Mark, Ruth and a pair of Pompinos

This is a record of our 3 month trip cycling across Spain and France on 2x singlespeed Pompinos, with saddle bags and little kit. Ive left it up here as an information source for those interested. If anyone has any questions or wants to know more about elements of the trip that arent here, please feel free to email me, Mark, at pompino-trip @northmalvern I'm afraid I cant publish the posts chronologically, but I have put them all on one page so you can read from the bottom up.

13 July 2006

Hi honey, we're home!

Bit of a shock to some, but we're back in Britain. Sorry for the long gap of info but we really didnt come across any internet cafes at times we could use them.

Anyway, a quick praecis of where we've been.

We had a fantastic week learning about the wines of the Loire and then a couple of days break at a friends near Le Blanc. We had planned on going on to Alsace from there but decided that we'd save that for next years German tour (!) and instead rode the 200km to Sancerre to get a flavour of the wines from the other end of the river's valley.

After Sancerre we realised that we had just about done all we wanted to and didnt have any burning desires for routes so we turned north and headed for the Normandy beaches. Unfortunately northern France in July becomes v touristy and tacky so we rattled along the invasion beaches, just stopping long enough to learn about the Operation before getting a ferry over to Portsmouth. A quick 200 km home staying over in Marlborough last night.

Both happy to be home and to get some of the English summer. We've had a wonderful trip, and I'll try and put a bit more up here when we've had a rest.

Until then, just a quick summary in numbers:

5,000 km
73 kph top speed (45mph)
0 punctures
0 mechanicals
Average speed about 21 kph (will do maths later)
Average distance about 80 km per riding day.
65 days riding out of 75 ish.

21 June 2006

Out of the mountains

Been a while getting to an internet cafe, but we are now in Montmorillon

Latest Route Log

We had a fantastic few days in the Auvergne mountains. From St Flour we climpbed up to Prat du Bouc (1350 m ish) and then walked the remainder up to 1855, the Cantal and second highest point in the range.

The view from Prat de Bouc back the way we climbed up

The view the other way into the heart of the ski resort

Enjoyed it so much we climbed up to another 1350 pass the next day (Puy St Mary)

Afterwards we decided to head for the Dordogne gorge to kill a few days. YOu would have thought we might have learnt from our last gorge visit. V tough day with over 4,000 ft of climbing done up and down the sides of the gorge.

Some more photos up here

We turned northwards and the hot humid whther got thicker. Finally it broke with 3 nights of thunder storms. The tent held up surprisingly well, just the condensation to deal with. The weather has cleared and we are now off the hills riding through our only morning of drizzelly rain for the last 7 weeks !

We are now on our way to explore the wine regions of the Loire (Samur, Anjou, Tourraine) and Haut Poitou taking us upto the end of the month when we are due to meet friends near Le Blanc.

We've had a change of plan with respect to our rough direction over July. Rather than take a train down to Provence and doing Ventoux, the Gore du Verdon etc and Alp dHuez, we have decided to avoid the v v busy south during holiday season and instead head east to the mountains of Vosges; Alsace, Lorraine and a loop through the Black Forest and back down the Mosel valley from the its confluence with the Rhine before heading back west towards a ferry port at the end of July for an early Aug crossing.

14 June 2006

Food glorious food

R and I are now camping about 5 or 6 nights a week. Not only is this cheaper but it is very comfortable usually . We have also decided to do more cooking. This has thrown up a couple of problems. Firstly, as predicted, we have found it near impossible to find replacmenet gas canisters for the MSR ( ther threaded valve ones) since our original cannister is now nearly empty, we have had to buy the smallest CampingGaz system we can since their new cannister systems seems to be the easiest to find all over the place.

We also needed extra space to store food for two meals so we have bought an extra stuff sack which clips to the top of the saddle bag and holds grub for the day. Eating "in" is also saving a fair bit of money. It's not that France is so terribly expensive but compared to Spain it is noticeably moreso.

To let our muscles recover and build after the last 600km of climbing we are treating ourselves to a sports massage today in St Flour. Also eating plenty of protein too.

See that? That's the next hill!

You should just be able to see in the distance the mountains that we are going to climb tomorrow. These are the Volcanos of the Auvergne. If you look on the satellite image (zoomed out) on the log route, just to the west of the last marker is the flower shaped image of the volcanos. They are not very high (1,855m summit) and have gentle slopes due to their being basaltic. We are going to take a steady climb up from current 650m to 1,400m before dropping into Murat. We may even go for a walk to the summit as the road goes close by.

We're getting auite confident with climbing now; although we do avoid steep climbs so am a little nervous of Ventoux & Alpes d'huez.

We are planning on getting to a place near Poitiers at the end of June to meet some friends. This obviously puts us at completely at the wrong end of the country for Provence so aill take a train back round to Carpentras then.

Saw one of those vacuum formed, plastic maps that are profiled to show the topography of France. Frighteningly it looks like we're riding through and over just about every bumpy bit there is in the country!

The trouble with gorges...

..., beautiful though they are, is that once you're in one you know you've got problems getting out. We are now in St Flour having come across the Grande Causses around the gorges of Tarn and de la Jonte, the huge high plateaus of Lozerre; mountains of Aubrac and the gorge of Truyere.

We have had a wonderful week or so of riding through some of the best landscapes and on the best routes for touring in the whole of France. Across an area that neither of us knew existed.

Route Log (PS dont forget to use the satellite/mixed button in the top left of the map for different views)

More photos now up here too.

Starting from near Castelnaudary we rode up through the Cathar region with all its medievel villages etc. Through Saissac and up and over the Montaine Noire. Steadyliy gaining height in the rolling hills until we pop out on the top of the steep escarpement above Mazamet. Long flowing descents though the forests. Just fantastic.

Picnics in the forest. Plenty of climbing but legs getting so strong now.

On our way towards the Tarn Gorge we passed a town delcaring itslef at "the heart of the redlands". couldnt work out what on earth it meant. turned the corner and then saw the landscape.
vivid red/maroon soil for the next 30km. v weird.

