Hiking in the Alps on a shoestring

IMG_20170723_140924.jpgIt had been a long held dream of mine to hike in the European alps. Perhaps having spent a lot of my childhood listening to Heidi (a story about a girl who goes and lives in the Swiss alps with her grandfather) on cassette tape (yeah i am that old), or just my inherent love of mountains, but I have had a long held fascination with hiking the alps. In my 20’s I’d bought books and read about several long distance hikes, and even once did a short hike in the German alps with my sister and some friends. Now that we lived in London it seemed time to fulfil another long held dream of a long distance walk through the alps.

IMG_20170714_212711.jpgIt wasn’t exactly hard to convince Astrid that a walking holiday surrounded by mountains and wilderness would be a good thing. Our friends Chris and Pete have done many hiking holidays and it was with their help that we finally decided on the Vanoise National Park in France.IMG_20170715_133633.jpgI wanted to write this blog partly to share the amazing photos and inspire anyone thinking of a hike in the alps, but also because we did it on the cheap. Weirdly enough, hiking in the alps could, if you let it, cost you a lot of money. If we had done it how many of the French do it, I am not sure we could have afforded it. The good news is that you can actually do it on quite a small budget. To save money there are three things you need to do; camp wherever possible, carry all your own food and not drink alcohol. We did the first two but decided a cheeky wine at the end of the day would be our treat. Not exactly unpredictable for us!


We could’t resist the French wine!

In a lot of European National Parks you can only camp in allocated areas, or not at all. In the Vanoise National Park you can only camp at huts that allow camping. Luckily most huts on the tour of the Vanoise do allow camping. A lot of people will stay in the huts which cost around 45 euros per night –  this usually includes breakfast (but not dinner which will set you back around a further 25 Euros). Some even have a vegetarian surcharge! Being vegan I imagine would be near impossible. I know many huts helicopter in their food, or walk it in (although some huts are near roads and still charge the same as the more remote ones). I can’t help feeling that at least some of the prices are charged just because they can.  By eliminating the hut sleeping fees and meal costs we spent significantly less. Most huts have kitchens which you can use for around 2 euros and for those that don’t, we just carried our trusty stove anyway. On a tour of the Vanoise self catering is totally possible. You do have to carry enough food for the first 6 days, but after that resupply is much easier. We paid to sleep in the hut on only two occasions. The cost to camp at the huts is around 5 euros per person and includes use of the toilets and showers. It is probably possible to wild camp (although inside the park it’s illegal), especially outside the park, but on this occasion we opted not to.

In the beginning there was a night bus. Luckily, this time we had both packed sober and were well prepared. We reached St Pancras with enough time to easily get through security and partake in our usual pre train beer. Never mind that it was ludicrously early. The first Eurostar of the day was soon speeding through the green English countryside before popping under the channel and into northern France where it was raining. An hour or so later were were in Paris.


Boarding the Eurostar


Pre train drinks


Our train in France

From Gard De Nord we took the RER 3 stops to Gare De Lyon, pushed our way through the crowds and found our train heading south. The dreary plains of northern France with their grey skies and depressing monocultures gradually gave way to vineyards, mountains and blue skies. Several hours later when we reached Modane at the trail head, it was hot and sunny. I was shattered from the early morning but the excitement of arriving livened me up. We were now in the Maurienne valley and mountains surrounded us.


Modane train station

davAlthough we had been super organised and already bought all our food for the first 6 days (not actually necessary as Modane has a big supermarket), we did not have fuel. Unfortunately even the Eurostar does not allow petrol on board. I had googled the french equivalent of white gas and kerosene and had come up with a few options. However, none of these had been available in the supermarkets I had quickly checked. I was a little anxious. We did not yet know that most huts would allow us to use their kitchens and I was imagining two weeks worth of cold meals and more importantly, no cups of tea. The thought was depressing and alarming. Luckily Modane has an unmanned petrol station which allowed us to fill our 1 litre fuel bottle (it can sometimes be tricky due to it being so small and petrol station attendants getting angry).

Now we were ready to hike.

We followed the signs pointing out of the town and into the promising wilderness. Soon the path became unforgivingly steep and we sweated and puffed in the warm evening air. Higher and higher we climbed, through pine forest with the occasional glimpses into the valley below and the mountains towering above. Eventually we broke out into an alpine meadow and were finally granted the stunning vistas the trees had been obscuring. I had one of those perfect moments were everything comes together. The views were just beautiful, I felt amazing, I was with Astrid and we were finally in the alps, hiking.


This is what I have been dreaming of


davNot long after that, just as the light was starting to fade we reached the first hut, Refuge de l’Aiguille Doran. Everyone else was inside eating already and we could see the relief on the Guardien’s face when we only wanted a beer and a place to put our tent. We cooked our pasta and drank a cold beer over looking the mountains. It was crazy to think that morning we had woken up in London and now we were here, surrounded by all this beauty.

The morning dawned misty and the previous day’s epic travel had taken it’s toll. It took me an hour to pull myself out of the tent. Finally, we ate breakfast, packed up and headed back into the forest. As we hiked upwards, the clouds swirled around and it was quite cold. However, I felt it was only a matter of time before the high summer sun would triumph. Mornings in the mountains we would learn would often start misty and cold, until the sun burnt away the clouds. On reaching an alpine meadow, dotted with huts we were afforded views of rocky crags and even the refuge we were heading to. We snacked and headed up the valley, passed clear creeks and over rocks. It was so beautiful. At one point there were two shining blue dams below us and like predicted the sun came out and our layers came off.  It wasn’t long before we reached refuge Plan de Sec. The guardien showed us somewhere to put our tent and we settled in for an afternoon of yoga, writing and reading. It was nice to get somewhere early. More and more people arrived and we realised that it was in fact a French public holiday. Even though we were surrounded by others, Astrid and I were clearly the only foreigners and as our french was minimal at best we didn’t really get to chat to anyone.


Huge dams



From refuge Plan de Sec we were headed to refuge L’Arpont, along with many french families and groups. It was the only time things became a little crowded in the park. We didn’t really care, it was still nothing like walking the Camino. The first part of the day took us through alpine meadows, some which had temporary fencing for cows. We were learning that even here, in the high alps, people eked out a living from agriculture. It was often a topic of conversation as it was clear how destructive the cows were on the environment. Yet, at the same time it was such a tradition, people had been using the high summer pastures of the alps for centuries. However, tradition doesn’t necessarily make something inherently good. Then again, perhaps there is room for small scale, sustainable agriculture? Is agriculture ever sustainable though? And while the cows looked peaceful (and are no doubt better off than many) we don’t get to see when their babies get torn away from them so that humans can drink their milk and turn it into cheese. While there may be times in the future when out of necessity I’ll eat cheese or drink milk, I can’t really get along with the exploitation of animals for human consumption, no matter how picturesque. While our topic of conversation may at times have been heavy, our mood was light. We soon left the meadows behind and walked into a much wilder valley with craggy snow capped peaks, steep drops, pine forests and sweeping views. It was everything I’d hoped hiking in the alps would be. We spotted wild flowers, marmots and even an ibex! After dumping our packs by refuge L’Arpont we walked up to the glacial lake and sat in the afternoon sun, enjoying the beauty that surrounded us.


So misty in the mornings


Route signage


Mist beginning to clear


Mid morning


Beautiful view across the valley


Our first ibex!


More ibex awesomeness


Half ruined alpine buildings were quite common


Refuge L’Arpont




Loving the lake


Lake happiness


And more


On the way down


We woke to clear blue skies and bright sunshine. I managed to buy a coffee from the cafe at the hut and savoured the views and the sun while drinking it. A perfect start to the day. Our walk took us further into the valley again and we were surrounded by high peaks and glaciers. Every vista was more amazing than the next.


In the late morning we came to a spot where our book said you could climb up to a tarn fed by waterfalls. We had time and were feeling adventurous and strong and decided we needed to explore further. There was no visible path so we just walked towards some imposing rocks where we thought the path should be. After quite a bit of searching, we spotted something that might have been a track and began our climb upwards. It was tough going and took us around an hour, scrambling over large boulders and jumping over small creeks. When we eventually made it up to the tarn it was well worth the effort. No one else was up there and we surrounded by the epic beauty of rocks, ice water and the brilliant blue of the sky. It was so peaceful. We got undressed and dipped into the icy water, then lay naked on the rocks in the sun. Life was perfect.


Heading upwards to mind the tarn


So happy to have found this spot


Totally worth the hike

IMG_20170716_124933.jpgOnce we hiked back down we at lunch by a small tarn and then hiked the rest of the way to refuge plan de lac in the hot afternoon sun. Unfortunately this was one of the only huts that didn’t allow camping, so we checked into a dorm and then went and sat on the balcony enjoying a cold beer as the heat faded out of the day. A wonderful end to a spectacular day in the mountains.

I slept badly in the hut but luckily we had made a friend the night before – a French Canadian lady called Francoise who provided me with instant coffee to keep going. We set off fairly early but it wasn’t long before the heat of the day was upon us. Our day took us through more alpine meadows and then an ascent with views of the ever present high peaks. Later we descended into a beautiful pine forest, which reminded me of my childhood Christmas fantasies. We had lunch at an unmanned refuge before heading along a very exposed track before finally descending into a valley, dotted with cows and refuge Vallobrun. The guardien at this refuge treated us very kindly and gifted us left over blueberry tart.

We rose early like normal, cooked a simple breakfast of porridge, washed down with tea and headed off. Our morning took us towards the valley floor, through pine forest, the air growing warmer the lower we got. The first village we reached was Bessants where we restocked at the supermarket and then ate a lunch of baguette in the village square.


