Cycling solo, East. The new plan

So  a little later than planned, starting in a different continent and riding in a different direction, or rather the same direction as I rode this summer, I have started. Je suis parti Calais pour monter mon velo.

There is a lot to say about Calais, the refugee crisis, volunteering. Something that I will talk about later. For now, the experience I have had these past months has influenced my perspectives on the way I live my life, the law, the media, stereotypes, people, work, money. A lot. I am not radicalised, I am still me. I still think hard work matters, education matters, information matters and that there are so many different forms of right and wrong. I still like riding my bike. But I think it will influence how I ride on in the future.

So, the new plan. To not really have a plan, for now. I think I will ride for longer interspersed by time spent volunteering, working, learning new skills and meeting new people. This means less plan and also more stuff. After a day of climbing uphill I am already reconsidering whether I really need a pair of jeans and shoes.

To start with, I am riding East/South East. From Calais to Donaueschinge and the start of the river Danube. From there, I think I will ride as far as Belgrade  along the river before turning south and heading to Greece to do some more volunteering &/or working. Makes sense to make the most of being able to work in the EU while I can.

Life is like cycling without a route, discovery of places I didn’t know existed

Cycling, without a route I often get lost, but I often find places I didn’t know existed. I have always made it home, in the end, somehow. Life, my life, is like cycling without a route. Recently I keep finding myself in incredible places i didn’t know existed. It means I am going to be later than planned getting to where I thought I’d be next, but that’s ok, I will get there, somehow, probably.

In other words; this summer I stumbled into the TCR, a result of which I quit my job with the view to travel the world by bike, acting on a list of mantras, goals, ambitions, dreams and ideas created on my bike. I have made it as far as Calais, France. I am going to be here  a bit longer than planned. I will continue on my cyclo-adventure by bike, but I want to help here for a bit first.

 

Help Refugees

Part of my time out/world tour was to spend some time helping others. I have spent the last month with Help Refugees  and The Refugee Community Kitchen  in Calais, close to the site of the recently closed, Jungle Refugee Camp.

 

I thought that I would probably be leaving on the 9th of December, returning to the UK for a month to finalize preparations and say some farewells in advance of my flight to Hong Kong on Jan 6th, to begin my round the world bike trip.

However, I have found somewhere that I didn’t know existed. Somewhere that I think can help, I think i am helping. I have been presented with an opportunity that i don’t want to cycle away from, not yet anyway.

 

Following the closure of the Jungle Camp, the collective of organisations under the Help Refugees/ L’Auberge umbrella will be staying here. Building on the incredible work done in and supporting the refugee community here in Calais this grass-roots charity continues to provide support to refugees here in France. It also provides humanitarian aid further afield, with containers of aid being prepared and sent to Greece, Syria and Lebanon in coming days and weeks.

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DSC_1519.JPGI am proud to have taken on the role of Logistics Manager for Help Refugees, so Snowy and I will be staying in Calais for a while.

I would love your help in this, be it awareness of the cause, fundraising (eg for containers), helping in our warehouse, donating pre-loved items, setting up new industry relationships, contacts of organisations/people who we should help or could help us, providing food, fixing bikes, anything else.

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Thanks for your support.

 

 

The List: Mantras, thoughts, justifications and goals

The List: Mantras, thoughts, justifications and goals

1)     Freedom, I am free, I am healthy, the world is my oyster.

2)     Money and wealth is relevant. Working in London I earn, but I spend. I could live on a lot less for a year and accomplish a lot more.

3)      I want to help. I want to volunteer my time to those who need it. Perhaps in the long term. I can also continue to raise awareness and money for good causes through cycling.

4)     I want to form my own opinions about the world we live in, through my eyes and the stories of others I meet.

5)     I want an adventure, the world is vast, why wouldn’t I explore it? On a bike, I can see the faces of people I pass, the dirt on every mile I travel, smell the crops grown, native plants, smog. Columbus could do it, why can’t I?

6)      I should learn other languages- English is not enough.

7)     Now is a good time, practically, from a professional & personal perspective.

8)     You have as much to lose by not going as you do by going, probably more.

Taken from blog Moving to Two Wheels, a bit more than the morning commute.

