I walked into the breakfast area of Maison D’accueil, a Catholic Mission in the centre of Conakry, Guinea to be greeted by Victor from Venezuela. As I introduced myself, he replied with, ‘Ah, Eric the Wreck.’ I did not think I was looking that bad and asked him to repeat the phrase. Of course he had said ‘Eric The Red,’ referring to the first century Norse explorer. I knew I was due a rest and had been wanting to stop for a while but it just never seemed the right time. Now, on day one hundred and twelve of the trip having travelled through twelve countries and covered approximately 5000 miles, I have three enforced rest days before I can collect my Sierra Leone visa – the Liberian one is happily occupying page nineteen of my passport. Having already slept for two nights at the side of a Total petrol station in a suburb of the city close to the two embassies I needed to shuttle between, I decided to treat myself to a few days indoors to sleep, repair my belongings and to reflect on my myriad moments of adventure. Here are a few, long overdue but short selected snippets.
Bordering On The Ridiculous!
Fruit sellers, fraudsters, money exchangers, opportunists, rogues and rascals are the usual assortment of fractious folk who mercilessly hound and harass you through the narrow and inescapable channel that represents a border crossing. Add grumpy guards, inefficient systems, often with triplicate or even quadruple checking and a good ration of rudeness then even an experienced traveller can be stretched to the limit, as people surround you closer than cling film. However, the crossing from Western Sahara to Mauritania presented a different challenge – 2 miles of no man’s land but apparently every man’s tip! Trucks, tyres, televisions, trash of all types including plastic bottles, soft drink cans and rotting food lay strewn all over the sand – the only thing missing was tarmac! So pushing and pulling the bike I huffed and puffed my way in the searing mid day sun, watching as vehicles cautiously picked their route, with varying degrees of success over the rocks, rubble and rubbish!
I felt a tinge of sadness leaving Western Sahara as it had been a magnificent experience to cycle through such a vast and uncompromising but truly beautiful landscape. After my public declaration of love I now realise it had only been toying with me in preparation for what lay ahead, the desert wanting to test the extent of my commitment.
Mauritania presented much of the same in the respect that the sand stretched out for another 450 miles. However, instead of the sweeping golden dunes of the Sahara the terrain became more rugged, the sand seeming to lose a little of its sheen, which is hardly surprising as the temperature reached a frying 55 degrees celsius – my previous highest had been ten days of 48 degrees whilst cycling to Calcutta.
I had started to use my four litre black water bladder which supplemented my standard seven litres but I was now guzzling about twelve litres of water a day, which was spewing out of every possible pore, covering my cycling top in a crusty layer of salt. Fortunately, I had managed to procure numerous packets of electrolytes, rehydration salts, after somehow persuading a pharmacist to show me half the stock of his shop as I lamented my lack of language skills. I also popped a daily vitamin pill to cope with the added physical demands of pedalling through a furnace. I zipped up my top, pulled down my bandana and slapped sun screen over my naked nose, lips and legs finding humour in the fact that the temperature was now higher than the 50 plus protection I was applying. When I was lucky enough to find shade I had to climb into my silk sleeping bag liner to prevent the blow torch wind from scorching my legs. Despite all this, I was in my element and relishing the challenge that such conditions provide. I wish I could say the same of my equipment. I burned my lips sipping water from the now boiling black bladder and I could not touch the naked part of my handle bars for fear of losing my finger tips. For some time I had been thinking of discarding the bike computer – I am often guilty of mile munching and wanted to be free of the self imposed straitjacket of covering a certain distance each day. Nature helped me out by melting it … it has not been replaced. The lens of my camera would only show face after two hefty whacks which presumably dislodged the lurking grains of sand. My mobile phone gave up the ghost, with the screen now as faint as one. To complete the cycle my miniature MP3 player decided it had endured enough torture from my soaking wet torso and downed tools too! You could say the honeymoon period of the ‘mirage’ had passed and it was now down to the simple nuts and bolts of biking … just how I like it!