Alpine cows chilling


Random church


The track downwards


Happy with our restock




Baguette happiness

Our afternoons walk took us along the river, it was hot and no one was around. After a short discussion we dumped our packs, stripped off and jumped into the cool clear water. It was wonderful. Everything was so lush, green and alive. Insects buzzed continuously, the sky was this immense blue and I felt physically strong and the happiest I’d been in a while. I’m not unhappy in London by any stretch of the imagination, but coming out here and being in nature reminds me of where my soul really belongs.


Hiking into Bessants


The river we swam in


Hiking along the river

We managed to pull our clothes on just before a French family came walking along the path. Swim completed, we continued along the valley, the walking was easy and so very pleasant. In the afternoon we reached the medieval village of Bonneval Sur Arc which was a cluster of beautiful houses made of stone and wood, with small doorways and narrow staircases. There are very fews signs of the modern world in this village – no cars, cables or tv antennas. We had reserved the cheapest, tiniest room in Aubergue d’ Oul which was a bit like stepping back in time. I suspect our tiny room was once a cupboard though! Not that we cared in the slightest. After a bit of a rest we explored the village before an evening thunderstorm rolled in. While it rained we rebelliously cooked our pasta on the balcony and drank a cheap bottle of wine.


The tiny door into our accommodation


Outside the Albergue in Bonneval sur Arc

Armed with baguette’s we spent the next morning reclaiming the height we had lost. The track out of the village was incredibly steep and I took a wrong turn at one point, resulting in a crazy scramble up a very steep slope. Once the initial mad ascent was over we steadily gained height all morning. Walking through meadows, passed streams and huts, meeting other hikers as we went. A few times we took breaks to munch on baguette, it was hot and sunny and sweat dripped off both us. I felt so wonderful and  full of energy, despite the steep going. The mountains got closer and closer and after some hours of walking up the valley we were back amongst them.


Heading up the valley



Ever upwards

Taking a turn after several hours we found ourselves walking through a rocky, glacial landscape. The weather changed and we were briefly blasted by wind and rain. I love the crazy unpredictability of mountain weather; Soon the sun was out again, although on the horizon we could see dark and heavy clouds.

It was the afternoon now, and after climbing all morning we had gained quite some altitude. The landscape was dramatic, sheer rocks and icy lakes;  only the toughest of alpine flowers and vegetation surviving. It was a stark contrast to the lush and green valley, literally buzzing with life that we had walked through earlier in the day. After some more steady walking we reached the  Col – pass. The views were spectacular.



The stark beauty of altitude


The weather rolling in..


Definitely almost upon us



More alpine flowers


View from the top


Sheltered by rock


We reached the pass


The pass

High up on the pass the weather looked like it was turning and we quickly began descending. Soon it appeared that the storm was chasing us. We began to run, hoping to make it to the hut before the summer thunderstorm hit. Lighting began to strike across the valley and thunder cracked right above us. It was amazing to feel the power of nature in such dramatic surroundings. Descending off the col we had a good view of everything below us and could see we were not the only hikers making a dash for refuge Fond des Fours. We reached shelter just before it began to pour and gratefully spent the afternoon reading and drinking beer as the storm raged outside. When it cleared we put up our tent in an alpine meadow which was home to many marmotte friends.


running from the storm!

We had decided to have a kind of rest day at Fond des Fours and woke late the following day, had a leisurely breakfast (and many cups of tea), read our books and then headed up the valley to explore. It was lovely traveling so light  and without packs. Our walk took us nearly to another pass and we were again surrounded by stunning beauty. There was a particularly high snow covered mountain range to our left and we thought we could just make out mount blanc.

It stormed during the night, lightening lit up the whole valley and momentarily I was a little scared. The morning however bought blue skies and the night’s rough weather was soon forgotten. We headed down the steep valley, towards the ski resort town of Valdisere. Gradually civilisation encroached on the wild mountains we had been walking through; chair lifts, chalets, horses and then finally the town itself. Trudging through the very slick and shiny streets we felt decidedly out of place. In winter Valdisere is a fancy ski village, and even in summer it appeared to be full of people clad in brand name hiking clothes, looking very fashionable. We did treat ourselves to a vegan lunch in a cafe – not something that is particularly easy to find in this part of France! Just out of town we found a campsite where Astrid’s few words of French seemed to charm the manager. He gave us a super spot to put up our tent and couldn’t have been more helpful. The afternoon brought rain, so we rested, read and tried to study more french.

The following morning we basically had baguettes delivered to our campsite – how very French and awesome. We accidentally bought four (have I said Astrid can get a bit over excited?) After a big breakfast it was time to gain the height we had lost once more. Once we left the village it was a steep trek upwards through more pine forest. From forest the landscape changed to open meadows where the winter ski runs had been turned into mountain bike trails. It was impressive to see some of the skills of the riders. Sadly in the afternoon we were introduced to the not so great side of people seeking an escape to the mountains as we came face to face with a hideous ski resort town. Ugly high rises scarred what would have been an idyllic valley. Why do humans seeking nature simultaneously destroy it? How are these mass corporate developments permitted? Why do people need to pollute nature with all their creature comforts?


Baguette delivery, only in France!

We stayed only to eat lunch by a lake and fill our water bottles. It was a relief to escape and reminded me how when you spend time surrounded by nature and beauty, these kind of places wear on your soul more heavily. We hiked up passed ski lifts and day walkers until we reached the col del la leisse. Surrounded by rocks, ice, tiny wild flowers, lakes and peaks my heart once again filled with happiness. It was a long day and we reached refuge de la Leisse quite late. There was a lovely spot to put our tent and some very cute chickens.

Again it had been rough over night weather wise but we woke to only clouds, no rain. The descent to the valley floor was so peaceful. Not many hikers around, just the sheer power of the mountains and a few ibex. I spent some time just sitting on a rock while I waited for Astrid, taking it all in. Life makes sense out here. There is something incredible about being surrounded by such wild beauty. I probably could have sat there all day.



Eventually we came to a 16th century bridge where we had to make a decision about our route. Either head into a valley to explore it, or towards a glacier. We opted for the glacier. From the bridge we climbed another pass and were rewarded with a school group at the top. Fortunately also a lot of ibex. Once the school group had left Astrid and I stayed and watched the Ibex for a long time. We really love them and even came across some very adorable baby ibex.


After passing through a rocky valley and by a beautiful alpine lake we reached the very popular refuge col del a vanoise. It does afford some fabulous views but we didn’t fancy the crowds, or the lack of camping. The descent was superb and I spent a lot of time looking back at the amazing views. I reached refuge Barnette a little before Astrid – it was right at the top of the ski lift and had a wonderful balcony and superb views. Views that were better enjoyed with an ice cold beer. It was hot and sunny and the beers went down a treat. Later we put up our tent and cooked our simple meal while the more fancy hikers (waiting to be served their meal) looked on. I feel like we must have looked very weird to them.

We enjoyed a lovely sunset and went to bed with clear skies above. I would never have guessed that a ferocious storm would hit in the early hours of the morning. A reminder about the unpredictability of  mountain weather. Luckily we only had to repitch the sides which were ripped out by the wind. Our trusty tent held fast and we stayed dry and cosy until it had eased enough to get up and pack up. Another hiker David had not fared as well, having to re pitch his tent in the storm. David was from NZ and the first native english speaker that we had met so it was quite exciting to talk to him!

Once the rain had eased a little, we packed up, revived the stove (which we had accidentally left out), made some breakfast and tea and headed down towards Pralognan, the village at the foot of the ski lift. Although it intermittently rained, the walk down was lovely and we were often sheltered by the trees. Pralognan is thankfully hemmed in by forest and mountains, making ludicrous development more difficult. Predictably we headed strait to the supermarket and to our joy even found peanut butter, which is not always common in France and a vegan’s best friend. Even the hummus here has been hijacked by sneaky cheese.


Baguette baby. Trying to keep the fresh baguette warm!

The rain had really set it so we decided to call it a day and headed to the municipal campsite on the edge of town. In the afternoon David arrived and we spent a lovely evening chatting in the small shelter while Astrid and I polished off a bottle of wine.


We found local liqueur!

Rain delayed our start again but we were determined to get out of town and back into the mountains. By 9.30am we were walking through pine forest and along a fast flowing river. The rain came and went, I even put on my waterproof trousers at one point! After an hour or so we were back in the park, our path leading gently upwards, passed the odd alpine farm. As the mountains neared we began to see that the peaks had a dusting of snow. A final steep push and we reached the lovely hut of Peclet Polcet. It was one of the few huts we couldn’t camp at and we had taken a gamble by not booking. Luckily some beds were still available (they will never actually turn hikers away, you just might have to sleep in a room on the floor). We cooked some lunch and settled in for an afternoon of writing.

I had the worst night sleep of the entire trip in the dorm at Peclet Polcet. A room full of snoring middle aged French people combined with the rising heat of 25 bodies and the almost constant slamming of doors. Over the years I’ve slept in loads of dorms and it’s usually fine. Perhaps I was just having a bad night, but I can’t believe people would choose dorms over camping!

After breakfast we headed up towards the pass. It wasn’t long till we were walking amongst snow covered rocks. The wind chill was epic – sub zero and the clouds moved constantly above us. The going at first was easy, along a path defined by cairns. However, as we climbed higher it became mildly terrifying. Being early in the day, there were barley any foot prints to guide us and the track was covered in snow and ice and quite slippery. Not to mention being blasted by an icy wind. Soon I was using my hands to stop myself from falling, trying not to look down. Finally we reached the pass but it was so cold and windy we had to descend almost straight away. The brief view we had into the next valley was spectacular, as was the blue sky ahead.