TCRno4s136: Entering the time warp, the first 24 hours

Night/day one

My route took me through the night to Laon. Time flew, literally within what seemed like minutes hours had passed. The roads were good and quiet. During the course of the night I met a few fellow cyclists who evidently had similar routes, we would generally chat for a bit before going our separate ways (or speeds). It was nice to see lights in the distance of a fellow TCRer, or a plastic wrapped TCR rider having a kip. There was one occasion where I saw a rider going the opposite direction, I’m still not sure who was going the wrong way. The only (definite) wrong turn I took was after a brief chat with the TCR Volvo early on, in the excitement of the distraction I stopped looking at Prof calculus…

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I was pretty disciplined with eating and drinking through the night, making an effort to take on something every 10-15 miles, to try and ensure that I kept my fuel supplies, preventing fatigue for as long as possible. I am not entirely sure when Belgium became France, benefit of being an EU member in an open border Europe is that is doesn’t really matter (ironic lol).

At some point I had my first dog chase, luckily I was faster. About 3am I had a stop, put on an extra layer. Waved at a pair who passed. As daylight broke I was approaching Laon, everything was still beautifully flat. I eased off a bit for a cruise into the city hoping to sync my arrival with the opening of a boulangerie , as I rode into Laon I was approached by two local cyclists who were out to welcome weary TCR riders to their home town, they rode with me to the local bread stop, (although I probably could have followed my nose (mmmm fresh bread!) where I found coffee and fresh baguettes which I used to make egg sandwiches with some of the 6 eggs I had brought with me from London (protein is important too).

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At the time of breakfast, I had made good progress and was in the front half of riders (ish- un exact calculation based on dot cluster). I was feeling pretty good so got back on the bike, with the aim of reaching Toucy (156 miles away) by bed time. I then rode up the hill to the Cathedral, not the road to Toucy. I then did a tour of Laon’s suburbs, which were also not the road to Toucy. I finally started climbing the correct hill out of Laon, this was the road to Toucy,  and noticed a bush that looked like it would be a great place to sleep.  About 90 minutes later, 3 and half hours after arriving in Laon, I emerged from Bush, to continue the ride.  Not the plan, but that was ok, I knew there would be lots of times over the next few weeks where plan B would be used. Although, admittedly I didn’t realise how far down the alphabet I would get.

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Day one; part two, Laon to…

 

Following on from Bush nap, I was feeling groggy but it didn’t take long to wake up. It was a beautiful day, a beautiful road, golden stubble fields, grass verges, blue skies, rolling hills and other cyclists. Basically exactly how the guidebooks describe cycling in France. The rest of the day is a bit of a corn coloured blur. Cycling seemed easy some of the time, slow some of the time. I must have stopped a few times to make some more egg sandwiches using the baguette and eggs I had with me, also snacking on mum’s flapjack.

 

I stopped in a tiny village, Dravegny, around lunch time, it wasn’t a scheduled stop, I think it was a subconscious controlled you should drink some coffee now stop. It was a tiny bar, essentially in the living room of an elderly couple. The bar was dark, cool, decorated with a random assortment of crockery; the sort of thing you would expect to see described as “quirky” “eccentric” or “hip” if it was in Shoreditch, London.  In this case it was functional. I ordered what would become my normal order, a large glass of milk, large glass of water, a large coke and two short coffees. I then used my head torch to go to the toilet because I couldn’t find the light switch and the couple had, clearly coming to the conclusion that although odd I was trustworthy, had disappeared into the rest of their house. By the time I left there were a few onlookers, who seemed a bit bemused by this lone cyclist with a bread role and some eggs strapped to her bike. I’m not sure, but I don’t think this particular part of my route was used by many other riders. I got the feeling this village wasn’t one frequented by non-locals very often, it was lovely though.

I carried on for a few more hours stopping just before Chateau Thierry to have lunch, about 2.30.   In broken French I tried to explain the bike race to the patrons who were interested in where I was going and surprised by the size of my food order. While I was eating a local cyclist popped in, after seeing my bike, to have a chat. He had been in the town watching the other riders and was a TCR fan. He explained the TCR in better French to the patrons, who to be honest looked even more confused and disbelieving having heard what I was doing from a native French speaker. I was pleasantly surprised to hear that there were a lot of riders in the town as I hadn’t made great time over the past few hours. I rode through Chateau Thierry, which looks like a lovely spot to stop in, and out over the river Marne, which looked like a lovely spot for a swim. Given that I was behind schedule I reluctantly rode past without a swim.

