Gully! What a gorge-ous couloir, canyon not defile it?

What I may lack in pun quality I try to make up for in exuberant quantity.

Having spent a comfortable pagan night camped amongst the stone sentinels my morning began with another high pass to reach. At 2260m it was only a few hundered short of Selim and constituted a hearty mornings work.

But safe in the knowledge that my destination for the day, Goris, was only 25k beyond I could relax and enjoy the growing majesty of the surrounds.

It hadn't rained here for days but the snow hung on even on the road side making me glad of warm gloves and hat despite the high sun and bitterly lamenting the loss of my buff as the cold wind came down off the peaks.

Ancient Armenia

A deliriously fun descent from Selim was the first order of the day and with Handel's Trumpet Concertio pushing away thoughts of my frozen feet I could concentrate on soaking up the beguilingly hazy views offered up by every twist and turn.

Working my way down the valley I watched as winter fell away replaced by the last of autumns leaves and the beginnings of pretty riverside orchards.

Back on the road again

I had said my goodbyes to Spitak on the Saturday allowing me to take my leave unobtrusively on a clear and crisp Sunday morning. Retracing my steps, taken over a month previously, to Vanadazor.

I had to reach the Iranian border by the 6th of December putting a less than welcome time-scale on my progress. Still after some initial wobbles my confidence returned and the going was fine. If I was stopping rather more than previously and feeling a touch discombobulated it wasn't sufficient to prevent me making steady progress.

South of Vanadazor I entered gentle hillsides.

The last of Autumn still hanging on picturesquely in places.

Dark clouds over Yerevan

I took a Marshutka to Yerevan which meant going to some wasteland behind a pharmacy and saying Yerevan to various loiterers before lucking upon a driver, who pointed at this glorious vehicle.

The bus doesn't leave until full and so people enter, put a bag on a seat, and then get off for a cigarette, go shopping, or talk loudly into mobiles. How this doesn't result in the bus never leaving is a mystery to me but through some magical process passengers re-coagulated at a seemingly unappointed moment and we were off.

The recovery of Thom-Jan

Safely in Spitak I sat on the outside wall of the YMCA tired and unable to summon the will to enter. Within minutes a friendly greeting came to find me as Haykuhi and Alva ushered me inside and showed me to my room.

Both the welcome and the room couldn't have been further from my Vanadzor experience.

Homage to Shatalonia*

The cold morning of my third day in Armenia soon wilted and a gorgeous sunny day rapidly had me stripping-off layers. The road steepened as I closed in on the Vanadazor plateau and despite stopping to inhale the last of my provisions (bread and nutella) I wasn't making great progress.

In truth I felt tired - which was odd given I had slept like a log from 9pm-6am. Still, I was in no rush and so under the guise of letting my tent dry I gave in and stopped sometime late morning. Having stretched out my Hilliburg I promptly laid down and slept - cold floor chilling my bum while the sun warmed my face.

Waking an hour later feeling not very refreshed I loaded back up and wobbled on.

Something didn't feel right and so I pulled in at a petrol station and attempted to make use of the facilities. Nothing doing - but if the clammy sweat and stomach cramps were anything to go by that state of affairs was unlikely to persist,

Half a mile further up the road things reached their predictable climax. If the sight of a fully loaded English touring cyclist didn't attract enough attention one suddenly projectile vomiting off the bike surely would have. Blessedly there was no one around to witness this low point or indeed to knock me over as the sheer force of my convulsions sent me zigzagging across the tarmac.

Debed Canyon

My days in energetic Tibilsi coincided with the city's annual independence celebration and thus necessitated greater than even usual Georgian alcohol consumption. Vague recollections of drunken horsemen clattering up cobbled streets filled with festive Georgians like some Tolstoyan nightmare bubbled up as I awoke hungover.

I'd enjoyed my time in the city in an aimless way: Meeting a trio of Anglo-Australians driving from Tokyo to South Africa via London, ineptly wooing a pretty Georgian girl named for their warrior queen regent and eating outrageous quantities of khachapuri and dumplings.

At first light, having had my fill, I fled the capital which I have failed utterly to document. Leaving behind its steep valley setting, hilariously bad luminous Eiffel tower rip off and sulphur springs,

The good.

The bad

A crisp sunny autumnal morning greeted me as I followed the course of the Kura heading due south.

Georgian river running

An already leisurely departure from Batumi was further delayed firstly by meeting a friendly South African cycle tourist who was bird watching his way from Europe to Cambodia. After sharing route tips and discussing the Georgian raptor migration the sun had drifted past the yard arm so I decided to have a hearty lunch before setting off.

Eventually I rolled out of the hostels door, went all of five feet before pausing to add some little extra air to my front tyre. This provided all the opening Georgian hospitality required. A head popped out of a shop doorway and beckoned me in. Slightly dubious I followed slowly and found a butchers where he and his coworker were sitting down to a hearty meal of sausages and chilli to which I was clearly invited. Fit to burst already I simply couldn't bring myself to look this gift pig in the eye and so forced down some excellent fare before being offered (and accepting) some rather fine cognac.