The decent was also marred by ice and snow and freezing winds, but not as scary. We literally couldn’t stop due to the cold until we were well beyond the snow line and able to shelter behind some rocks. Even then it was freezing and we piled on more clothes and snacked quickly on a trek bar. We continued down, layered to the max, while the people coming up in t shirts gave us weird looks. Soon the smell of pine was upon us and the sun began to have some warmth to it. We were out of the desert like landscape of the high mountains and back into the summer. All around us was green and blue and the sound of insects buzzing. We hiked into forest and through lush meadows passing by tiny alpine hamlets. Soon we could see Modane down in the valley below. The temperature steadily rose and by the time we reached the town, it was over 20 degrees. Hard to believe we’d been freezing on top of a pass only hours before.

Back in Modane we headed to the supermarket, then a camp ground on the edge of town. We relaxed in the afternnoon sun and drank some cold beers, a perfect way to finish our 14 day hike. The Vanoise had been exactly what I had hoped for – a stunning and varied alpine environment that had fulfilled all my childhood fantasies about the alps. For anyone wanting an adventurous hiking holiday, surrounded by amazing mountains that doesn’t break the bank, I would definitely recommend jumping on a train to the alps with a tent, some supplies and a sense of wonder.

The Dunwich Dynamo

Screen Shot 2017-07-31 at 5.12.24 pm

I never intended to cycle the Dunwich Dynamo. In fact when someone had mentioned its existence a few months before, I thought it sounded crazy. Why would I want to cycle nearly 200km through the night from London to the Suffolk Coast?

It sounded decidedly unpleasant and would probably rain.

Yet, somehow in late June when a friend mentioned he was cycling it, I found myself enthusiastically saying I’d join him. Astrid was going to be away that weekend and I thought it sounded like a solid (possibly type 2 fun) way to spend a Saturday night. I’d conveniently forgotten I didn’t actually own a road bike – only the green fairy; a well made steel framed touring bike with the heaviest rims on the planet, fat off road tyres plus front and rear steel racks. The ideal bike to tackle the dirt roads of Kyrgyzstan fully loaded – not so ideal to ride 200km through the night on tarmac with a bunch of people (mostly) on road bikes.

The Dunwich Dynamo or Dun Run (as the cool kids call it) began sometime in the 90’s – when a group of friends decided it would be fun to ride to the coast overnight. Since it’s humble beginning it has grown into one of the more obscure and fun things to do in London during the summer. No roads are closed – it’s not an organised event – part of it’s charm. And it’s also free. You just rock up and ride. Famously people have done it on a Boris bike and a unicycle. While some people probably take it seriously, most don’t. Pubs along the route stay open and some villages have pop up stalls selling food and drinks to weary cyclists.

Although I had hesitations after my initial enthusiasm I realised having a heavy bike wasn’t actually an excuse not to do this. Instead I recruited Ben to join me as well. He liked long bike rides after all.

The week before the ride I had a brief fantasy that I could make the Green Fairy lighter, less like riding a tractor. I pedalled over to the London Bike Kitchen (an awesome DIY space where you get helped to fix your own bike) and set about giving her a slight make over. This included finally changing my chainring after more than 30,000km, replacing the chain and swapping my fat off road tyres to slightly less fat (but still huge compared to road bikes) tyres. I also spent a frustrating hour trying to take off my rear and front racks which was an exercise in futility.

By the time Saturday evening rolled around I felt more or less ready. I had even bought a novelty shirt from a charity shop to wear, deciding that being a bit ridiculous was going to be my way of tackling 200km. I mean, cycling a long distance overnight is kind of crazy. I packed what I thought I needed (which included a flask of whiskey) into my handle bar bag and pedalled over to London Fields, collecting Ben on the way.


Ben and I looking keen

The park around Pub on the Park in London Fields was full of cyclists, milling about and sipping beer. I liked the vibe of the event already. After meeting up with Tony and his friends Lenny and Alex,  it was time for us to also partake in the drinking of beer.


Tony and I – a pint is the best way to start a 200km bike ride!


Looking keen and full of energy!

We milled around chatting and drinking beer until around 8.30pm when people began to move off. It was a bottle neck getting out of the park at London Fields but soon we were pedalling in a ramshackle group out of Hackney and north eastwards into the suburbs.

As we made our way along Lea Bridge Road I longingly thought about how my bed was currently 15 mins south of where we were. It would be a further 17 hours before I would see my bed again. I didn’t quite realise what the night had in store.


Heading out of town

On the first bit I pushed a little hard, I wanted to keep up with the road bikes. I tried to ignore the fact that when they were coasting, I was still pedalling. Still, I felt good, the mood was light and we all intermitently chatted as the light faded from the sky.


Feeling good and having a little whiskey..

Soon the suburbs gave way to the Essex countryside and it felt like we were really heading somewhere as the darkness enveloped us.  The others went ahead and Ben stayed with me as we rode into the night. Eventually we reached a village which was full of cyclists spilling out from a pub. We couldn’t see the others so Ben and I rode on to the next village.

Turns out we had somehow missed Tony and his friends so we waited and partook in the drinking of whiskey and beer to pass the time (15 mins).  To be honest I was beginning to get tired and worried about the road ahead. Ben mused that at the rate we were going we would reach Dunwich after midday (the idea is to make it for sunrise) and this instilled a quiet panic in me. We had barely done 50km and I was pretty shattered. The others soon arrived and after a quick break we rolled on. Our goal was the half way point at Sudbury, where the fire station puts on a feed.

The general mood began to plummet in our little group. We were all feeling it. I definitely did not have enough snacks and was running super low on energy. Plus I was cold and exhausted, the Green Fairy felt like a tractor and every undulation in the dark felt like a Kyrgyzstan style pass. Someone said it felt like a bad trip; we couldn’t figure out why everyone was having fun while we were all so miserable. My one consolation was, unlike all the guys in our group my  saddle which was basically moulded to my bum was not causing me pain. I think everyone else was in utter agony. Tony looked like he was done. Ben was morosely silent. Someone talked of getting the train back from Ipswich.

Although at this point I felt utterly melancholic I had an inkling that things would get better. Perhaps it’s the 2.5 years spent traveling on the bike, but you soon learn that often after the most difficult times come the most rewarding. There is something powerful in being okay with discomfort.

These are some of the things that I thought of as I pedalled those slow and grim kilometres through the darkness.

Eventually, after an eternity we seemed to be reaching a town. It was nearing 3 am, well passed the time I had calculated in my head that we should be at Sudbury, the half way point. Although the fire station was just ahead I stopped at an off licence that had remained open and bought a jar of peanut butter and some bread. I shoved some calories into my face and then set about trying to find the others.

I found them morosely discussing Ipswich and when the trains would start. Everyone looked as shattered as I felt. We limped on to the fire station to take a well earned break and to eat some food.

Disaster. The fireman nonchalantly informed us that they had run out of food two hours ago.

Devastated is probably an understatement.

I am not proud of this but a string of expletives left my mouth. Then I nearly cried. Looking over at the others I felt like they were in a similar headspace.


The low point: bread and HP sauce


4 am and everyone’s a little broken..

We were left with no choice but to eat the left over bread rolls with some left over HP sauce. Other cyclists were turning up all the time and being met with the same fate. It was probably the ultimate low of the night. The only thing that saved me was the fact that I had managed to shove some peanut butter and bread into my face before I got to the fire station. My mood despite the tragedy that is bread rolls, HP sauce and instant coffee, began to lift.

I think the break and the food (even if it was far from what we had hoped it would be) slowly began working their magic and eventually we all rolled out of Sudbury, towards Dunwich and the hint of dawn. Ipswich and it’s train station were forgotten.

We had been gifted with quite a mild summers night, and as we now cycled the light began to touch the sky, bathing the countryside in the most beautiful gold. The fields, hedgerows and woods we pedalled passed filled me with the pure joy of nature and my mood soared. It is hard to describe the utter delight the daylight brought. It felt more like a spiritual experience than a bike ride.



It was during this beautiful sunrise phase of the cycle that I gained the most important insight into a ride; I think in our modern life we spend a lot of time avoiding discomfort. Surrounded by modern conveniences in our daily lives we often don’t get very uncomfortable. We have cars and uber, takeaway delivery services, electricity, kettles, heating, soft beds, public transport, smart phones and fridges. Everything is designed to make our life easier. I mean when is the last time you collected wood to built a fire to cook a meal? We rarely in our modern, wealthy western existence get faced with real discomfort. And when we do it’s usually for short periods of time while we do exercise or perhaps are rammed on the tube with our face in someones arm pit.

To be honest, I’d forgotten what discomfort felt like. And that’s probably why in the end the ride meant so much more than just a novelty cycle to the coast. It reminded me of our cycle trip because travel, especially travel by bicycle makes you embrace discomfort; From pitching your tent in minus 10, to being soaked to your undies, or pushing your 50kg bike up a 3000m pass along something that more closely resembles a river bed then a road. Not to mention the countless times you are invited to stay with complete strangers, with whom you share no common language, or culture. These things, which happen almost everyday to some extent on a big cycle trip, push comfort zones.

And it is in these moments of discomfort that growth happens.

Obviously here on this bike ride I am talking about physical discomfort but it’s a metaphor really that you can apply to other parts of life. By embracing challenges; be it physical or emotional we force ourselves to reach somewhere beyond our comfort zone. It is precisely when we feel the most uncomfortable that we grow and push out our boundaries, making our world that little bit richer.

As the sun rose and wonderful pink hues coloured the sky my soul was reminded of this, and at the same time also filled with the utter delight of just being alive. It was one of those rare moments where I fully appreciated how amazing a sunrise is. How beautiful and perfect the trees and woods were and how everything just felt wonderful. Looking around at the others I felt like they were experiencing a similar high. It seemed we had all come out of the dark night of aches, pains and fatigue together. It now made sense to me why people do this ride. It is pretty bloody magical


The magical morning

We were still a long way from Dunwich though. As the high of sunrise slowly wore off  I became a happy kind of fatigued. I knew we would all make it and I was tired but happy. We pedalled on, stopping a few more times at pop up stalls for a coffee and a bite to eat.


