Crate Brewery, Hackney Wick

Day Ride: Hackney Wick to Southend

For our first day ride of the year we set our sights on an easterly journey of just over 70km, destination – Southend on Sea. An early start was always going to be a relative concept given Ade’s proximity to the brewery (Ade is the Ops guy at Crate Brewery in Hackney Wick) so at length I arrived at the Peanut Factory (Ade’s house) at a leisurely 10am. The few miles cruise down from Highams Park some of the best of the day. Joggers jogged, teams assembled on the playing fields poised for imminent battle and cyclists in great numbers headed out in the opposite direction bound for Epping Forest.

Narrow boat on the Lee Navigation, Hackney Wick

Narrow boat on the Lee Navigation, Hackney Wick

In these few peaceful miles the bare naked trees lining the sleepy streets of Walthamstow Village cast deep shadows across the brightly sunlit buildings and parked cars, the mottling effect a natural camouflage for the day to come. Along the towpath of the Lee Navigation lines of nameless narrow boats two abreast rest calmly upon the glassy waters, “Ellesmere”, “Soporific” and “Wind Shadow” puff smoke from their tiny chimneys in effort to warm their occupants. Opposite this tranquil scene lies a vast construction site, the legacy of the Olympics being built into its new environment, communications buildings repurposed as centres of learning, trees planted in neat rows and bridges spring up from the earth across the water connecting the old and the new.

Here East, building the Olympic Legacy

The road out of London proper is an A road we’d rather not cycle again. The motorists of Romford, Ilford and Basildon are not particularly tolerant and seem to be out to get us. We’re involved in too many near misses for out liking. The behaviour of a vocal minority is frankly embarrassing. Telling a cyclist to use the pavement is clearly foolish, calling a cyclist an expletive because they’re in the road where cars are parked in the cycle lane is just a joke isn’t it? Thanks for your kind words guys in the Renault Espace.

An English smock mill in Upminster.

An English smock mill in Upminster.

Things improve as we leave behind the squat local authority blocks and enter the Semi Detached suburban sprawl of Upminster. The roads, if not quieter, the drivers are certainly more considerate. The highlight of a very short hill is a wonderful windmill at one end of a long green. We use this as a marker to see how far we’ve come in the hour and a bit we’ve been cycling. As we push on through fen like flatlands we’re focusing our intentions on a summit known as One Tree Hill. At 10% gradient this is a punchy little ascent that has us up out of the saddle and breathless for the first time on the ride. We’re loving it. The view from the top is a pretty good one. Not bad for 90 minutes out of East London.

View from the top - One Tree Hill, Basildon, Essex

View from the top – One Tree Hill, Basildon, Essex

With no sign of a cup of tea occurring any time soon (Pitsea is short on cafes big on fast food) we crack on towards the coast and the promise of fish and chips with a giant cup of tea. We’re out of the rural and back into a built up area following the old A13. It’s not a bad road, the drivers are erratic again but there is nothing we can do but keep our wheels turning and heads down, with a course set for sea. The final run into Southend is tidy. Wide open roads bank steeply down to the promenade and the safety of the green two way cycle path that hugs the coastline. We pick it up at Chalkwell through to central Southend and a long awaited brew.

The coast in Southend on Sea

The coast in Southend on Sea

Sticky: 20 Countries in 100 Days

Road to Tirane, Albania

Road to Tirane, Albania

In late July 2011 we set off on our greatest adventure to date: cycling though 20 countries in 100 days. Our aim was to highlight the work of the bicycle charity, Re~Cycle, and hopefully to raise some money to support their excellent work sending bikes to Africa.

Starting in Rotterdam, Holland, and ending in Ljubljana, Slovenia, via Greece. Our trip took us through from the Benelux to the Balkans,  until finally reaching the Greek Island of Thassos before turning back up the Dalmatian Coast.

20 countries in 100 days was a true cycling challenge; a race against time requiring grit and determination. Were we successful? Read on to enjoy the whole story as it happened… (click here to read the story in chronological order)

Below is a list of the countries we visited:

Albania
Austria
Belgium
Bosnia
Bulgaria
Croatia
Czech Republic
England
France
Germany
Greece
Holland
Hungary
Kosovo
Lichtenstein
Luxembourg
Macedonia
Montenegro
Serbia
Slovakia
Slovenia
Switzerland

 

microadventure #1: London to Chichester by bike

To kick things off for our year of microadventure Fabian & I decided to head out to the South Downs for a night of wild camping and a brisk cycle to the Roman town of Chichester. Our initial plan was to cycle to Winchester and camp out in the National Forest but let’s just say that Google Maps’ beta cycling maps are less than ideal (we spent an hour navigating Guildford Research Park going around in circles following the robotic directions of the charming Googlebot lady).

