Proud as punch to release this, my second book.
Proud as punch to release this, my second book.

With another ribbon of tarmac stretching out in my imagination, and just three weeks before I begin to pedal along it, I thought I would write a little about my thoughts and the processes I’m going through in the build-up to this years ride.

At long last the sun has come out in Devon. It couldn’t happen soon enough for me. This winter has seemed interminable and to get out on the bike in warm air and just cruise along reminds me of why I love it so much. The cold and wet weather has left me feeling battered and in need of TLC. Earlier this week I rode to Tavistock and back, via Okehampton and the Granite Way, giving me a sixty mile ride with lots of hills  to enjoy. There was hardly a cloud in the sky and even though the wind still had a biting edge it was the most fun I’ve had in as long as I can remember, if a little tiring.

The build-up to this years ride is just as challenging as ever. I’ve had to fundraise in order to go at all and plan it whilst writing and publishing my second book in the Riding2Recovery series: All around the ragged edges. The enjoyment of the actual writing evaporated a long time ago as the long-winded editing began.

Editing is as big a skill as writing. A good editor brings clarity to your work, by removing repetition, correcting punctuation, asking for re-written sections that are unclear, and ensuring continuity and consistency. For this I owe a huge thank you to Michele Reed Taborn, because without her patient input the book would never have appeared at all in a legible state. I also owe a thank you Mark Kidson for producing a great cover from the photograph I gave him. People do judge books by covers, and these are especially important when shrunk to a thumbnail size.

I wanted to give you, the reader, more this year and so I set about formatting the book for both Smashwords and Amazon as well as producing a paper version for avid page turners. The first two are up and running and I’m already receiving excellent feedback on it. You can now download a copy for any eReading device in a few simple steps at Smashwords.com. The paper version that I produced last year was expensive and lacked pictures and diagrams. This year the book will have thirty photographs and hand drawn diagrams of the route I followed throughout the journey. I’m waiting on a copy to arrive in order to give it a final check before launching it, but have high hopes that it represents a step forward in quality. It will also be cheaper as Blurb have changed their pricing policy, something I hope will also be of benefit during these tough times.

Finishing this part of the project was only a small part of what I’ve had to do this year. The fundraising that I started added up to a brilliant £750. Whilst not being enough to undertake the project I intended, it’s enough to do another ride. The headache was in deciding what to do as it was now April and I intended to leave around the last week in May.

Spring means warm rides and sunshine.
Spring means warm rides and sunshine.

I have mentioned Eurovelo previously. They are a series of routes that are being put together and way-marked right across Europe. The part of Eurovelo 1 that runs from Roscoff in Brittany down the Atlantic coast to the spanish border is called Velodyssey and is way-marked all the way. An impressive  eighty percent of the route uses greenways, canals and cycle paths and I just couldn’t resist the temptation. From the end of this route I will ride across the Pyrenees, taking in the high passes and ending up at my friend’s house near Carcasonne.

I feel nervous about this ride, perhaps more so than previously. It’s a big step to spend six weeks riding in a country where I don’t speak the language and one that’s been causing more than a little anxiety. My health over the winter is best described as fluctuating, and now the sun has returned, I hope that everything will begin to settle down a little. I haven’t been able to cycle properly in quite a while, but like last year, I have maintained a reasonable level of fitness despite my minds attempts to undermine it. Overall I think I’m learning to trust in my ability and relax when things feel as though they will overwhelm me, something that seems to occur at least twice a week.

Weaving my way through the tiredness and worry that I won’t be able to perform is something that I should be used to by now. It happened last year and the previous year and I now have the benefit of those experiences. It isn’t a comfortable place to sit as it has obvious limitations on how much training I can do. It is real though and I have to listen to it and take whatever action will get me through to the next day. In those terms my riding is still a lottery and I’m not able to make a plan of action and stick to it without it being detrimental to my health. I work around the issues and the bouts of depression and this has allowed me to undertake and complete two amazing rides. I try to remember the old adage that you can ride yourself into fitness with the knowledge that this works well for me.