Two days ago we did over 1,350 m of climbing to get us out of the Gorges (twice) and up onto the Lozerre plateux at 1,200 m.

One solution to the gorge issue has been supplied by the Millau viaduct. On the website photos it looks huge. In reality it is collossal. Ive never seen any building as big. The central column alone is higher than the Eiffel tower.

06 June 2006

Route log

Hqving q go qt recording our route on the trip logger

Link to route log

It may work. Will see if I can update it as we go. The long straight stretch is the train route between Rivesalte and Limoux

More photos

Not many, but some more photos put up in a new section


The view towards the pyrenees from the french side

Looking back at the Pyrenees from the Spanish/French Border at Col dAres

And at the Col

Kit report

der der de duhduhder KIT REPORT!

Just for Bob (and anyone else interested) a quick updqte on how the kit situation is fairing.

Mostly absolutley brillant!

Bedding: R and I now so comfortable on the thermarests and under the duvet that we almost always prefer to choose to camp over an unknown Pension bed. On colder nights we might wear the merino base layers for extra comfort, and I would design a different system for joining the duvet and sleeping bag liner together than poppers as they come undone and exposed feet get a bit chilly. Also been using the canvas stuff sacks, stuffed with clothes as bolster pillows and finding them very comfortable.

Tent: getting it up and down now in very little time. size is fine, although we usually leave our kit bags outside since the weather has been so good to give us a bit more space. We had a handful of mornings with quite a lot of condensation on the inside of the tent (single skin remember) but a quick toweldown first thing before too much moving around deals with that. Havent had condensation for last 3 weeks. obviously very dependent on the weather.

Clothes: Merino layers are fantastic. If it gets cold, just sling on another one. Also days here are so dry , hot and breezey that they dry very quickly after a wash whihc was the only worry. Down smocks are working well. Great in the evnings although a little worried when eating/cooking in them - dont want to splash fat or grub on them. SPD boots working great, but glad to slip on fluip flops each evening after 120km pounding the tarmac in them. Merino socks are great. any smell disappears when dry (ewwwww!).

Bikes and bike kit. Again all has been faultless. Despite buying some spare blocks stil on the oriignal set of brake blocks. I fitted two new chains whilst at Nebias as a precaution. Got 2x SRAM PC1s for €18 so not expensive, but the old chains had nearly stretched by 1/8 " and its the one bit of kit I dont want failing mid climb.

Only two let downs really. One, the 9v PP3 phone battery charger thing doesnt work very well at all. Have got a full charge from Martins charger in Nebias, but will now go and buy a continental charger (which will work in Germany too). Also the Oregan Camera eats batteries and there is no way of setting the default funtion to have the screen off when taking photos to save juice.

All in all very impressed. R and I were saying the other night that there is nothing we have bought that we havent used (except medipak, touch wood), of the stuff we have, we use 75% of it everyday, and theres just about nothing we are missing.....except some more parlour card games. if anyone can recommend some and set them out in text without too much difficulty that woul dbe great! Getting bored of Rummy and Wist!

Vive La France!

except the keyboards which are a right pain in the qrse! (q is where a should be by the way!)

Please excuse any rubbish typing or lqck of puntuqtion, since if I keep looking for the right key qll the time this is going to take forever. (shift for a full stop? how daft is that!)

Our leaving Spain turned out to be a lovely days cycling; we rode up to the col dAres at 1600m from ripol, a very rideable climb. the drop into france was a lot of fun but a lot steeper and there were q loqd of roadies out to do the climb. ended up with a doznhill run nearley all the way to Collioure. This was a tip off of a place to visit; unforunatelyt I dont think Julian has been here for a while. rqther thqn being q lovely french fishing villqge it is now more like Padstow.

We cqmped neqr the beqch and the following dqy were to ai, to get to Nebias in one go, on the way out of cqmpsite qnd zith out fqce into q mighty heqdwind the 130km looked a bit unlikely. We had found ourselves looking down the barrel of the "tramontagne" wind which very occasionally gusts down from NW to SE between the Pyrenees and the massif centrale. a constant 50-60 mph with stronger gusts just wasnt safe with trucks about so we decided to take a train after 30km of miserable riding. The train from Rivesalte to Limoux takes a dog leg route, but dropped us within striking distance of Nebias after a night camping.

Nebias is the village where our very lovely friends? Roger & Amanda have an intirguing house. We very much enjoyed the chance to wash all the kit, drink a load of wine and put our feet up and read solidly for nearly a wek while we waited for the wind to blow itself out. We left this morning and have just done the 70km to Castalnaudary.

Since we have nearly 6 weeks to cover only 500-600km as the crow flies to be at Alpe dHuez in mid july we are only riding for 50-75 km per day now and spending more time sightseeing - and round here (cathare area) there are more castles, monasteries, forts and abbies than you can shake a stick at.

Quick thanks to Roger & Amanda for their v kind long distance hospitality, one day we will be in Nebias at the same time, and also to Bev & Martin for the pleasant banter.

28 May 2006

Up in the hills

We decided to cop out of doing any of the big passes and also have tried to avoid the big roads (Andorra) and any routes with Tunnels. SO we have ridden East along the southern side of the Pyrenees to a much lower pass (1535m) with a long name that I cant remember.

After a couple of days break in Haro we then made a push for the Pyreneean foothills, and having covered 500km in 4 days, decided to take a short break in Solsona. We've cut our mileage down now we have headed up in to the hills, aiming to do on 65km a day. From Solsona to Berga and now we are just 30km short of the french border.

Campsites have been pretty dire. The Spanish version of a campsite in these parts is basically a parking lot for caravans. Permanent pitched caravans with big awnings welded on the side are rammed in cheek-by-jowel. If you turn up looking to pitch a tent there's hardly anywhere to put it. One place tried to get us to pitch on a car park of gravel without any tree shade (Berga. Nice town, rubbish campsite).

Both now a little tired of Spain. The hours are just too awkward to start with. Nothing starts until 10am hours after the sun is up and the coolest part of the day lost. If you eat a full lunch then you acnt move for hours. And you cant sit down to eat until after 9pm making an early night impossible.

Looking forward to France now.