Fabian outside Blacks

Having set the map to standard car functionality we set a course for Godalming. Making brisk progress in the crisp winter sunshine we got into a comfortable rhythm gliding through the chilly miles. The aim for the day was to find a suitable wild camping spot within easy reach of a decent pub. That box was ticked by the beautifully sleepy village of Chiddingfold. Just a few miles shy of the South Downs National Park, Chiddingfold boasts a choice of three pubs, and our recomendation for the evening was The Crown, an 800 year old inn.

The Crown at Chiddingfold

Our camp for the evening was a rather damp field a couple of miles outside the village. We pitched up next to a majestic tree towards the top of the hill where the ground was slightly firmer underfoot. We made a roaring fire and quaffed a smashing bottle of Malbec while lounging on oddments of logs and cardboard earlier procured from the friendly Aussie barman at the pub “you fellas heading out in to the bush?”

Breakfast at camp
At first light we broke camp and fast with a simple bowl giant couscous, topped with a hearty slab of butter kept from the previous days fry up, a strong coffee and a wedge of Soreen. By 10am we were on our way to Chichester. Stopping after 20km at the town of Midford we enjoyed an early lunch and a natter with locals in the café. One chap had been visiting Chichester for over 25 years so much did he love the natural beauty of the area. We quite agreed.

Which way to the pub?

After a time and many photographs, we arrived in the Cathedral town of Chichester. As we arrived into the town we again bumped in to a couple from the café in Midford. A happy coincidence indeed and a chance to get a tip for the best place to visit for a pint and a pub lunch, The Dell Key appeared to be the place to go.

Fabian goes to Church

We had hoped to get down to the coast for a pint and a breath of sea but alas light was fading and with many miles to do once back in London we decided to hop on a train back to the capitol. For this our first microadventure of the year we were pleased with the outcome. A total break from the usual weekend routine. A reinvigorating cycle adventure taking in beautiful countryside, encountering friendly strangers, and just a few miles out of London, all planned last minute on a Thursday evening, a brilliant weekend.

Awesome graffiti on a wall of Chichester College

A year of microadventure

Late last year the inspirational Al Humphreys threw down the gauntlet to all aspiring adventurers and desk jockeys – to commit to twelve microadventures in twelve months. The simple premise of the ‘microadventure’ is to do something out of the ordinary and to have fun doing it, to break the daily routine and step outside for a breath of fresh air and rejuvenation. We love this idea, as did the Royal Geographic Society (Al won Adventurer of the Year for this in 2012), so we’ve taken the bait and are absolutely chomping at the bit to take part.

Our list of twelve is still something of a work in progress and may be subject to change but here’s the outline for starters:

January – wild camping by bike (probably South of London, perhaps the South Downs)

February – wild camping by bike (the Dunwich Dynamo in reverse)

March – Skiing in Leysin (Gilles Peterson Worldwide Festival)

April – mid week overnighter in Epping Forest

May – something in Lancashire around the Cycle Touring Festival

June – climb Snowden

July – climb Scarfell Pike

August – climb Ben Nevis

September – OktoberFest & wild swimming

October – wild camping on mountain bikes (possibly Cannock Chase)

November – TBC

December – TBC

So that’s the rough plan. Some are microadventures, some are mini adventures but we’re going to say that’s just fine – the point is to get out and do something, anything, that makes you feel good and enjoy the great outdoors.

Our natural tendency is to celebrate all things cycling however we are keen to embrace adventure of all kinds this year and in that way we are keeping our schedule fairly flexible. If you have any suggestions for us please do email us or comment below.

The one caveat to this is that I’m planning a much bigger trip which could start towards the end of the year (I’ll be updating the list as the plans develop), the rest of the group involved are committed to completing the full year of microadventure.

Rosie joins the riders at the Pub on the Park

The Dunwich Dynamo: the original microadventure

The Dunwich Dynamo, the dun run, the French might call it ‘the beautiful madness’. Whatever you call it, the dun-run is a whole lot of adventure packed in to a single night. This year, my third, we (Fabian and I) got a group of newbies together to tackle the 120 mile night ride to the coast. A motley crew of mainly girlfriends, friends and a German intern called Silvan.

