Bretagne Voie Verte
Bretagne Voie Verte

As life begins to settle here in Devon the weather has gone the other way returning to rain and more rain. This makes life for anybody who isn’t working a little more trying and difficult as you are forced to either go out in the rain or find other pursuits to occupy your time.

Writing is now established as one of my favourite things to do and I’ve begun another chapter of my story full of childhood memories and a journey of two distinct halves. I’ve also started to construct a guide to the French cycle route La velodyssey that provided me with 1450 kilometres of wonderful adventure this summer.

I approached Cicerone Press about possible publication but whilst agreeing with my outline proposal they have already engaged somebody to write this chapter for them. Never one to be put off I have given some thought to what a guidebook should be and feel that many are dry merely informative without any real passion or involvement from the author. I’m hoping to change that and take a small leaf from that wonderful writer Mr Wainwright in trying to produce something that makes people want to ride the route rather than just find out information about it. Whether both these projects will come to fruition is of no great matter. Just beginning to work in a structured way is of great benefit to me as I’m then occupied in a meaningful manner.

Thursday last week was a warm and sunny day here so the laptop was swapped for Fly (my cycle) and off we went into the wild, blue, yonder. I was dragging my folding trailer along as I needed to shop for food at some point. The lanes were quiet and the views magnificent but for a while I felt shut in my head and unable to see what lay all around. My legs felt like jelly with no power and I simply toiled gently up the hills waiting for the moment when my mind realised I was in amongst nature and began to take notice.

I passed through a bout of emotional tears which was followed by an angry outburst. My mind chuntered away about forgetting Facebook, selling everything, and disappearing, as it often does when I’m not at my best. Then a buzzard took off from a fence post right next to me. I couldn’t avoid taking notice and I popped straight out of gloom and doom to find Devon lain out before my eyes.

Further on I stopped at Devon Cycle Hire to see my friends and they were immersed in their work as people returned their hired cycles to the shop. I thought to myself that it’s a little like the wartime bombing raids. Every day they count out the cycles that leave the shop only to spend the day wondering how many will return and in what shape. They always find time for a chat and as we did so in the sunshine people began to return from their mini-adventures along the Granite Way.

Joe who I met aboard the ferry to france
Joe who I met aboard the ferry to france

They appeared relaxed and happy as they ordered their drinks and ice-creams. Some stood looking at Fly, trying to work out what she actually is. I have to say that cycles of this ilk are few and far between with her large frame and relatively small wheels. The lack of a derailleur always brings questions like “is that a three speed like a Sturmey Archer” and suchlike to which I reply by saying “it’s a fourteen speed” nonchalantly and watching as their faces try to work out how fourteen gears could live in that wee metal housing. I usually add that “it’s German” and that satisfies the need to understand as Germans build lots of reliable things that we can’t, like cars. The final ignominy for Fly is that they then pick her up and say nothing. Yes she is relatively heavy, but not for what she is designed to do which involves lots of weight and rough surfaces.

Peoples attention then moves to the trailer. “Is it heavy,” they ask whilst still reeling from picking up the bike which they expected to be less than half the weight it is. “Depends how much shopping I buy” is my stock slightly sarcastic answer. Sometimes I get “Does it pull uphill,”from those who have read CTC (Cyclist Touring Club) write-ups on trailers. “No, gravity is suspended on trailers,” I think to myself before answering that “you feel the weight but only because you rarely notice it at other times.”

Finally I get the inevitable question from those who watch the Tour de France, completely missing the pained expressions of the riders, and their massive ability as pro-cyclists, by thinking 220km a day is normal. They then ask how many miles a day do you do? When I answer “around fifty to sixty, eighty tops,” this has often been met with expressions like “pretty relaxed then,” at which point I have a strong desire to give them the bike, trailer, and equipment and say “yes, go and do it for four months.” Ever patient I usually reply with something like “It’s enough when you are on the road for months with all your camping equipment, food, and no support vehicle.” Or my favourite: “it’s supposd to be fun and I like to relax after a ride before the next day.” That does the trick every time and I leave them trying to imagine all the stuff they take camping loaded onto a bike.

Now fully awake and feeling good about life, cycling, and everything I set off in the direction of Okehampton where I purchased large quantities of food from Lidl, something that always makes me feel good about the world, especially as I’ve arrived on my bike. It was whilst I trundled along the old railway line towards Okehapton that I noticed how bad Fly was sounding. It was a kind of graunching sound that isn’t usually apparent in a well maintained cycle and it made me realise that I had done precious little to my much-loved bike since returning from this trip.