21 May 2006

More photos published

There's a load more photos now put up here

I'm afraid they are still a little unedited, some rubbish ones, some at 90 degrees, and no captions yet. I will see if I can soemthing about that soon.

At the end of the Earth, Finisterre. Next stop, yanksville.


This afternoon we are here:

We bought a bottle of the Mirto which it says is:

100% Tempranillo.
Thorough selection of old vineyards of more than 70 years, in limit of cultivation areas, that were hand picked from the second week in October.
After a temperature controlled alcoholic fermentation, focusing on extracting the best components of the grape, this wine is carried to the barrel where the malolactic processed is developed with no rackings, just stirring of the lees with the bâtonage method. The ageing in new Allier French oak casks lasts for 24 months. A total of 598 oak casks, 102 American oak (Virginia) and 496 French oak (Allier) Later it completed the bottle ageing in our underground cellar for another 10 months.This wine was bottled with no clarification or filtration, thus some sediments may appear along time.135 barrels made up this selection, of which 39.577 bot 75 cl and 620 bot 150 cl magnum bottles were produced.*
*Number of barrels for 2001
Bright cherry red . Very lively. To the nose the aromas are highly fruity, concentrated and inviting. The tempranillo variety at an excellent point of ripeness is clearly detected; its elegant and intense aroma predominates over those of the French oak. Good weight with an excellent build up of fruit. Fleshy, ripe with great depth. Fine tannin structure and texture that gives the wine a long and promising future. Elegant and subtle, will gain complexity and evolve beautifully over the coming years.
Ideal Temperature 18-19ºC.Its fruity touch goes fabulously with vegetable and smoky tastes such as mushrooms, truffles. Matches well with light spicy food, or stews and with tender non-smoked cheeses.
The expression of Tempranillo grapes in its pure state. Fruit and wood on a solid structure that ensures a long life. Our secret: we put our heart in making it .

We'll let you know how it tastes later

We've run out of map

Finally reached the edge of our map at Haro. We have stopped here fore a few days at a simple campsite to rest and recuperate after our first 1,500 km. Everything is working very well and we are both very comfortable both riding and camping. We are managing just about stick to our budget, mainly by saving money when camping. Two of us and a tent for the night is coming out at about €10-12, a bunk house or hostel is between €12 and €20 and pensions/hotels anywhere from €25-35 depending on how far we have cycled, how much Mark smells and how desperate we are for a proper bed!

We´ve been to two Bodegas so far and found the differences in their methods surprising - especially in terms of times to ferment, oak and bottle condition. We decided to treat ourselves to a very special bottle of wine for €31 from the last bodega since we wont be able to get anything of the same quality for anything less than GBP75 back home. That shall be savoured over some cheese tonight sat outside the tent!

Then it`s off to buy a map tomorrow.

Looking like we are going to continue down the spanish side of the Pyrenees for some time yet to learn a bit more about the differences in the wines. The Alto Riojas seem quite sharp, even the oaked Reservas and Crianzas and we want to know how this changes the lower we go.

In....*hic*....riooojja [how dy'a pronounce ít?] now

From Finisterre to Rioja.

in 7 days

Averaging 102km a day at 20kmh. Doing very well.

Not bad going considering we´ve also taken in the two main passes on the camino de Frances - Alto do Poio at 1,337 m and Foncebadon at 1,550 m. Not quite alpine but high enough and due to some bad timing on our part fairly beat us because we we're trying to do them at 2:30 on very hot afternoons. You cant cycle when you are melting.

Santiago de Compostela
A bit of a tourist trap unfortunately. Unlike on the route along the north coast, the Camino de Frances is heaving with people. The route we are following is a road "interpretation" of the Pilgrim's route. This means we're not actually cyclingon the gravel tracks, but a good deal of the time the Pilgrims are walking on or near the road. Everyone seems a bit confused when they see us, firstly because we are going the wrong way and secondly becuase with so little kit some dont realise we are on a trip longer than a day or two.

We managed an early start from a nice little Pension in the town on the Sunday morning so that we could ride around town while it was deserted. Very much worth it as it is a beautiful town and without the hoards of Pilgrims (some authentic, some earnest and a lot of them overweight Americans by the coach-load).

The 200km from Finisterrre to Portomarin is pretty unremarkable except for the slog up the hill before the drop into Portomarin itself (hit a record 71.7 kmh on the descent, only recently gone faster)

Great campsite here on the reservoir. Run by a very friendly chap. Ordered some "tinto", preferably Galician, was told the only had local tinto de Casa. How local? The bar maid points out the window the vines in the garden. Tasted all the better for it.

To Alto do Poio
We needed the fortification of a good feed. First big climb started mid afternoon on the way out of Samos, near Sarria. Samos was a v pretty Monastery town on the river, unfortunatley from here starts over 36km of almost unbroken climbing of a total of around 1,500m including a few short descents. Like just about everywhere else in Spain, there was fortunately a bar at the top. The descent follows an equally twsity road down a steep sided valley that also contains the Autovia A6. The juxtaposition of the massive piece of civil engineering and the dainty little old road was quite striking. About 3/4 the way down the hill we stopped at our first Pilgrims Refuge. In post of these you are supposed to have to present a "Credencia" (small passport type document) in order to gain a bunk for the night, but we were let of in this case. A pleasnt, pokey little bunkhouse with a lively chef and for the first time some English speakers (Irish & Australian, natch)

The Top of The Camino
The next climb was also twisty and non stop for 10km up to 1,550 m. At which point there is a n Iron cross on top of a 5m pole. Although only half the pole is exposed as a round the base is a massive pile of stones. Apparently Pilgrims should bring a heavy stone from their home to the highest point and deposit it under the cross to represent absolution of their sins. If their sins are too great then the stone will weigh too heavy for them and they will not make it this far. I have found atheism gets around this problem.

All the way up the climb we kept looking out across to lower passes and wondering why on earth the original pilgrims had chosen this higher, and harder route. It wasnt untill the languid, long descent did we realise that when approaching the pass from the right side (the East) it was a very easy gentle way up into the Sierra.