Starting out; Lydia and Richie lead the pack through Springfield Park

We met at 7.30pm at London Fields, next to the Pub on the Park, with 100’s of other like minded people, united with a single aim – ride 196km through the night to the lost city of Dunwich on the Suffolk Coast. We’ve talked before on this blog about the great spirit and camaraderie of the Dun Run, and it was a fantastic feeling when at the start of the evening, Debbie & Francis from DD2013 came over to say hello. This year the favour was returned, thanks Dan & Justin for fixing Rosie’s puncture in the early hours of Sunday morning.

A big bike for a big ride

Starting out pedalling up through East London towards Epping Forest, we encountered the chap in the shot above – a custom build for certain! Around 21 miles in we stopped, as is tradition, around 10pm at the White Hart in Moreton for a swift pint and a fistful of cashews. This year the pub was even busier than usual with crowds filling the sleepy village streets.

A cheeky half at the White Hart

The feeding station for the ride at the halfway mark – Sible Hedingham Village Hall -is a welcome break, a chance to rest tired legs, fill up on pasta, sandwiches and coffee and a chance to share stories of the journey so far with fellow riders. We took a different tack this year, we were lucky enough to have been invited by our friend, the lovely Vita, to share a giant pot of a coffee and bacon rolls at her house in Sible Hedingham. What a treat! Thank you Vita for a welcoming & revitalising pit stop. The extra sandwiches we took with us really raised our spirits at 6am in the pouring rain.

A welcome break at Vita’s house, coffee and bacon rolls to keep us rolling!

Still with 50 miles to go the heavens opened. The rain was heavy and unrelenting. We had to stop. Happily we found this garage forecourt more than accommodating and pulled in to wait out the storm. Luckier still, Fabian had the same idea and whipped out the stove to brew up a fresh pot of coffee to share with our new friends under the shelter of the garage forecourt. A sure fire way to make friends & boost moral! Good work Fabi.

Hot coffee for cold cyclists – the rain was just too much too bear at 6am

This event is like no other, it’s a challenge that invites you to push yourself in many ways, regardless of ability. Whether you’re a veteran keen to help others discover ‘the beautiful madness’, a newbie looking to test your endurance or a club rider training to shave a few minutes off your PB – there is something for everyone. Even Bertie!

Go Bertie! This guy gets a thumbs up form Rosie

This is why I think that the Dunwich Dynamo is the original microadventure: it’s challenging, it’s a total break out from the norm and it’s free. You’ll make new friends, you get to swim in the sea and there’s a café on the beach so you get a good breakfast at the end (or fish n chips if you take your time). Until next year… #dunrun2015

Taking a dip – a refreshing end to the nights ride

Adventure cycling in Morocco: A family dinner

A small child screams, dogs bark, hens cluck, sheep bleat, and a cow jumps over the moon… just kidding, there were no dogs around. We’ve just entered the house of Mr Mohammed Zerouat and his granddaughter is bawling her little eyes out at the sight of the two lycra clad gringos that just walked through her front door. She’s currently hiding behind Nanna Zerouat, as we later come to know the old lady baking bread in an open fire hole in the ground. We’re invited to eat said fresh bread and drink mint tea immediately.

This evening will become the most amazing experience of the trip. Only minutes before meeting our new friends AJ and JT were at a loss as to where the heck they were gonna sleep and more than a bit lost, things had reached a new level of ‘what to do?’. The only thing to ‘do’ in a situation such as this is to take what you can get, especially if that is a friendly young chap speaking broken Berber French, while cycling down a ragged muddy track in the middle of Morocco.

 

Our evening with the Zerouat family although challenging in terms of communication, was the most enriching few hours we’ve ever spent on a trip. This kind family took us into their home, fed us, prepared hot water for us to shower, entertained us and gave us much need shelter for the evening, simply because we were in need of it. We were very lucky to have met Arhmed when we did and will be forever grateful for the generosity of his family.

After the most filling and tasty breakfast we’d had all week, a quick fix of Mr Zerouat’s bike and lots of hugs and thank you’s, we hit the road, with Arhmed – he’s only cycling to the main road with us – our own Berber guide to Agadir! The road to Agadir is interesting in the way that it just doesn’t exist even though it’s clearly marked on the map. We persevere, finally reaching a village where we scout some lunch. And bananas.

I for one was pretty excited about getting to Agadir, I love the sea and a swim, and figured I’d do both upon arrival. Upon arrival however, we had more difficult decisions to make. To camp or not to camp? Press on or enjoy an evening in this new city? No decision can be safely made on an empty stomach though, so we eat. A lot. (burger and chips, can of coke, thanks for asking). During our late lunch, we enquire with the Dutch proprietor of the availability of cheap digs, he knows loads and even draws us a cheeky little map on a scrap of paper, which turns out to be far more reliable than the map we are working from.

