I’m writing this this week backwards because of the tragic news of the death of Whitney Houston. None of us knew her, but we knew her voice. An incredible, melodic, joyful and soulful voice that could express emotion in a way that always brought me to tears. This morning I sat and wept whilst  the beautiful ‘I will always love you’ echoed in my head and I took in the news. Another troubled soul loses their battle with life. God bless you Whitney and thank you for  your music which lives on forever.

Once I’d recovered a little from the shock of that I got ready to go out on my bike. The Sunday ritual once more. This Sunday was a little different as the ‘Sustrans crew’ had travelled down yesterday, riding the Devon ‘coast to coast’  route in order to complete a risk assessment for this year charity fundraiser in May. I’d agreed to meet Kate and Katie on the road to guide them through the section from Yarde cafe to The Fox and Hounds pub near Lydford. Sadly it was a case of ‘the best laid plans of mice and men’ as Kate got really ill overnight and had to abandon. That mean’t that Katie and I rode to Okehampton and then she was picked up by friends in order to return to Bristol. The risk assessment would have to wait.

It was lovely to ride along with somebody else exchanging experiences of cycle travel and life.  Riding home was a case of looking at the beautiful scenery, feeling glad to be alive, whist Whitney sang in my head to keep me company. I’ve always been musical and was seen as a gifted pianist when I was younger. Part of that gift is that I can hear voices and instruments perfectly pitched, just like a recording without any form of ipod. So Whitney sang and I rode, breaking into song on the sections of the ride where I felt really relaxed and then the world returned to its normal shape as I did.

Craster Kippers. Free to a long distance cyclist.

By the time I pulled into the close I felt utterly exhausted physically. It wasn’t the riding or the bad news that had brought that on. It was the fact that Saturday had been a massive day for me as I prepared to stand up and speak publicly for the first time since I used to teach. I’d been asked to talk at an event called ‘What the cyclist saw’ at Yarde cafe on the Tarka Trail and on arriving it was obvious that there was going to be a big turn out for it. I’d done my homework, rebuilding the slideshow I’d previously prepared that had somehow been corrupted.

There were five speakers in total with a wide range of cycling experiences and an equally wide presentation styles. First up was David Piper. David is circling the world in stages as work, time and money allows. Tonight he lead us by the hand across the Nullabor plain in Australia. Several thousand lonely miles, with few places to get any food or water and roads as straight as arrows, it looked one of the lonliest challenges that you could ever ride. David accomplished it in three weeks! My favourite part was when he showed a sign for a picnic area 250km away! it was all there was, just a bench and that’s a long way away when you’re cycling. There was nothing else so this sign had been put up to celebrate the picnic area.

Baz is a musician, a really good one. Long, long ago when he was only  twenty something  (Late 1980’s),  he and two friends had ridden across Mongolia and China to photograph things as they were seen in a book of photgraphs from eons before. A wild and whacky adventure of little food, cultural bliss, massive peace and brief imprisonment kept us all enthralled as Baz’s animated style and passion leapt from where he spoke and we listened to clips of people speaking and singing in Mongolian, which Baz likened to Klingon.

Next up was Kerry from Sustrans. Last year she’d been made redundant and decided to spend her ‘pennies’ on a modern version of the Victorian ‘Grand Tour’ that aristocrats used to make every summer. Her version, ‘A Grand tour on a Grand’ saw her ride from Bristol to Rome, some 2000 miles, on a budget of £1000. What followed was a brilliant slide show, set to music with wonderful photography. by the time she finished a huge ‘feelgood factor’ had descended on the audience .

Then it was my turn! I began with a warning that I used to be a teacher, so if anybody nodded off I’d probably throw the remote control at them, lol. Like everything in life the first step was the hardest and I made my way without stumbling through my 90 minute presentation.  I tried to do it with absolute humour, honesty and openess about the mental health issues that have plagued my life and the audience were amazing. Right at the end, my own emotion welled as I tried to explain what the journey had meant to me and my life and on that I finished, shattered.

The ‘baguette bike’ I rebuilt for my friend Agni who’s moving to France with her Partner

Katie gave a short talk on Sustrans and what they stand for. She said it was unprepared but it was still brilliant and informative. I’m amazed how many cyclists/people don’t know about Sustrans or the National Cycle Network but thanks to Katie ther are now a bunch more who do.

Finally, David, who owns this brilliant cafe, stood up and showed some traditional slides, ie: not digitalised but real slides. He and a friend had ridden across Tibet, illegally in the 1980’s when China had just invaded. His knowledge of how this had affected the eco systems and the culture was fascinating as was the story of how they hid from the police for days before realising that they were, in fact, the Postmen!

It was a brilliant afternoon/evening and once the talking stopped the drink flowed (no I didn’t) and the music started. You could hardly move in the cafe and I hung in there until 10pm when I could no longer stay awake or talk any more. I was given many compliments on the talk and the ride and left feeling really good about life, something that’s been a long time coming.

Whilst all this went on, Charlie and several others slaved away preparing a fantasic spread of food which was devoured by a room full of people with appetites as big as you can imagine. It was an incredible event and one I hope will be repeated over the years to come. I will be returning there on May 19th to meet Sustrans and help lead a day of their charity fundraiser as well as repeating the talk I gave last night to a different audience. Then we’ll all head to Plymouth over the next two days,  after which it’ll be time to head off on my next adventure.  I can’t quite believe how quickly that seems to be coming around.

Back in Hatherleigh basecamp I had a busy and encouraging week around the book I’m trying to get out. I contacted Kindle Direct Publishing as I couldn’t tell on their previewer whether the books electronics worked, or whether all the pictures were there as they should be. It’s all dead clever, you can leap from chapter to chapter using an active Table of contents (TOC) or ‘go to’ various places in the book like the TOC by pressing a button.  I nearly did cartwheels when the email came back telling me that it all worked as it’s supposed to. That was worth all the time it took to learn how to build those things into my book, something I’ve never even thought about before. You see, electronic books don’t have pages as such and the reader can change the font and screen size on things like the iphone/pad. Therefore your ‘TOC’ can’t have pages on and the ones windows can create all do! I had to delve around and find out how to create one without pages that recognises certain heading, like chapters and I was chuffed to bits when I did and managed to get it to work.

Not long now!

Now all I have to do is correct the manuscript that’s being proof read, write a summary, set up an account, apply the book cover, decide a price, construct the Blurb paper version, market the thing………………………….

The best thing to happen this week though was the fact that I really feel like I’m pulling out of the all to familiar ‘winter nosedive’. I’ve more energy and passion about everything and it couldn’t have come at a better time as I juggle a million things between falling asleep in the afternoons and riding my bike.

Whitney, we will always love you, it’s just sad you didn’t know.

See you next time.