Earthquakes, guns, bears, rattlesnakes and tortoises - oh, and digital toilets… take a tour of the globe with five epic bicycle adventures
Adventure cycling is a curious pastime, generally undertaken by curious people. By ‘curious’ I mean ‘inquisitive’, though no doubt many would veer towards the alternative interpretation of ‘odd’.
To set off on a bicycle laden with everything you need (for some people with everything you have) for weeks, months, even years suggests an uncommon perspective on life. We can’t all be Ranulph Fiennes though. Some of us have adventure enough dealing with the day to day challenges of just getting by. Some live them vicariously through films or books and some, like me, do their best to fit in whatever experiences they can while they fumble their way through life.
From the age of 6 or 7 I recall spending long summer holidays endlessly meandering around the lanes of Kent on my battered, but much loved bicycle. I doubt I ever strayed much beyond a 20 mile radius from home, but to me, every trip was an adventure - I would set off with no real idea where I was going and follow wherever a particular lane took me. One day a concerned colleague of my father’s called him up at work to say he had spotted me riding around some 12 miles from home and was that right? My Dad was a bit surprised but reassured his colleague I’d passed my Cycling Proficiency test with flying colours and I was probably fine. Fifty years ago parents suffered a lot less angst about children exposing themselves to the dangers of the outside world and ‘probably fine’ was a perfectly acceptable statement.
After college I stopped cycling for a while, but when I moved to London and began commuting all the way across the capital from north to south, I quickly decided that cycling to work was not only the quickest but possibly the sanest solution. At this period the majority of people still assumed that the only reason you would be riding a bike was because you were too poor to be able to afford a car, but I came to relish that 45 minute ride, twice a day. Whatever the weather (or traffic) threw at me I got a different view of the capital in different light almost every day and I enjoyed the quiet time alone with my own thoughts.
By the time I was 33, despite the fact that my career was ostensibly ‘on track’ (and even that phrase began to frighten me with visions of straight railway lines disappearing into the perspective, locked on a path to a predictable end) I began to get restless. I started reading more and more travel books, scouring bookshops in my lunch break for stories of the most remote destinations.
The crunch came on a wet winter’s day in West London, working on a computer security audit for a large hospitality sector client. The work itself wasn’t so bad. Previously I’d been a teacher in a school in one of the roughest parts of inner city Manchester, so I was always grateful when my ‘customers’ weren’t trying to stab me. I just felt an increasing sense of claustrophobia. I couldn’t get a line of poetry out of my head, from Andrew Marvell’s ‘To His Coy Mistress’:
“At my back I alwaies hear,
Time’s winged chariot hurrying near.”
At the time I was reading ‘Uttermost Part of the Earth’ - the story of early missionaries ‘settling’ Tierra Del Fuego. It was hard to imagine a more remote place. It also triggered in me a sort of historical angst, an overwhelming desire to see somewhere, some part of the world which had not yet been completely transformed and tamed by human ambition.
It took nearly a year and a half to get from reading about wild places to actually going. Finally, though, I handed in my notice and booked a one way flight to Buenos Aires. I had only a minimal plan and no real idea of what to expect but I spent five months cycling Patagonia, the length and breadth of Chile and Argentina before I finally ran out of money and energy and came home. I have never, ever regretted the decision to go.
Since then I’ve been on a number of epic bicycle adventures, each one very different - the Great Divide Ride, from Canada to Mexico,dodging rogue bears and rattlesnakes on the way, St Malo to Budapest, following four of Europe’s greatest rivers, the Loire, Moselle, Rhine and Danube to the capital of the old Hapsburg empire (and just for fun, doing it on a recumbent tricycle), Hokkaido and Kyushu, touring the extremities of Japan, wooden castles, earthquakes, volcanoes and very strange toilets, and many, many shorter tours and rides.
I am sometimes asked wasn’t it hard, to make that decision to go? The truth is, the going was always the easy part - the hardest was always coming back. Somehow I managed to fit all these journeys around a ‘normal’ life - work, marriage, home and even children. You don’t have to consign yourself to some sort of nomadic, hippy existence for life to experience at least some adventure (and I have nothing against either nomads or hippies, but I enjoy having a home and a comfortable retirement too).
I am 62 now. My memory is nothing like as sharp as it used to be, my hips obstinately refuse to bend enough to let me pick anything up off the floor without kneeling down first (I have to practically lay my bike on the ground to swing my leg over it) and my knees creak. But the memories I have of those bike trips remain as fresh and vivid as ever. A couple of years ago (pre Covid lockdown) I rode from England to Spain with my son (carrying our own tent and equipment all the way) and as a follow-up decided to revisit the Rhine, this time from the coast to its source. On the way through France we met a family of three following a similar route to us. The father was a little younger than me but already suffering from fairly advanced Parkinson’s disease. Nonetheless he’d got around this by buying himself an electric bike to enable him to continue his cycling adventures for several more years. I took my hat off to him (both figuratively and actually).
So long as I am able to push pedals round (with or without electrical assistance) I have no intention of stopping my cycling adventures any time soon. As I write this I have a large (and hideously flatulent) Irish Wolfhound asleep with her head weighing down my feet. I am waiting for my two grandchildren to arrive to look after them for the day while their mother is at work. I also find myself wondering what it might be like to cycle from Hook of Holland to Nordkapp in the far north of Norway…
Escape from the RatKing
Tales of Rodentia:
Volume One (2020)
Primrose (“Rosie”) Hardy sees herself as a confident, capable, and intelligent young woman at the very mature age of 12. Her world is well-structured, organised and perhaps just a tiny bit boring. But that could all change when, taking a walk through the orchard at her grandparent’s farm one summer day, Rosie is swept up by a ripple in the quantum fabric of the mutliverse and transported to become an alternative version of herself in a very different environment.
Rosie finds herself in Rodentia, a world constructed by rats, in which humans are no longer the only dominant species, but are just one of the ‘five great chains of being’. In a world where a giant white fox with a taste for blood isn’t even the biggest threat to her safety, she’ll have to navigate pirates, politics, and slightly-mad scientists in order to find her way home. If, that is, it’s even possible to make it home at all.
The Uncivl War
Tales of Rodentia:
Volume Two (2022)
Primrose (Rosie) Hardy returns to Rodentia but finds things very different from her previous visit...
The rats are at war with each other.
At first Rosie tries to keep out of things, but quickly becomes entangled in the struggles of Captain Jack, Tesso and the others - this time, though, it's personal...