Two cyclists taking a break to wander up Brentor
Two cyclists taking a break to wander up Brentor

I came close to deciding to ride with panniers and travel light this year. Then I remembered how big an effect not having Trevor with me had last year. It’s taken time to work out a better system but I think I now have the best of both worlds. Trevor is now decked out with an old recycling bin that I had knocking about in the shed. It’s much lighter than the aluminium box I used last time out. I made the change because I felt unsure about dragging that box over numerous cols when I was considering the 100 Cols tour (something I would still dearly love to do at some point).

It’s very light and compact, with about two-thirds of the capacity of the trailer box I used last time out. This forces me to take less although I can still add the small front panniers to the bikes rear rack to expand the system. We will see when it comes to packing. The box has sprouted some stickers and a pendant flag that Sustrans sent me and looks great. I can also pack it small for the return journey, whatever means I decide to use to make it. I’ve also swapped the pulling handle over so it will be on the near side when I’m cycling on the righthand side of the road. This is a neat touch to an already versatile trailer.

Mapping is not so easy. As the world moves towards the point where everybody relies on electronics, I’m finding limitations to almost every device known to man. Small screens, not enough waypoint capability, poor battery life, expensive map purchases. These are but a few of the things I’ve come across. La Velodyssey is a convoluted route of around 1200 kilometres. It doesn’t simply follow the coast, but should be reasonably waymarked. You can download GPX tracks, but the sections are long with many waypoints.

Since writing that section I have now downloaded maps from Outdoorgps.com and downloaded the GPX tracks to it. These maps will run offline as well as with a signal so I should always be able to see where I went wrong. I’ll be sure to let you know how this works once I’m out and riding. For those who didn’t follow last years ride I’ll be charging my phone as I ride using the Son hub dynamo in conjunction with a Dahon Reecharger. In this way I should be able to run the phone constantly when I need it.

I’m left with a few jobs left to finish and time to ride gently a few more times. Perhaps the biggest bonus this year is the fact that I’ve raised enough money to ride without enough to go for months on end. I say it could be a bonus because although I love the longer trip they take an awful lot readjustment when I return home. Going for less time means that I have greater continuity with my therapist and doctor, something I think will help me anchor myself before the summers out. Secondary to that, a shorter journey will take less from me. This will also mean I have more energy on my return.

Sustrans own Granite Way on a perfect day
Sustrans own Granite Way on a perfect day

During this tour I will have more time to look and see with less pressure to keep going. This can only be good for my writing and my health. I hope it will also help me to add colour to the next written chapter in that particular journey. i already have a few ideas about where I want to go next. some of them are quite exciting and will broaden my horizons if they come off.

Whatever this journey brings it will provide me with another big step forwards in my recovery as well as a huge physical challenge. I’ve never ridden a bicycle up a high alpine pass and my route across the Pyrenees is littered with famous names  like the Col d’Aubisque, Col du Tourmalet, Col d’Aspin and the Col de Portet d’Aspet.

These mountain passes are climbs that I have watched during the Tour de France as top riders fight and battle each other on their flanks. I won’t be fighting anything but my own desire to have it over with. I know from experience that sitting atop one of these passes is one of the best experiences in cycling and I can’t wait to be there.

That is all a long way off at the moment as I return to the list of jobs and errands that are needed to ensure my readiness to leave. I may well cycle from home to Plymouth, easing my way into the simple routines that I love and know so well.

I’ve now set up my Justgiving page for this years fundraising and once again I will be supporting Sustrans. From the state of my local trails I know that there are areas where they have been decimated by the weather. Remembering where this journey began for me reminded me of why it’s so important to support their work. Their routes are ever-expanding with some becoming part of the newly set up Eurovelo routes. The route I’m following, La Velodysee, actually begins in Ilfracombe by following Sustrans Coast to coast route through Devon. You can donate via the link below and help to maintain and expand the National Cycle Network into the future.

Please donate at: http://www.justgiving.com/Graeme-Willgress1

You can find my latest edition by following the link on the sidebar to my books. I hope it gives you as much enjoyment to read as I got from writing it.