off a bit, perhaps I'm overloading my brain with cycle-film-adventure info. Resolution – no more reading about such things just before bed! Best switch back to my trusty Raymond Chandler novels for my night-time literary fix. I have a day of work ahead, both paid work of the boring kind, and unpaid work of the exciting kind. More imminent however is a 2 hour session at the gym at 8 o'clock. Which is in four and a half hours. Oh Oh!
I will blog more soon on training though because it's a pretty important aspect of a trip like this – just how do you prepare to cycle thousands of miles across continents with such variable climates? A question for another day.
Planning is well and truly under way, and as I gradually get the word out to my friends and family that I'm heading off on this expedition, a common (and fair) response is 'Why?' Alastair Humphreys compiled some famous responses to the 'why go expeditioning' question on his site recently (here) which ranged from Ranulph Fiennes' "to pay the bills," to Robert Swann's "to impress girls at parties." I think the question as to why anyone would want to sell up and cycle off into the sunset is always going to be very personal. Sure, it sounds quite romantic, and I'm banking on the fact that some of it will be! I'm not kidding myself though, its gonna be a long, tough slog for a lot of it. First off, let me tell you how I initially got attracted to the idea.
It all started with Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman. Now famous, their 'Long Way Round' expedition blew me at away. At the time I was a young impressionable teenager, and it just seemed like the coolest thing - 2 guys heading off round the world, having a laugh and a good old adventure. Sold. But, there was a problem. I had no money or resources to emulate them - plus, theyd already done it better than I ever could. So, what to do? Go less distance, on less complex machines, with less risk of course! 3 years later I had completed two trips - Short Way Round, and Short Way Round 2 (inventive naming, I know.) The first was a corner-cutting tour of the UK, the second took me and my good friend David from Northern Ireland to Germany for the World Cup.
Since then, I have had the urge to do it again, except further, and better. I want to travel and see the world, but in a way that is conscious of the planet and it's precarious state suffering under humankind's steady destruction of it. I don't want to cause unnecessary damage to the environment - in fact I would like to leave little or no footprint behind. Biking is the ultimate 'green' vehicle. This, combined with my love of filmmaking and my desire to make a documentary that gives a voice (however small) to the 'common man' so to speak, led me to where I am now. When I think about it like this, all the fear of leaving disappears (and believe me, sometimes I really feel the fear!) Giving up my job was easy. Moving out of my house was easy. Planning the adventure is great fun. Sure money always causes problems, but it's just money. I'm privileged to have been born into affluent Western society where we can follow our dreams. I'm not from a rich family, far from it, but I have the most supportive family in the world (especially my mum, aren't mums great!) and a bank who will lend me money for my hairbrained schemes.
I'm gonna miss some home comforts, I'm definately gonna miss my family, my friends, my wonderful girlfriend. But these opportunities are there to be grabbed, and the things that matter to us at home will still be there.
So, why? To feed my wanderlust, to make my film, to meet people from diverse cultures, to enjoy hospitality from strangers, to experience what there is on offer out there. Hopefully I can raise money for my chosen charity along the way and help in some small way to make a difference, and maybe even my film can highlight some otherwise ignored issues. But at the base of it all is the spirit of adventure, the pleasure being not in the finding of anything in particular, but in the seeking.
Welcome to the new website! And welcome to my new, exciting project., entitled 'The Cycling Reporter.' Full details are available elsewhere on the site, but basically in February next year I will begin a 7000 mile cycle beginning in New York City, crossing N. America, New Zealand and Australia.
The premise is that I will interview anyone and everyone I meet along the way, letting people express themselves on camera. It should make for a really cool film, gathering the thoughts of disparate and disconnected people, only linked by the route I'm travelling. All the videos and photos will be posted on this site as I travel, making it a completely interactive experience, so you can all get involved with watching, commenting and suggesting places and people for me to see!
Its been a crazy couple of weeks for me -I've moved out of my house into temporary accomodation, booked my flights to New York, got insurance, applied for visas, and basically begun to sever the ties that have been keeping me here in Canterbury. I've been so busy that it hasn't really sunk in yet, but now I'm in full on planning and prep mode I can't wait to get moving.
Over the coming days and weeks I have to fine tune my route, start asking companies if they would like to sponsor me with any of their fantastic products, finalise the charity which I will raise money for, and generally just do all the things expeditions require!
One thing that I am really eager to get started on is publicising the trip, and this website so that (hopefully) by the time I start cycling, some people will know about my journey, and will actively come and talk to me! If anyone has any helpful tips or advice for me, it's always very much appreciated. Until my next post, heres a taster of the first part of my route.
View Cycling in a larger map