Everything That Could Go Wrong … the Heartache of Flying With a Bike

 

A bike shop in Istanbul sold me a bike box for 35 lira, and then I spent half a day searching for bubble wrap and parcel tape. I got lost in a labyrinth of small streets only walked by local Istanbulis, but I found a nice hairdressing shop and got my hair cut. Back at the ranch (my friendly budget hotel, hi Salih), I disassembled the bike and packed it with my camping gear inside the box.

I got my India visa. I’d show it to you it but my photo looks like the mugshot of someone just wrestled in by some dudes in white coats. I organised flights to New Delhi via Mumbai, and I booked my airport shuttle ride. Some passengers took exception to the bike box and I apologised more than once, before busting out my scary visa-face again. I enjoyed a quiet hour’s ride to the airport.

At Istanbul Airport, Turkish Airlines staff sent me from one queue to another and back again as I tried to check the bike in. I had ticked every effing box, it was all pre-booked and paid for. After more than two hours, they smiled: 50 euros and the torment stops. OK.

Our plane was still on the ground an hour and a half after boarding. The young man on my right was flying home to his wife and would see his four-month old son for the first time. He couldn’t get away from work in Malta until now. It can feel like a sad old world sometimes.

The three-hour early morning layover in Mumbai had shrunk to less than one because of the flight delay. And I had to collect my luggage and change terminals; and the bike box couldn’t be found. Nobody wanted to look so I lost my temper. Then a young pipsqueak in a suit said something and I verbally annihilated him 🙂

They mobilised after that and my bike showed up. Too late for my connection to New Delhi.

Mumbai monsoons are unimaginable, and I was saturated right to my bra and knickers in the brief exposure between terminals. I’d had no sleep overnight and all my raging had tuckered me out.

At the desk I got whiny about the injustices I’d suffered and they booked me onto the next flight. I was assigned an elderly porter with a sullen face. For the next thirty minutes, whether we were quietly queuing or dashing from counter to counter, he farted. There were deep sonorous rumbles (like elephants do), urgent trumpets, and some cheeky little squeals that made me turn and stare at him. He didn’t even blink.

Once aboard, I was seated next to a young couple and their baby. What a happy little soul he was, and how much better I felt in his company. His Mum called me ‘auntie’ (older people are all called uncle or auntie in India) and by the time we landed we were all saying warm goodbyes.

Airline staff greeted me on arrival at New Delhi and helped me out to another taxi. I’d like to end this tale in soft focus, but I’m still mad at the two taxi drivers (Mumbai and New Delhi) who saw a soft financial target and made the most of it. Bastards.

Advertisements

In Praise of Great Rivers – The Rhine

I’ve been asked, ‘What have been the best bits so far?’, and I’ve always answered, ‘It’s all been great!’ But thinking about it, two rivers have influenced me on my journey – the Rhine and the Danube.

People have always revered rivers, and even worshipped them; for their life-bringing waters, and for their unknowable and  numinous mystery. Cycling along its banks day after day as it carries all its accumulated memories to the sea, it’s not hard to imagine some other-worldly power inhabiting a river – the ghosts of olden gods and goddesses linger on in our ancestral minds.

I caught my first glimpse of the Rhine from high on a hill at Remagen, sparkling bright blue against lush green hills. I was so excited I lost my balance on the steep cobbled path and fell off the bike. Thankfully I’m quite good at it so no damage was done.

There’s an impressive big Catholic church up there, and some outdoor shrines. I think it’s built over an older pagan/Roman temple. I’d be glad to hear if anyone knows something about them?

I’ve discovered that just about all of Europe was once populated by the Celts, and the word Rhine comes from the Celtic word Rein, meaning ‘the clear’ or ‘stream’. I discovered quite a bit about my Celtic heritage along my cycle journey, we Scots being some of the last remnants of an ancient people still swathed in myth and legend

After cycling through France, Belgium and Holland, all my aches and pains had eased off a bit and I felt stronger. And once joined up with the Rhine the rhythm of my cycle days shifted. Crazy as it sounds, I felt almost carried along by it. Even crazier is that I felt this despite knowing the great body of water was flowing in the opposite direction to me!

I followed the Rhine all the way to Mainz, and crossed it several times by bridge and ferry. Sometimes it was slow and the water slack and at other points where it narrowed, the current was powerful. But there was always something lively about the Rhine. Its banks were busy all day with groups of tourists on electric bikes, the restaurants and beer gardens always bustling.

Commercial cruise boats slo-mo’d up and down the waters, with passengers idly watching us from the decks. Sometimes I’d give them a good race – and often won since the cruise business isn’t about speed. It was all absolutely perfect and pretty, with little medieval villages along the route.

I swam in the Rhine, washed my cycle shorts in it and regularly cooled my feet in its swirling waters. Everything I might need was laid out along my path. Bakeries, grocers, and cafes all waited for me, set in quaint, chocolate-box-perfect small towns, and there were some memorable wild camps.