We stayed in another very simple bunkhouse at Rabanal del Camino for €3.50 each for the night, but M was kept awake a lot by some chap snoring like a chain being dragged over a cattlegrid. From up here, looking east, it is very flat indeed.

The really grim bit.
Once we had rolled down into Astorga, we grabbed some breakfast and set off across the plain for Leon, the joint regional capital of Castilla y Leon, although there's clearly a vocal minority who want some sort of independence for the Leon part of the region as nearly every street sign is defaced. Bit sad really.

The Camino route from Astorga to Leon is prety much dead straight with a fraction of a gradient down from west to east right next to a main road. There is an alternative motorway next to this but beacause it is a toll road post of the traffic stay on the main road making this the worst stretch of teh route. It runs for over 50km which is ok on the bike, a couple of hours, but for walkers ehading west, it would mean something like 2 days of trudge into a prevailing wind. Nasty.

Foiled by out of date camp site direction signs we had a long day of it (116km) getting to the next night stop in El Burgo Ranero. The road turning into more interesting tree lined quite routes throgh corn fields. From here to Burgos is more of the same although the terrain gets gradually more hilly and remarkable like the Chalk Downs of England.

We climbed the last major pass before the Pyrenees at Puerto de Pedraja near San Juan de Ortega, but this wasnt much of a hill as it is actually the edge of the sierra before you drop down in to the lower areas of Rioja. We finally left the camino at Beldorado to take us to Haro, the capital of wine making in Rioja. The road is down hill for nearly 50km with barely a crank turn for the last half of the afternoon. My kind of riding!

12 May 2006

Technlogy! Rubbish or what?!

Fund a contraption with a dodgy keyboard but a sort of working card reader.

a few photos (nly as far as santander relly) aree here the rest will make it when i havekicked this machiinne hard enough.

We´ve got as far as Fisterra!

The Asturias region

From Llanes to Ribadisella is coastline is the edge of the Asturian region of norther Spain. The Asturians are fiercely proud o ftheir identity and have a few obvious badges to show for it - it´s in their food and drink (v Spanish).

The "Menu del dia" is a great way of filling up at lunchtime for about €10 a head. In fact some of the cafe/restaurants serve far too much. The local speciality is "Fabada Asturias". A brilliant rocket fuel dish of butter beans, a hunk of fatty bacon, some chorizo and some blood sausage served as a stew. A great dish and one I´m going to cook when we get back. The regional drink is a kind of cider (sidre) that is flat, cloudy and sour. In the UK you´d hand it back if you were served it, but here it is made that way on purpose. If you just pur it into the glass as snormal, it tastes pretty much as you´d expect, but let the barman do his thing and it comes alive. The cider is served in 2 pint corked glass bottles for about €3. The barman serves you either outside or near a spilling station - whatever you do dont serve yourself unless you know how do do it properly as the barman will come over and tell you off with a sort of "this isn´t wine you know, Inglesi stupido!" look. The cider has to be pured from a great height into a pint glass only a gulpful at a time. The style is to do it over your should into the glass whilst looking dead ahead and not at the glass. Obviously a rank amateur just ends up looking like he´s pissed on his shoes, but the pro barman does it with aplomb - think Tom Cruise, in "Cocktail" with a pint of you´re getting there.

All this mucking about means you end up with a light sparkling tangy cider which is very nice indeed. So when we get back, I am buying up all of Bulmers´ cast offs and teaching people to thow cider around with their eyes closed.

Apart from the food, there are some wonderful places on this coast (just try and avoid Aviles, really try). Check out Santillana (out of season!), San Vicente, Llanes, Cudillero (steep in and out beware) and Luarca.

Random "we´re nearly famous moment" - some chap came up to us as we we´re walking around Luarca tapped me on the shoulder and whil pointing at my "on-one" socks, showed me a printout of our link page on Brant´s on-one site! The guy had seen us the previous day in Cudillero and gone to check up on the webpage written on the bike frames! Had a chat, shoed hime the bikes etc - so, Brant, if you get an order from Luarca, Spain, you can sort out some commission when we get home!

Touring tip: If you stand at the church at the top of the hill before dropping down into Luarca, look east along the coastline and you will see the campsite Los Cantiles. Run by a Dutch family, it´s a very well serviced campsite and an easy ride into town and out for the evening.

Finally, Luarca is another great town and sea port. It also has a a train station. So we took the coastal train around to Ferrol to cut out a length of the route that doesnt have an alterantive road for heavy traffic and also to dodge a bit of headwind that was getting tiring.

Cycle tip: The route west along the northern coast of spain is 80% good cycling. There are either good alternative routes, or the main road has been superceded by the new Autovia so you get a fast wide main road with hardly any traffic and certainly very few lorries. The main roads have a refuge lane down the sid ethat is usually over 1m wide so plenty of room to ride in, and the Spanish drivers are far more accommodating to cyclists than British drivers. They will wait behind you until it is safe to pass and then give you the whole lane when they do. from Santander to Muros the main road is almost all to yourself as the new Autovia takes most o fthe traffic. From Muros to Soto de Luina though you have to play with the traffic before you can get off on to the northern, twisty road that follows the coast. Well worth it if a littel hilly.

Map tip: If you are planning on exploring the roads of Galicia (highly recommended), they are quiet and hilly but wooded and fun. However, we would suggest you get a map of at least a 1:100,000 scale and a compass. You cannot the side roads using a 1:250,000 or 1:300,000 map very easily as most of the interesting link roads aren´t shown on any of them.

La Costa De Morte

Pretty ominous sounding coastline, and a very different riding. Having arrived in Ferrol we made the quick hop around to the International Youth Hostel at Bergondo - it´s actually very near Sada. A strange institutional looking place but right down on the coast. From here around past A Coruna to the west is a grim ride. A Coruna is not a bike friendly place and it´s near on impossible to get in, around or out of the city without ending up on a motorway by accident. Once away from the urban areas though, this part of the country is an incredible surprise. Each cove holds a small fishing port. Dish of the day is "pulpo", octopus, which while tasty is actually chopped large octopus legs rather than the nicer baby octopus dish. When we get to put the photos up, you can see how the landscape is all beaches and wooded hills. Loads of remote beaches for lunch with white sands and nobody else on them - try Caion, Camarinas (cabo Vilan) and Leis.