The Senegalese are incredibly courteous and kind with a genuine natural warmth and giving nature. On many occasions I have been offered water, food, shade, a paper fan or a flattened cardboard box to lie on. I was invited to the home of a lovely family in St Louise and have slept in the grounds of a Mosque where I was offered someone’s bed but opted to sleep outside under the stars, inadvertently lying next to the communal water pipe where the masses and the mosquitos congregated. I have been allowed to use staff showers at petrol stations and share soldiers food at security points. Strangely, these acts of generosity are all forgotten when it comes to buying bread. I stopped at a wee village in Geol about 100 miles from Dakar to buy some baguettes and could not believe my eyes. There was a large bakery dispensing hundreds of baguettes into various vehicles … trucks, cars, carts, bicycles, bins, wheel barrows and boxes. However, Joe Public had to join the mayhem and madness that was scrambling for the attention of a frazzled and agitated assistant who made fleeting appearances in a small adjacent entrance, to toss a few pan into the pandemonium! I watched for a few minutes thinking that it may calm down but if I wanted bread then I was going to have to abandon my bike, roll up my sleeves, as I could see that elbows played an integral part in purchasing pan and dive in. I started tentatively not wanting to offend or upset anyone but I was getting no where. People were holding crumpled notes in their hands which were raised above their heads but just far enough so that the all important elbows remained functioning. The heat was intense as more bodies kept joining the throng. After my desert training the temperature was not an issue, the tiny, old, frail looking lady who kept clouting me on the ear, was! The noise was deafening as voices screamed out their preferred number of pan. I did not even know the exact price as having white skin means the price can fluctuate from village to village. To be fair though, after Morocco most places have been reasonable … about every second shop in Morocco tried and quite often managed to double the price. After fifteen minutes and just as I got to the front of the queue they inexplicably decided to stop selling at the counter and started handing them out at the wholesale point. I had had my fun and started to freewheel, breadless through the village only to be overtaken by a young lad laden down with baguettes shouting, ‘Mister, Mister, I got bread!’ I now understand why one of the international distress signals is called ‘pan-pan’!
When travelling I rarely pine for things which are readily available back home, preferring to focus on all the new experiences which stimulate me on a daily basis. However, after weeks of bumbling through and having to communicate like the village idiot it was a joy to enter The Gambia and nourish my eyes on all the English road directions and shop signs. I stood for ages at a street corner feasting and gorging on simple sentences I had been unable to comprehend in French. I was able to request the price of things and also enquire what it was, without having to revert to amateur dramatics … this can be fun too but it can get a little tiresome. I stopped at a roadside stall and bought some rice and beans from Akos, a bonny lass from Ghana who’s smile lit up the whole street. She had moved to The Gambia to take over her mothers business. It was a simple affair which required a lot of work but did provide her and her son with a guaranteed small daily income, which is more than most have. I doubled up my portion which set me back about fifty dolares, just under one euro.
I started chatting to Lauretta, a devout Christian who was the head of a nearby compound and also dabbled in some petty trading. I spent the evening laughing and joking with her and Akos but also getting fed lots of information on The Gambia and Ghana. I slept the night on Lauretta’s veranda and was then persuaded to stay another two nights where I was completely spoiled. She baked traditional rice bread for breakfast then followed this up with a bean stew on a charcoal fire depositing the red remnants of coal in an open iron to press the bed sheets. I was also plied with platefuls of delicious rice and ground nut pudding. Lauretta was a well educated woman, did charity work helping orphaned kids and received a continuous stream of daily visitors requesting various forms of help, invariably financial. She used to give a lot but now stressed that times were hard. A year past she had been involved in a serious car accident and broke a collar bone, damaged her hip and lost some teeth. She was a lovely, proud, generous lady but I could see she was totally exhausted and struggling to regain some of her former zest. I was happy to teach a little yoga and gave daily healing to try to alleviate the pain in her shoulder and hip. She was amazed that the healing allowed her to regain some movement in her joint. I then spent the next couple of days massaging and treating a few of her friends. Her son James, who had opted for the Muslim faith had a problem too and after giving him a short massage, we chatted till 3.30 in the morning as he expressed his sorrow at the malnutrition, corruption and lack of hope faced by many in Africa. I saw poverty in Morocco but every country since, the sheer scale of the problem has intensified and I have struggled to make sense of some of the things I have seen. The depth of squalor is utterly heartbreaking and I have only respect for many of the wonderful people I am meeting who have to continually endure such appalling conditions. I am a tourist on a bike who is trying to just observe but not judge … at the moment this is proving to be my greatest challenge! The morning I left Lauretta’s house she insisted on sending me on my way with a heartfelt but protracted prayer. I had no problem accepting as she had been so open to receive the things I believe in.