Pretty chuffed with life

We rode on through undulating farmland and towards the Suffolk coast, eventually reaching heath land before at long last the coast. Ive often been tired after a bike ride but this was a special kind of exhausted. Some kind of combination of having just finished a night shift, an epic bike ride, and being on some kind of high. I was shattered but in a good way.


Happy and exhuasted

We walked onto the beach, enjoying the early morning sunshine and the pure elation of having made it. Tired cyclists had spread themselves all over the rocky shore, the place was a hive of activity. People arriving and leaving, excited conversations and murmurs of congratulations filled the air. It seemed almost everyone was in a place of happy exhaustion. After eating, I managed a swim in the sea (wonderful!) before piling onto a bus with the others back to London.


We are done.



What can I say about the Dunwich Dynamo? It was difficult and amazing and to me much more than just a bike ride. It reminded my of life lessons I’d half forgotten and inspired me to keep pushing into the places that are that uncomfortable because they are often the most rewarding and inspiring.

Although next time I might bring more snacks.

An ode to the National Cycle Network


In the beginning there was sun..

During our first year in London, Astrid and I spent a lot of time leaving the UK. For various reasons we found ourselves in the infuriatingly long line at Stanstead Airport, then crammed into a Ryan Air flight to land in some lovely European destination for a few days, followed by a reversal of the procedure. Basically, the whole operation made us uncomfortable. You can’t (well, we couldn’t) cycle half way around the world and not have been affected by the slow and unassuming nature of bicycle travel. It makes jetting off to destinations feel like you are consuming travel rather than a true reflection of what travel encompasses. Aeroplanes are an extraordinary form of transport, but I personally feel we take them too much for granted. Short haul flights are one of the most destructive and unnecessary (unnecessary because unlike getting to say Australia or the US there are feasible alternatives) things we can do to the environment. Sadly, these alternatives are usually (not always) more expensive and longer. Until governments start to subsidise train travel instead of air travel, choosing the alternative will mostly be a conscientious decision to spend more money. However, after a year of not really listening to our instincts about travel we decided to try and completely avoid short haul flights if possible.


The beautiful Cornish Coast

It was always our intention, but this year we have specifically planned trips which feel to us more like the kind of travel we want to do (even though we did have fun last year). Essentially to us this means moving slowly in nature; using trains to get to our destinations and bikes or legs to explore. We might not see as many things, but the ones we do will be at a pace more suited to us.


Which leads me into this blog. We decided we had seen far too little of Britain and thought it was high time we explored this peculiar island we currently call home on our bikes. We booked tickets to Penzance (30 quid! booking in advance and having a rail card is totally worth it!) and made plans to cycle ‘end to end’ meaning we would cycle from the very south of Cornwall to the very north of Scotland. That was the plan anyway…


Roads with no cars are the best kind of roads

Leaving day rolled around and I found myself packing on no sleep – London what have you done to me?! A friend’s house party had inevitable turned into a wonderful all night event and I had made it home in time to sit somewhat confused in piles of stuff and gingerly pack my panniers. Poor Astrid was not much better – a lingering head cold had manifested into something rather unpleasant and we were a slightly broken pair piling on to the train at Paddington. Mostly we slept on the journey west and arrived in rainy and cold Penzance at around 5pm. The plan had been to cycle about 20km to a camp site, but as we rounded the  first corner and were blasted by a furious headwind and rain, we promptly opted for the pub. Over a pint it was decided to go for the backpackers and try again the following morning.


Getting off the train in Penzance


Thanks Penzance


Happiness is going on a biking holiday

After about 12 hours of sleep we were both feeling much livelier and hit the hills of Cornwall in fine spirits. The climbs were intense but the scenery was beautiful; rugged coast, cute villages and country lanes. Even a few prehistorical standing stones thrown in for good measure. We reached Lands End in the early afternoon, took the usual photos and ate some hummus. Then we turned around and began heading north.


Prehistoric standing stones in a field


The is always a sign..


The beautiful beaches of Cornwall

I need to mention early on a hidden treasure of Britain; The National Cycle Network. I have totally disregarded Sustrans and the national cycle network in the past. I mean, try and negotiate their website for a minute and I am not sure you can blame me. However, I will categorically apologise to Sustrans here; the national cycle network is awesome. Sure, it has a few issues (it might be a bit purest at times and take you on a ridiculous alternative route to avoid a B road, and the website!) but there is literally a huge cycle network that traverses Britain! It’s almost like being on a highway for bikes. It connects small country roads to rail trail and bike paths and has so far been nothing short of brilliant. We hardly need to use our phones or guidebooks. It saves a lot of navigational faffing and the routes are super lovely.


Signs like this are literally all over  the country


Car signs. Bike signs. We can share the road.

By evening of the first day we had reached the coastal village of St Ives and were both quite exhausted. Stealth camping just seemed too hard – we had not yet gotten into our dirtbag mindset and opted instead to pay a ludicrous amount for a piece of dirt and use of a toilet. Never mind, sometimes it’s just part of the process. It did feel brilliant to be back in the tent though.


Brilliant country lane cycling


Ruins of a Tin mine


The compulsive snacking has begun. We found vegan Cornish pasties!


Typical English Church Yard


Cornish beers to celebrate the first cycling day, St Ive’s.


Dinner on the beach, St Ive’s


Sunset, hinting at the coming weather

The rain began in the night, and a fierce wind lashed at our tent. By the time morning arrived we were less than excited about facing the weather. Luckily a friend had contacted me about somewhere to stay that night. I had put a photo up on facebook the night before and Holly (a friend we met cycling in Tajikistan) saw my post, just happened to be in Cornwall and had a friend who we could stay with that night. A big part of me really doesn’t like social media, but it can prove useful! Knowing we had somewhere dry to stay that night and that we would be seeing Holly, lifted our spirits and finally got us moving out of St Ive’s.


Cycling into the drizzle..


Cooking lunch in a random village. Note the down jacket in Spring )-:


Awesome off road cycling through former tin mines


Wet but awesome


Truro Cathedral

The day did prove rather wet. The wind was luckily in our favour so it wasn’t all bad. We followed the estuary inland, undulated through farmland and then followed a brilliant off road track through the mining scared landscape. We reached Truro and David’s home covered in mud and water. Being a cycle traveller himself David wasn’t at all disturbed by our less than clean presentation. We were treated to a wonderful evening of food, wine and conversation (not to mention a hot shower!) by David and his partner Norma.


Cycling in Britain IS fun

We woke again to rain but the morning was brightened by the visit of Holly and baby Anissa (sadly Dave, Holly’s husband was in Portugal). It was lovely to eat David’s amazing breakfast and catch up with Holly (the last time we had spent anytime with her and Dave, the four of us had been rather unsettled in a house in Kent – having all just finished our trip). It was ludicrously late by the time we left David’s place but we didn’t really care.


Heading along the Camel Trail

Our route took us to Newquay where we stuffed chips into slices of bread and watched the hardcore British surf in the rain. From there we took the hilly route along the coast – beautiful in the rain but probably stunning in good weather. Our last section was on the camel trail – another delightful off road route incorporated into the NCN. We left the camel trail at Wadebridge as we had organised a warmshowers host who just happened to be a good friend of Holly’s. Small world. Jackie and Richard welcomed us with open arms and we were again treated to amazing hospitality.


Chip butty’s in the rain, can you get more British?




Bedruthan Steps


Minor bike mechanics required


More Camel trail

Rain once more. My spirits were low. I mean we could be in Spain in the sun like normal people. Instead, here we were trying to have “fun” in Britain. And it was cold.  Where the previous rainy days had been slightly humid it was now quite chilly. Still, we pushed on, if somewhat morosely. By the evening it had cleared a little and we found a beautiful spot to put up our tent on a guys trout farm. He let us use the area not currently used by anglers so that we wouldn’t be disturbed.


Cooking cup o soup in a shelter to escape the rain


Such lovely roads



Our trout farm camping spot


journal writing




sunset over the pond

We were treated to the Tarka Trail the next day which led us slowly back to the coast on a lovely off road track, through forest and along an estuary. Another quick restock and we started the long and steep climb into Exmoor. After a rather gruelling (but enjoyable) climb late in the day we lucked out with finding the perfect spot to put our tent. It’s hard to find the kind of wilderness we are used to in Australia in England, but up on Exmoor I began to get a stronger sense of being somewhere a little more remote and wild.


And there was sun!




Cool sculptures of the Tarka Trail


Bird people


Happiness is cider AND tea


Beautiful Tarka Trail


Along the estuary


Lunch stop


Heading up into Exmoor


Winning on our camping spot!

Cycling over Exmoor the following day gave us a reprieve from the endless hedge rows and paddocks. England is beautiful but there are a lot of fields and a lot of sheep. Although London might be the greenest capital in Europe, unfortunately England is the most deforested country, with agriculture everywhere. During the ride whenever we descended to where the trees have been left, I would get a small sense of how beautiful the woods must have been before they were cleared for grazing.


Across Exmoor


Beautiful and wild


Enjoying a break from the hedge rows!