Some more corn fields, some sunflowers, blue skies, combine harvesters, hard boiled eggs and flapjack crumbs later I arrived in Provins. This was a nice moment. Provins is pretty. It is somewhere I can’t remember going before. It is somewhere I remember plotting my route through to have a look at. So I stopped, took a photo, appreciated the old cobbled town and mentally added it to the list of places to come back to, to drink wine and relax in, in the future. Although these little “appreciate the moment”/beauty stops plotted into my route added time to my journey and contributed to the slower than hoped finish, they probably also contributed to me being able to finish as were physical and mental breaks.

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Back on the bike once more I decided to ride as far as the next town and find a bed for the night and some food.  Before too long I found a hotel/restaurant, unfortunately it was closed, as were the next two (one of which on closer inspection was just a closed restaurant).  I stopped and asked a man, he shook his head, “l’hotel?  Non, ils sont tous ferme”

“où est le prochain hôtel?”  looking bemused he replied,“je ne sais pas. Ou allez-vous?”

“à la Turquie”

“oh” “non, je ne sais pas”.

I carried on riding, slightly nervous that I had just left a town with some horrendous recent history, perhaps a zombie apocalypse? Why else had all the hotels shut? It was July. In reality, I had stopped in the small commune of Pont-sur-Yonne close to both Provins and Sens both with surplus accommodation options.  If I had thought this through a little better I would have powered on to Sens rather than faffing around. Indeed, before too long (though by this time it was close to 10pm) I arrived in Sens and found a hotel. The restaurant had shut but some people at the bar offered me half a left over pizza, I devoured, along with flapjack crumbs, an egg, some milk, and a beer.  Looking back, I feel like this was much further into the ride than a mere 24 hours. Riding the Transcontinental is a bit like being in a time warp.

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TCRno4s136: The Start, Apidura bags are go!

TCRno4s136: The Start, Apidura bags are go! 

 

The square was buzzing with cyclist clad Apidura bags; a mix of sizes, shapes, ages, both Apiduras and cyclists. As a newbie to the world of ultra-endurance cycling it was nice to see the diversity of people taking on this challenge. Already, from interactions on the journey to Geraardsbergen, the registration, briefing and final supper it was clear this was a random bunch of friendly people drawn together by a single combined factor, the desire to ride across Europe, alone as fast as possible. This was probably more reassuring for Mum, who had travelled with me from London, armed with homemade flapjack, most of M&S’s picnic section and a pretty extensive first aid kit. Post ride I was to find out that she had spent the hours after the send-off in a pub with a fellow TCR rider’s spouse and that accompanying me had indeed helped.

My hours preceding the race were spent with some slightly hectic last min prep, meeting other riders, a final feast, some more slightly more frantic last minute prep, rushed good byes and of course attempts to capture the event on film. I was lucky to spend the final supper with fellow Chevs rider Z, and the soon to be (relatively speaking) female race winner Emily Chapell. Emily and mum swapped flapjack for a book, so mums flapjack evidently is the fuel of champions.

At some time after dark the Mayor’s bell was rung, signalling the start of the race.  We set off across the square, past the flame bearing supporters; I concentrated on navigating the cobbles and crowds as a tactic to avoid crying at the start, it was all a bit overwhelming, in a good way, an emotional overload. The starting lap of the muur was sociable, easy pedalling, chatting to other riders a few of whom I had interacted with via twitter pre-race, twitter profiles are people too. The climb was a little hairy; I was glad to be at the back as it was narrow, bumpy, crowded and lined with flaming torches, with a few wobbles and the agility of a mountain ox I made it up; alive and smiling.

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Within minutes of the Muur descent, after pausing for the obligatory map check stop on the corner, I set off. For about 10 minutes I was in a bunch of cyclists, then my Garmin, prof Calculus, directed me to take a left turn and  I was solo, one girl and her bike taking on the world, well kind of.

 

 

 

 

Prisoners’ Education Trust: What is it, who needs it, why does it matter?

Prisoners’ Education Trust 

 What is it, who needs it, why does it matter?

Prisoners’ education trust (PET) is a charity I am supporting and hope to raise awareness of and funds for through my bicycling adventures. This is an introduction to the work they do and a reflection of my thoughts. Views are my own.