Despite his minuscule amount of English and my absolute lack of Georgian we talked freely using bits of French, German and universal hand gestures and I think discussed at some length the unfairness of Georgia letting everyone visit easily while Georgian's finding it impossible to holiday in Europe and elsewhere. I could only agree and was heartily embarrassed once again by the UK governments visa policies.

Thus It was mid afternoon by the time I wobbled out on my bicycle (more due to overeating than the cognac) and set about a pleasant roll along the sea front cycle route before, eschewing the flatter main route north east towards Tibilsi, I struck due east towards the inviting mountains on what had turned into a delightful sunny day.

Looking up the Chorokhi valley's broad and verdant lower course 


So having escaped the glorious clutches of Cappadocia - cheated by catching a bus to Trabzon - I entered a new country, Georgia after a month in Turkey.

A nation in love with tea (Chi) as much as the Brits, where backgammon (Tavla) is taken almost as seriously as being a good host; Turkey had been more than good to me but it was refreshing to cross another border and find a new and very distinctive land spread before me.

The most noticable change was the weather which had been chilling even in Anatolia and had now taken on a definitley autumnal feel as I cycled along the black sea coast accompanied by blustery squalls. The subtropical lushness of Alara was a marked contrast to the continental aridity from which I had emerged. Suddenly thick green vegetation punctuated by waterfalls proliferated.

I crossed the border under dreary skies which occassionally summoned the will to drizzle.

Day trip - disapearıng lakes and a hıdden cıtıes

Together with Celıne, Benoıt, Alkım, Javı and his wife (who had gamely hired bikes) I continued my burgeoning love affair with Cappadocıa by going on an expedition to Derınkuyu to visit it's underground city.

The roads were quiet, the hills hard but rewarding, the sun high but not too hot. In short it was nearly perfect.

Being in such a large group was refreshing and after the bashing my cycling self-regard took [with Fred]( it was satisfying to be the one out in front.

the landscape was lent an Alice in Wonderland feel by fields of pumpkins which stretched as far as the eye could see.


Cappodocia (or Kapadokya) is glorious.

It's geology begets vibrant colour and surreal shapes. 

I dropped out of the rolling hills east of Aksaray near Nevsehir. Immediately it was clear that I was somewhere very special. I rushed to Uchisar and climbed it's unique castle the better to appreciate these incredible surrounds.

Sılk Road or Safarı? Cold or hot?

When I set off from London the plan was to head east wıth the ıdle ambıtıon of makıng ıt to Sydney.

In and amongst thıs were romantıc notıons of cyclıng the extent of the Roman empıre, followıng ın Alexander's footsteps and of treadıng the sılk road to Chına.

Now as I am setting off for Georgian mountains and Armenia with Iranian visa in hand what I will do after Persia is very much on my mind

Salty Anatolıa

Cycling south from Ankara out of its bowl like geography I was soon sucking in breaths from the climb. Entirely too much time had recently been spent sitting around in cities smoking and drinking.

Fortunately I was diverted by a relaxing off road loop around Eymir Gölü, a small lake south of Ankara bathed in bright autumnal sunshine. I took an early lunch in the dappled light using the time to tlc the bicycle after its bus ride. My saddle and cleats successfully repositioned I got underway properly and joined the E90 south of Golbaşı.

My rhythm didn't return straightaway and I made hard work of the afternoon despite the good road surface. Gliding along with cheese cake hills flanking my left and large flat fields stretching away to my right I was flabbergasted to realise that this part of Turkey was in fact flat. Most disconcerting.

My one disappointing shot of the cheesecake hills


Having made a promise to myself during the harrowing ride into Istanbul I caught a bus out of the city.

Emerging from the cramped confines at 06:30 I discovered that the cheap front brakes I had bought in Thessaloniki hadn't survived the trip. This made for an interesting cycle to Christina's flat. Ankara's hills are steep and feel steeper still with only a back break and the sole of my shoes to slow oneself.

My host said there was nothing much to do in Ankara. A claim she almost immediately scotched by taking me to the fine Castle overlooking the city.

Ankara at ground level felt a staid city after Istanbul. Full of embassy compounds, banks and doctors offices. From this vantage a well situated city flowing up and over the surrounding bowl of mountains revealed itself.

Istanbul: City of the world's desire

Istanbul is a very special city.

Looking back across the Bosphorous at the Golden Horn to see the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque 

Turkish travails

This border felt rather different to the cozy, porous European crossings. I drifted out of Greece onto a bridge with marksmen posted periodically along its span. However receiving my visa quickly and hassle free combined with the border guards easy manner put me at ease.

That ease wouldn't last. It soon became plain that the Turkish highway from border to coast (D110) had zero regard for geography. Long, straight, busy and unpredictable. Turkish roads west of Istanbul were a trial.