Exmoor pony


Tea stop after Exmoor

By the afternoon we were back on the country roads, pedalling alongside hedge rows, marvelling at the many shades of green and watching the blackening sky in front of us. The rain hit us late in the afternoon and we were more or less drenched. But this is England and we soon found a pub to dry out in. I’m beginning to think there is a reason England has so many pubs…We sheltered there for an hour or two while searching on the net for somewhere to put our tent for the night. At this stage we hadn’t fully gotten to that comfortable place where you know the road will provide. In the end we found a campsite just out of Taunton and headed there. Of course on the way we saw places where we could have slept but we had already phoned ahead and felt like we should make the extra few miles as well. We pitched our tent in a soggy apple orchard and crawled into bed to polish off a few ciders.


Hmm, the weather is coming our way


Yep, no more sun.


Rain rage


Happy to be camping in a soggy apple orchard

I woke feeling really low and out of sync the next day. The weather was still miserable, I was cold, dirty (the shower at the campsite was shit), we were behind in schedule and I felt like cycle traveling wasn’t as fun as I remembered. This is where having an awesome partner like Astrid makes all the difference. She suggested we splurge on a bed and breakfast that night, not worry about how far we still had to go, and let ourselves reset. This really worked. Sometimes you just need someone to give you a pep talk. I tackled that days rain in more or less good spirits (although I occasionally cursed it). We reached our charmingly tacky (think shelves covered in tea pots and walls in novelty plates) bed and breakfast quite exhausted. After a hot shower and ordering the hugest amount of Indian takeaway ever, and a few bottles of beer, we passed out. Reset complete.


Somerset flats


Cute villages were an everyday occurrence


Random, slightly creepy rabbit


Chutney anyone? English quaintness at it’s best.


The strawberry line was a nice surprise


Happiness is all the Indian Take Away ever

Finally, the sun arrived!! What joy it was to cycle in the brilliant sunshine. Everything felt better and my spirits soared. The sun is simply life affirming. We pushed hard towards Gloucester (although not so hard that we didn’t stop for a Sunday veggie roast in a beer garden), alternating between country lanes and a canal tow path. Late in the day we reached Gloucester, where we used our dirtbag tactic of ordering a beer, then asking the bar staff to charge our phones and collecting water from the bathroom for the evenings cooking. I liked Gloucester, the old docks had been gentrified but it din’t take away the impressive nature of the warehouses and brick work. Once we left the city, we were faced with ample camping opportunities in the surrounding park. We chose a forest and I felt like we were slipping back into being at one with this kind of  travelling lifestyle.




First lunch


The Dirty Salmon, with the Salmon


So lovely to cycle in the sun


Second lunch


Heading into Gloucester on the canal path


Pubs are the best places to charge phones and collect water..





Forest camp

From Gloucestershire we cycled into Worcestershire, stopping at Tewksbury to marvel at the abbey and Worcester to drink some beer. The sun kept shinning and riding was an absolute joy. I was beginning to realise how much I had missed this kind of life; being free, outdoors, moving slowly, calling anywhere home for the night. The simplicity is extremely life affirming and I find it incredibly uplifting. I think I have come to understand that I am quite adaptable. Perhaps too much if such a thing is possible. After a few initially difficult months I have adapted to being in London and working well. The truth is I love London a little bit and my life there. It reminds me of the kind of life I lived in Melbourne, where I was really happy. I always feel the hardest thing I ever did was not climbing 5000m passes, but making the decision to leave my really good life in 2013  for the unknown. It was of course the best thing I have ever done, and this trip is reminding me of that. It has reignited something and reminded me of the adventures still to come.


A very old bridge. Don’t ask me how old.


Lovely spring cycling


The abbey


First lunch


More abbey


Crossing another lovely old bridge

From Worcestershire we pedalled into Shropshire which was a real highlight because of the beautiful Wyre Forest and the amount of off road cycling. It was in Shropshire while eating second breakfast at a rather picturesque cafe overlooking a river that we came to the realisation that we weren’t going to make it. No matter how we calculated the remaining kilometres, it was far too many. When they say three weeks is ample time to ride the end to end they probably don’t mean on fully loaded touring bikes, camping, riding mostly the NCN and indulging in afternoon ales. Astrid and I aren’t particularly goal orientated. We are still not sure how far we rode on our big trip (maybe 30,000km?) and we changed our final destination 4 months out to better suit our needs. So, making the decision to continue to go slow and enjoy the backroads of England, ending in Glasgow (actually our original destination from 2013) wasn’t particularly hard. Plus, Scotland shouldn’t be rushed (everyone was telling us it was the best bit). What was even better was that we would be cycling right passed the Cycle Touring Festival. A quick email to Laura  (the festival organiser) and we got some last minute tickets.


Setting up camp on the side of a bike path


Shropshire canal


The beautiful forest of Wyre


I love the forest


Such good cycling


More great paths


Happiness in the forest


It was at this river we realised we were too slow


So much off road riding


Following the 45


Steam train!!


And waterfall

Our high spirits continued as we headed towards Manchester and a day off. In Telford we came across our first rather unpleasant city, getting lost and finding the NCN slightly lacking. Luckily soon we were back into the countryside and passing a pub, right on evening water collection time. It was here that we learnt about the attacks that had occurred in Manchester which therefore made the helicopter circling above our forest camp later that night slightly eerie.




Getting ready to fry up some lunch




More lovely pedalling


Helicopter forest camp


Along the canal passed salt mines



We woke with 100km to go into Manchester, the sun shinning wonderfully yet again. Truly, England is one of the most delightful places when the sun shines. In Cheshire we found the NCN signage somewhat lacking again but managed to eventually fumble our way onto the trans pennine way and a beautiful ride into Manchester. Our hosts Pete and Maya lived in the south of the city and warmly welcomed us. We washed five days of grime off ourselves and promptly got down to serious cycle talk, eating loads of pasta and drinking copious glasses of wine. Pete and Maya had spent 11 months cycling through Africa (Pete had also cycled to India before that) and they totally re inspired us about cycling on the African continent.


Pete, our warmshowers host

Our day off in Manchester was wonderful. We walked the city streets, went to an art gallery, drank some beers, ate some felafel and explored canal street. I know it was sunny and therefore everything seems shinier, but I really liked Manchester. In the evening we cooked thai curry, drank some beers and talked late into the night. I’m sure I’ve said it before but Warmshowers is such a brilliant organisation, connecting like minded people all over the world.


And Maya




more Manchester


And some more


We loved Canal Street

Pete pedalled with us into central Manchester the next day and then bade us farewell. We picked up some fuel for our stove and began the cycle north. It was hillier again now and we had some lovely climbs and sweeping views as we cycled through Lancashire. As we neared Clitheroe our excitement grew. The last section through the Ribble Valley was super beautiful and quite familiar as we had done a bit of cycling there the previous year. We arrived at the festival in high spirits and almost immediately ran into our friends Chris and Pete (who we met in long ago Meteora and have seen many times since). The atmosphere was lovely, people were arriving on all kinds of bikes, putting up tents and chatting excitedly.


Midday beer


Heading towards the festival

This festival is truly special. It is so uncommercial and down to earth (Laura’s family cater most of the food, the beer is local, theres only one stand selling things, plus books from a few of the speakers). The feeling is more of a tribe coming together in the spirit of knowledge sharing and love of bicycle traveling. There is such a feeling of solidarity and friendliness. I have never felt more comfortable sitting down at a table full of people I don’t know. Everyone has a story and it doesn’t matter if you have cycled 6 continents, pootled down the Danube cycle path, or were just thinking about a bike trip. People are humble and excited to share and learn. Someone described it cycle touring anonymous, which is kind of fitting.


cycle touring journal and a beer. Perfect.

Astrid and I spent a lovely weekend going to inspiring talks, chatting to friends we made last year, making new friends, eating lots of sandwiches (hmm maybe that was just me actually), drinking ales and generally having a superb time. All too soon it was over. It may have been our last festival, although maybe not. We will have to see what next year brings..


Happiness is cycle traveling and eating hummus with a spoon

By the time the festival had ended, so had the good weather. We left in soaking rain with plans to be at Chris and Pete’s the following evening. Even though it was raining we weren’t so bothered now. I felt like I had settled in to being okay with being uncomfortable at times, plus a week of sun in Britain leaves a lasting imprint of joy. The cycling was tough at times with some steep climbs but they were followed by beautiful descents into river valleys. We were particularly charmed by a village called Dent, with it’s cobbled streets and beautifully preserved buildings.


Heading up


The ever present sheep


Pushing my bike up a bridleway to make camp


Camping with a view of the valley and loads of sheep for company

Our cycle into Cumbria and Hallbankgate (where Chris and Pete live) was intermittently wet but we were really into the groove of the road and I even enjoyed the rain and the wind. It was a beautiful ride, the mountains of the Lake District could be seen to our left, the Pennine range to our right and the small villages offered delicious food and some warm shelter. It’s always extra lovely arriving somewhere familiar to be embraced by friends. Even though we had just seen them at the festival it was so lovely to spend another evening with Chris and Pete with great food, wine and conversation. We have made many good friends on the road and any time that we spend with them is very precious. Soon Chris and Pete are heading off on their own adventure and after that it’s likely we will be living on the other side of the world from each other.


We did


Beautiful Cumbria

The next day the sun was back. I was surprised and delighted. We rolled out of Hallbankgate armed with road information and Chris’s famous flapjacks. Our first stop was literally across the road at the really lovely Hallbankgate Hub, the cafe/shop that the village had been working on opening  (after their original shop was shut down) ever since we have been visiting. Feeling slightly overstuffed on cake we finally hit the road north towards Scotland. Not long after that we had to stop again to explore the Lanacost Priory, which was beautiful.


