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My arrival into Invercargill coincided with a slight change of fortune weather wise. The rain clouds withdrew enough for me to see some blue sky, and I pedaled happily along the flat road into the city. Pleasant fields and livestock flanked me, until eventually suburbs grew out of the agricultural land and this in turn became dense enough to call urban. My first appointment was with Gerry Ford, Southland Spirit of the Nation Brand Manager. Southland of course is the region of which Invercargill is the major hub, and has quite a reputation among Kiwi’s. Southlanders are often the butt of jokes in the same way that many rural areas get stick, but they are also famed for their unique slant on the New Zealand accent and their dry sense of humour. Gerry was a true Southlander, and it was fantastic interviewing him. Passion for the region was apparent in every word from his mouth and movement of body. He loved the place and was at no loss to tell me why. One thing I really picked up on was the warmth of the people – how helpful they are. As Gerry described how a Southlander would go out of their way to help a stranger, I could immediately empathise, having already experienced such kindness. In return for the interview, I happily agreed to get my photo taken while riding my bicycle and waving the Southland flag. I was on my way to initiation!
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It looks like, as predicted by the optimists (and even realists) among you, I will get everything I need to depart on time. There are a number of components to this, few of which I can take credit for. I've been humbled many times already during my preparation, but the last couple of weeks have shown me the kindness of others on an entirely new level.
Let me paint you a picture - at home in Ireland I live in a small village, barely more like a hamlet. To get to the house you must turn off the main road passing through, and take your chances on a winding, steep, narrow laneway. Once you have mastered the art of these conditions, you must then factor in the unpaved surface - regular rainfall erodes the gravelly surface to create a sloping effect on both sides, and potholes big enough to lose a wheel into. Negotiating this for well over half a mile will take you past the most inclined section, where you must avoid the temptation to turn onto a more attractive looking offshoot. Eventually you will arrive through the farm gate to the McCarron homestead, where you will inevitably be greeted by a wild bounding brown blur of what is most likely an over-excitable dog. Dog it is, and a most beautiful and friendly one at that once you get to know it. But imagine for a second you are a postman - to me this does not seem like an ideal scenario; in fact I believe if this was on my route as a postie, I'd probably dump the letters at the bottom of the lane and take my chances.
Today is my last day at one of the film internships I've been doing in New York. While this is a sad in some ways as it's been a great way to get involved in the documentary scene in NYC, it also has it's positives. A major one is that I now have two days a week to devote to seeking the sponsorship and funding that I need to hit the road. This should have been an ongoing thing, but I let it slip quite badly when I moved to NYC, getting completely swamped by new jobs and lifestyle in the Big Apple.Thinking about how best to promote myself and the expedition, I've also started pondering how well this website is working. So I'm going to ask you all two things to help me out.
Time for some updates. I'll post them in installments so that the excitement isn't too much for you.
Due to an imminently approaching departure date (watch this space) my search for sponsorship and funding has begun again in earnest. I've said it many times before on this site, and it's true that whatever happens, this expedition WILL happen, and soon. However, a little money and supplies can make a huge difference. For instance, the better my bike and camping equipment, the less chance there is that I'll freeze to death or get eaten by a bear. Actually that's exaggerating a little, but the premise is true. Higher quality gear (and the correct gear for the task) will vastly improve my chances of my safety and success. Company sponsors are keys to this - and I can offer them a lot in terms of publicity and profile in return for the goods they supply me with (see the sponsorship proposal pack for more info.)
So I finally made it, through the heavy snow, arctic wind, biting sleet....actually it wasn't too bad, just a bit cold. But I did make it to Lancing where I finally collected my new Santos Travelmaster!
Alasdair and Shelagh at MSG gave me another fantastic fitting, checking every possible variation to ensure the most comfortable ride possible. And what a ride! After all the adjustments, Alasdair told me to take it for a spin down the road. Now, this would have been exciting at any time, but especially so when I haven't set foot on a pedal for over two and a half months since my operation. I was inevitably a little cautious, not wanting to fall off and injure myself all over again, but it still felt unspeakably great to be back on two wheels.