A Matter Of Perspective
You can generally ignore what you read online regarding visa applications for Africa as the information is either out of date, completely misleading or just untrue. I researched every coastal African country prior to pedalling but it seems the rules change with such regularity that you just have to turn up and deal with what is demanded at the time.
I walked into one embassy clad in my cycling gear having just arrived in the city. I was dirty and unshaven but was greeted by a lovely cheery woman who spoke a little English and was excited to hear I was on a cycling trip. She could not do enough for me and not only extended my visa by fifteen days at no additional charge, to allow me time to reach the country (many visas start ticking the minute they are issued) but also got it issued immediately, saving me the hassle of coming back on my bike to pick it up. When I left, she held my hand warmly and wished me all the best. The whole procedure which included me dashing to a cash dispensing machine to obtain the local currency, took less than thirty minutes! What a wonderfully, uplifting and pleasurable experience!
Feeling quite jubilant I decided to nip around the corner to another embassy. My original intention had been to just obtain information on what the requirements were so that I could turn up fresh faced and armed with the necessary documents the next day.
I was shown into a darkened room where I was introduced to a woman who went completely apoplectic and started ranting, ‘Pantalon! Pantalon! Pantalon!’ I apologised and spluttered out that I was on a ‘velo’ (bicycle). One of her assistants expressed the same sentiments but there was no reasoning with her. I was unceremoniously marched out of the building and escorted to my bike. It was blistering hot but I rummaged through a bag and pulled out my three quarter length trousers, the only pair I possess. I carelessly threw away the final quarter zip on legging section in Malta, as it was a different colour from the now faded trousers. I hurriedly hauled them over my cycling shorts, whilst simultaneously pulling them down as far as possible hoping that she would find my ‘builders bum’ less offensive than my naked legs. As I re-entered the lions den her assistant gesticulated the obvious … that I was still wearing shorts! This was not going well at all!
I was taken into a different room where two men hovered nervously … their energy was terrible! Neither spoke a word of English but one eventually sat down and started typing on the google translator ‘What do you want?’ appeared on the screen! ‘I want to apply for a visa, please!’ I typed back, as confidently as possible having regained a little composure. Another sentence appeared stating they did not issue visas – it was an embassy, of course they issued visas! The next line informed me that I needed a special document to apply for a visa. I asked where I might obtain such a document. The google translator replied with the word, ‘Here!’ ‘Can I please have one then?’ I asked, optimistically! They flashed in front of my face a special letter that I needed to enable me to get the special document to apply for the visa. This was getting silly and I was also extremely hot and uncomfortable in my two pairs of shorts and fed up with the interminable pattern of the discussion. Exasperated I typed, simply ‘What do you need?’ Their voices lowered to a whisper, the office door was closed and after a few furtive glances through the glass paned wall, the word ‘Money,’ was mentioned … no need for the translator with the ‘M’ word. There was also no need for photographs, photocopies, form filling or even the all important vaccination card!
Three figures appeared on the screen … I think the lowest one was just for show. Whilst shrugging my shoulders and opening my palms I told them I did not have the money for the top price. They were odious little creatures but softened enough to accept the still inflated middle one. I returned later in the afternoon to pick up my treasured but soiled visa. In their joy and excitement with their ill gotten gains they had even managed to get the dates wrong. I did not notice at the time because the passport was returned to me in yet another darkened room. I was tempted to suggest that they use some of the money to buy a few light bulbs but thought better of it.
Thanks so much for the comments on the blog and the emails of support and concern. I do value them all so please keep them coming. Unfortunately many of the places I have been travelling through do not even have regular electricity or mains water, let alone internet access. When I do find it then it is often slow or malfunctioning. Wi Fi is a rare treat but normally I have to sign onto a mainframe computer which then blocks my Hotmail as it thinks I am being hacked. Last week the browser I was using in Conakry even blocked my web page as it took exception to the word, ‘sexy’ as in my beloved Sahara!
