This is the end.

Actually the last month has been a series of endings.  It felt like the end when I packed up my bike in Geneva.  A few days later if felt like the end when I rode into Birmingham.  Then it felt like the end when I got back to my parents’ place in Dartmouth.  Now it really is the end because from tomorrow I’m going to stop behaving like I’m on holiday and start paying some consideration to the future.  I’ll no longer be able to luxuriate in my unemployment; instead I’ll have to worry and fret and procrastinate like everybody else.

I seem to be the only person in the history of bike touring who has managed to put on weight whilst cycling 3-6 hours per day, so the first thing on the list is to lose the 5kg I’ve gained.  In order to achieve this aim, I’m actually going to ride a lot less, and instead focus on higher intensity/shorter rides, jogging and maybe some gym classes, badminton and ping pong.  Having loads of spare time is a double-edged sword in that there is loads of time to exercise, but even more to eat and drink to excess, so I’m going to cut carbs and quit booze for a month too.  I can’t remember the last time I went even a week without drinking so that’s going to be a big challenge.  Perhaps I will find a hidden resolve and strength of character hitherto obscured by beer.  More probably though, I’ll be cripplingly bored and boring and binge on books and box-sets rather than biscuits and Ben and Jerry’s.

I’ll also have to trawl job websites – envisioning potential new lives in Andalusia, Bristol or Milton Keynes – and submit myself to the tedium of actually applying for some positions.  I’ve already been shooed-in to a cushy local job delivering linen for a holiday home company (which will allow me to save up some beer money for a monumental piss-up on October 1st). That’s just a few hours per week but I’m also going to address my cultural impoverishment by volunteering at the local arts centre.

So that’s about it.  If you’ve followed this blog this far, well done!  I have nothing to offer you beyond this half-finished video of stuff I did in France.  There’s no audio with this one as I couldn’t really think of a suitable song.  Thanks for following…

 

 

 

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France with friends

 

This post is a bit disjointed as I lost a few paragraphs about cycling up and down the Rhone with my friend Paul and I can’t be bothered to re-write them.  Anyway, here’s what I have left, mainly about visiting the Tour de France

Without a doubt, there are multiple benefits to cycle touring with someone else.  There’s the obvious practicalities like being able to leave your bike outside a supermarket without fearing some desperate thief will nab it and/or all of your gear (which is just hanging off your racks totally unsecured) and taking turns out on the road when you’re riding into a block headwind.  Less tangible is the moral support, company and reassurance.  Horrible weather is easier to laugh at with a friend than alone.  Napping on park benches suddenly seems selfish and indulgent though.

Paul and I met another mutual friend Tom and his mate Bill in the park, checked in to our laughably poky ultra-budget ‘hotel’ (which felt like a Channel ferry compartment but was cheap) and went out for a few beers in Orange to share travelling tales and mentally prepare for the following day.  Groups of likeminded roadies were doing the same thing, but they seemed to be on different itineraries, as they were all lycra-clad and accompanied by their bikes at 9pm.

The obligatory bike-checks before setting off in the morning actually caused more problems than they prevented.  This time it was Paul’s turn to experience puncture/valve problems, putting him into a panic as combined with Bastille-opening hours they could easily scupper our plans.  They recurred throughout the day but mercifully stopped by the time we reached the mountain.

Mt Ventoux is a legendary tour climb, unlike all others in its relative remoteness from other mountains, ‘moonscape’ peak and lack of switchbacks to ease the gradient.  Unfortunately, the equally-egendary Mistral wind was blowing and hence the stage was shortened by 6km.  Gusts at the top had already caused hypothermia and toppled caravans but we hoped we would be able to push our way through, or that maybe the people in charge would be less cautious about fans than pro-riders.

After a leisurely 25 miles we arrived at the packed-out village at the base of the climb and gathered our wits (and fresh fruit juice and inner tubes) before setting off.  The crowds were immense.  Like a middle-class music festival on a mountainside.  The road is closed off a few days in advance to allow people to get situated in their camper vans, chalk the road with their idols’ names and drink Campari until they forget how rank it is, but most people arrive just a few hours before the race and schlep their way to the top en masse.