The bike is a perfect fit, thanks to MSG, and the quality is undoubtedly top notch, thanks to Santos. Unfortunately, one day later, I'm now packing it all up again so it can fit on the plane. Still plenty of time to play around in New York. And get training again! I'm still nowhere near 100%, but taking a ride on the new bike showed me that I'm just about ready to start light cardio again. Happy Days.
I'll write more later, but now I have to get some packing done, put the bike in a box, get some dollars, basically all the boring stuff that tries it's bet to ruin travel (it fails) - but for now I'll leave you with the standard 'Look at what I got!' pictures. Enjoy!
And don't forget to sign up to the newsletter if you haven't already!
I hope you all had a great Christmas Day yesterday, and are all still enjoying the festive season. I certainly am, perhaps a little too much, but hey, it's only once a year!
As it's Christmas, and we're all now well practiced in the art of giving and receiving, I thought I would try a little something on here. First - my gifts to you!
1 - I have created a Newsletter from which you can follow my adventures! Please sign up via the submission form on the right of this page. It'll come out fortnightly with updates of where I am, any interesting news, and as the trip takes shape, links to the latest videos on this site.
2 - I recently wrote a short piece for the Guardian on my perfect Boxing Day cycle - check it out here. I'm aware you can't all ride it as it's in Northern Ireland and most of you aren't, but there's 4 other ideas on the page so maybe you can give one of them a go.
Okay, so maybe my gifts are a little self-involved. Please forgive me. I'll also put some new photos up, maybe you can enjoy those as well. Which brings me to - what would I like from you?! Well...
1 - Please sign up to the newsletter and read my piece in the Guardian!
2 - Join my Facebook group for the trip here, or follow me on Twitter if you're that way inclined here.
3 - Attending lots of parties and dinners over the Christmas period? Stuck for conversation? Try telling people about my trip and my website, and encourage them to donate to the UNICEF cause here.
4 - Have any wealthy friends/acquaintances? Print off my sponsorship pack and give them a copy, or direct them to the link on here.
So there you go. I'm getting lots of positive feedback on everything I'm doing so far which is great, as the more people that get involved, the better the film will be, and the more money I'll raise for UNICEF.
A quick bit of other news - I'm delighted to announce a few more sponsors for the trip. Check them out here. A special mention for Kata, the fantastic resource for videographers and filmmakers. They're providing me with the R-104 camera rucksack which will carry my camera, accessories, laptop and tripod. It will be indispensible as this bag will rarely leave my site during my trip - it'll go everywhere with me out of necessity (so my camera doesn't get nicked!) They're also giving me a rain cover for my camera so I can film whatever the weather's got in store. All of which is good news!
Finally, here's a few Christmassy photos from where I am.
Time for another blog I think. Today I should have been waking up in New York City. But I didn't. As previously blogged about this was due to an unfortunate instance involving hospitalisation - but on the plus side, I was pretty happy to be waking in Canterbury today. It was a lovely Winter's day - you know, the type that are sunny, blue skied and fresh. A long walk in the woods reminded me just how great some of the British countryside is. I also had a productive day yesterday with the logistics part of this trip, and am feeling enthusiastic once more. So things are good!
I also finally got round to uploading the very first Video Blog of "The Cycling Reporter"! I can tell you're excited. I'm not sure of the correct internet terminology for one of these, so I'm going to call them Vlogs. This is Vlog #1, and is an introduction to the trip. I hope you enjoy it. Generally they'll be short and sweet, 1 or 2 mins max, but for this first one I made an exception. They'll be worth watching anyway, I promise. I'm also working on doing a couple of interviews before I leave the UK, now that I have this extra month. So keep an eye out for those as well.
In other news, Buff Headwear are the latest company to come on board as sponsors, which is great news because Buffs are awesome. Later this week I'll hopefully be heading to Sussex to pick up my Santos bike, which is something else I'm getting psyched about.
So, enjoy the Vlog and I promise you some more news before the end of the week.
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...
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