I am still in Conakry waiting to pick up my visa for Sierra Leone … it was supposed to be today but everyone is still busy praying, celebrating the main Ramadan Festival which started on Friday evening. Having already left my haven at Maison D’accueil in anticipation of cycling on today it looks like I will book back into Hotel Total tonight!
Many women have confessed that they prefer a good bar of chocolate to a night of passion, although I have never tasted a cocoa bean that good! During a verbal spat with an ex, a singer songwriter, I was informed that she had better orgasms whilst performing on stage than with any man … I tried not to take it personally! Sadly, some poor souls have even blurted out that a decent book will replicate amorous ardour.
I do not relate to any of the above and generally prefer the real thing. Dark chocolate to milk, ground coffee to instant, fresh orange to purée. I would rather swim in a river or an ocean, than a chlorinated pool. Why jump on a bike in a gym when you can ride to it? Why read about or watch hanky panky when you can practice it?
However, in absence of the real thing then sometimes a substitute will suffice as a short term solution … which brings me to the Stupendous Sahara! This is not my first desert experience having cycled through them in New Mexico and Arizona in the States and from Darwin to Adelaide down the middle of Oz but I have to say the Sahara is the first one I have fallen in love with!
My appetite was wetted pre Western Sahara during the foreplay of eighty miles from Guelmim to Tan Tan with the vast emptiness only interrupted by a wee cafe forty miles in. The sense of anticipation was immense as I faced the wide open expanse that lay ahead!
I had stocked up on bread, bananas, biscuits, eggs, pasta, dates and water, adding quite a few extra kilos to my already substantial load! I was determined to practice safe Sahara and applied my protection, factor 50+ sun tan cream! However, as with any relationship, I found that I have still been occasionally burnt by the intensity of the beautiful but brutal environment. Being slightly inland I missed the cooling salty sea breeze from the coast but was so excited I barely noticed the mercury mounting, as I rode along with a massive grin that spread from one sand filled ear to another. Involuntary ‘Yee Ha’s’ bellowed from within. Is there an upper age limit for Yee Ha’s? … I hope not! Anyway, no one could hear me apart from the wild dogs, donkeys and dromedaries, which are rather timid and generally move away when you approach them … which is hardly surprising considering what we intelligent humans inflict upon them once domesticated.
Sighing is said to be the quickest way to initiate the relaxation response. As my experience of the Sahara has deepened my sigh ratio has exponentially increased as the desert slowly begins its cleansing process. The wind blasts around me allowing any aches and pains to be blown out of my physical body. The sun purifies, sending healing rays into the newly created spaces. The sandstorms gently sting my eyes, create a film of graininess on my gums, nip at my naked knees and completely cover me in a sheet of sandpaper which acts as a natural exfoliation on the skin. The nothingness saturates your soul and whilst this is not an orgasmic experience, it is most certainly an organic one, which leaves you naked and raw but feeling so content that you are almost reduced to tears.
Nothing really matters at all. My iodine flavoured water could be the best red wine. My sand coated almost indigestible digestives could be chocolate eclairs. It does not matter that my over priced bananas are soft, bruised and battered … they still provide an energy bounty for the endless wind assisted miles! It is not an issue that my clothes are dirty or that I slept the previous night in the filthy wash bay of a petrol station. Mohammed the pump attendant was incredibly hospitable. When I asked him if I could sleep at the station, he replied, ‘Yes, certainly you can sleep here, where else would you go? … so was Brian, the braying donkey who woke me at three in the morning to let me know that it was his filthy spot!
A wash was just thirty miles away as an oasis appeared from nowhere in the form of an empty building with a single outside tap. Initially, I never even noticed the tap but used the semi shelter to cook some eggs. Lesson learned, as gusts of wind and sand howled between me and my stove, as I tried simultaneously to keep my lunch, crunch free whilst chasing down various airborne pieces of lightweight equipment … I made a mental note to eat dried food in the future. Using my water sparingly, I had already washed all my utensils before my eyes had fixed upon the lone faucet. I had been thinking of a wash for a few days and here it was! My bandana became my face cloth as I soaped myself in segments just as a small bird arrived to drink the drops from the tap. I slipped my solid socks over my hands and lathered them in soap and washed my feet … who said guys can not multitask!