The Dunwich Dynamo: a rewarding night out

This weekend I did the Dun Run for the second time (AJ was busy celebrating his 1st birthday). As always it was a fun yet challenging ride with over 1,500 other like minded cyclists. Just the ticket for a hot Saturday night in July.

One of the things that I really love about the Dunwich Dynamo is the camaraderie, the ‘we’re in this together attitude’ and the sheer thrill of riding a decent distance through the night. You never quite know what you’ll see on the road; hand painted signs encouraging groups along the way, bacon butties in the early hours towards the final 30 miles for those needing fuel and the occasional rider at the side of the road with a flat tyre.

In these circumstances most cyclists would offer assistance of some kind, we all would right? I did that very thing on Saturday night and thought no more of it. What’s a spare tube on a ride like that? Well, in some situations it makes all the difference. Not wanting to blow my own trumpet, really just to share these exceptionally kind words from Debbie & Jane. Thanks to you both for your very generous donation to Re~Cycle. Hope you see you on the Dunwich again next year. x

 

Dear James

Thank you so much for your generosity in the early hours of Sunday morning when you gave me an inner tube. We exhausted our three spares in one go when I hit a horrible pothole just outside of Epping – two punctures and then a snapped valve left us with no repairable spares when I hit a second pothole much later. Your kindness made all the difference to me being able to continue the ride and finish. I would certainly have had to retire had you not passed us at that moment.

Thankfully we had no further dramas, apart from a 7mile detour when we took a wrong turn. We finished on the beach at 10am. The second half of our ride was much more enjoyable. Your spirit and relaxed manner inspired us along the way and we were very pleased to see you regularly throughout the event.

As promised I have made a donation this morning to Re-Cycle for £20 in your name to mark your kindness.

We hope you had a good journey home. When we realised there were so many people at Darsham waiting to get onto a 2 carriage train we opted to head in the other direction. We ended up travelling to Lowestoft and then to Norwich, where we got the train to London and were re-joined by all the riders at Ipswich, who had either ridden the extra mileage or had taken cabs.

Your name will always feature in the stories of our DD experience. We learnt so much from the event and may give it another go next year.

With best wishes
Debbie & Francis

Hi James

Just a quick note to say a huge thank you for helping my friend out on the Dun Run – the tube was a life saver :-) Your friendliness and generosity made the difference between us all finishing and bailing out!

I love the website, sounds amazing (and some great pics) – very inspiring, its a great attitude to life!

Have made a donation – tube for a donation seems like a good deal…

Happy cycling ;-)

Jane

Adventure cycling in Morocco: Come n ‘av a butchers

Waking in the desert plains with mountains to our right and behind us, we look ahead to a flat road stretching as far as the eye can see, nothing of note but small trees and goats climbing and eating them. So, we set out at a blistering pace (for our bikes and luggage that’s maybe 18kph) heading to towards the coast, in particular, Agadir.

We push on to the nearest town with lunch on the mind – we’re pretty hungry today – bound for the town of Taroudannt. Rolling into the town after a good stretch of the legs we’re keen to settle into some shade, an ice cold coke and a tagine of some kind. The town however, is a sprawling mass of streets, side streets and alleyways cramped inside a fortress. We get hopelessly lost pretty early on.

The danger in appearing hesitant upon arrival to a town is that you become a target. An easy target. An easy target for someone to sell you a rug. Unthinking we follow a friendly chap on his moped through the busy streets to the main square where we hope to feast on tagine and kebab and bread. Our new friend however has another plan, ‘come’an have a butchers’ he says happily. How can we refuse the Moroccan Frank Butcher?

Off we go into a rug emporium of the highest order; ‘take a seat, have some tea, my wife makes the best tagine… ‘ the offers are endless, as is the history lesson of the Berber art of rug making: this pattern is made in the desert using camel hair, this rug has this pattern which gives the rug its magic flying powers…’ the mans’ voice, deeper than any man I’ve ever met, is almost hypnotic in its’ rhythm, and doggedly persistent. We have to eat. We make our excuses, declining to buy a rug just now since we’re CYCLING and a 10m rug might not be the most practical gift idea.