Lanacost Priory


More of the Priory


So beautiful


Another lovely old bridge

The ride to the border was hilly. Long climbs followed by long descents to a creek and bridge and then repeat. We reached Scotland in the early afternoon and it felt awesome, and almost immediately different because of the forests (although they were plantation sadly). Our first night in Scotland we had decided to make a slight detour and head to a bothy. There are now officially two things that really enchant me about Britain; canal boats/canals and Bothies. Bothies are huts (mostly in Scotland) that in the past were often basic accommodation for shepherds. Now they are maintained by the Mountain Bothy Association and are free to use for all. They are usually remote and are primarily used by hikers and cyclists. Traditionally their whereabouts has been kept a bit secret, although that is slowly changing. We had heard about Bothie’s before but had been truly inspired by a talk at the festival. I was so keen to see if we could stay in one and it just happened that we could – with a little bit of planning.


Yay! We made it!


Heading towards the Bothy


Valley of sheep, what else?!

The cycle in along the valley floor towards the bothy was lovely in the early evening light. As we got closer, the road deteriorated and it began to feel like we were actually getting a little remote. Houses disappeared and there was only forest and fields. As we rounded the final bend the simple stone structure of the bothy came into view and I just felt delighted. We rolled into the clearing and discovered it was just going to be the two of us for the night. Brilliant. The bothy was situated by a stream and consisted of three rooms with sleeping platforms. There was a stove and an open fire place and a few utensils and supplies. It seemed in really good condition and we felt so privileged that we could stay in such a lovely hut in such a great location. I built a fire and Astrid cooked some dinner and then we did the most appropriate thing for a Scottish hut – drank some whiskey. It was wonderful falling asleep in the cosy hut, watching the light of the fire. Scotland, you are brilliant.


Bothy happiness


Bothy daydreaming


Fire and whiskey, such happiness.


Evening sun outside the bothy

This being Scotland the rain returned the following day. We packed up and left the beloved bothy, wishing we could spend a day sitting by the fire reading and writing. But by now we really did have to make it to Glasgow to get our train home. Using back roads we pedalled through the plantation forest and in Eskelmuir which just happened to have one of the biggest Tibetan Monastery in the West. We headed there and were reminded strongly of our time in the Tibetan part of China. After drinking copious cups of tea we dragged ourselves back onto the road and the impending weather.


Cycling into the monastery


Reading about the escape from the Chinese and drinking tea

After a pleasant morning of cycling we were greeted with an uninspiring afternoon, following the motorway towards Glasgow. Our ‘bike lane’ on the secondary road was terribly surfaced and the rain became heavier and heavier. At least the wind was in our favour. After pushing on into the early evening we decided to call it quits and put our tent up on the side of a section of bike path (there were some off road sections). I cooked us some noodles and then we both jumped into the tent to drink some whiskey and eat dinner.


Noodles and whiskey in a cup


Our camp, right next to the bike path

It rained most of the night but by the morning it was only intermittent. Instead of cooking breakfast we just packed up and headed a few kilometres down the road to take shelter in a truck stop café and have breakfast there. It was hard to leave but as the day wore on the weather began to improve. First some patches of blue, then sun. By the time we were nearing Glasgow things were looking up; the sun was shinning and we were following a lovely bike path along a river. Because we weren’t in a rush we decided to dry all our wet gear, cook noodles and naturally have some whiskey.


Drying out on our way into Glasgow



We rolled into Glasgow in the early evening. After sorting out our train tickets (our original booking had been from Inverness but the Caledonian Sleeper kindly rebooked us onto the Glasgow-London service) we naturally headed to a vegan pub. Glasgow rocks. While we were sitting outside drinking our first beers, a whole bunch of people turned up on bikes. They began chatting to us and it turns out they all work at the local bike shop and The 78 was their usual Friday night post work beers spot. We even got invited to stay at one of their places so that we could spend more time in Glasgow. We both wanted to but home was calling.

So, it seems we had finally made it to what was our original ‘destination’ when we left Australia 4 years ago, not that it really matters anymore. This trip was another brilliant lesson that destinations are not important. Funnily enough they always seem to matter to others more than to us. It sounds a bit cliched but it really is (in my opinion anyway) the journey that matters. I am so glad we took our time to explore England slowly, to take the off road paths and change our route as we saw fit. We will certainly be back on the bikes to explore Scotland before we bid this Island farewell.

Till next time



Celebrating the end of a wonderful adventure


Train home – sleep I did not, but it looks cool.

Learning to Love London


When Astrid and I left Melbourne in 2013 we had always had a vague plan that perhaps we could work as paramedics in the UK at the completion of our ride. At the time the process was quite difficult and I had only heard of one other Australian trained paramedic having done it. Then way back in Western China, when a friend emailed us and told us that London Ambulance were actively recruiting Australian paramedics, it seemed perfect. The ease of getting a job in London  ultimately caused us to change from our original plan of cycling to Glasgow. Instead we arrived in London on our bikes, jobs already secured. On paper it seemed ideal.

Yet by the time we were faced with the  actual reality of an employed existence everything felt wrong. Who I was and what I wanted from life felt like it had been shattered. I was questioning everything. Did I really want to be employed? Did I want to live in a house? In a city? Slip back into my old habits, my old life? My heart longed for something else. To keep traveling, to write, something.  The adventure had opened my mind and soul to different possibilities. I was no longer sure I wanted the life I had so fully chosen before.


London Bridge, looking onto Tower Bridge

We talked about our options but in the end pragmatism won out. We were already here and there was no obligation to stay. Plus, it wouldn’t be forever.  With hindsight, I feel we made the right decision. I am happy here. We both are.  Perhaps in the future I would consider doing it differently. While I don’t think regret is a useful emotion and I  don’t regret the decision we made to work for LAS and live in London I am wary of planning too far ahead next time. In the same breath I will also say that sometimes making a practical decision from a solid place ends up feeling like the right one, once things have settled down. Probably there are no wrong decisions, just a series of choices we make through life that take us on different paths.


Classic London

So after our summer of hiking and then visiting friends we arrived back in dreary London on a chilly and dark November afternoon. We pulled up on fully  loaded bikes in front of the Croydon Park Hotel (Croydon being a far flung suburb of London). The doorman did a double take. We didn’t exactly look like people who could afford this kind of place. And actually we couldn’t. The LAS were putting us up as part of our induction. After the initial shock, he escorted us to our padded cell – also known as a hotel room. We set about trying to make it home. I don’t think we we fully succeeded. I am not sure I have ever been quite as miserable as I have living in that place for a month. There were many factors but its beige walls and dull tones didn’t help. I felt like the wildness in me had been caged. Our one point of rebellion was to fire up our petrol stove in the bathroom and cook dinner on it.


Cooking in the bathroom of our hotel


PPE training


Looking cute, even though the uniform is ugly!


Dramatic Winter sunset

It is a huge process of rediscovery coming from life on the road back into work and conventional existence.  Sitting in that fluorescent lit classroom, wearing that ugly green uniform, not seeing the sun. I felt like a small part of me was dying. Luckily these feelings passed in time and I slowly remembered that I had been happy in my life back at home. Working and living a settled existence doesn’t have to be a bad thing. The freedom I have known and the things I’ve learnt, I can keep them with me, even in London.


Winter gloom often matched my mood

So while living in our padded cell, adjusting to a settled life and being taught how to be a paramedic London style, we also got partake in the fun task of becoming a human recognisable to British bureaucracy. Not an easy feat. I feel deep empathy towards anyone who does not speak english well. It was a mind numbingly frustrating and difficult task and english is my first language. I won’t go into the ins and outs – it’s pretty boring but its something like –  you must have an address to get bank account, but in order to get a bank account you need an address and to get a national insurance number in order to work you need an address which in turn you need a bank account for….AHHHHHH!!


Hackney Wick, near home

Once our work induction was over and done with I was faced with the stark realisation that I kind of hated London. We both did. It was miserable and grey with heavy clouds obscuring the sky for days. The service that now employed us seemed archaic and struggling. Equipment was often missing from our ambulances and technology we had had for more than 10 years back at home was non-existent. This was compounded by the harsh culture of austerity we found ourselves working in and the continued attacks on the NHS. The patients we visited lived in tiny, poorly insulated flats with rising damp. Everywhere was crowded and while you were often intimate with complete strangers on the tube at rush hour (think face in someone’s arm pit) to smile or to talk was a definite no no. People  and the city itself appeared generally harsh, unfriendly and morose.


Eerie light pollution


Street art, Hackney Wick

How do you learn to love a city that you do not get along with at first?

You get on your bicycle.

For me cities are more than just a bunch of buildings thrown together where lots of people live. They have a soul and a mood of their own. I first really fell in love with Melbourne when I began cycling everywhere. Being free to cut through back streets, parks and along rivers gives you an intimate glance into the life of the city that is hard to replicate. You cycle passed people’s open windows and smell their dinners cooking, find short cuts through small streets and stumble upon neighbourhood cafes you never knew existed. Through the seasons you feel the city shift – the hot northerly that will become a cool southerly by the evening (which is inevitably always a headwind), the swollen creek that spills onto the bike path after the rain, warm summer evenings, the smell of cut grass and neighbourhood barbecues. These collection of seemingly insignificant moments are the ones that connected me to Melbourne on a level that was different to the one I felt to the people that lived there. If you can have both of those – a connection to place and to people, well for me that’s what makes a place worth living in.


Biking around London helped come to terms with the city


Canal side bike and pedestrian path

In London it began with canals. Not long after moving to East London I stumbled upon the canal while cycling and this is where my heart began to open up to this strange new place. Canals offer another insight into the city, something beyond the brash, often harsh globalised capital that is London. There is something almost other worldly about the slow moving canal boats with their charmingly painted exteriors. In the summer people sit on their roofs, a few boats gathered together, drinking wine and sharing food. In the winter, they seem to huddle together for warmth, wood smoke mixing with the chilly air. I fell in love with canals, cycling along them, running along them, sitting by their edge and drinking a beer. It was the first thing that delighted me about London.