Watered, washed and fed I sat down in the now cooler late afternoon sun to enjoy a coffee and a couple of shortbread biscuits, whilst writing my diary and staring and immersing myself in the Sahara. As another sigh slipped out, I was tempted to stay the night but there was a newly laid, black, smooth and shiny macadam clad course inviting me to ride on … plenty more Sahara to be seduced by yet!
A few miles out of Santander I stopped at a derelict building to bleed my bladder. Leaning my bike against a roadside post I climbed down and hurried into the ruined remains of the restaurant eager to ease my discomfort. With plumbing equipment in hand and facing a wall I suddenly felt a little uncomfortable. I turned around to see Alfred, from Germany sitting amidst a pile of sleeping bags. I zipped up and zipped out whilst spluttering ‘losiento’ … ‘I am sorry!’ in Spanish.
As a form of an apology I returned with a packet of biscuits to share … however he thrust out his hand asking for money! When I refused he settled for a handful of digestives … not that he needed them! As my eyes became accustomed to the cartons of clutter he obviously had everything! Pasta, biscuits, tinned food, toilet roll and gallons of water. He also had a gas cylinder as large as a refuse truck, which would have come in handy too!
I did not ask why he was there but did ask where all his provisions came from. Apparently, people just dropped them off! His fingers were brown with tobacco stains and his face was a little bloated and covered in burst blood vessels … ‘There but for the grace of God go I’ but judging by the size of the cross on the wall … He was there too! I left feeling somewhat sad!
‘El Camino de Santiago’ is the name of any of the pilgrimage routes to the shrine of the apostle St James the Great in Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, northwestern Spain. In my travels I have met many folk who have done this for various religious, spiritual or personal reasons. However, I found myself on the route by default, simply wanting to cycle around the Spanish coast. The blue ocean to the right and mountains to my left and with the energy of thousands of previous pilgrims throughout hundreds of years I soaked up the ‘Buen Comino’ greetings which flowed my way, omitting to let anyone know that I was just on a bike ride! You can walk, ride a bike, horse or donkey for a minimum of 100 km’s to enable you to pick up a certificate at the Cathedral in Compostela … there is no maximum! I met a family who had cycled 820km’s … of course it is not about the certificate but without the paperwork then you cannot gain entry into many of the ‘Albergue’ hostels which are designed solely to service pilgrims. I was more than happy in my ‘bus shelters’ which were paper work free!
After crossing this bridge (the car free snap took forever!) into Portugal I saw a sigh ‘Albergue’ 250 metres! I was in dire need of a wash and shave and after having covered hundreds of miles on the pilgrimage route I decided to throw myself on the mercy of the receptionist at the hostel. Whilst displaying my biggest smile, I told her the truth and said I was on my way to Africa and had cycled the route but had no paper work. Five euros and my passport secured a shower and a soft bed! It also secured a night of laughter with Katya, a Russian/German pilgrim who had a sharp mind and a seriously funny sense of humour. She was off to study ‘Indology’ which I had never heard of! I have a shocking trait that if I have never heard of something then it cannot be true. According to ‘Wikipedia’ it is the study of Indian history, literature, philosophy and culture! My stomach was sore with laughter as we shared our food and frivolity!
‘A bicycle does get you there and more…. And there is always the thin edge of danger to keep you alert and comfortably apprehensive. Dogs become dogs again and snap at your raincoat; potholes become personal. And getting there is all the fun’
Bill Emerson On Bicycling, Saturday Evening Post, 1967
When I said I would try to be as creative and spontaneous as possible with the blog I didn’t quite envisage it would be over a month before my next entry … no matter … ‘Everything has its time!’ Besides, it’s not as if I have been sitting on my arse!
I now find myself at a campsite in Punta de la Pena a stone throw from Tarifa, my departure point from Europe to Northern Africa! It is a haven for wind surfers and kite flyers being the convergence point of the Atlantic Ocean and the Med. Last night a wind storm tried to convert my tent to a magic carpet. I could have reversed the tourist trade and sold it back to the Moroccans and saved on the ferry ride!
As I am waiting for my creative bent to kick in I shall furnish you with a few facts from the last month or so!
29 consecutive cycling days since Kilwinning in Scotland.