The playful and light-hearted god of the Rhine was good to me. I felt lifted along by that strange numinous force, and gifted with everything I needed. I became more confident in myself and the bike, and I felt carefree along its happy banks.

Dreams of the Danube to follow next, a very different experience from a different god!

 

Reflections at the Edge of the West

IMG_20190616_1551042I’ve slowed down as I cycled further south into Hungary. A few small mountain ranges and hilly regions across western Europe had me sweatin’-an-spittin’-an-cussin’, but nothing beats you like the heat. Temperatures are in the mid-thirties down here near the Serbian border, and from late morning to late afternoon I feel fairly incapacitated. IMG_20190626_1419382So I’ve taken to having long coffee stops at wonderful air-conditioned petrol stations like this one, dotted along my road.

It’s good to take a while to pause and reflect – on my journey so far, the peoples and cultures I’ve encountered, and the landscapes I’ve crossed. I’ve seen something of France, Belgium, Holland, and Austria, and though they are distinct in their personalities, they’re also familiar. Along with my native Scotland, these countries all feel like family. France seems feminine and vivacious and full of wit, style and charm. Austria has some fine architecture too though I didn’t see enough; whilst the others feel more masculine somehow – with the exception of Bavaria. A new discovery to me, this region seems at ease, relaxed and friendly, and quietly self-assured. They show much empathy and know how to enjoy the good life. I met and made good friends here.

DSCPDC_0001_BURST20190611185106566_COVER (1)Bavaria is so individual it seems like a separate country from Germany. Its lush green landscape, distinguished by the great Danube, produces an abundance of good things to eat. Traditional dishes are fab (cheese and mushroom strudel, yum), and it would be unthinkable not to drink beer here.

IMG_20190615_0929502.jpgI was on the receiving end of lots of kindness and generosity in Bavaria, and even got a guided tour of Nuremberg – a gorgeous city about the size of Glasgow. IMG_20190611_1603375.jpgSadly defined in our modern age by its its associations with WW2 and the Nazi regime, it is a very old city with a richly embroidered past, and Hitler is really just a blip in its stately process through time.

I’m beginning to believe that nowhere on the planet is ‘flat as a pancake’, since even the flattest roads have undulations that require use of gears! The stretch of land east out of Paris was very hilly and there were some violent thunderstorms along the way. I saw a lot of rain in Belgium and Holland too. One of my toughest days, mentally and physically, was the ride from Aschaffenburg to Wurzburg, a hellish and unexpected little mountain range (I’m not much good at route planning). IMG_20190607_0935175.jpgBut I met Joe who did all my laundry for free in Aschaffenburg (hello friend if you’re reading this), and Wurzburg was so prettily embellished and artful, how can I complain?

I had planned at the outset to cross northern Germany into Poland, but changed my mind at Maastricht after two weeks of cold wet weather. So I took a more southerly route with hopes of more warmth and sunshine. They say you should be careful what you wish or. As I sit here with burned and mosquito-ravished flesh, I realise I’ve got way too much of a good thing. Notions of Nordic cycle touring appeals strongly right now.

Crazy on the Road

IMG_20190527_2040443

On my way through another dreary day towards Gembloux, I found an open field just outside Corroy-le-Chateau. It was looking like rain again, so I went in and tramped down a crop circle big enough for the tent, tight up against the hedgerow. The Shangri-la was quickly up and everything safely inside before the threat of rain became reality.

With a strong cup of tea brewed, I took time to appreciate the scene. The field stretched away to a far south-east horizon, the wide empty view checked by a towering wind generator. I could hear it’s quiet thrumming and beating as the great vanes turned. It was a comforting rhythm, soft like a heartbeat. Then I saw a distant figure on horseback. In a suspended moment I was transported to La Mancha and the madcap mind of Don Quixote, tilting at windmills.

The approaching rider seemed to take an age, and my mind moved from La Mancha to desert scenes from Lawrence of Arabia. The tension of Omar Sharif’s long and omarsharif_lofa_1962_thisismywell-1silent emergence from the desert wilderness, and the ultimate revelation of his enigmatic beauty, devastated my teenaged heart.

As he came closer, I could see this rider’s dark coloured horse was magnificent … and suddenly he was right in front of me. The ‘laird’ of Corroy-le-Chateau, in whose field I had established myself, was young and handsome. He spoke to me in French, his smile warm and courteous. This was Camelot, and he Sir Lancelot. He said the word ‘chateau’ and I thought he was complimenting my tent. But in fact he was telling me I could find him at his chateau if I needed anything. I was so overcome by his beauty and the magnificence of his steed, I could only mumble a few words of thanks.

IMG_20190527_2042080After saying farewell, he rode off toward the north west. The skies cleared enough to reveal a fine sunset. And I slept soundly, warm and dry, throughout the rainy night.