I was jealous of Tom and Bill on their road bikes, wanting as I did to put in a respectable time for Strava, but needn’t have been.  The sheer volume of other cyclists and pedestrians lugging coolboxes and camping chairs up the road made progress pretty slow, especially on the lower slopes.  It’s impossible to quantify the effect of the ‘amiable’ fans’ support though.  Deprived of entertainment, they loudly cheer anyone who stands out (and many who don’t) and were particularly impressed by anyone daring to wheelie or ‘attack’ their riding companions.  I obliged with both of course.  After months on the road, and several climbs as long and possibly harder than this, I felt great but neither Tom nor Bill had climbed anything like this and their enthusiasm was infectious.  It was an amazing experience and I can see myself visiting more Tour stages on climbing days.

The crowds thickened and got rowdier as we got nearer to the foreshortened finish line and eventually we were forced from our bikes by well-drilled and polite Gendarmerie.  Road closed.  No chance to get near the top.  But how about a refreshing beverage at a hastily cobbled-together bar?

After a frigid hour and a tepid beer we decided to descend to warmer climes and managed to find a sunny spot opposite another bar selling E3 cans.  In no time at all the peloton arrived and the aesthetically-challenged but ever-attacking Chris Froome chose this spot to break free from Nairo Quintana. ’ve always wanted to be stood near the decisive moment on a tour stage and this was it! Richie Porte was right on Froome’s wheel and the other GC contenders came through in drips and drabs before burnt out domestiques (riders who ride hard earlier in the stage to support their team leaders) and finally the grupetto (sprinters and other heavyweights who just want to survive the mountain stages and hence ride together at a more leisurely pace).  A few minutes later we heard excited French commentary from the bar’s TV and gradually figured out that Froome and Porte had crashed into a motorbike and Froome was running up the mountain without a bike!

Some obliging Aussies filled in the details and later on we would catch up with the amazing video footage.  He may not be the most charismatic person or stylish rider but Froome is bloody great.  Wiggins or Nibali would have had screaming tantrums if that had happened to them, and neither of them would have been attempting to out sprint Sagan a few days earlier.  Fans love characters (good or bad) and style I guess but Froome is now without a doubt the most entertaining GC rider that I can remember.

After a nerve-wracking descent (caused by huge crowds and crosswinds rather than the road itself) and a fast-paced ride back to the hotel we were all knackered but satisfied and said our farewells as Tom and Bill had to find a campsite.

The following day Paul and I tried to ride north to watch the time trial stage, but the wind was too strong.  We struggled to cover six miles in one hour and eventually realised we wouldn’t make it if we didn’t turn back to catch the train.  After we did so, Paul decided to head on to Lyon to avoid faff and so I was back on my own.

It wasn’t spectacular but it was an interesting experience to visit the time trial start.  You can get really close to the riders and the town was bustling.  I enjoyed a few beers and found a bar to watch the rest of the stage with more Aussies and Americans. Unless something very strange happens in the next few days, those two stages were probably decisive in this tour.

I’m writing this from Grenoble, waiting for another friend to arrive and anticipating a few days of eating and drinking.  Touring Europe is not exactly exotic or adventurous, but being able to meet friends from home more than makes up for it!

France

After leaving the tiny mountain town and easy comfort of Prats-de-Mollo, I struggled a bit with France.  I’ve been here seven times before (I think) despite never really trying, but it’s never been as comfortable as Germany, or Holland, or the Czech Republic, or most countries in Europe to be honest.

In this instance, it was the contrast with Spain that caught me out.  The roads were much busier, narrower and bumpier (much like England in fact) and the drivers infuriatingly and dangerously nonchalant in their passing etiquette.  It’s especially maddening as the scenery is fantastically diverse, but with one eye on potholes and the other on the right-hand wing mirror of passing lorries, it has been kind of hard to appreciate.

And then there is the cost of living.  Just as I’d relaxed the grip on my purse strings in Spain, and enjoyed a few weeks of free beer in the Pyrenees, I was brought back to earth by 6-Euro beers and 15 to 25-Euro campsites.   Actually, the price of beer is so high that I’ve reduced my spending on it by not consuming any.  In bars at least.  Perhaps it’s a ploy to keep their boozehound Barbarian neighbours away?  It’s odd that in most countries beer is the drink of the people, yet in France it seems to be the beverage of the bourgeoise.

I was also infuriated by shops’ opening hours.  Spain was a constant rush to arrive at my destination before the 2pm shutdown and I thought France would at least allow me to relax and ride at my own pace happy in the knowledge that bread and cheese would be purchasable in the afternoon.  Little did I know that shops here shut at 12:30!  How is a civilised English gentleman supposed to enjoy an afternoon Kronenburg (1664, because I’m worth it) if no shopkeep will provide him with one?

