As I stare at my ever-increasing to-do list, the reality that I only have four weeks left in the UK begins to sink in. Whenever I cross one task off the list I seem to think of at least two more to replace it. However the magnitude of the tasks has changed significantly, at the start of the year my list looked like this:
1) Decide where to go
2) Get time off work
3) Save up money
My typical tasks now look more like this:
1) Arrange leaving drinks
2) Buy a water bottle
3) Get a haircut
Looks like most of the major jobs are out of the way.
That said the unfortunate situation in Istanbul is forcing me to reconsider my route across the continent. I had originally planned to end the trip in Istanbul and reaching the Asian border would make a fantastic and poignant finale. However in light of recent events this option would clearly cause increased worry back home so I am now considering ending the trip in Athens instead. When I researched the alternative route through Montenegro and Greece every view looked like a postcard and the people were always smiling. I guess that might have something to do with using Instagram as my search engine…
Over the last few months I have also been trying hard to brush up on my French language skills. Currently whenever someone addresses me in a different language I automatically reply in over-enthusiastic German. It would probably be more helpful to respond in English, but I just can’t help it, the German just rushes out in a poorly-pronounced torrent of Jas, Neins and Danke Schons. In a bid to avoid further embarrassment I turned to Duolingo to try and overcome my problem. Over the last few weeks I have studiously been practising my vocabulary and now at least I am equipped with useful phrases such as ‘Je suis une tortue’ (I am a turtle). On second thoughts maybe I should stick to the German.
Aside from the logistics of planning it seemed wise to head out on a final trial practise trip before departure. I learnt a lot of lessons on my last bike weekend in Exmoor and had lots of new lighweight kit to try out. This time I had the pleasure of the company of my housemate Deano who will also be joining me for the London to Dover stretch of the ‘real thing’.
So on Saturday morning we set-off from Bristol heading for Abergavenney, a small town on the outskirts of the Brecon Beacons in Wales. Crossing the border into Wales involves cycling over the old Severn Bridge. Up until that point there had been a noticeable headwind but nothing to write home about. However as soon as we rolled onto that bridge deck we were hit by a wall of cold air that rendered conversation impossible, welcoming us into Wales with a cold stinging feeling nipping at my ears and a burning in my steadily streaming nose. But on the upside I was extremely happy to reach Chepstow, a feeling that I had certainly never experienced when making the journey by car.
Fortunately the rest of the day’s cycling was considerably more enjoyable. We rolled over the gently undulating Welsh countryside which shone a dazzling green after the torrential rain of the past few weeks. The Welsh people living up to their friendly reputation as they leapt to offer us directions and let us hold their goats. Spirits were high at Usk Summer Fete where we stopped for a Brownie, either down to Wales making history the night before when they qualified for the European Championship semi-finals, or because of the grown-up man in a minion suit.
We made it to Abergavenney in good time and stocked up with supplies for dinner from Aldi. Not wanting to make camp too early we went to find the cycle route 49 which headed south on the outskirts of the Brecon Beacons. Naturally we expected this section to be the hilliest so you can imagine our delight when we found ourselves on a picture perfect stretch of smooth canal weaving its way along the hillside. A beautiful end to the day.
Finding camp did not prove to be so easy. After a fruitless search for wild camping spots along the canal I dragged Deano up a final monster hill aiming for the trees. We were in an area saturated with farms so finding a hidden spot was challenging. Clearly sick of the relentless uphill crawl where we were barely going fast enough to stay upright, Deano spotted an opening in the hedge which lead to a small forested area between two farms. On a slight slope and scattered with rocks and trees it would definitely be classed as the Bognor Regis of camping locations, but ravenous it did the trick for us.
The start to day two was exquisite and after a breakfast of Welsh cakes we continued our meander along the canal under bright blue skies. 60 glorious miles back to Bristol were punctuated only by a re-supply at another Aldi and an exciting jaunt on the Newport transporter bridge.
As the road began to slope up towards one of the final hills into Bristol we passed an old man out cycling with his wife. It was pretty inspiring stuff to see this rather decrepit old man ploughing up what must have been one of the toughest hills we’d seen all trip. What was even more impressive was that his elderly wife was absolutely cruising up this beast, leaving her husband to eat her dust. I attacked the hill with my usual vigour fully expecting to catch up with the woman in a couple of swift pedal strokes. However I was mortified when she continued to pull away. ‘I can’t have this’ I thought, ‘this woman has at least 40 years on me’. I dug a little deeper and pushed a little harder, sweat dripping from my nose and panting like a bull-terrier, but it still wasn’t enough, she continued to sail further and further away. As I crested the top of the hill, self esteem in tatters, she was nowhere to be seen. Husband abandoned back at the bottom. Continuing along the flat, considering throwing in the towel on my cycling career and taking up needlework instead, we passed her standing smug and relaxed, next to her electric bike.
So aside from that final scare the weekend was a great success. It felt a lot easier than the Exmoor cycle which I put down to the lighter load, gentler hills and lower temperatures. The next few weeks are going to be incredibly busy, making last minute arrangements, getting final bits of gear and packing up my bedroom, alongside two Frisbee tournaments, my birthday and one of my best friend’s weddings. July is gong to fly by!
To read about my previous practise weekend in Exmoor click here.
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