The Canal


And even more

With the canals as my grounding force  I cautiously explored further, sometimes with Astrid, often alone (our shift patterns didn’t match up particularly well at that time). I would cycle into the city, explore a museum or gallery, then find my way home just by cycling east. Sometimes I used the luminous winter moon to guide my way, knowing that the glowing red AcelorMittal Orbit sculpture (i had to google what it was just now) would eventually appear on the horizon and from there I knew I was nearly home. These long winter cycles began to give me a feel and appreciation for the city that had become my home. It broke it down for me, into neighbourhoods, each with their distinct feel and character.


Foggy morning cycling through Victoria Park

Slowly the season began to transform. The gloomy dark gave way and the incredibly long evenings of spring delighted us all. London began to feel different. The mood shifted, life moved outdoors. As soon as the sun shone the parks and green spaces (of which there are many) filled with people picnicking and barbecuing ( I feel Britain is in dire need of the free BBQ’s so prevalent at home). Our friends and family began to visit as the weather improved and Victoria Park practically became our second home. More and more I realised that London is filled with wild little nooks and crannies. You don’t have to go far to find a little bit of wilderness and it is actually considered the greenest capital city in Europe.




Victoria Park picnics


Long summer evenings with wine and a fire. Perfect.


Exploring the Greenway


Epping Forest,  inside the M25

With the parks and canals as my founding love, as time wore on I began to add other  things I appreciated about London to that list.

It is a city of many cultures, which seem generally more integrated than even my multicultural home of Melbourne. There is a mosque at the end of our street, a bunch of small shops that sell Halal food, a Romanian corner shop and a pub, all within 5 mins walk of where we live. Even in post Brexit Britain London in general remains a place of more liberal and open values. There is an underlying edginess, it feels like a place where anything can happen. Because it is so big and diverse there is always something going on . No matter how random your interest is, in London you can probably find a group of people into the same thing. I like that about living here.

Wondering around East London I also grew immensely fond of the humble corner shop. In Australia the equivalent of a corner shop – the milkbar is a dying, almost extinct phenomena. Here, at least where we live, the ‘Offie (off license) appears not to be going anywhere. The whole high street is dotted with them and they are all through the back streets too. Our local one stays open for 24 hours (great for 2am wine runs). I almost never go to a supermarket which makes me pretty happy.

Like offies, the neighbourhoods are also dotted with pubs. You can still find some old man pubs which are a strange mix of hipsters drinking craft beers and locals doing the crosswords (drinking fosters), probably sitting at the same place at the bar that they have for the last 15 years. I love wondering into a warm cosy pub on a winters night. And yeah, I totally love room temperature flat beers now too!


Our tube stop

By the time autumn rolled around again these collection of experiences and realisations had shown me the good in London. I think we have both more or less found our place amongst the contrasting and shifting landscape that is east London. A pillar of our existence has certainly also been our home. After the time on the road I appreciate the simple things wholeheartedly. Being able to make cup of tea without lighting a fire or pumping our fuel bottle, baking bread and learning new dishes that require more than one pot. Building garden beds, planting vegetables, inviting friends over for a fire in our yard. All these seemingly everyday tasks delight me. While I look forward to the time when our tyres hit the road once more, for now I am very content.




Autumn again, Vic Park


Autumn Vic Park


Eerie autumn fog


Our winter Garden

And while I have written about the city itself and the things we enjoy doing now we no longer pedal for a living, it is our friends that truly make London feel like a home. They anchor us to this place and really give it meaning. There is something quite amazing after a year of living somewhere when you realise you are surrounded by people that you care about and who care about you, some of whom you have known for less than 12 months.

So I want to say a big thank you; to the friends we knew when we moved here – you certainly kept us sane in the first few bleak months, I don’t know what we would have done without you. To our families and old friends who visited us – your gaze helped us see the city in a different light and connected us with love from back home. And lastly to the new friends, the ones we have made since moving here – you have inspired us and helped us feel happy and at home here. It is going to be hard to leave.

Loads of Love




One Year On



One Year on. We survived!

It’s one year since we pedalled into London and brought this part of the cycle journey more or less to a close. I thought it would be as good a time as any to take a moment to reflect and update. To say it’s been a full on year would be an understatement. I always knew it would be hard to adjust back to more or less conventional life, but it nearly undid me.

It was fucking brutal.

I will try and explain. Bare with me, this is still not completely figured out in my head but here are some of the insights I have.

Cycle travelling cuts out the bullshit. You are suddenly and very quickly faced with the things that are universally important. Where do we get food? Where do we get water? Where will we sleep tonight? Those are the things we all really need. And human connection. On the road you have fleeting but wonderful connections with people who invite you to stay for the night, people who stop to give you water, or simply want to ask if you are okay. The overwhelming feeling is of universal kindness. Sure there is the odd twat, but most people you encounter are pretty awesome. There is also a pretty fabulous community of long term cycle travellers and hosts out there who really get what you do. So it’s almost like life it stripped down to the minimum and most important things that we as humans need. Not to say that there aren’t other ways to achieve this. But it happens organically with cycle travelling. It’s almost impossible for it not to happen. In my experience anyway.

This can leave you somewhat disconnected from mainstream society. Because just like most people can’t relate to the time you got deported from Turkmenistan, you often can’t relate to their lives. It’s a little alienating and takes time to remember that not everyone is excited about wild camping in Iran and how long you can go without showering. It wasn’t exactly that I felt lonely, more that I was disillusioned with people and conventional life in general. I just wanted to get back on my bike and leave. But ultimately I have learned it’s not about having to fit back in. With time you find your kind of people and learn to take joy from different things. I don’t want this journey to be the one amazing thing I’ve done. I don’t even want it to define me. It’s just part of what has makes mine and Astrid’s life so rich.

I also found myself feeling much more sensitive to the planet. I think we both did. After spending most of our time living outdoors, it’s hard not to feel a deep connection to the natural world.  Cars, waste, lack of recycling, environmental destruction and cruelty to animals affected me in a more intense and emotional way than it had before.  As a result Astrid and I have become more or less freegan, something we had been discussing for quite a while on the trip. This means we eat mainly vegan unless say, someone has made us a meal, or we are dumpster diving. It is as much about waste reduction as it is about being plant based. This might be confusing for some but I would rather eat a non vegan dip out of a dumpster that was perfectly fine and would go to waste, than some vegan chocolate that has been flown in from Brazil. Ultimately it’s about reducing our impact on the planet.

Another strong impact that this journey left on both of us was the lack of fear. Sure, we still get scared about things from time to time and I would never call myself fearless, but hell, a lot of people are scared. After being around people who generally carry less fear as they are also traveling and exploring, it was confronting to see  how much fear is out there. People are afraid to cycle, afraid to travel, afraid to do anything out of the norm. Afraid of the stories we are told by our politicians. Afraid of refugees. Afraid of fucking everything. I totally get where it comes from, mainly the media, and I don’t really blame people for it, but it does make me sad. Because like any cycle traveler or even half adventurous backpacker will tell you, the world is full of kind people. People who will invite you in off the street to sleep in their houses, people who will stop on the highway and give you food,  people who will help you with the endless small tasks everyday on the road. This is the reality of people. Not the bullshit the media and our governments want us to believe. So coming up against the way most people see the world was exhausting and alarming.

For us moving to a big city in the darkest, bleakest month of autumn to start work didn’t really help either. I really questioned for a while the wiseness of going straight back into the same career I was doing back at home. There hadn’t been any time to reflect or really ask ourselves wether we wanted to go back to working as paramedics. It had always seemed like a good idea, but I felt like another me had made that decision. Now I wasn’t so sure. I didn’t feel like the person I was before I left, and there are things I want to change about where my life is going. Things that might be harder from the sphere of a conventional job. And London itself really dragged us down for the first few months. It felt big, unfriendly and dark. We spent a lot of time asking ourselves; what are we doing here?


dressed for winter cycling

But finally, out of this rather dark phase I feel like I have gained some clarity. Ultimately Europe is not our home. Neither Astrid or I want to live here long term (as much as we love our friends that do). It makes sense to slip into a job that is both familiar and relatively well paying. We both want to travel more (probably cycle home) and therefore saving money here makes sense. Not only that, but living in England has its advantages; Europe is on our doorstep and we taken advantage of the travel opportunities. But above and beyond that we have been experimenting and learning. The things we missed while traveling we have started to establish here.


To begin with, a kettle. We probably spent the first 6 months drinking tea and not leaving the house. That combined with an oven; bliss. Along with this I am slowly learning how to bake kick ass bread. We are growing veggies. Astrid is learning about bees and we are both experimenting and learning about permaculture. We are figuring out how we want to live when we return to Australia and learning new skills to take with is. Plus we have our super friends and family visiting us, as well as our wonderful London friends. Things are pretty awesome.

It’s certainly a different lifestyle to climbing 4000m passes but one that is fulfilling in  different ways.

For us the cycling is not over either. I think some people end a big bike trip ready to move on and try new things. Perhaps it’s because we haven’t actually cycled home, but both of us are super keen to get back on the bikes and get pedalling again. This is just an interlude before our next journey begins. It is shaping out to be a pretty good one.



summer finally arrives





Music, Cycling, Beer…The END..kind of


Getting on the ferry at the Hook of Holland


Beer and concentration. I think I was writing the blog!

The ferry from the Hook of Holland to Harwich was lovely. We met several cyclists, all from the UK returning from shorter journeys on the continent. Beer was shared and stories told. It was good to see the cycle touring spirit alive and strong in the UK.