True, it was immediately and obviously more peaceful than Spain.  Barking dogs became a thing of the past (although I was chased for the first time in the Pyrenees by some asshat farmer’s marauding mutts), dinner-time is a relatively ‘normal’ 7-8pm and conversations are generally conducted at something below bellowing intensity.  Thinly-moustachioed teenagers on mopeds are suddenly an issue however…

Eventually I came round to it though.  I managed to find some Warm Showers hosts, so exorbitant campsite fees were no longer a problem (and my standard offering of a bottle of wine is mercifully affordable).  After a few days slogging over the midi-Pyrenees and lower Massif Central I ducked out into the Rhone valley in search of flatness and my first host there gave me two great tips.  First – there’s a pretty good (certainly better than the Sustrans/local council junk we have in the UK) cycle path running almost all the way to Lyon.  Second – you can get free tepid water in cemeteries.  I don’t usually frequent the latter, but now I make a point of visiting the sadly departed and quaffing their aqua vita.  Or should that be aqua morte?

The French may be unable  to maintain their roads to EU-bankrolled Spanish levels, but public investment is obvious everywhere else.  I just figured out that tourist information centres (closing down everywhere in the once-again ‘Great’ Britain, because who needs information? And why should we give it to bloody foreigners?  For free!?!) are blissful oases with free-flowing wi-fi and clean toilets.  They even have complimentary toilet paper (which your sizeable entrance fee evidently does not stretch to at campsites by the way).  Also, I might just have been lucky, or maybe this is a seasonal thing, but there seems to be something happening in every town I visit. A few nights ago it was a street performance festival in Ales, today it’s jazz in Vienne.

Even in this post/pre/wtf—Brexit environment, hosts have been readily forthcoming to this little-Englander; considerate and generous with their homes, and their flamboyantly non-English cuisine.  I look like an idiot showing up with my 5-Euro vin-generique but so far they’ve cooked me delicious meals and tactfully avoided the whole Brexit debacle, until I feel the urge to apologise for it.

Two Week Holiday

A few weeks back I met a young American and indulged myself by puncturing her worldview (not a euph’).  Specifically I broke the news to her that us Brits get 28 days off per year, and feel kind of hard done by. “The French get 35”, I told her, without bothering to check my facts but drunkenly confident enough that it’s there or thereabouts.  She was astonished! Spare a thought for the poor and needy in the oppressive work camp known as the US of A next time you’re swigging pints on the beach in some tourist-saturated sunspot…

Holidays are great. Trust me, I’ve been on one for a few months now and it’s showing no signs of getting old.  However, when planning this trip I thought that after few months of almost daily cycling I’d appreciate a break and so I planned a Workaway stop-off at a micro-brewery in the Pyrenees.  They say a change is as good as a break, so surely both of them together must be fantastic, right?

My hosts provide a well-appointed two-bedroom Gite and my food and drink are all covered.  In return I have to do around 20-hours  of work (bottling beer, cleaning equipment, labelling or lugging bottles) per week.  It’s about 1000m up in the mountains, not far from the Spanish border and so ideal for walking and riding when I can be bothered.  Apparently there are no benefits to be gained from living at altitude until you’re at 1400m, but I choose to ignore that wisdom and tell myself that even hauling my ass up the stairs at night is doing me immense good.

After a few months drifting about and never staying put for more than two nights, it’s been lovely to have a place to myself.  Usually you have to wait until the end of your trip to appreciate how much you’ve missed luxuries like a functioning kitchen, double bed and real towel but this is like a little reminder of all those home comforts, minus the ‘home’.  And the reassurance of routine has done me wonders.  I’ve slipped back into my morning lark schedule and used the hours between 6 and 9am to practice Watson*, watch films on Netflix and read books.  For the first time in years I’ve been sleeping 7-8 hours a night and my perennial panda eyes have been replaced by a smooth and even tan on account of the fact I can spend my afternoons sunbathing if I so choose.  When I arrived I thought I’d take the opportunity to even out my fitness with some shorter, high-intensity rides, and I did to some degree but in the last few days I’ve just gone out riding for enjoyment’s sake.  The roads are amazing – twisty, not too steep, quiet and overlooking stunning views.  French drivers aren’t all they’ve cracked up to be.  Maybe it’s a Catalan thing, but close passes on mountain passes have been a frequent occurrence.  And today I got chased by dogs for the first time.  Hopefully things will improve as I head further north.