61 miles average each day
4 ferry rides … Plymouth to Santander
Lisbon to Almada in Portugal
Setubal to Sol Troia in Portugal
Vila Real de Santo Antonio to Avamonte (Portugal to Spain)
1 change of clothes
140 miles … furthest cycled in one day and night … to catch weekly ferry from Plymouth to Santander in Spain
21 miles … least cycled in one day … spent most of it catching up on sleep under a palm tree.
1964 miles cycled since leaving Aberdeen
13 hours spent on saddle in one day.
1 soft bed, excluding hard floor on ferry as seat too uncomfortable!
3 times I have pitched my tent
1 change of bike computer battery
1 broken chain
0 air required in tyres
20 minutes of daily air for me … pranayama exercises!
1 broken spoke
200 euros spent since Santander
1 pulled groin muscle
1 aching left knee … my good one!
1 burnt set of lips … despite using factor 50!
Numerous number of boils on bum
Innumerable moments of joy!
Breakfast: Porridge with banana and honey washed down with large strong black coffee.
Lunch: Banana sandwiches with honey.
Supper: Boiled pasta or cous cous in veg stock cube with 2 or 3 eggs added at end.
Sporadic local roadside vegetables and fruit. Cheap biscuits from Lidl or Aldi to munch as and when.
Multi vitamin and garlic capsule every second day.
Occasional glass of local wine … cheap carton from supermarket or a better quality grape from a cafe whilst people watching.
This lovely fellow would never hurt a fly. I am a dog lover and will acquire one when I stop travelling. However, as the quote above says, when you are on a bike ‘Dogs become dogs again’. They snap, snarl, salivate, bark and growl. Dogs have raced the length of two fields in an effort to harass and hound me. On one occasion I was saved only by oncoming traffic preventing the howling beasts from bolting across the road. Cycling through industrial estates late at night, there is peace and calm, I have broken the back of the day and nurturing my need for nocturnal cycling. When suddenly, all hell breaks loose as vicious guard dogs go berserk almost gnawing their way through steel bars as their shining eyes roll uncontrollably. A couple times I have almost fallen off my bike as I have been dragged back to my cycling senses! Another time a pooch came pounding towards me … I screamed out loud, ‘Bugger off!’ It was hilarious as its front legs went straight into brake mode and plumes of smoke dust puffed up from its paws as its head dropped and it sloped off!
My love affair with bus stops started in Gretna, the last staging post before leaving Scotland. It was my first day away from my friends in Kilwinning and I was rested and eager to put some miles on the clock. Ninety five miles had me arriving late in the town and I checked out a truck stop but was advised by a security guard that police came and patrolled the area. I didn’t think it was an issue but moved on anyway. I spotted two massive bus shelters opposite each other right in the centre of town. Big brick constructions with long wooden benches … perfect! If you can’t be inconspicuous, then be bold. I blew up the therma rest, climbed fully clothed into my sleeping bag and settled down. After an hour a police van drove up and rolled down its window. I popped up my head and said, ‘Hello’. They were just checking I was okay! Secure in the fact that I was being watched over I let out a contended sigh and fell fast asleep. There have been wooden shelters, cement, steel, glass and even fibreglass. Locations have been inner city, countryside, beachside but obviously always roadside! Some other notable pit stops around Britain, Spain and Portugal!
I eat, sleep and cycle whenever I feel like it. I see my daily cycling as my job but with the added bonus of flexi time. I love arriving late in cities as you generally get them to yourself and see a completely different nature. I have cycled into Jakarta, Indonesia at 1 am, Calcutta, India at 3 am and Istanbul, Turkey at 7am so thought nothing of arriving in Porto, Portugal at 4 am. However, as I approached a city centre park I was greeted my hoards of youngsters dressed in yellow t shirts, cavorting around shouting and screaming directed by ‘bosses’ in black cloaks. It is the ‘Praxe’ an initiation ritual for new students at the university. I watched for an hour as the students fought, danced, recited poetry,raced around and generally made a lot of noise. However, it started to drizzle and my eyelids were informing me it was five so I popped across the road and found a wee alcove at the entrance of an imposing looking structure and fell asleep. I woke up at ten to find I was sleeping outside the Supreme Court and saw people hugging and congratulating each other … they had obviously just won their case. No one seemed all that bothered about the boy sleeping next to the bike! The bike softens people and without it I would probably just be considered a middle aged hobo! At least if I had been apprehended then it would only have been a short walk.