The What

Prisoners’ Education Trust (PET) is a charity that believes education has the power to enrich, change and develop people throughout their lives. Offering prisoners access to education improves their self-esteem and enables them to choose a more constructive way of life making it less likely they will reoffend.   It is a charity that I am aware of due to the personal contribution of my Dad, who was one of the original trustees; his involvement stemming from being an in English teacher in prisons in the 1980’s. It is a charity that helps individuals, their families and communities. It is also a charity whose aims have far reaching implications for our society.

The Why

The number of people in prison is rising at a staggering rate, 92% from 1993 to 2015, making Britain host to the highest imprisonment rate in Western Europe at 147 people per 100,0001.  Despite the growing prison population, there is a declining number of staff employed in public prisons. There has been an increase in prison deaths, violence, sexual abuse, fires and incidents requiring the emergency services.  Yet, there remains a staggering high rate of re-offending by those released from prison; 46% of people reconvicted within one year1. From the outside looking in, it seems like a broken system.

The Who

It is very easy to forget about those who we don’t come into contact with in our lives, easier still when the group of people are prisoners.  Many of us have been the victim of petty crime. Some of us have encountered more serious offences that may have had significant repercussions for us, our friends, and loved ones.  The goal of PET isn’t to excuse prisoners but to use education as a tool to prevent reoffending. It helps prisoners to learn and better themselves with a view to becoming positive contributors to society. It provides the opportunity to offer a second chance in life, often to people had a pretty rotten first chance to begin with.

 Many prisoners are victims of abuse as children, or growing up in care.

  • 1% of Children in England are in care, yet this group make up over half of children in secure training centres and 38% of children in young offenders institutions1.
  • 53 % of women and 27% of men prisoners report abuse as child1.

As a group, prisoners in Britain are also likely to have a limited education compared to the general population. A considerable amount of research associating education with crime rates with causal associations between the two dating back to the 1970’s2. It is reported that 42% of prisoners had been expelled or permanently excluded from school while 51% of people entering prisons were assessed as having the literacy skills expected of an 11 year old1.  People with no qualifications are four times more likely to be in prison than those with some qualifications3.

PET provides a number of case studies on their website, providing an insight into some of the people this trust has helped. I was particularly touched by the stories of Frank4, Ben5 and Karen6.

Looking Ahead

While a high proportion of people in our prisons may have been deprived of, or neglected to utilise, the opportunity to learn earlier in life, learning and education are things that can be revisited. Going back to the Brownlee report prisoners who had attended vocational training in prison are more likely to secure employment after release. Further, prisoners who were funded to study by PET were less likely to reoffend7. Thus, by providing education and training to prisoners, PET hopes to aid the rehabilitative process for prisoners, helping them to return with a positive influence to their society.

My ponderings

I attended school, participated in extra-curricular activities, and went to University.  For me, it was an easy journey, well metaphorically speaking. Literally, I sometimes made it difficult for myself, often racing the school bus on the way back from my paper round, throwing my bike and paper bag over the garden fence and running to make the bus stop on time. On those days that I did miss the bus my mum would drop me off at another bus stop on her way to work, normally sacrificing her breakfast in the process;  sorry mum. That was my education though, it was available, all of my friends went to school and when I slipped up, or started to loose motivation, my parents were there to prop me up and to ensure I didn’t fall through the gaps.  On top of that, I was lucky to go to good, safe schools, with above average results, access to sports facilities and use of Bunsen burners.

Would it have been so easy without that family support? Probably not.

Over the past months, since deciding I would like to fundraise for PET, I have come to better understand the work they do and how they go about it. I have also thought more about why it is important and had the opportunity to meet some individuals who had personally benefited from PET and hear their stories.  Listening to these conversations and reading case stories I have been struck by those accounts where, in line with what you would expect from a Hollywood tear jerker, the provision of education has lead directly or indirectly to a transformation of individuals committed to reform, a crime free life after prison to the benefit of themselves, friends and family.

 I have also found myself pondering the other edge of the sword of in relation to my own life, could it have been me? Could I have found myself in a position where through a moment of stupidity, lack of concentration, distraction or perhaps as a consequence of alcohol I found myself the cause of a crime and on the wrong side of the law? How would I cope?

Thank you for reading, please feel free to share.