It is seen as something of an accomplishment that the Romans built such marvelously straight roads. I say pah! Building a straight road reveals nothing more than a lack of on the ground knowledge and or care for the most suitable route. It's the same kind of detached arrogance that led British and French empire builders to draw the dead straight borders which still plague Africa and the Middle East. Great road building seeks to link valleys and surmount rises in the easiest manner possible perhaps, appreciation the gradient a traveler will encounter. Perhaps providing a switchback or two!

Such human design was entirely lacking from the D110.

This, combined with the unrelenting folds of the earth that characterise much of Turkey, ensured a relentless series of stiff rises and unnecessary descents. Up and down, up and down; straight and straight some more.

A miraculously traffic free moment

For the most part a wide shoulder ensured I was well out of the traffic, but without warning, this space would disappear for kilometers at a time throwing me into the inside line to fight for space and breath with large trucks and coaches.

Byzantine coast camping

After the excıtment of gettıng the bıke stuck ın a lıft ıt was wıth a sense of relıef that I rolled out of Thessalonıkı. Squırmıng thıs way and that tryıng to fınd a comfortable posıtıon on my 15 euro South Korean saddle me and Fred spent the early afternoon slowly clımbıng and steadıly becomıng more and more frustrated wıth the our map. Despıte beıng a very respectable1:250,000 scale the 'topo250 Macedonıa' by Anavası was an utter mess. ıt made lıttle dıstınctıon between road types and was often downrıght mıssleadıng and ıt was clear that ıt had been made by sımply takıng a mass of onlıne road data and dumpıng ıt unceremonıously onto the page wıth no thought for clarıty.

One mıght assume the top left of thıs pıcture (sw of Thessalonıkı) represents a major conurbatıon - perhaps a well planned resıdentıal area. You would be wrong ıts fıelds wıth the ırrıgatıon channels shown. Naturally. 

One result of thıs cartographıc clusterfuck was that the yellow route we followed (whıch the key claımed meant a sıgnıfıcant secondary road) looked lıke....

Bye bye Balkans hello Hellas: Thessaloniki at all costs

Greece promised a return to the EU, prices in euros, a wealth of history and a brand new alphabet for me to fail at learning. Crossing the border at Niki in the late afternoon having lingered in Bitola the change in scenery was almost immediately palpable as the lush greens of Macedonia were replaced by burnt golds, reminiscent of the palette I found Tuscany and Umbria. Stopping for a beer proved a wallet scathing experience. At three euros for a small beer at a nondescript bar it was more than treble the cost I had become accustomed to in the Balkans. (Well Kosovo at least.)

A satisfying conversation with some Greek old boys took some of the sting out of the transaction as we traded complements of each others civilizations. Dickens from him was greeted by exclamations of Thucydides by me, Plato - Shakespeare, Aristotle - Thomas Paine, and on and on. It was all most pleasing but with the sun dipping and a plan to head into the hills forming between me and Fred we hit the road again.

With the wind rising and the sun soon to dip behind the horizon we gave up on reaching Keli (where the old boys had mentioned some abandoned buddings) and instead set up camp behind the fold of a hill on an already harvested field.

The stiff breeze ensured a refreshing evening reading Carl Sagan's Pale Blue Dot and listening to Roy Orbison laid out under a clear sky learning astronomy from Fred.

It really was a marvelous spot with lovely views over rolling hills undulating in all directions

The changed scenery was a continued source of pleasure as we went our way though the hilly farms and pastures.


A hop skip and a road side watermelon from the border we entered the Macedonian capital Skopje. An infectiously ludicrous city which has seen literally hundreds of statues erected over the last three years by the right wing government. When added to the ample number of soviet monuments already extant and the result is more Madame Tussaud's than Roman grandeur.

Part ideological desire to create and celebrate Macedonian nationalist heroes (leading to fun discoveries like a 15 foot statue of an obscure lexicographer) and part attempt to woo tourists to a capital formally described as frumpy - the result is a schizophrenic collision of styles with modernist concrete swoops vying with fake baroque pretense all against an Ottoman backdrop.

While the execution may be lacking, and the renovation of the central square has left it feeling like Disneyland meets Las Vegas as the governing classes seek to manufacture a picture postcard view, it is hard not to be charmed by the city.

At the hostel Fred and I stayed in a local girl, Mariana, raged against the mess that was being made of her city claiming she could hardly recognize it. Following the earthquake here in 1963 an international effort was made to assist with reconstruction; overseen by the great Japenese architect Kenzo Tange. There can be little doubt that his vision has been sullied by the current spate of reckless revisionism but the vigour and vitality of the city shines through with bustling bazaars and a cool riverside bar scene. We amused ourselves playing spot the statue and trying to keep tally. (Impossible)

A snapshot of Skopje and it's many littered statues.