An invitation to lunch, French style :)
An invitation to lunch, French style 🙂

Once I focussed on the noise from far within Flys heart I couldn’t ignore it. There’s no volume control to use in order to drown the sounds like there is in your average salesman’s car and all the way home it sounded as though I was torturing the poor thing. Now it might be a top-line expedition bike but it still needs more than a wash and lube from time to time. Nevertheless, this what I did when I returned home and it slightly alleviated my burgeoning guilt.

Now I knew the chain was wrecked. It had driven me from Lands End to the Shetlands prior to this years trip. Being a little short on cash I had decided that it would last this years trip as well. On top of that I had ridden Fly a fair bit in between the two big journeys and this was just a cheap SRAM chain were talking about. Whilst contemplating the final climbs of the Pyrenees I had reached the end of the available adjustment on this particular item and being so close to home I had taken out a link to shorten it and get me to the end, which it duly did.

Turing my attention to the front and rear sprockets I was amazed how good they still looked. The 16 tooth rear sprocket had being going round and round since I got to Berwick Upon Tweed during my circumnavigation of the UK coastline in 2011. These rear rings are tough little chaps as well as being reversible, which is what we did prior to last years ride of a further 3500km’s.

The front chainring was fitted when Fly was born and had been doing its job ever since with just a little bit of wear on the side of the teeth where the drive engages. That means it has done two major tours through monsoon, sand, and dust. At times it’s been underwater to the extent of my having a floating trailer box and a tide mark around my upper thighs! It gets cleaned once a week when I travel and lubed at the same time as the chain.

Apart from replacing those the bike needs nothing else and that is something I find remarkable. I set off this year with a set of half worn brake blocks and replaced them all once in 2000 kilometres. The cable and bottom bracket are fine as are the steering bearings and the hubs. I changed the oil in the Rohloff before I set off and will do it again over the winter. Even the tyres look as though they haven’t done anything and I have a pile of spares in the shed just waiting until I need them.

Nantes-Brest canal
Nantes-Brest canal

The sum total to replace all of these items is £120.00 and that includes the cost of the tool I need to remove the rear sprocket from the Rohloff hub (£30). In reality then it’s cost me £90 to cycle all those thousands of miles. If I add in the pleasure factor from those trips it seems cheap beyond mention and that’s how I justified the expense to my cash stricken bank account.

With those parts on order I can now happily strip Fly to her component parts and rebuild her all ready for the next ride, which I hope will be a non-touring weeks cycling on Arran with Michele at the beginning of September. I’m writing this because if this was a derailleured cycle I would be looking at that sort of expense on a much more frequent basis and in this light the Rohloff hub begins to make a lot sense as good investment.

Of course it also means that I get to fill the kitchen with grease and bike parts, something that makes me very happy. There’s a kind of therapy in taking care of things and in particular to working on cycles. Perhaps it’s the order and organisation amongst what could be a messy affair. I don’t know but I do love twindling the spanners and tools as the end result is usually a shiny, responsive bike that’s up to taking on silly journeys.

The only irksome job is having to re-solder the connections that attach my Biologic Reecharge to the dynamo and this has only come bout since I removed the front wheel and forgot it was connected in the first place! In all fairness I was a little preoccupied at the time with the huge mountain I was trying to propel myself, bike, and trailer over. There was no puncture. There has only been one since 2010 but perhaps I needed an excuse to rest when I convinced myself that there was one.

on a different note I’m still waiting to hear from our beloved government department about what they think my state of health is and whether their view tallies with those with some real understanding. In the meantime I’ve taken the bull by the horns and called the NHS’s Expert Patient scheme in order to try to secure some future paid tutoring role. The person I spoke to on the phone sounded keen that I got involved and to that end I’m undertaking a six-week course that begins in September where a group of people with unrelated long time illness discuss and develop ideas that help them to manage better from day-to-day.

By the Loire
By the Loire

The course consists of six sessions, each two and half hours long, and that sounds manageable to me. It’s one of those scenarios whereby you have to take part in the scheme before you can be considered for a role in teaching it. I’m looking forward to it without any signs of anxiety or threat. Bringing people together in order to talk is something that is both enlightening and raises your own awareness. It’s also what I ride for. People manage in all manner of ways and you are bound to come away with fresh ideas and new approaches to similar problems.

All in all this is going to leave me with plenty to do and plenty to think about. I’m already enjoying the research side of trying to write a guidebook that makes sense and the writing of the third chapter in my story is something that feels a natural undertaking after the previous two books.

There is also another project I’m beginning to entertain. Something different from the last three years but now isn’t the time or place to talk about it.

Life goes on………….