Fundraising Page for PET

Some References/Further Reading

  1. Prison Reform Trust Bromley Briefing Summer 2016
  2. Ehrlich, I. (1975), ‘On the relation between education and crime’, Chapter 12, New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Book Co.
  3. Stephen Machin & Olivier Marie & Suncica Vujic, 2010.”The Crime Reducing Effect of Education,”CEP Discussion Papers dp0979, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE.
  4. http://www.prisonerseducation.org.uk/stories/frank-harris-ive-always-been-a-taker-but-now-im-a-giver-
  5. http://www.prisonerseducation.org.uk/stories/-bens-story-
  6. http://www.prisonerseducation.org.uk/stories/from-prisoner-to-case-worker-karens-story
  7. Ministry of Justice. (2013) Justice Data Lab Re‐offending Analysis: Prisoners Education Trust Open University Grants, London, UK. Retrieved February, 23, 2016, from https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/270089 /open-university-report.pdf

Transcontinental Race Summary

 

My Transcontinental race was 2510 miles long,  183,792 ft high , took me through 12 countries in 20 days.  Rather than provide a beautifully scripted summary, for now I wanted to share my “Raw memoirs” the stand out moments thoughts and some of the images I captured along the way. This is a summary prepared initially for Primal Europe and is also available on their blog.

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So, to start with, the Transcontinental is tough. Emotionally, physically and mentally, sheer stubbornness got me through.  Riding my bike was the easy part, everything else (or rather lack of) was the problem. The latter referring to battery power, routes, food, beds, support.

Europe is vast, mountains are high, weather is variable, and towns are scarce. People are poor, People are kind, what is the value of money.

 

The race began with a cobbled climb of de Muur, surrounded by other riders and supporters holding flaming torches. Within minutes of summiting at the Kapel, the crowds had dispersed and I was riding alone in the Belgian countryside. For the next 20 days, I rode solo alone passing other riders only momentarily at check points or by chance when our routes crossed.

My race started fairly well, just about reaching CP1, Clermont Ferrand by Sunday night (well 4am Monday morning), managing 433 miles, 16964 feet of climbing in 54 hours. In hindsight, it seemed like a lot longer than 54 hours. I hadn’t slept Friday night, napped for an hour Saturday morning, stayed in a hotel Saturday night and decided not to stop again until CP1. As I arrived so late in Clermont Ferrand, there was nowhere/didn’t seem sensible to find a hotel to stay in, but I wasn’t brave enough to sleep rough in the town. So I waited until daybreak, had some breakfast and set off to climb the first parcours, Col De Ceyssat.

 

 

Climbing the Parcours was enjoyable, probably the longest climb of my life at that point. Descending was fast and fun. By the bottom, it was clear I was bonking and in a pretty bad way, needed to nap under a tree… the next few days moving across France the rolling French corn fields gradually became steeper as I rode into the Rhone Alps and towards Switzerland.  The riding was pleasant, few cars and straight forward. Rural France seemed far more rural than I had remembered and it became increasingly difficult to find anywhere to buy food, let alone a new battery (I was having power issues), or sleep. I quickly learnt to stock up on food and drink at any opportunity. I also spent my first night sleeping under the stars, I was too tired to care. I had opted for a more direct route than many of the others, via Geneva, which I am glad of. Arriving in Geneva late I was exhausted, finding it hard to smile but a good nights sleep, breakfast and starting the day riding around the lake put me in good spirits. How could it not, its a stunning spot.  I began climbing up from the lake before Lunch, climbing higher before descending into Interlaken then up once more to CP2, located in Grindelwald. This required riding along a MTB track in the dark.  Learning from  my mistake at CP1 I had booked a hotel room in advance, missed dinner though, ate some pringles.

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CP2 meant parcours 2, comprised of Grosse Scheidegg, Grimsel Pass and the Furka Pass. I was lucky to climb these in good conditions and met a number of riders (TCR and others, along the way). Grosse Scheidegg I think was my favorite of the day, Grimsel Pass the hardest and Furka Pass the easiest. I possibly should have climbed the next pass that night but gave into the temptation of the promise of a hot meal and an early night.

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The next few days the weather took a turn for the worse, cold wet and windy I started singing to myself on descents to keep concentration levels up. I’m not normally a singer but it was incredibly liberating. I also invested in Ski gloves and some new lights- both solid investments. Switzerland became more rugged, with a clear Italian influence. Most cars had bike racks and I got a lot of waves of encouragement.  I began to climb the Albula Pass not long before dark, this rustic mountain road seemed mystical, twisting between the shadow of trees scattered across a harsh rock face along a gorge.  It got darker, mist,  windy wet and cold- I was shivering while ascending so was very relieved to find a mountain hostel to shelter in for the night. The next morning I could have been on top of the world as I ate a breakfast of coffee and toblerone before riding towards the Italian border.

