bike ride

The Transit of Plague City

Since Perth, where I wrote the last post, it’s been one haar after another. Every morning up to yesterday (Wednesday), things started dark, damp and foggy. And every day, things perked up in the afternoon. The weather forecast dummied me into another rest day in Montrose, with talk of rain which didn’t come. And then the supposedly fine day afterwards turned out wetter than the wet day. At least I do now know the proper name for Scotch Mist…

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Scotland feels more bike friendly in general than England. Although the road surfaces (in towns, especially) can be very poor in places, pretty much every single town now has decent bike routes in and out. And there are loads of converted railway lines and officially-designated ‘Cycling Friendly Roads’, which show how different the attitude seems to be up here. Some of these routes include chainsaw carvings by the roadside. Though I don’t actually know if this is anything to do with the cycle routes.

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I’ve felt the need to make some long-ish miles when I have ridden. There’s always a good chance that a major storm could shut you down for a few days. So as I zipped through Dundee on another lovely riverside cycle path on Sunday, I just had time to grab a couple of pictures of the Tay Bridge (above), and the ship Discovery (below), which was used on Captain Scott’s first Antarctic expedition.

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I made it to Montrose that evening, and was conned by the weather forecast into taking the next day off. This gave me the chance to figure out how to deal with Aberdeen, which is still under ‘local lockdown’ due to Covid-19. Luckily, after reading the regulations, it turned out that, while going in and out of the city is not really allowed, ‘transiting’ the city is fine.

Apparently, Covid transmission all depends on whether you intend to stay in a place or not. Still, it meant that I was OK to shoot straight through the city without breaching any regulations.

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The next morning (Tuesday), the haar was back. The fog is probably a decent metaphor for some of the whys and wherefores of Covid regs, but for me, it was just getting a little old, and feeling a wee bit sketchy as vehicles came flying out of it at slightly alarming speeds.

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Still, a slight cross-tail breeze was pushing me up the coast at a decent rate, and meant that I managed to hop across the Covid zone of Aberdeen city in less than an hour, with only two stops for traffic lights, and one for a photo (above). And then it was on up the coast, on flattish roads, to the fishing port of Peterhead.

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Peterhead marks the easternmost point in Scotland, which meant that yesterday’s (Wednesday) ride could only really go in one direction; mainly west. Thankfully, once again, there was yet another nice railway trail out of town, heading pretty much due west for nearly 15 miles. Which was a great start to the ride.

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And, as I hit the coast again, there was plenty more cycle infrastructure to play on, including the seaside viaducts at Cullen (above). Although long, the day turned out to be really fun, with a mix of gravel and tarmac, beautiful seaside views, and a gentle sea breeze nudging me forwards.

I finished up in Elgin. Again, rolling into town on a nearly new, smoothly surfaced, flat bike track by the river. A track which drops you off directly in front of the town’s impressive ruined cathedral.

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The storm rolled in last night. As usual, the weather forecast has been sounding semi-apocalyptic. I don’t know what it’s doing further south, but the initial band of rain has blown through here, leaving beautiful sunshine behind this morning.

So I’ll be pedalling off again shortly. I should be rejoining my 2015 route for a bit in the next few days, before I head off to the west coast after I hit John O’Groats. Assuming no more hold ups from either the weather or the plague…

Older and Wiser?

I’ll be yet another year older next weekend.  Or at least, the numbers will show that to be the case.

On that same date in 2014, I was rolling out of Newcastle, New South Wales, on the original Beast, having started riding up Australia just a few days earlier.

It was day 152 since I’d left London, and although I’d not yet covered half of my projected round-the-world distance, it felt like I was heading home already.  And things were going pretty well.  I’d ridden across North America with no worries, after all.  How hard could it be to get to London from Australia?

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Time moves on, and the experiences of the year since have made a mark.  Both literally, in terms of visibly broken bones, and metaphorically, in terms of some massively profound lesson-learning (you may decide after the next couple of paragraphs that this is overstating things, just a bit).

For example, I now know that riding a bicycle solo across the outback to Darwin in the wet season would have been a stupid idea.  It was hard enough riding fairly close to what the Aussies claim to be civilization.  I now know why Thailand’s apparently benign main roads are so iffy for cyclists.  I even now know that Scotland’s culinary reputation as the home of deep-fried-everything is a little harsh (you can get sandwiches up there, too…).

Perhaps most profoundly, sitting around waiting for my shoulder and back to heal this summer allowed me to revisit some reading.  Reading is a particularly risky pursuit, as there’s a perpetual danger that you might learn something.

I re-discovered a definition of madness from the famous cyclist, Albert Einstein: madness is doing the same thing over and over, while expecting a different outcome.  He was, by all accounts, a fairly clever chap.  And he clearly meant that trying to ride another eight or nine thousand miles will just end in another serious traffic accident (or a similar disaster, possibly with more fatal consequences).  This was obviously something that needed due consideration.

So where’s all that hard-earned wisdom got me?  Well…

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There’s a massive bag of anti-malarial tablets in my room.  And a mini-pharmacy in my first aid kit.  There are tools, spare parts, bearings, tyres and tubes, duct tape and kevlar emergency spokes spread around, seemingly at random (though actually – obviously – carefully filed and ready for packing).

Various potions are ready for embarkation: grease, mosquito repellent, chain lube, toothpaste, sunscreen, Loctite.  There are freshly-printed visas for exotic places in my passport.  There’s a large cardboard bike box waiting to accommodate a newly-serviced touring bike.

You don’t need to be a genius to work out what’s going on here.

There’s a seat on a plane waiting for me at London Heathrow on Tuesday morning.  And there’s very little between me and it (other than a little last-minute panic shopping, sock washing, and a horribly early start to get to the airport on time for the usual security hassles).

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Vietnam is calling, and the start of the road home.  After a week wandering around Hanoi and Ha Long Bay as a ‘proper’ tourist with my friend Matt, who’s kindly agreed to see me off.

I’ll be resetting the odometer at 14931 km (9277 miles), with a similar distance still to cover to get back to London.  Probably eleven countries to get through before I hit Europe (and the exceptionally over-rated ‘comfort zone’) again.  Maybe another fifteen or so (thankfully much smaller) countries once I’m back on my home continent.  And two countries to warm up before I hit Thailand to resume battle with their heavy goods vehicles.  About another eight months of sore legs, sweat, forests, deserts and mountains.

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I’m going to use part of my ‘tourist week’ before the riding kicks off to get my head around a slightly unpalatable fact: that I’m still only halfway through the round-the-world bike ride that I was halfway through at the end of March.  My summer reading indicates that this probably has something to do with relativity.  I think.

Anyway, I’m close to being finished with Einstein now.

Except that…  Ignoring Albert’s definition of madness, which was obviously not intended to apply to long bike rides (that’s my position, and I’m sticking to it), he did get some stuff indisputably right.

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I did say he was a famous cyclist, didn’t I?  Or, at least, famously a cyclist.  But he also dropped the following pearl, which is this year’s contribution to my dwindling collection of wisdom.  “Life is like riding a bicycle.  To keep your balance, you must keep moving.”

I couldn’t agree more with that.  In life, and on the bike, it’s time to get moving again.

Next stop, Vietnam…