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.