The next day started with a final climb, followed by a morning of descents and easy riding through vineyards and along the Adige to Merano, inclusive of some fun, puncture free  MTB trails. As I skirted  Bolzano, the mountains loomed once more in the distance.  At about 4pm I found my self at the foot of a big, long, steep, inclining tunnel, one I wasn’t sure my legs would carry me through and up so I sat down and had a bit of a cry, road side. I got through it (metaphorically and literally), encouraged on by a beautiful  Sunset and stunning views.  A few hours later I Stopped at an alpine hotel. Dropped bike (and me) down the hill to the entrance as I was too weak to hold.  Too late for dinner again, so snacked on left overs from lunch in Merano

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Day 9 was a tour of ski resorts on route to CP3, Alleghe. Stopped for a slight route modification to avoid cycling down what looked like a black ski run, another route modification to avoid a closed road.  Listened to BBC world service podcast while I rode, feeling pretty emotional anyway I, shed some tears, appreciative of the freedom to be cycling in a beautiful, safe corner of the world. After a lunch stop at CP3 I began the 3rd parcourse, Passo Giau, I took it steady, the weather was perfect I remember it as a nice climb, fairly forgiving for the most par with stunning views.  Met a few friendly faces along the way At the top, met an Italian family, they invited me for dinner and offered me a bed in their beautiful home. Amazing people, food and hospitality.

Day 10 Started in the Dolomites to the church bell of Selva Di Cadore, a final climb then a great few hours of descending followed by a few questionable bike paths (gravel, steps, a cave…)and then  some awesome flat riding, straight roads, pretty towns, good coffee.  Stopped in Trieste for dinner, met some friendly TCR faces. Had planned to ride to Slovenia before sleeping but went the wrong way, downhill out of Trieste. Thought head knew better than Garmin, it didn’t and took me through some “Scary” industrial estates before arriving in Muggia where my road was closed by police. At this point, I was tired and  struggling to compute other route options so I opted for a  hotel. Id had a solid Solid days riding but sad not to have made it to Slovenia

Day 11: -Frustrating start, couldn’t find the right road, unremarkable crossing into Slovenia, the signs stopped, traffic was less, valleys steeper, towns modest. Some poor navigational skills resulted in 2 extra climbs. I passed a child’s drawing of a fireman, in chalk on the road, then some firemen, then miles of shouldering woodland from a forest fire the night before. I  was glad I hadn’t slept under one of those trees.

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The Slovenia/Croatia Border was marked by a hut, guards, barriers and a barbwire fence. 

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Fast, straight (vertical?)  descent into Croatia, it was hot, I was behind schedule, I stopped and moped for a bit. I was finding it hard going, disappointed to be so behind. Croatia’s rural roads are steep, and in some case unfinished, one such road  left my feet and bike covered in concrete. Powered through to Rijeka, steady climb out accompanied by some serious self-talk for motivation: Quitting was not an option, wouldn’t achieve anything, what would be the point. Decided to ride through the night. Ridiculous cross winds on coast road, was glad for heavy bike/bags, came close to being blown off. It was also dark, busy road with a lot of lorries. Fun though- adrenaline riding! Fun stopped about midnight when a creepy van did a slow drive by, stopped slightly ahead in a dark lay by above Senj. It could have could have been innocent, also could have been threatening. I didn’t wait to find out, rode back into the town and found a hotel.

Started with a windy climb out of Senj into the uplands, vast open plains towards Bosnia.  Houses were modest, few and far between, many marred with bullet holes. Crossing into Bosnia at Bihac, I rode up into the hills, past a sign warning of land mines. I climbed into a thick, wet fog, sharing the road in vast expanse of nothingness with VW vans and Trucks. Hours later approached a town where some  locals took me  to a pizzeria /bar next to a mosque, the owner had some rooms upstairs, he let me stay in. Probably not inline EU ISO regs, I slept perfectly. Friendly vibes, very different to home, I was definitely an outsider

 

Day 13 was more wet fog and vast open roads as I rode to Sarajevo. -~50% of houses in Bosnia appear to be homes, the rest empty, derelict many burnt out. People were slow to smile, seeming to be either farmers, Shepard’s, mechanics or a combination of all, utilizing traditional farming methods, old tractors, old cars. The towns were busy, chaotic, polluted. Sarajevo a combination of colorful and dull, modern and dated.