Corcubion is a good stopping off point before Fisterra, dont be put off by the very close regional town of Cee. Cyclist tip: 7km before fisterra in a small village is a "Supermercado" with a long red bench outside. Turn right here and there is a small lane behind it called Ruta de Fisterra. This will trun into an "offroad" trail for a few km which is a nice change from the blacktop if you and your bikes can take it (not a tricky path by any means).

This whole North Western tip of Spain has been surprising. Beuatiful beaches - absolutley deserted at this time of year (mid may) despite the weather being brilliant. It seems though that the rest of the world are on their way. Every village and town is having massive building works. The penultimate village before Fisterra has at least 500 new apartments going up to be completed this summer. Everywhere is building. If you get a chance to see it first, go soon.

Met a couple of Swiss guys on bikes at the top of a long slog out of Malpica (steep in and out, great room with a view over the beach though). They were riding from Porto to Bordeaux - half of our route backwards. They each had full sets of bags and the front and the back and were carrying over 40kg each on top of their bikes. Madness. But as we left, R overheard their german saying "4 months, so little stuff. And only 1 gear!". Think that sums it up perfectly.

The End of the World is Nigh!

Well, not so "nigh" as you may think. It´s just over there actually...

Greetings from Fisterra (the Spanish equivalent of Finisterre - "the end o fthe earth") on the westernmost tip of the country, and pretty much as far left as you can go on the continent apart from around Lisbon.

You can just imagine the King of Spain with his arm round Columbus´shoulders, pointing to sea and saying "go that way and don´t come back until you´ve got a Big Mac and a questionable foreign policy".

750km under the belt and both feeling fine. Caught a bit of sun, which has been a shock to my blue skin, but the temperature is politley keeping below 25 degC so not too hot yet. Good to aclimatise before some harsh continental summer temperatures.

Tomorrow we turn back to the East and head off for Santiago de Compostela. Having spent the last 11 days near or on the coast we wont see the sea again until probably some place in Provence unless we drop down to the bottom of the pyrenees. This post will come up at the bottom of the list so I shall link to it from the first then read through the rest of the posts and they should work chronologically.

As for pix, the machine Im sitting at has a card reader....that doesnt work so you´ll just have to wait a little longer!

Now go back to the top

05 May 2006

May 5: Llanes

Finally tracked down an internet cafe so have a chance to put up a quick note to say how things have gone so far. I´m afraid we only stumbled upon this bar whilst out for the evening so I dont have the camera with me to put up any pix yet, Next time...

Easy first day, tough second day across Devon. Rubbish weather on th eway out of Tiverton so we decided to take a southerly route around Dartmoor to the Totnes Youth Hostel. Unfortunately that route took us straight into the teeth of a south westerly. Got in wet and tired. But everything performed well, except legs.

If the "Taunton two" who we met whilst getting lost on one of Sherrington´s earlier attempts at a Sustrans route turn up on here it was nice to meet you and I hope you find some useful info around and about on here. And good luck for your trip.

Simple enough roll into Plymouth and a big "well done" to Plmouth City Council for making a good go of creating cycle lanes to get you in to town despite all the cars and lorries charging about - all except that is for the silly junction where they try to kill you as the motorway traffic merges across your right of way from the left!

Ferry was great. French one so nice grub, pleasant bars and bags of space. Nice decor too. Didnt bother sleeping in the reclingin seats that our ticket gave us (we´re too tight to buy a cabin) so we pitched our bedding behinf a display console for Lansom Champagne and hunkered down on the floor of the 7th deck for the night. Worked a treat expcept for the nosey biddies who kept putting their heads round the back to comment "oooh, look Marjorie, there´s a couple trying to get to sleep behind here!". Yes love. Trying being the word.

On the ferry over we met anothe rcouple doing a 2 weeker with quite abit of kit - hope you guys make it back OK! And another lightweight traveller, Chris, cycling up to Mid france. Trust you got back OK, thanks for the loan of the book, v useful info.

Santander is a good spot to start from and apart from the circuitous route we took to get out of town, soon enough you are in rural northern spain.

Mark´s Spanish is diabolical (or is that Diablo-ical?) and R´s is not much better. Getting used to the 2:30 long lunch thing, and nothing happening till 6 again. Then late night before bed. Not good for early starts.

Stayed in Santillana for a night. Very old, very pretty and probably hell in SUmmer.

Having trouble with the weather, been raining a bit more than expected, but kit is holding up. currently got wet undies hund up to dry across hostel dorm - neighbours love us.

found a fantastic road today - best of the trip so far, goes S/SW from Unquera upto Villanueva across to Boquerizo and then back to the main road (N-634) at Puertes. Bit of slug up, but only 200m (felt a lot worse! :o( but then took its time dropping down a deserted windy road. Brilliant riding.

All the kit is doing very well. Bikes are fantastic to ride. Averaging regularly 18-20 kmh which isnt too bad given the hills. Not had to push since weve been in Spain and only had to do so on a couple of nasty little 1:7 hills in Devon. JKit bags are holding up well, but decided not to bother camping until the weather improves a bit - slackers or what?!

Anyway, that´s enough mundane stuff until we find somewhere with a abit more time to write something a little more structured. Quick "hi" to everyone and a "we´re having a great time". Oh, and the wine only costs 1GBP per glass. And not for any of that bulgarian battery acid either, this is posh stuff!

30 April 2006

And they're off!

House has been sanitised from top to bottom. Anything perishable is out, 4 months worth of cat litter and Whiskers are piled up on the kitchen floor for Tiger (only joking, would never treat a cat like that. Would let it starve instead ;o)

Final pack and kit check and then off to the Parent's for a last feed and to drop off the car. Then We'll be on the train on Monday morning down to Devon for a gentle first couple of days cycling down to Plymouth in time for the Wednesday lunchtime ferry.