On the brewing front, it’s been interesting, rewarding and illustrative.  The place I’m at is the most micro of breweries so everything is done by hand.  It’s kind of like stepping back in time to a pre-mechanised era.  I have a reasonable tolerance for menial work (as long as I can listen to my podcasts or music, which fortunately I have been allowed) but it’s been a long time since I’ve done factory graft and to be honest I can’t see myself wanting to return to it!  True, it’s at least as satisfying as my previous desk job, but also tiring and repetitive.  On the plus side I’ve been drinking half of the output, which you can’t do with invoices and spreadsheets.

The most valuable aspect has been the time spent with my host and brewer.  She’s a great communicator, open and honest and a lovely person to0.  Anytime I have a query or thought that needs airing, whether about beer, living and working abroad, cultural differences, language, marketing etc etc she has responded thoughtfully and effusively.  It’s like having the opportunity to do work experience in an industry you’re genuinely interested in and at a time in your life when you can focus on the experience, and do it on a free holiday too.

Tomorrow is my last day though, and I’m a little nervous to be getting back on the (loaded) bike.  I reckon I’ll be camping for the next few nights at least, and my experience of France so far is that everything is much more expensive than Spain (and even more so post-Brexit Sterling devaluation) so I’m expecting some relative hardship.  Still, it’s only a couple of weeks until I meet up with friends and make my way towards the Tour de France.  Keep your eyes peeled on July 14th – I’m hoping to be one of those ‘idiots’ who run alongside the breakaway star, clapping and gurning and spilling their beer and yelling “allezvengamachtschnellcomeonya’bastard” so maybe I’ll be on the highlights.

 

*Those who know will know, those who don’t can wait for the book/DVD/daytime TV show.

 

‘cycling’s Coming Home

If you’ve been reading this blog, thinking, ‘wow, that Dan has hidden depths and sensitivity, I wish I’d valued him more while he was part of my day-to-day life rather than dismiss him as the meatheaded ignoramus he so resembles’, then now (or rather 6-9 weeks from now) is your time to make amends and satiate your appetite for a bit of Dan Time*.  Yes, I am coming back to the UK for a whistle-stop tour of places I’ve lived, have friends or can otherwise exploit goodwill and secure a bed for a night or seven.

I have my accommodation pretty much wrapped up except for a few nights (thanks real friends/family!) but I also have very few specific plans on how to fill my time, so if you want to meet up, and you’re around in the places below on the dates specified, or know of something fun that’s happening let’s work something out.

It should probably go without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway: I’m on a pretty tight budget on account of being unemployed/unemployable and ineligible for any kind of benefits so eating out and pub crawls aren’t really on the agenda, but going for a ride/walk, boozy ‘picnics’, house parties, and eating your food/drinking your beer** most definitely are.

Anyway, here’s my schedule – if you want to join me or know something’s happening,  send me an email/FB message/WhatsApp:

28th July – riding from Bristol to Worcester

29th – riding from Worcester to Birmingham

30th-2nd Aug – in Birmingham

3rd – riding from Birmingham to Tamworth

4th – riding from Tamworth to Nottingham

5th – riding Nottingham to Sheffield

6th/7th – in Sheffield

8th – riding Sheffield to Nottingham

9th/10th – not sure, probably Birmingham (offer me a bed?)

11th-17th/18th/19th – Birmingham (not sure when I will leave)

20th – riding through the night from Bath to Exmouth

21st – sleeping and drooling into my dinner in Dartmouth

22nd onwards – moping, staring out the window at mizzle and wondering what the point of it all was/is.

 

*Like Hammer Time, but a bit with tighter trousers.

**Just kidding, I’l bring a four-pack of Carling

A Particularly Good Run of Things

Apologies for the drop-off in posting frequency; I’ve been busy.  The last few weeks have been a blast and while writing has been on my mind, I haven’t really had time to sit down and smash the keys (not a euph’).

After Madrid I knew I had a couple of weeks to head north west before a Workaway placement in the Pyrenees, but didn’t really have much of a plan.  Unfortunately there was a distinct scarcity of campsites/hostels and hosts in any direction, so I ended up planning and re-planning routes as research eventually unearthed accommodation options.  It all worked out great in the end though.