 

Day 14 started well with a good ride to Montenegrin border, past more desolate buildings and along a dirt track to the border control. Once in Montenegro the roads improved as did the scenery towards Pluzine. I passed some TCR bikes at the bottom of the parcours to CP4, not realizing I was going the wrong way- Garmin had froze, gained a hill, lost an hour.

The Parcours began by passing an old stone tunnel carved in the rock, preceding a beautiful climb to Durmitor. It was probably my favorite, it was also hard. I recommend you ride it, but allow more time. At the top it was barren and quickly got  very cold, windy, dark.  I started to descend to CP4 but because confused by the route and had lost faith in my Garmin/route. Confused, cold and scared of falling off the mountain/missing CP4, I stopped at the wrong place. Once in the hut I couldn’t make my self ride the last 6km to the town. Close to taking a lift. Took some brandy instead and stayed in a hut.  Disappointed. Exhausted. Safe

Woke up in the hut, nice view.  I was cold and stiff; Garmin, dead; Phone, almost dead;  battery packs, empty. Rode the 6km to CP4, met a fellow TCR rider. I cried a little, we had breakfast together, compared stories. I stayed in town to charge devices, a few hours later Started riding, within minutes on a gravel track. U-turn, new route needed  Pretty, still smiling, still pedaling -Body not responding, emotionally drained, caved into self pity. Stopped early, accepted I was going to miss the fishers party.

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Breakfast with another TCR rider as we waited for the wet fog to lift, it didn’t. After a few hours riding fog cleared, revealing beautiful scenery along the started riding it did. Steady, steepening climb towards Montenegrin/Kosovo border culminating in a stunning descent between Montenegro and Kosovo. Too fun and too fast to take pictures, I recommend you ride it!

-Police looking out over modest camp between borders

Arrived into into Kosovo, the roads were a little bit crazy, almost as bad as London, got my first  puncture. Had  planned to ride through night, but when it got dark I wussed out,  found motel, ate meat. Slept to the sound of wedding drums

 

Started riding in time to watch the sunrise over Pristina and take in the Kosovan rush hour, Kosovans know how to rock a car share! Decided I like Kosovo, even more so after a second breakfast of the best burger ever. Rode to the Macedonian border, then relaized Id lost my Garmin charger- wrote out some directions in my notebook. Got another puncture. Didn’t enjoy riding in Skopje, possibly worse than London. After a while, travelling south, Macedonia became beautiful, then it got dark. I  met some police, they were in the bushes but friendly enough and directed me to a hotel

 

Macedonia was pretty special, I saw goats, donkeys, horse and carts, bikes and tractors. Met man collecting figs on a horse drawn cart, he gave me a fig. The “road” deteriorated to undulating, gravel/rocky track resulting in ~ 15km at walking pace.

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 I Crossed into Greece about midday, roads were better. It was very hot, I  ran out of water and didn’t see any shops or garages for a long time. Struggled to find way on to the road to take me East. Lots of circles/u-turn. Stopped at garage at 18:00, as finishers party was starting  Tough moment, gutted not to be there. Dinner/Lunch of Maxi Croissants and Coke. Pushed on, taking frustration out on the road.   Stayed under a tree in a compound with a melon seller and his large extended family. They covered me in a blanket as I slept

 

Day 20

LAST DAY- I HOPED

-Early start 4.30am up and over some bumps to Alexandroupolis for breakfast then on to the Turkish border, where Garmin stopped working, again. Luckily there aren’t many roads in Turkey, first a hot, windy busy motor way, then hill into a relentless head wind and finally the turn to Canakkale for the final sprint (well 60 km or so. At this point I felt invincible albeit with mixed emotions about approaching the finish- I didn’t want it to end and go back to normality. I also wanted a lie in. I  almost got eaten by the big white dog at the tunnel, found out later I wasn’t the only one. I Arrived at Ecebat for the Canakkale ferry with 45 minutes to wait, time compose my thoughts. Arrived in Canakkale to a warm welcome of TCR finishers, most of whom I had met on route. We had done it!!!