Albania and Kosovo

I think it's fair to say that Albania does not enjoy the best reputation. Residents of former Yugolsavian states who can't agree on much (Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia, Macedonia etc.) all seem similarly disparaging and sincerely warn you of the dangers in visiting Albania. 

[Later in Greece I would have similar stereotypes parroted]

I think a similar though less pervasive stereotype exists in the UK with Albania generally often dismissed as a land of thieves and cut purses.

While it's true that I saw rather more UK car registrations than UK drivers I also found Albania to be by some distance the warmest and friendliest of all the countries I have visited so far. Every 5th car would beep enthusiastically while waves and calls of hellos would follow you down the road from pedestrians. I might have expected such attention to be a trifle bothersome but it was in fact really nice.

My first full day in Albania began at 04:30 with Fred's alarm ringing. The sky still black as we set off for Koman to catch the 09:00 ferry. We felt confident that we had budgeted plenty of time to cover the 43k and any contingencies.

However we hadn't expected the last 30k to Koman to be quite so challenging. It wasn't that the road was a tough up hill along pristine lakeside ridges. (It was) But rather that the road conditions were nothing short of abysmal. Pot holes 3 feet deep vied with tarmac-less stretches and even sections where the road had seemingly completely slid off, leaving 45 degree angles to cycle across. 

With a time limit we couldn't afford to take the road slowly. The inevitable result occurred 5k from Koman at 08:00. My first puncture of the trip. 


I tried pumping her up and trying to cycle the last few k but within 200m I was back down to the rims. With the clock ticking I began undoing the back wheel and sent Fred on to the ferry telling him not to wait for me.

Lady luck smiled. A flat bed truck carrying an Albanian family turned the corner five minutes later and having flagged them down and mimed my need for a lift to the ferry the bike were allowed to hop in the back. 

Not a relaxing trip but certainly exhilarating.  

The Bay of Kotor

A muggy day with low clouds heralded my first day cycling through Montenegro proper.

Racing out of the mountains to the sea at Herceg Novi I was soon careening along the coast roads towards the Bay of Kotor. This flooded river canyon bears resemblance to a Scandinavian fjord and as I rolled into its sheltered surrounds, watching as sheer mountains materialised on all sides, the sun started to peep out.

Connecting up the little villages and beach towns that dot the bays northern edge

Hanging out

Croatia has been well known for it's naturism ever since King Edward the VIII and Wallis Simpson went skinny dipping on the island of Brac in the 30's.

As I prepared to leave Croatia I was a little disappointed that, ignoring my own skinny dipping, I had not had a chance to partake. I find the idea of naturism quite rational and intriguing but my own insecurities and British reserve have combined to prevent me from experimenting.

Until now! a quick google showed that Montenegro also had some nudist camps one of which, just over the border, was run by a friendly English couple Steve and Denise.

So it was that I set off and followed the tricky directions that led me up into the mountains, for which Montenegro is both famous and named, in search of some where to drop keks.


Heading out from my Dubrovnik crows nest I hugged the coast south enjoying the seemingly unending loveliness of Croatia's coastline.

While that loveliness remained soon the surroundings had taken on a more rural outlook as I left behind the busy surrounds of Dubrovnik and it's neighboring touristy towns and entered Croatia's southern hinterland, Konavle.

The heat was blistering as it had been constantly since entering the Balkans and despite an early start in the relative morning cool I found myself running low on water as I left the main highway near Cavtat. I hold it to be a truth self-evident that as soon as water runs low you will be unable to think of anything else and a previously perfectly comfortable throat will become desperately dry and scratchy.

So afflicted I began to look around for water points or a shop but after 25k of cycling I had found exactly nothing meeting that description. Of a sudden I heard the strains of classic 80's pop drifting towards me

"girls just want to have fun, girls just want to have fuuuuun"

King's Landing

What sentiment can be expressed about Dubrovnik that hasn't already been formulated far better by more articulate souls over its 1000+ year history.

As you cross back across the Bosnian-Croatian border at the tall hills of Brgat the Adriatic splashes back into view. I raced to meet it, flying down the switchbacks to the coast.

After meeing the busy coastal highway a short run north presented me with a first glimpse of this city...

I left my Hertegovina

Crossing the mountains which separate Croatia and Bosnia had been a slog and it was late as I crossed the border. Entering the broad plain I'm not sure what I was expecting; but the pretty fields, well built houses, light hum of activity, roads filled with Mercedes and Croatian flags everywhere and wasn't it.

A last look back at the western range.

During my brief cycle with the Italians they had mentioned Kreviche Falls and after finding a throw away one liner about it in a guide book I decided it was as good a place as any to head for en route to Mostar. Its location however appeared to be something of a state secret with many divergent accounts. All agreed that it lied somewhere near Ljubuski but where from there was a subject of debate, conjecture and general vagueness.

Split and Dalmatia

Despite sensible advice to the contrary I had slept at the prow of the ferry. While I successfully avoided getting wet from spray I did experience what it is like to sleep in a wind tunnel. Turns out it adds less to the words sleep.