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Didn’t even get this dude’s name but stayed at his place

First, the destinations and places in-between were great.  From Guadalajara I went through Tartanedo, then Catalayud which was remote but rewarded me with some of the best riding of the trip, around then there were some frustrating off-road detours but they took me through cherry, nectarine, peach and apple fields and I scrumped without fear of being caught (like anyone would care about a handful of cherries from a field of millions).   Then on to Zaragoza and the Catalunyan/Pyrennean towns of Manresa, Vic and Olot.  In between I took a few days in Barcelona, but didn’t bother taking any photos because if I want a picture of the Sagrada Familia, a bajillion other people will have taken a better one than I could and put it on the internet already.

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It takes discipline not to photography every funny sign

Secondly, the hosts were great.  Ranging from a lorry driver who spoke no English at all, to a piano engineer with immaculate British English, a millennial making his way in a rural village, beer-lovers, bike-cafe owners and just awesome people to chat with and comfortable places to stay.  I’m not saying hosts to date have been poor, just that this was an exceptional run of people on the same level as me and who wanted to hang out.

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Catalunya is great for graffiti – this is Olot but there was good stuff in Vic too.

Thirdly, there was some good boozing and conversation with fellow native-speakers of English.  I met up with a former bike-polo acquaintance (and now friend) at his place in Barcelona and sat on his roof terrace for a few hours (buy his book here) then went out on the standard hostel pub-crawl where I managed to avoid the dumbasses and chat to the interesting people before getting too drunk to remember anything.

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Also Olot

Fourthly, I drank delicious Spanish craft beer and ate Japanese food (not exactly easy to find in the boonies) until I felt physically ill, but which allowed me to skip dinner, so it was worth the discomfort, and it distracted me from my hangover so who is the winner really?

Fifthly, the weather was on my side.  A decent amount of tailwinds, glorious sun and heat and no rain to speak of until a shower a few days ago.

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Didn’t even see this was a skull when I took the photo, ergh.

Lastly, the rhythm and balance of all the above was just right, and everything I rave about when I tell people about cycle touring.  Flat highways and mountain climbs, drunkenness and sobriety, solitude and company, comfort and challenge.

Inevitably, it started to rain a few days ago and the weather is looking dodgy for the next week or so, but I’m still smiling because I don’t have to ride anywhere for two weeks while I’m on this Workaway placement.  I inevitably will (in fact, I already have) as I want to maintain and maybe even improve my fitness by doing some higher-intensity stuff and finally putting to use the 1200g of mountain bike tyres I’ve been schlepping around Iberia for the last few months.

+ve/-nve

If you can’t think of anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all”, everyone’s Mom, any time in history*.

I don’t really have much to report, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to attempt to be positive, or at least appreciative about all the stuff that has gone unsaid.  Many people have told me I’m negative (I prefer ‘realist’ but I’ll accept cynical) so this is a minor attempt to redress the balance.  One blog post v 32-ish years of speaking.  That’ll work.

I was thinking today about how normal everything has started to feel, so I thought I’d take the time to attempt to notice all the good stuff:

Both Spain and Portugal have been amazingly good for cycling.  Even better than I expected.  Rural roads are almost entirely quiet and bowling-alley smooth.  When they are busy there’s usually a big shoulder.  Motorists are almost unanimously courteous, and probably half of them give cyclists the widest-possible berth (IE crossing to the other side of the road) and wait to pass if you’re going round a corner.  England is way, way worse by comparison.

The scenery is much more varied than I anticipated too. Having been to Spain a bunch of times as a kid, I thought I had a handle on it, but it’s so verdant at this time of year.  The jagged mountains contrast with the rolling agricultural areas but it’s all been vernal until I got up to Catalunya.  I can believe that it’s the second most mountainous country in Europe; there are very few really easy days.

People I’ve met (via Warm Showers, but also random people I’ve had reason to attempt to communicate with) have all been warm, welcoming and helpful. The Spanish seem to be able to pull of quiet pride (not much flag-waving here), whilst maintaining their traditions and also being pretty open and modern, at least in the cities.

From reading this blog you’d probably get the impression it’s rained a lot, but I think I’ve only got rained on three or four times in the last two months.  Apart from that it’s been gloriously sunny and I’m soaking it up whenever I can.  Only in the last few days has it got above 30 degrees though, so it’s ideal for racking up miles.