Have remembered to add the following to the kit:
spare links,
spare inner tube
razor (Im definately NOT allowed to grow a beard. Neither is Mark though :o)
Bog roll (with the cardboard removed and stored in a waterproof bag, natch)

Have managed to find space to take a learn Spanish quick book and Cold Comfort Farm in Penguin to keep us going on the ferry.

Both strangely relaxed about the off. No trepidation, just a lot of looking forward to the sun, the food, and the cycling.

Don't forget all, that now Mark's mobile phone is off the air 'till we're back but you can leave texts at R's normal mobile number which we will be checking once a week. (PS bit of kit I forgot to mention - instead of taking a phone charger and plug adaptor - mucho bulko - gone for the little 9v battery adaptor. Since we wont be using a much talktime at all, I would be surprised if need much more than a full battery and maybe 2x 9v batteries.)

You can also email us at usual addresses mark(or ruth)

Keep in touch! M&R

29 April 2006

I'm a weak man

I succumbed to the titanium sporks.

Bob & Rose came round last night to record a podcast for their site: keep an ear out for Ruth and I talking gibberish on Backpackinglight's Podcast page and they brought two sporks with them.

They do make so much sense. We're already taking a couple of large pen knives, all we really need is something for shovelling grub from pan to plate to mouth - not the complete cutlery sets we were going to take. And they're such special colours! :O)

Anyway, podcast done. And a full test pack completed.

Here we are. kit for four months. Not including first day's clothes (socks, riding pants, shorts, top).

For those who care, and if I can remember it all, here's a pretty full kit list.


2 man Go Lite Den 2 Tent
2x Thermarest 3/4 sleeping matts
Custom double duvet
JagBag double silk sleeping bag liner

Cooking & Food

Titan titanium pas (1.2l, 0.9l, lid)
2x titanium sporks
MSR pocket Rocket stove
200g gas canister
Full set of folding plates/bowls/mugs
4x 750ml water bottles on bike
lighter & matches

Bike gear & tools

2x On-One Pompinos
Topeak mountain morph pump
Kryptonite cable lock (10mm x 6')
Cateye 7 computer
2x Carradice Super C saddlebags
1x Altura Bar bag, 1x Karrimor Bar bag
2x rear LED lights
Spanner, bike tool, tyre levers, repair kit, spare cleats & bolts, Chain tool, spare links
Spare brake cables, spare spokes, zip ties, pva tape, rag, silicon lube

Clothes (each)

Riding shoes, convertible for walking and bar flying
Flip flops
2x pairs socks
2x pairs riding underwear
Underwear for off bike
2 ride tops
1 off bike top
1 pair convertible trousers
1 pair of overshorts
Montane Litespeed splashtop
Swedish Down Smock
Bike gloves


Bio soap
Bar of soap


2x Penknives
Sony SW radio
Digital Camera
Phone 9v power converter
note pad
Silva 7 Compass
Travel towels
Spanish phrase book
Bag straps
Needle & thread
2x LED Headtorch

27 April 2006

I'm the Professor of Cunning

I am only planning on taking a very minimalist tool kit comprising:

6" adjustable spanner
2x tyre levers
puncture repair kit
spare brake cables
handful of zipties and pva tape
spoke key
Topeak bike tool incorporating screwdrivers and allen keys
some spare M4 bolts, spare SPD cleats and screws, all wrapped up in a rag.

I also want to take a few spare spokes with me, but the question is where to put them - they are long, thin and fragile. Then from the depths of my memory (maybe even from Sheldon Brown, the god of bikes.) I remembered something about keeping them in the seatpin.

An old sponge to hold them and here we go:

Why saddlebags and Pompinos?

Good question and I'm glad you asked me that.

It's all because of a Danish chap I have never met who goes by the login "Boesgaard". Simply by virtue of timing really, Boesgaard posted about his trip to Provence with his girlfriend on the On-One forum back in August last year just at the time when I was starting to formulate The Escape Plan. His photo album of the trip is here and his original post here

It all looked such a lovely simple way of touring.

This is his and his girlfriends Pompinos fitted with the Carradice Barley saddlebags. The Barley is a lovely saddlebag but only with 7 litres capacity - although it does look a lot bigger here. Their trip lasted for a fortnight and they stayed in hotels all the time. So although I liked the idea of the saddlebags we were going to need something a bit bigger. The biggest bag that Carradice make is the Super C. At 23 litres capacity it is a good deal bigger but still not massive. The bar bags add another 8l of space. So a total of just over 30l of packed space each plus tent and roll mats. Limiting ourselves like this sounds a bit silly but I hope will mean that we keep a close eye on what we take and at no point are we able to overload ourselves or the bikes.

Carradice have been making these duck cotton bags for years and 40, 50 and even 70 year old versions in great condition keep popping up on eBay. The duck cotton is waterproof because as it gets wet the fibres expand locking the water on the outer surface. It's also incredibly tough.

The choice of bike is a little odd too. Most people think singlespeeding is a bit daft (I'm not going to defend it in too great detail here, keep an eye on STW for regular slanging matches about the benefits/idiocy of SSing) but for us the main issue is simplicity undeniably singlespeeding has very little to go wrong. I bought a pair of freewheels from a White Industries in the US to make sure though. These are widely recognised as the most reliable in the world.

I also treated myself some time ago to a White Industries front hub going for a song on eBay and have had it laced into an Alex rim for the front of my bike.

The rest of the bikes is pretty much as stock from Brant. Fitted with his Midge bars which are nice and wide giving plenty of space for the bar bags between the drops. With splayed drops for a good lung-widening posture when honking it all up hill. The brakes are Cantilevers which arent the most powerful in the world but a lot is dependant on the set up which I think Ive got right now.

I have replaced the stock tyres that came with the bikes as the Kenda 26cs were virtually slick and meant a pretty harsh ride over the miles. Ive gone for a heavy duty touring tyre - Conti Top Touring 2000 going cheaply at Wiggle . They are 32c wide so a lot more air in them to smooth out the ride and have a fair bit of tread which I expect to come in handy if we manage to get on some of the off road/track touring routes on the continent.