However whatever tired irritability I had was soon cast away as I watched the watery dawn illuminate the numerous islands of Croatia's coast. 

Inevitable Titanic impressions were resisted

Before long we were pulling into Split, glorious retirement home of the tough to pronounce Roman emperor Diocletian.

All aboard the Appenine Express to Ancona.

Nick kindly dropped me off on the main road at Favro and after just a few initial wobbles I made my way through Umbria with the sun beating down on me. 

During my downtime I had made some trip adjustments. Rather than loop back north to Venice, Trieste and enter the Balkans through Slovenia I had decided to head east and take the ferry to Split from Ancona. 

It meant sacrificing the dubious sweaty charms of high summer gondolier-ing and the doubtless beauty of lake Bled but c'est la vie.

The roads were straight and true with occasional climbs to break the monotony and before too long I found myself at the feet of Assisi with a hard but beautiful climb in front of me. 

The pink stone of Assisi mined from the hill it nestles on lends the city a fairy tale quality quite in keeping with the Saintly legends which permeate it.

Rome in a day

Now here was an exciting moment. Having set off from Hadrian's wall months before I was finally at the beating heart of the Roman Empire.

La Dolce Vita

Staying with Nick and Simona was like stepping into a Rossellini film. I really can't thank them enough for their seemingly inexhaustible hospitality even in the face of a distant relative turning up almost unannounced on their door step and proceeding to borrow money and eat (& drink) them out of house and home.

It's always a little nerve-wracking meeting family for the first time especially when you will be staying with them; what if you don't get on? Simona would later confide over a cigarette that she had shared this concern. Would that this distant relation who was cycling across Europe be a bit straight-laced (no drinking no smoking etc) and had been rather relieved to see a roll-up peeking out from behind my ear as I stepped of the train. Fortunately despite my manifest faults as a house guest we got on famously.

Simona's professional cooking skills and infectious good nature. Nick's wisdom and amazing tales from his time as a freelance photographer in far flung war zones. It all combined a breathtaking Umbrian backdrop to feel utterly intoxicating.

The view across the rolling Umbrian hills from the Patio

Furious flight

Setting off at 11:00 after a hugely frustrating morning I resolved not to allow my momentary misfortune to divert me. Yes I had been robbed but I would be damned if I'd let that stop me visiting Pisa and Lucca and Sienna and Florence and damn all those who tried to stop me.

Half an hours furious peddling and I was in Pisa looking at the tourists looking at the Leaning Tower too angry to appreciate it and after a 3 minute cigarette I was back off onto the hot highway heading for Lucca where I planned to walk the walls and eat my lunch.

Anger it turns out is a marvelous motivator and the kilometers fell away easily.

Lucca, unlike Pisa, provided a much needed tonic to my diabolical mood and despite the crowds of tourists walking along the wide and breezy city walls,  just made for perambulating, soothed my bitterness.

I found a nicely shaded bench from which to eat a slightly stale end of bread and some distinctly dubious cheese from the bottom of my pannier.


Imagine the scene if you will:
A 28 year old man in his underpants is running down a dark beech before dawn shouting garbled phrases from a smattering of European languages.

"Mi passporto por favore!"
"Perdu mon sack!"
"Achtung Dieb!"

Suffice to say it was not a great way to start the day.

Where cycists dare

I was having fun negotiating the Ligurian hills on the coast road east from Genoa on my way to Pisa.

Hard hills in baking heat rewarded by invigorating swims in the sea were the order of the days.

Still, I excitedly anticipated being out of the sun and on level ground so with rear light flashing safely I waited in a long line of traffic for the lights to change so we could enter a tunnel.

Green. Go go go.

I immediately regret this decision.

Lombardy, Piedmonte, and Po

**Warning may contain multiple rhetorical questions read at your own risk(of annoyance)**


Even in the pre-dawn gloom Maggiore looked inviting. Awake and feeling good despite the hour I decided to take a dip, enjoying the privacy of the early morning.

Lounging on the concrete dockside Towl-less with a cup of tea and a cigarette I watched a dragonfly mired in some gravel having just sloughed off its skin.

For an hour I watched as this imposing insect exhausted itself crawling. Where was it trying to reach? Why didn't it simply stop, wait to dry, and then fly? The dragonfly was seemingly making his life so much more difficult than it needed to be.

Might a (not so)alien observer find my own journey equally incomprehensible?

Great things are done when men and mountains meet.

No doubt Blake had a less literal interpretation in mind but mountains as a challenge for which to rise was foremost in mine as I departed Zurich on a rainy Wednesday pleased to be underway again and undeterred by the weather.  

Setting out in the late afternoon I headed directly to Luzerne where I was glad to have organised a stop over with another host, Marcus, who saved me from needing to camp in the rain and risk getting all my gear soaked before the climb over the mountains. We spent a pleasant night drinking beer on his balcony with his girlfriend and an anglo-american student couple who were couchsurfing.