Back on the bikes the day is long and hot and confused. We take more than a couple of wrong turns and roads that should exist appear to have disappeared, frustrating to say the least, especially in the heat. It’s nearly 40 degrees. We’re also surrounded by farming so there’s little in the way of camping available to us, we stop for a coffee in a town, pick up some street food and make a decision left, right or straight ahead. We turn right. We get lost. And there’s nowhere to camp. That’s when we meet Arhmed. ‘Come, stay my house’…

Safety First

Adventure cycling in Morocco: Tizi n Test, a bent mech and the Moon

Out of Asni and into the mountains we go, pushing up through the High Atlas like two mountain goats. This is a well-traveled road, busy with ‘grand taxis’ darting from Marrakech to Coast and back. For this reason the road is dangerous and wits must be razor sharp to avoid an accident since the drivers are somewhat reckless and vehicles overloaded.

Our early start meant that we made reasonable progress and so paid a brief visit to Tin Mal, a mosque with no minaret, which was closed. On leaving the ancient mosque site – a minor climb – Adrian’s rear mech found its way into his back wheel bending the mech further still and truly buckling the wheel. This is not a great situation. We’re just two days in on the bikes and have a mountain to climb (literally), a desert to cross and a coast to reach. After an extended period of staring at the bike and tutting we decide that nothing can be done save to bend the mech a bit hoping it doesn’t break.

It’s now late in the day and we should seek a camp for the night. Fortunately we happen upon a small river and find a campfire long since abandoned that serves us perfectly. We wash, eat and relax, thinking on the test that lies ahead. The big moon peeps an edge over the mountain top beaming light into our tiny camp, the sight of the moon is totally mesmeric and surreal that it’s all we can do to stare. A memorable end to an ominous day.

Today is the biggy – the climb – Tizi n Test day. Off we go, steadily climbing, gradually covering the k’s, slowly raising our heart rates and height above sea level. It’s a very gentle climb indeed and for that we are grateful – Ade has a limited gear selection to say the least – but what a climb. Tizi n Test may not be the steepest mountain, but it is certainly the most stunning and dramatic to cycle up by a long mile. Each mountain in the range criss-crossing the next, across a huge valley of gigantic elephant’s feet, a great herd crashing over from the Sahara.

We reached the summit of 2100m just in time for lunch and were lucky enough to break bread with a trio of Italian cyclists heading the way we’d come. Feasting on what was to be the most over-priced yet most-needed meal of the trip we shared stories of the road ahead, learning of the lie of the land and the possible water stops and next meal both.

A fond farewell, exchange of telephone numbers (Mazza is a vinyl buff and intends to visit London the following week) and with a quick photograph, we are back on the bikes, flying along the most treacherous and beautiful side of a mountain you could hope to see.

Adventure Cycling in Morocco: Dude where’s my bike?

Flying with our bikes is something we are always reluctant to do, it’s a major hassle to get to the airport, since they are always out of the way and then the dismantling of the bikes at the airport inevitably means something goes missing not to mention the fact that the bike has to be handed over to the wonderfully mysterious forces of ‘baggage handlers’ hidden in the bowels (behind the wall) of the terminal. So, we fly out to Marrakech full of excitement and hope – ready for our latest adventure in a foreign land – not knowing what lies ahead of us (we very rarely plan a route in detail).

We arrive in Marrakech via our EasyJet flight EKGCX6X ahead of time, 6 minutes early in fact, our bikes on the other hand do not arrive. We are fobbed off by the frazzled ‘Baggage Guy’ and told that the bikes have not made it on to the plane and that they will arrive on the morrow. There are a dozen other holiday makers without luggage – all of them in the oversize category – all of them pretty cross.

Disheartened we make a plan. No bikes so we can’t travel, no tent so we can’t sleep, need to be at the airport tomorrow first thing to collect the bikes. What to do? Only one thing for it really – go to Marrakech for the night and feast on tagine, mint tea and cake! Next day on the bikes we pedal off away from the hustle and bustle of the Jemaa El Fna towards the huge, splendid, and violent mountains looming before us.

In the town of Asni in the foothills of the High Atlas, close to Imlil, we meet a Berber shepherd by the name of Moustafa. He offers us food and accommodation for the night in his family home, and we gratefully accept. We are shown to the Hammam which is a real treat after a decent day in the saddle, then we sit down to dinner with Moustafa, a splendid Berber omelette with fresh bread and olives. Then out comes the mint tea. And the silver. And more mint tea. And more silver. And more tea. I casually admire the detail of the handiwork on one of the necklaces. I’m buying a necklace and I don’t even know it…. Negotiations are protracted, Moustafa and I cannot agree on a price, so we decide to sleep on it, in Moustafas bedroom.

Next morning, keen to make a good start on the day into the mountains I decide that we must agree quickly and offer to swap a mobile phone for the two necklaces I like. And we’re on our way. Hurrah! Who did the best deal? Who know’s, but it was a fun either way.