Test pack

Here's some pix of my bike loaded with the bags. In the barbag are day to day items and valuables as well as a travel towel, splash top and the map. In my saddlebag is the cooking gear, my clothes, a pair of flip flops, the down smock and the toolkit.

Ruth's saddlebag has the bedding in.

On top is the tent roll and R will be taking the Thermarests.

Ive fitted a cable lock to the frame, it's smaller and lighter than our D-Locks but should be sufficiently strong to deter opportunists.

This arrangement does of course make the bikes top heavy, but with a few miles of practice I reckon we'll get used to it. When opening the saddlebag, the weight of the tent rolls onto the saddle making it easy to dive around in the bag. There is a rubberised section along the bottom of the bag that acts like a mudguard - although I'm really not expecting any rain!

I'm undecided yet as to whether I will bodge some way of strapping the tent poles to the top tube as they do add to the width at the back and they arent very bulky.

Struck down in my prime

by man flu.

Been feeling rubbish all week so preparations are running a little behind schedule.
Finally did a first test pack yesterday afternoon though so a little more comfortable that things fit. Found space for over 80% of known kit and had plenty of space for remaining 20% and food/reading material etc.

Installed poppers on the duvet/sleeping bag liner to keep the duvet from drifting around. I only put ones in each corner and I dont think it's enough as the duvet rides up in the middle at my feet so I'm just about to go and install a few more poppers (nasty bits of kit that they are, rubbish things to fit with the crappy kits you get in sewing shops - probably much easier with a professional set).

The Malvern Joggers that R runs with had a social curry last night and Bob turned up. We agreed to record a Podcast for his site before we leave about all the gear and the trip this friday before a farewell pint in The Nags so keep an eye on his site for our broadcast debut!

Not sure if we'll get everything done by Monday morning to allow us to head off to Plymouth taking a few days to cycle down there in time for the ferry on Wednesday 12:00, so we may end up taking the train to Devon on Tuesday to shortern the trip.

20 April 2006

Kit 3: Toys

R says I'm allowed to take a toy with me. Given the limited space, it was agreed that the toy couldnt be Danni Minogue, or indeed her pocket sized sibling Kylie, so a radio it was.

But not just any radio! (you're getting the hang of this aren't you?).

R and I dont have a TV. We listen to the radio a lot, and the World Service is one of those Great British institutions that keeps one company when in foreign climes. So a short wave radio it is. A trawl of eBay will turn up plenty of Chinese digital SW radio knock offs, but even a quick run through a SW buff's website and it's clear that if you expect to hear anything more than the sound of a mosquito stuck in a jam jar coming out of the speakers you need to invest a bit of money in something of quality.
The Sony ICF SW100 fits the bill nicely. Apparently the head of Sony in the mid-late 80s was a SW nut. So the amount of development and R&D that got packed into this little miracle box has barely been matched since. The radio itself has remained vitually unchanged since then. About the size of a fag packet it runs off AAs and has a full compliment of SW, LW/MW and FM channels. A great little speaker and even an alarm. Should be spot on.

I managed to pick up this Sony factory refurbished and guranteed one off eBay for £100 as opposed to the £160-200 RRP.

The other toy is a little Oregon Scenitific digital camera. It's a pretty rubbish digital camera with only 2MP, a tortuously slow firing spead and start up delay, but it's tiny, is loaded with a 512MB card that can be read in just about any Internet cafe (not taking a USB cable) and runs on AAAs. We have a better camera but it uses a rechargeable battery which would entail taking a charger with a plug and adaptor with us which we just dont have the space for. As for the pic quality, they will be sufficient for putting pix up here on the blog.

Kit 2: Sleeping and staying dry

In a bed preferably. Maybe in a hostel, gite, pension or even a hotel (better check the budget with R). Sometimes though, it will be a beautiful mediterranean evening half way up a col, with fantastic views, a picnic strapped onto the saddle bags and a great opportunity to wild camp away from it all.

We need a tent. We also need something to sleep in, at least for the first month or so, as even Spain and Southern France aren't always piping hot in May.

The Tent turned out to be a fairly easy choice. Sold by Bob for £160, the Den 2 by Go Lite was a no-brainer.

It's big enough for both of us (especially me at 6'4") and kit bags. A single skin, it goes up quickly enough with plenty of venting with the option of a bug screen at each end. (not me in the pic BTW!)

Best of all it weighs less than 2.75 lbs (1.1 Kg) and packs down to the roll you can see here below - the right of the two rolls.

The black canvas rolls are on loan from Bob - previously home made by him to add external pocket capabilities to a very basic MacPac alpine rucksack he has. They are the perfect size for the tent in one (with the poles strapped to the outside as they are a little long) and 2x 3/4 Thermarests in the other.

You can also see in this picture a waterproof stuff sack that contains our bedding...

Starting with the Thermarests, these are held together by two lengths of shock cord with a twist in and a spring lock at one end. This is to stop the two pads drifting apart in the night....

The bedding is made of two parts. The first is a silk double sleeping bag liner made by JagBag of New Zealand. At $70 US, or just £40 it's great value compared to what you can get hold of in UK outdoors shops. Made of Endura silk it packs down well but is supposed to have a long life. We'll see. The sleeping bag liner then poppers into a double duvet to complete the bedding.

The Duvet

I'm quite proud of the duvet thing. Again initially a seed of an idea planted by Bob. I had been having little success looking for lightweight, low packed volume single season sleeping bags for Ruth and I. The best I had found was the Rab Quantum Top Bag - at £120, packed to 3l and weighing about 450g. It was light because it had no zips and so it would not have been possible to zip together two of them - preserving body heat you understand :O)

In the end I managed to trackdown a supplier of Pertex off the roll and Polish Goose down at . I bought 500g of down (the top bag has 200g) and 2.0m of 1.65m wide pertex for £170. With the help of super-seamstress, mum, we knocked out a good bit of kit. Fluffs up well and packs down so small. very proud of it, and hopefully it will prove itself over the summer. The idea being that depending on the evening temperature we can bivvy down with anything from under the stars on the mats to tented, silked, duveted and even if neccesary with our down smocks on too. Giving us a comfort temperature range down to about 3 degrees C by my reckoning.