Luzerne is picture postcard pretty

said postcard of Kappelbruke

A pheonix with a new frame.

The moment I had been waiting for had arrived.

With frame and forks safely arrived that morning my new favourite Swiss bike mechanics set to work and had her ready to roll the very same day

They were perhaps a little less excited than I was.

With slighly more trepedation than I had anticipated and slightly more twitchy about errant traffic pulling out on me I was reunited with my valient steed.

9 1/2 days in Zurich

While waiting for my new bicycle frame to arrive in Switzerland I busied myself getting to know Zurich.

Walking her busy streets occupied most of my time and frankly there are worse purgatories than lapping lake Zurich for the fifth time.

I think that coot is following me

Home from home.

"I look upon Switzerland as a sort of inferior Scotland" - Sydney Smith, an English wit from Woodford. (Rare breed indeed)

North Zurich

Switzerland with it's neutrality, polyglot languages, wealth and direct democracy seems to inspire a lackluster antipathy among the British.

Nothing to match the heat of our centuries old squabbling with the French, war won jingoism of common relations with the Germans nor the faded patriarchal contempt for our American and Australian ex colonies. Even the hangover from our 17th Century rivalry with the Dutch has been etymologically preserved in our idioms more boldly. Or have I rambled into double Dutch?

Still I detect a slight derogatory twinge in the average British stereotype of the Swiss.

The dangers of life are infinite, and among them is safety.

This provocative notion from Goethe, combined with an accident while cycling, led me to ask: 

Does the nature of risk elude us more often than not, and if so, what are the consequences? 

In conversation with friends, family and people met on the road, I have received mostly unqualified support for my long distance bicycle tour. However I have also received varied dire warnings. A slight raising of the eyebrows, vague descriptions of robbings, bombings, kidnappngs, attacks by wild animals, lunatic road users and myriad other possibilities. 

The Hypothesis 

The human mind has evolved in a way which does not intuitively deal with risk, and more generally probability, in an accurate manner.

Il Postino 2: The Postwoman's revenge

I pulled over just outside St Gallen on an overcast morning on the 24th of June to give the bike some much needed post rain TLC. Rubbing down the rims to ensure good breaking and cleaning and oiling the chain to reduce wear.

With just 80k to ride that day I anticipated being in Zurich by late afternoon and was looking forward to a couple of days rest.

The cold weather continued and the occasional bout of drizzle ensured i didn't linger. Before long I had passed through Bruggen and Gossau. The spray from cars as I followed the main road was becoming a little tiresome and so it was with some relief that I followed a bike route sign which would take me through back streets into Uzwil.

The little village of Bürewald exited into a wonderfully long descent along a quite roads towards the town of Oberbüren. Exalting in the perfect cycling conditions as the sun peeped out for the first time that day I was relishing the feeling of air rushing past me. Going at nearly top speed, perhaps 25-30 mph, when in a split second a moped pulled out in front of me.

I can't recall much apart from thinking "oh shii" and then finding myself on the floor; knee uncomfortably positioned under the bike; adrenaline pumping.

Bodensee detour - The four country loop

Having considered heading west to Geneva, north to Basle and south to Lucern I decided, after lots of fun playing around on google maps, to head east towards Bodensee. (Lake Constance.) There I would do a quick loop around her shores, dive up to Lichtenstein, before heading back west to Zurich and a couple of days rest with my friend Angie before hitting the Alps. I budgeted a healthy four days.

The heavy rain which had made me so appreciative to have a roof over my head in Neuerhof had cleared as I set off on Friday the 21st of June.

Initially my course took me north connecting up Swiss towns

 Baden, unlike her double named German counterpart had not to my knowledge ever been sullied by an English WAG invasion force.

Safe in the Ardennes and the race to Strasbourg

The evening before I had watched as hundreds of Mayfly's desperately sought mates during their short winged life. I'd been struck by their certainty of purpose. Well my purpose as I awoke was equally simple; cycle into the Ardennes, reach the city of Revin for lunch before following the river Musee south and east back into France. Not quite as elegant perhaps, but almost.

A leisurely breakfast saw us depart at 08:15 heading for Baileux at a brisk pace before turning south-east towards Roeroi through thick forests interspersed with logging sites and new growth. Last nights rain and the early morning mists left a chill but also a strong smell of life and  growth as we hurried through the woods.

I'd decided on the route the night before mainly because the evocatively named Valley du Miserè would be our gateway. As we made our way through Roeroi a persistent drizzle settled in but it was not to be prophetic fallacy. Rather than the hard climb we expected, the hills fell away beneath our peddles; accelerating into an exhilerating downhill with water whipping into our faces. The best shower ever.

Going the opposite way would have been miserable indeed but for us it was joyous.