Detail-wise, since Madrid I’ve been moving quite quickly between towns and cities, campsites and hosts’ houses, in the rough direction of Barcelona.  I’ve succeeded in worrying less (I just need to sort out the farting now then) and enjoying more, and I’ve followed the Rules – a few beers with hosts, and no chocolate/ice-cream/biscuits/jam etc.  Anyone into endurance sports will appreciate that this is far from the norm, and I have had to increase my bread and fat intake to compensate, but it’s working out pretty well I think.  Without the ability to quickly and easily ingest 500 calories, I need to plan ahead a bit more and stop more often, but that’s no bad thing.  I’m trying to find ways to eat less wheat though (a loaf of bread a day is bad enough, but pasta for dinner is pushing me over the edge).  Any tips gratefully received!

Aaaaand that’s about it.  The most unenjoyable post (to write, and hence probably to read) so far.  That’s why I’m always moaning/ranting/criticising – it’s more fun.  Normal service will return soon.

 

 

How I learned to stop worrying and love the journey

If you’re still reading this thing, you’ve probably realised that it’s a lot more ‘Dan’ than ‘went cycling’.  This post is probably going to be the worst so far, but I hope to turn things around and maybe actually write some things about the places I am going to as well one day…

After eight straight days on the bike, and nights spent either in dorms with Peregrinos or with Warm Showers hosts I decided I wanted some privacy and splurged on a private room in Salamanca for a few day

I periodically crave privacy, and the simple pleasure of a space to call my own, if only for a night or two.  To scatter my shit (figuratively, I mean) wherever I please, as opposed to the obligations inherent in being somebody’s guest, or having to consider the routines and feelings of other people.  It’s a weird desire that creeps up on me but I find it so satisfying when it is satiated.  I wonder if other people feel the same or if it’s a ‘me’ thing, or an ‘only-child’ thing or an ‘early mid-life-crisis-having, self-indulgent egotist’ thing or what? Whatever, it was E19 well-spent.

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But then I know the pendulum will swing and I’ll be itching to move again and glad to be spending the equivalent of a working day pedalling towards an unknown destination.  I acknowledged these juvenile mood-swings, whilst at the same time making plans for the far-flung future (July) when I’ll meet friends in France hopefully witness Chris Froome push his wobbly head into the lead of le Tour.

Salamanca itself is an attractive University town and I occupied my time wandering the streets as usual and having a bit of an existential wobble; the kind only middle-class people with two much time on their hands can indulge in. The consequence of which was me drinking alone again in the middle of the day, and then bingeing on sugar as a way to distract myself from my worries.  It occurred to me that this could be a tipping point into something more serious and that I’d better address it.  Simply thinking about things obviously wasn’t working so I reached out to a friend back home and spilled my guts in an emotional email, which even if he didn’t respond to, at least would serve as a purge.  Fortunately he did respond, with generous and insightful comments and wise advice and I’m hugely grateful for his help getting me through that sticky patch.  I resolved to set myself some new substance-abuse guidelines for this trip: I’ll only allow myself one beer if I’m drinking alone, and I will revert to a low sugar diet and try to worry less and enjoy more*.

Refreshed and renewed (and E32 lighter after having to buy new brake pads after only 6 weeks cycling) I had a few days to kill before meeting my former housemate (and her friend) in Madrid, so indulged myself by following a huge tailwind to Valladolid for a night and then down to Segovia.  In the former I stayed with a Warm Showers host and enjoyed a street performance as part of a free arts festival, and in the latter got drunk (within the rules) with an outgoing and chatty motorcycle tourist who happened to be sharing my hostel.  Thanks for the beers, if you’re reading this, Polish-guy-whose-name-I-forgot!

Then it was an arduous day crossing the mountains north of Madrid. Every time I have a big mountain day, the weather seems to turn on me.  Once I’d crested the 6000ft peak it started to rain and despite layering up in winter clothes I was shivering with crippled hands within 5 minutes, and the next hour pushed me into tantrum territory until I eventually made it to my next host’s place and was brought down to earth by his much worse condition (I won’t go into it here because it just doesn’t seem right to write about my hosts on a public blog; suffice to say I need to realise that I’ve had an easy life and my concerns are pathetic in comparison to others’).

Suitably chastened, and looking forward to seeing my friend, I left my bike and things at my host’s place and rode the bus the 40km into Madrid and checked into a hostel for a few nights.

What followed was a day and a half of cana, vino tinto, tapas and intense conversation. I was so excited after a couple of months travelling alone, butting up against a language barrier of varying size that I’m afraid I bored and exhausted my friend (and her travelling companion whom I’d only just met) by dominating the conversations and pontificating on such heavy topics as life, death, decisions, failure, relationships, learning, careers, travel, Tai-Jing**, genetics and genitalia.  As far as therapy goes though, it was badly needed and almost as valuable as my other friend’s email advice a few days before.