 

 

 

 

Run, Rabbit

I’ve been running almost non-stop since 16 May, when I did a removal and got my things into storage, and then went out on the bike to Balloch and retraced my tracks as far as Dumbarton the same day.

Life’s been a bit of a blur this past ten days, but yesterday at the little town of Beaumont, Belgium I realised that I need to ease up and take a day off each week for the simple things. I had cycled through spectacular thunderstorms and arrived drenched with a plastic bag stuffed over my lid. I really wish I’d made a better attempt at fixing it, the sight of the flapping loose ends in the loo mirror made me wince and laugh at the same time.

Also, although it’s generally always good to be open to new experience and new ideas, it’s excusable to not always accept the kind hospitality of tavern owners – especially those hosting an insane ‘music’ night with a French punk rock band. Unforgettable, all night, and never to be repeated …

I forgot to switch on the GPS tracker (sorry) but cycled only the 28 Kms to Charleroi where I’ve slept since the afternoon yesterday. As you can see from my bike pic, I’m rigged for comfort rather than speed (though I do a fairly good turn on the downhill). I also really love sunshine and fair overnight temperatures. Which is why you will see the wee arrows on my route map take on a more south-easterly turn as I revert to my original plan to go through Istanbul – and eventually onward and upward through the ‘stans’.

By now, as I expected, everything hurts. It’s physical, and it’s also the kind that always accompanies change. Who knows what wonders the universe has yet to show me? Come on, I’m ready.

 

Testing …

 

20190519_151641Picture of a shell-shocked me outside YHA Edinburgh on Leith Walk. I’m just getting my tent out of the bike shed, where it’s been hanging to dry.

So, I’ve been out in the bike since Thursday, and I have good news, and bad news.

First, the bad news: I managed to cycle a daily average of only 35-40 miles up and down the canal twixt Balloch and Edinburgh plus several detours. My daily target is 60 miles. This could be disheartening except for the good news.

Good news is that this feeble mileage is my rock bottom, carrying a fat handicap of around 20lbs along with atrophied musculature (comes from being a sad marshmallow-munching couch potato). I had a strong cold easterly headwind all day Friday, followed by an overnight drenching and a cold, miserable rainy Saturday all the way out to Edinburgh. I know I’ll encounter much worse out there, but by then I’ll be fitter and more prepared.

On top of all the physical tribulations, the universe seems to do funny things to you when you hatch a plan to ‘jump the tracks’ from your old unhappy-but-predictable state. All kinds of distractions, hooks and doubts arise seemingly out of nowhere. ‘Do you know what you’re doing? Are you insane?! Suddenly my resolve suffers a wobble and I’m feeling an energy drain that’s not physical. 

Too late universe, I can’t go back. I’ll be in Paris Wednesday morning, jelly-legs pushing my wheels … to infinity and beyond!

Gear List

Things are becoming hectic here now; packing and getting everything together, organising the removal and storage of what’s left of home, and learning the new language of chamois and cream (there’s a story there but no time right now). Here is a brief rundown of what I’m taking with me around the world. Pictures are random and a bit out of focus, sorry. I know I’ve probably packed too much of some things and not enough of others … I will live and learn 😉

 

 

 

Bike: Ridgeback Expedition Touring bike with front and rear Tubus racks. It’s secondhand but fits me very well (better than my old bike that scared the shit out of me lots of times). It’s got 26″ wheels with fairly nubby tyres but I think they’ll need to get nubbier for the trials of Mongolia.

Panniers: Luxury! I got front and rear Ortlieb panniers. Again second hand but almost new and a fraction of the cost new. A big improvement on my last trip with some old Karrimors that were really NOT waterproof …

Tent: Complete overkill with a Golite Shangrila 3. I have a Macpac but 18 months in the wee ‘coffin’ would be hard.

Camp Mat: Exped Down, next best thing to your bed at home.

Sleeping Bag: Go-Lite Adrenaline 800+ Goose Down. Only a one season bag so hoping the global weather will be kind. On the plus side, it’s colour-coordinated with the tent ..

Electrics: Blackberry Keyone Black, Tesco HUDL Tablet (I’m not a snob, it’s great) SPOT Gen3 Tracker, Petzl Headtorch, associated cables adapters and batteries, etc.

Cooking and Drinking: Got a bulky Trangia which won’t be much good the further east I go as I don’t think they do meths over in Asia. I have a gravity-fed 1 gallon water filter from Sawyer, which I think will be really useful. Plastic plates etc from good old Asda. Taking Flahavans porridge oats, Nairns oatcakes, and Sunpat peanut butter with me too.

On top of that there’s my clothes, toiletries, first aid, laundry and dish soap, and other bits and pieces.

I’ll try to do a more detailed list of these things later, with better photos.

In the meantime, if you’ve got good advice, tips, warnings or any other messages I really would love to hear from you. Although I go off into the wild on my bike I am so NOT an expert cyclist!

Thanks adventure people.

Love from Catie x