My acting may need a little work

French Forays

On the ferry I met Matthias. (mid-twenties, long hair, German, vegan, guiarist, fan of heavy metal, quiet, something of a woodsman/survivalist. Noticing that he had a handlebar bag I asked him if he was cycle touring. It happened that he was returning to Germany (near Karlsruhe) having cycled around Scotland. We soon agreed to cycle out of Calais after he decided my route looked good.

Following the canal du Calaise south-east we left behind Calais industrial frontage and entered the French countryside. The canalside track wasn't always in good condition but we soldiered on occassionally chatting about our respective families.

More than once Matthias had to remind me to be on the right hand side of the road.

Mattias posing by my bike in front of a French farm

Farewell to Albion

The sun came out to see me off. After an emotional goodbye with mum all that remained was to begin.
It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
Very true Mr Tolkein and how much more so when the sun is out, the wind is at you back and you have two fine wheels beneath you. A fine beginning then and as beginnings often will it started at the start: Passing my old school.

More than a few clandestine teenage cigarettes were smoked here once upon a time

Where to?

When discussing the trip I had obduratley resisted saying too much beyond "'I'm going to head east and see how far I get with an idle ambition of making it to Sydney"

That was and is the party line and I'm sticking to it.

Selfishly I'm not doing this trip for charity or out of a percieved obligation to a dying friend ala Harold Fry or to break records or to proove anything, except perhaps to myself.

If I stop enjoying it, I'll stop. If its too hard, I'll push the bike up the hill. Too boring? I'll get a train to somewhere more to my interest.

And with those disclaimers out the way, here's the route I've been planning.

The map below ids a very rough, pretty inaccurate over view of my "route" dran in paint.

It doesn't even show my planned vsist to Rome

Kit List

It was not to be a quick get away. Waiting for a Pakistani passport, my own slovenly ways, seduced by the easy pleasure of being home with my parents. Plus a feeling of anxiety not unlike a mild version of what I'd felt the first night of my UK tour; my trip was about to start - dreams becoming reality - would it fall short? Would I?

But above all my knees hurt. I hadn't given the pain much though during my last three days cycling assuming it to be normal muscle fatigue but as the days turned to weeks turned to months the pain persisted. It became clear that this was instead a tendon issue. Google perscribed RICE; Rest, ice, compression, elevation. So that's what I did while the spring melted away. I spent my time distracting myself with games, worrying, looking at maps and of course preparing my kit:

The Bike

Here she is in all her fully loaded glory on the morning of my departure

Wye is it fenced off?

Departing Fownhope south east towards Ross on Wye I meandered south following the river.

Nothing short of blissful. Cruising the lush valley floor before occassionally climbing the steep sides to gain grand views of the river`s lazy loops.

The snow in Wales falls mainly on the Hiiiiyles

I had received detailed instructions on how to reach the house. (In this part of Wales postcodes can cover 10’s of square miles.)

“Left at the old school sign. Follow road up and over the first hill, all the way down to the cattle grid, up a bigger hill on the other side and turn right at the top.”

Two minutes after taking what I assumed was the turn (no road names here) I was off the saddle and pushing the bike up a steep hill covered in ice and snow. Reaching a fork in the track I tried to divine which way was straight on (reasoning that the directions hadn't mentioned a turn) but with the road marking covered it was guesswork. Having made my decision I continued on my way up into the hills with sheep and striking views for company. The snow was so deep and the bleats so pitiful that I spent a good few minutes trying to dig out some grass for the lambs but they were more perturbed by my presence than grateful so I pressed on.

There's no bad weather, just bad clothing

So far I had enjoyed sub-zero temperatures, snow, sleet, fog, high wind and heavy rain as not a little sunshine. Unremarkable for late winter in the north of England. Indeed I’d gained much satisfaction from cycling in all conditions. A Gore-Tex outer layer and breathable merino wool bottom layer allowed me to take it all in my stride.

On my seventh day the weather gave me pause for thought.

BBC Breakfast reported heavy snow fall across the country causing severe disruption. Where were they reporting from? Mold, north Wales. Exactly the direction I was heading.

Cycling the Roses (Wetherby to Liverpool)

The few inches of snow which had fallen during the night made my first 10 miles a little treacherous but was soon cleared away by the traffic. This didn't stop me having an embarrassing fall as I failed to unclip from my pedals with sufficient alacrity as I came to a stop sign in Leeds city center. No harm down beyond a severe blush.

The day remained unrelentingly dull interspersed with wintry showers and as I stuck to A-roads the cycling was more reminiscent of my London commute my already idealised north Pennine cycling. As I wove my way through Bradford’s less than beautiful suburbs I had little reason to dawdle and made excellent time arriving in Huddersfield in the early afternoon. A quick stop for a pie and a pint at the charming Head of Steam pub and I was working my way along the last 10 miles to my grandfather’s house in Marsden.

The weather couldn't entirely hide the charms of God’s own county.

The stack visible is the chimney from the Textile Mill my Grandfather and his father before him ran.