There are inevitably periods of loneliness when travelling solo on a bike, but that wasn’t quite the cause of my malaise; so much of our identity is caught up in our language that I think I felt partially erased after so long without being able to express nuance, or irony or even really a sense of levity.  Anyway, I exorcised those demons and exercised my vocal chords and it was an awesome couple of days and I’m hugely grateful to my friend(s) for meeting me and putting up with my prolixity.  It was so good, and put me in such a positive mood that I didn’t even worry about the E100 or so I spent mostly on jamon!

The next week or so will take me north east; possibly to Zaragoza and/or Barcelona, before I choose the easiest route I can over the Pyrenees, to France and a Workaway position I’ve had planned for a while.  Then it will be on to Lyon and Grenoble to meet more friends and then probably back to the UK for August.  I’m thinking about riding around visiting people so you might receive an email or text message from me begging for a couch to crash on, or suggesting we go for a beer.  To be forewarned is to be forearmed (with excuses)!

*The actual rules are much more detailed/personal/cringeworthy than this, but they have a good chance of working for me and that’s what counts.

**Inside joke.

Cycling without a chamois

chamois

Hilarious visual pun intended

Brace yourself because here it is.  The post you’ve been waiting for, although one on which  you’ll be glad not to see any of my photographs.  It’s about my arse.  Well, not just my arse; arses in general. It might even have relevance your arse, who knows?  You’ll just have to keep reading to find out.

Cycling shorts are a tepidly-debated topic in cycling.  Non-cyclists ridicule the aesthetic but it’s often an early purchase for someone getting interested in cycling who wants to ride longer distances without excess bum pain.  The stretchiness of the material reduces chafing and the padded insert (or “chamois” for the uninitiated) prevents pressure on your perineum.

For cycle touring then, you’d assume they’d be the obvious choice, but I decided not to bother.  Here’s why:

Firstly, and obviously, they look ridiculous.  I can deal with it when I’m out on my road bike and the look is at least consistent (all tight clothes, silly shoes, svelte bike and high speeds).  On those rides I also don’t really care if I visually offend the locals in any pub of cafe I might stop off in.  Usually, I don’t stop though; it’s just a few hours out-and-back and then the shorts go straight into the wash where the grotesque gooch-sweat can be rinsed out of the porous material immediately.  On a tour though, I might spend a few hours napping in a park (perhaps even near a children’s play area, although I would obviously avoid it if possible) in the middle of the day, where the look might not be appreciated.  If I go into a bar or shop, I’m already embarrassed by my absolute inability to speak any of the language; I don’t need anything else to make the situation worse.

Secondly, they’re just not that practical for touring.  You really should wash them in hot, crotch-rot-preventing water immediately after use, which isn’t realistic if you are camping.  Presenting them to your warm showers host on arrival will also not endear you…   Sitting around in them in the middle of the day is a) uncomfortable and b) unhygienic.  Furthermore, I’ve had as many problems with soreness with a pad as I have had without.

On this tour I have a couple of pairs of ‘cycling-specific’ baggy shorts and a couple or regular cotton ones.  The regular H&M ones are actually fine, despite the supposedly problematic crotch-seam, if a little snug around my ‘sprinter’s thighs’.  I find if I alternate between a few different pairs the parts that do rub have a day to recover in between and that seems like enough.

I’ve been slavishly following a precise bum-beauty routine: chamois cream (think Sudocrem only thinner, less sweaty and 10x the price) in the morning; shower as soon after getting off the bike as possible; Savlon and then clean pants for the afternoon/evening.  It seems to be working although I do have a recurring soreness on the bumcheek/thigh junction of my left leg.  This has been an issue for years and I don’t think it’s a saddle sore as it’s not really apparent on the surface and never has been – it’s like a bone pain and I think it might be caused by some leg-length discrepancy or pelvis tilt or something.  I’ve tried different saddles to no avail but might have (yet) another try on a Brooks to see if that has an effect.

Anyway,  that’s my experience of cycling without a chamois.  I’ll probably return to padded shorts on my road bike but it’s good to know I can do multiple 5-6 hour days in regular pants.  Maybe I should write a quasi-spiritual book about the merits of Barebum Biking…