So for £170 + 40, we get bedding for 4l and around 800g - smaller (5l), lighter (900g), cheaper (£240) than the Topbag. Result.

PWDAN2: Brant

Brant Richards and I have never met. Neither does he have naked pictures of me wielding a Twelfty seatpost inappropriately, nor is he holding my dog hostage to make me say the things I say about On-One.

Brant has developed a fair following for his "bikes what can be ridden". He also has his detractors, but we'll focus on the positive points at the moment and not the impending court cases or the restraining orders from York Zoo.

I bought my first Inbred, not from Brant, but as a secondhand frame from some Hippy on STW classifieds. It was a revelation just how comfortable a difference a few well assembled steel pipes made compared to my previous entry level Trek aluminum frame my early days of MTB'ing had been spent on.

Since then the fleet has increased by a further three On-One bikes: A 456 for R and a pair of Pompinos for both our amusment initially and then ultimatley for spending intimate time with for the next 4 months.

On-One's ethos has been to flog quality stuff at an outstanding price by doing it from a shed somewhere up north and over the internet. And given the size of operations is still small enough that you can speak/forum post/email the top honcho directly, customer services are as they should be. So if you want to buy a good bike, or anything else that Brant's has dug up for a bargain price from the world of cycling paraphernalia, then you now know where to go.

People who deserve a name check - Bob

Having mentioned Bob's name in the previous entry and Brant's before that, I realised you probably don't know anything about them. So...

Bob and his wife Rose run Ruth and I met them when R entered a XXX race in February this year. Bob was kind enough to sponsor R and the team of 4 supplying some very smart rainwear which I'll show you later, while I was told I was going to be crewing the team - feeding them, kit checks and general bike mechanic duties along with Bob. No problem I thought, nice day out. R then told me XXX stood for "F****** stupid" race and meant they were going to be yomping halfway around Shropshire for 30+ hours one weekend, and sleeping wasn't expected. Oh great.

Anyway, Bob truned out to be a bit of a hero at all this outdoors stuff and had all the gear for keeping the team well looked after at each transition zone. I just repeatedly fettled the bikes and kept out of the way. Bob also introduced me to things made of titanium that were not bikes. My initial reaction was "what a waste of titanium, that could have been caressed by Mr J Jones into something like this":

Sorry. Little bit of dribble on my chin there.

Conveniently, Bob also lives at the bottom of the Malvern Hills and his kit store is within fondling distance. So, if you're after some lightweight gear, Bob's your man.

Kit 1: Eating stuff

Start with the important stuff first. Eating things. While we are going to be savouring the local food as we go - I gather the Spanish for example have nearly as many words for a restaurant as Eskimos do for snow*. I have also heard that in northern Spain, meals with wine cost anywhere between €8 and €15. Brilliant.

Nevertheless, with the opportunity to camp and the need to make a brew in the morning and maybe even knock-up some pasta, risotto or paella of an evening, we are going to need some cookware.

These pans come from Bob. They are Titan pans made of Titanium (oh, bling!) the two main pans being 0.9 and 1.2l in volume. Big enough for a pasta or for use as a kettle. They are also non-stick and the small pans form a close seal to act as a lid on each of the larger pans. They are shown here with a 200g can of gas and an MSR Pocket Rocket.

For eating off, R bought me some of these origami plates for my Christmas stocking. Made from very tough polycarbonate or somesuch, they are guarnateed not to break from loads of folding. A complete set like this folds flat to next to nothing and weighs even less.

Taking a couple of sets of cheap and cheerful stainless stell camping cutlery sets (couldnt bring myself to buy the Ti Sporks - oh boy I've got a problem with titanium!)

When all this stuff is packed down it comes out like this:

Total packed space of about 1.75l and weight of about 800g - very efficient I reckon.

* may or may not be gibberish wishful thinking. That reminds me of a sign near us here in Malvern on a local Christian Hall: "Come listen to the word of our Lord. Services every Sunday at 11:00. God willing". Well, there's confidence for you.

13 April 2006

What's a Pompino, daddy?

Well whatever you do, dont ask on Google images.

Apart from being Italian for a blow job, the Il Pompino is a product of Brant Richard's company On-One. One of his stable of British designed "bikes for riding", the Pompino is his singlespeed 700c bike.

24 January 2006

First there was The Plan

It's a dull day in the office. It's winter. In London. I haven't been out on the mountain bike for months. The only redeeming feature of sitting here with no work to do is having interenet access. Since finding nearly 3 years ago I think I have spent more time in the forum than I have asleep. But even the flood of junk that appears there can't make today seem any more interesting.

I decided late last year that following our partial move away from Landaan back to my home county of Worcestershire that I would eventually leave my salaried job and go self employed. At the same time, Ruth and I could take the opportunity to go on a trip. A long one. One that stretched from one end of the summer to the other. And it was going to involve bikes.

Most people who come and read this blog will have got here either through a link at STW or by following a link I will have emailed you which makes you either a cyclist of some sort, related to me, or fully versed of my cycle addiction problem.

The plan was to ride the length of the Danube but the obvious topographical predictability of riding along a big river's flood plain and the fact that most of Germany try and do it each year lead us to change our plan into something a little more adventurous.

Our itinerary is not over planned as the unknown will be as important as the trip, but the gernal plan is to ride along northern Spain, down the French side of the Pyrenees, across into Provence and then northern Italy. From here we will either turn left up through teh Alps and Bavaria back to northern Europe, or south down through Tuscany and into the Mezzogiorno of Italy. When we work it out, you will be the first to know...

Finally, just to add a little quirkiness we are going to be doing it with hardly any gear. R and I always travelled light anyway, but one thing I have no intention of doing is dragging a bike laden with bar bags, low riders, rear panniers and rack packs, weighing 100lbs up a col or mountain pass. So we are only taking bar and saddle bags. For the technical junkies around the first few weeks of this blog will bore for Britain about the gear we are taking. R will almost certainly write something more interesting a little later. Once we are on the road of course, it will be much more of a journal and a photograph repository.

Oh, and the bikes only have one gear. Each.

We like a challenge.