It's all down hill from here

North Pennine’s to Wetherby

A torrential downpour in the dead of night ensured a few anxious moments having complacently neglected to tension my guide ropes when I pitched the tent. This meant water reached my inner threatening to soak any limb I brushed against it.

A little morning contortion saw me successfully slip into my cycling shorts etc. without soaking myself overly and I emerged, relieved, to little more than a damp drizzle.
Packing away a camp in the rain is a pain at the best of times. For a novice like me it was a certainly finicky process requiring lots of to-ing and fro-ing from bike to kit. All this meant I didn't leave until 08:30 despite waking at dawn.

With a salute and a ring of my bell to my new Friend Dennis and his menagerie I was off. Before returning 2 minutes later to retrieve my helmet which I had left hanging from a tree branch…

Underway, after that momentary hiccup, the rain cleared and I could get a good look at the dramatic peaks confronting me. Toiling up on my fully loaded bike was hard work and I was soon switching between pushing the bike and riding - but I had all day and my spirits were high.

As I climbed (1693 ft) the climate changed and I enjoyed my first taste of snow and high winds.

Bonk(the)- def. cycling fatigue

Wylem to the North Pennines - My first bone fide day in the saddle.

I should explain that while I have over the last two years commuted regularly on bikes be they Boris, Brompton or road, I am a complete beginner when it comes to cycle touring.

Some slight experience was had in a 2010  London-to-Brighton sponsored ride which took me 10 hours, and included three flat tires before i'd left the M25, a slipped chain and eventually a complete breakdown of the bike meaning I entered Brighton on what felt like an undersized girls clown bike kindly lent to me by the race mechanics. Not exactly a ringing endorsement of my abilities...

Nonetheless the first day's ride despite the early morning delays was nothing short of a delight. A watery sun pierced the late morning fog and glimmered of the Tyne forcing me to ride along singing cliche's happily.

Excuse fingers! 

Early morning amateur hour...

Abraham Lincoln is credited with having said that if given three hours to chop a tree he would spend the first two sharpening his axe.

The extended period between my leaving drinks (16th of February) and my departure for Hadrian's Wall (16th of March!) owed less to such lofty pronouncements on the importance of good planning than to my own slothful nature, compounded by no little apprehension that I wasn't ready with some visa frustration thrown in for good measure.

Nevertheless with a parental bon voyage and a quick cycle from Loughton to Bethnal Green I found myself in a now empty bath house flat, double checking my kit and eagerly awaiting an 06:15 train.

Awake at 05:00 and away by 05:15 I took the city road to Kings Cross I was feeling smugly ahead of time until i was rudely awoken from my complacency by a careening refuse truck which overtook and the cut-me-off hitting my front right pannier and sending me sprawling onto the pre-dawn tarmac.


What am I doing?

I'm heading off into the sunrise on my bicycle. Day-dreams of leaving the real world behind for a while and going where the wheels rolled crystallized at the end on 2012 into a determination to head east on a bike and see where i ended up


Like many people I found myself dissatisfied with my lot and moreover with the person which I had become. The comfortable rut into which I had run myself was taking it's toll. All in all despite having a good job, great friends a supportive family and a lovely home I just wasn't happy.

Lacking dependents and with limited commitments I found myself able, and with the romantic lure of the road leading who knows where calling, the question booming in my ears was:



A much postponed preparatory tour of Britain starts in Wylem (Hadrian's Wall) from where I would wend my way, via the North Penines, to Wetherby, over the Moors to Manchester via Marsden then onto Liverpool before traversing the Wirral into Wales heading for Llanbister in Powys.

A hop skip and a jump to the Wye Valley would then deliver me into Herefordshire where i could detour south to Bridgewater and visit the shop who built my bike before racing cross country back to Essex either via Portsmouth or Milton Keynes.

From there the picture becomes rather less distinct. "Go east young man."

A broad brush stroke plan for the continent is forming which would see me follow the border between France and the low counties as far as Strasbourg before heading through Germany's Black Country and the start of a climb up into Switzerland which will eventually see me over the Alps into northern Italy heading for Slovenia and the Istrian coastline before traversing the Balkans perhaps through Macedonia to reach Turkey and exotic Constantinople.

Beyond Turkey predictions become even less possible as visa's, time of arrival, political climate and most importantly my own motivation and whims all come into play. there does however exist an idle ambition of perhaps making it all the way to see my sister in Sydney.

This may mean crossing going Turkey - Iran - Pakistan - [Karkoum highway] - China - SE Asia [boat/plane] Darwin - Sydney. But with so much road to travel between me and there I feel like a fraud even discussing it.


Now. I set off for Wylem on Saturday 16th of March and as of the 25th of March i am happily ensconced with my Aunt in the Welsh Hills. I haven't budgeted to set amount of time to this journey although 14 months is something I've bandied about when discussing possible duration. We shall see.

Consider the scene set. An update on my first 10 days will follow shortly.