You don’t have to be good to start … you just have to start to be good! Joe Sabah
4/4/14 Day 1
A few shorts notes to let folk know that I did actually cycle off on 4/4/14. After some heartfelt hugs with family members, Adrian, my brother in law, on his lightweight racer which is as heavy as candy floss and me on my touring bike, which is as light as a ‘bus’ pedalled off just after 8am but just before the torrential rain which was to accompany us on a sodden but satisfactory 60 mile saunter south along the coast to Arbroath.
Although the weather was dull and grey our spirits were colourful enough as Ade patiently free wheeled whilst I zig zagged my way along the road slowly getting used to the new bike and bulky load. A strong coffee, frothy waves and salty breeze were welcome respite 20 miles in at Stonehaven. A wee climb out of the town afforded a bonny view of the historical harbour.
Another 20 miles had Ade mentioning the sharpness of his razor seat on his rear, however I was more than comfy on my new Brookes sofa which he had bought me but which probably weighed more than his bike.
Although the 40 miles to Montrose had hardly been lung bursting we stopped at a couthie cafe which served up some steaming homemade soup followed by mouthwatering mint cake washed down with a hand warming sweet hot chocolate. The lovely lassie who served us found great hilarity in our drooket demeanour!
The final 20 miles were covered along the national cycle route which detoured through calm countryside with the sounds of birdsong and farmyard animals replacing the roaring roadside traffic.
I was pampered on my first nights stop in Arbroath as Aberdeen Office Supplies whom I had previously worked for paid for a night in the excellent Inishowen Guesthouse as a thank you for my endeavours. To round off a perfect first day on the road my parents and sister, Aud, drove down to dine out and treat Ade and I to a delicious slap up meal!
A five course breakfast ensured that I trundled over the Tay Bridge in Dundee as the rain continued to test my new waterproofs. However, my mind was already on the massive packed lunch my mum had prepared. My legs had tightened a little from the adrenalin fuelled first day and I knew my bus was too heavy and that eating my food was the quickest way to lighten the load. Alternatively I could have shared it with sheep too shy to fight for a little of their own lunch.
A simple day of 69 miles reflecting on my bike, baggage and the adventure that lay ahead had me arriving late at the spotless Witches Craig Campsite buried behind the Ochil Hills at Blairlogie. A carefully pitched tent on the saturated surface kept it and me dry. I then headed off for my eight minute shower, although I did repress the button, then plunked myself on a plastic moulded chair in the toilet block and wrote my diary whilst waiting for my phone to charge. I retired just in time to hear the tap, tap, tap of rain on the tent top as I slipped into a contended slumber!
Peanut butter and banana sandwiches, three carrots and a couple gulps of water got me ready to wring out the tent, roll up the thermarest and pay the £9 bill but unable to repair my bike computer which after 25,000 faithful miles had drowned during the last couple days deluge. A character building day ensued with headwind, rain and a muddy canal side path resulting in slow progress. Normally this would not have been an issue but I had promised my friends, Neela and Al in Kilwinning that I would be with them at six. Sitting at a roundabout at Kirkintilloch an 80 year old man offered me directions. Despite having had a triple by pass and asbestosis he had just received a spanking new lightweight racing machine for his birthday. With renewed vigour I bolted over the Clyde Bridge in the centre of Glasgow and headed for the Ayrshire coast. I stopped for some carbohydrate in the form of a bag of chips and a bottle of the famous Scottish Barrs Iron Bru … the only local soft drink in the world where coca cola has not been able to oust as the number one best seller!
Fortune favours the brave and I wheeled into Kilwinning only an hour late. Despite my fatigue and slightly aching limbs I was quite content with my first three days back on the road … 200 miles and around 18 hours of cycling has been a nice wee taster of things to come.
I have decided to stay here until next Monday and take the opportunity to get to know the blog, rearrange my bags, tweek a few things on the bike and spend some quality time with my friends, whom it will be unlikely I will see again within the next three years!
Thank you so much for all the emails, texts and comments of support received so far … I very much appreciate them so please keep them coming, although I cannot promise to always reply to each one.
In due course I will be adding a map which will detail my route and shall try to be as creative and spontaneous with the blog as energy and internet access will allow.
Much love Eck x
Watch this section for updates from me as I cycle around Africa.