Securing the bikes

By the time we docked it was early evening, I took in a breath of the fresh sea air and tried to take it all in. Reaching Europe way back at the Greek border had felt momentous, this felt even more poignant. Not only had we reached our final country, but we had also reached our new home. I look forward to getting to know you Britain.


First few miles in England

The English landscape was immediately refreshing with its rolling hills and woodlands. I love Holland but it is rather flat, the undulations came as a relief. A few miles from the ferry port a pub offered camping for five pounds. After setting up it was time for a warm flat beer to celebrate arriving at country number twenty four.


Five pound camping at the back of this pub!


Warm flat beer anyone?


First breakfast in the UK

It took us a day of steady cycling to get within striking distance of Cambridge. Gone were the well marked bike paths of The Netherlands. We were back in car country. Sadly England is not the most cycle friendly land we have come across, odd given its very strong history of cycling. Still, it’s not the worst place to pedal – although don’t try looking at the sustrans website as it will result in an instant headache and much confusion. No wonder there is a twitter feed ‘lost in sustrans’ (sustrans is supposed to be a cycling website). Our first day cycling through the English countryside had us on quiet hedged roads, through charming countryside and picturesque villages. Locals were friendly and it was a novelty to be able to speak English and cycle on the left side of the road!


Beautiful England


Morning market



Lunch time

In the evening, struggling to find somewhere to pitch our tents for the night some lovely ladies on horses offered up the Parish Common (although if anyone objected we were not to tell it was them who had suggested it). But as night fell and we cooked our pasta, a few dog walkers curiously gazed at us but didn’t seem to mind our presence. It was a beautiful little spot, a pocket of wilderness in the otherwise quite gentrified countryside.


The roads in England are small!


Could this be somewhere to spend the night?


Happiness is finding somewhere to call home for the night


Parish Common camping. A table is such luxury!

A busy morning cycle saw us reach Cambridge to be reunited with Courtney who we had not seen since long ago Dushanbe. We had been looking forward to this reunion for months. Not only would it encompass the end of our journey, but also the Cambridge Folk Festival.


Dushanbe reunion!


Folk festival fox

Soon our tents were pitched under a tree and while people bustled around us still setting up, tea was brewed and we eagerly caught up on the last few months. There were many stories to share, especially about surviving the northern hemisphere winter mostly in the outdoors. It was interesting, although Courtney also loved cycling Europe, she too felt like something was missing. An edginess, a rawness, something. We all kind of missed the adventure of the world’s more far flung places and the challenges that come with that.


Checking out the festival guide and making tea


The first of many festivals we hope!

The four of us quickly settled into festival life. After a prolonged breakfast, usually involving eggs, copious cups of tea and reading we would eventually meander over to see the music. There was much dancing, cider drinking, exhausted moments of napping at the back of the crowd, dirty barefeet, beautiful music and generalised festival happiness. I suspect Cambridge will not be our last festival in the UK.






Vegie sausages and beer



Once the long days of festival fun drew to a close the four of us packed up and cycled into the suburbs of Cambridge to meet Steve and Roxy. I went to school with Steve and had randomly remembered that he now lived in the UK. I had thought, why not catch up for a beer with an old class mate? What we got was much more than a beer! Steve and his wife Roxy generously invited us all to stay with them. What was even cooler was that Roxy is an avid cyclist and works for the Cambridge Cycling Campaign. Once again the universe provides!


BBQ with Steve and Roxy

We were welcomed with open arms and promptly set about gently messing up their home as only post festival cycle travellers can. Later we caught up on life since school over a BBQ and a few beers (how very Australian). It was also really interesting for Astrid and I to hear about Steve and Roxy’s experience of living in the UK as we were soon to follow in their footsteps.


A bike park house in Cambridge

The following day I did something I should have done ages ago – organised some of our photos. For anyone interested there now a slide show on our Flikr Page https://www.flickr.com/photos/foonsonbikes/albums/72157656344837999. Its rough and still needs a bit of work but it does show a bit of an overview. The main reason for this sudden and uncharacteristic spurt of organisation was because Roxy had asked us to give a talk about our trip to her colleagues at the Cambridge Cycling Campaign.


Speaking at the Cambridge cycling campaign meeting

So in the evening the 6 of us pedalled into Cambridge, and Astrid and I, as well as Courtney, gave a small presentation about what it’s like being a cycling traveller. Thankfully when you are in a room full of bicycle enthusiasts it isn’t exactly hard to convince people about the merits of bicycle travel. No one looked at us like we had two heads or needed to be locked up. Everyone was full of excitement and sharing our stories felt completely natural.

Afterwards we went to the pub and continued on in a less formal setting aided by ales. We weren’t the only ones sharing information though. It was a great opportunity to ask everyone about how we should cycle into London from Cambridge. We got a lot of good information.

Steve and Roxy kindly let us stay the following day. We had planned to leave but somehow (the ales?) just couldn’t face the road. Instead Courtney and I baked a cake and we all drank copious cups of tea. It was such bliss to do almost nothing at all. The seemingly most mundane tasks are wonderful to the long term traveller. Give me a kettle, a toaster and wifi and I am endlessly happy these days.


We took over the kitchen


And made a bicycle birthday cake!

London however was calling. We left the next day but not before partaking in the age old tradition of punting. For anyone who doesn’t know what this is (I didn’t before) this involves sitting on a wooden boat (preferably with wine and cheese) while one person stands on the back and uses a long stick to propel the boat forwards. This takes some getting used to and a specific set of skills not readily found in the cycle traveller. Courtney and I prevailed and eventually got the hang of it. We punted up and down the Cam river, admiring the likes of Kings College. It was almost as idyllic as it sounds. The un-idyllic part was the occasional crash caused by either us or one of the other groups of beginner punters.




Punting is best when you have wine and someone else does the work!



By the time punting was over it was time to leave town. For some reason my enthusiasm was low. We cycled about 10 miles before turning off a country road and following a small track to the edge of some dense woods. It was a lovely spot and the four of us shared the last of our wine and prepared our evening meal. Our peace was however soon disturbed. For the second time ever (the last time was in NSW) we were found by an initially hostile individual. At first he could barely comprehend what he had found and firmly but politely ordered us off the land which he said belonged to a farmer (his boss). He was quite civilised about it and we were allowed to finish our meal first. This bought us some time and the four of us used our considerable charms to draw our new friend into conversation. After 15 mins he kindly said we could stay and we were left in peace. Thank you.


Heading out of Cambridge


The camp where we got briefly disturbed

Our second last day started early as we wanted to be off the land before the workers arrived. Our route took us over rolling green hills, along cute back roads and into a cute village for cream tea. In the afternoon we reached the Lee Valley – parklands and canals not far from the M25 (the motorway that borders greater London). Due to our proximity to London I was a little apprehensive about finding somewhere to camp.


Cream tea!


On the road south

The universe more than provided. We asked some people who lived on the canal (we thought they looked suitably dodgey) if there was anywhere we could put our tent – ‘anywhere you like’ was the response we got. Soon enough, just over a small bridge we found a hidden clearing right next to the canal. Time to break out the Pims. Our ‘last’ night of freedom. There was even a place to build a fire. Incredible, here we were wild camping less than 40km from central London.


In the Lee Valley


A perfect last nights camp – with pims

It was a special night for us all because really it was the finale for everyone. Courtney who had basically cycled from Mongolia was soon to be swapping her bike for hiking boots, Vari who had come all the way from Reggensburg was shortly off to Latvia, and Astrid and I would soon be living a very different life. I tried to take the moments in fully, but these moments are often hard to capture as you are living them.


Final day!


Heading towards Waltham Abbey

Our final day dawned promising a lovely summer’s day. We had a quick bit to eat and cycled the 10km or so to Waltham Abbey. Here we were reunited with part of ‘the pod’ from long ago Malaysia. Charlotte, Ben and Kit had caught the train out early to meet us. What legends. It was a wonderful reunion followed by a champagne breakfast in some lovely gardens.


Champagne breakfast. Ben your awesome shirt was so appreciated!

As we were preparing to leave Waltham Abbey I came across something I had been looking for for 2 days – onesies! It had been my dream to cycle into London wearing something outrageous. A onesie was my first choice. Sadly yesterday had proved fruitless in my search. But here, right in front of me were a a bunch of colourful onesies hanging on a rack. It was just too perfect. It hardly took any convincing. Soon Astrid, Courtney, Ben and I were clothed in our rather ridiculous new outfits, ready to cycle into the capital.


Ready to go in our new ridiculous outfits

The cycle into central London was surreal. We followed the narrow canal path for miles, finally getting a glimpse of the iconic high rises. I was filled with a jolt of excitement. This was actually happening. More than 2 years of cycling and we were nearly there.


South along the canals


Not long and we were out of the parklands, stopping for a pint in a brewery (Crate) in Hackney Wick (soon to become one of our locals). Then with Ben’s expert navigation we pedalled through East london, took the walk way under the Thames and popped out in Greenwich. A small climb and we were suddenly 100m from the Greenwich Observatory. We both choked up a little as we slowly pedalled towards the lookout and then bought the Dirty Salmon and the Green Fairy to a stop. London spread out before us. This was it. This was the end. Although by now the concept of this being just a linear journey with a beginning, middle and end did not ring true. Sure, this was a kind of end, but also a new beginning. It was a moment in time. A moment in our lives.

Two years, four months, two days and three continents.

Time for a beer.



We took a moment or four and then headed with our little team to Black Heath where more friends joined us. The afternoon was spent on the Heath sipping beers and enjoying the warm summer evening. It felt crazy and amazing to be alive, surrounded by friends, the sky streaked with pink, a new adventure waiting.



P.S We plan to continue our blog. After this we head to walk across Spain, then onto the UK for a more settled adventure. We shall let you know how we go! Thanks for reading this part of our adventure. Love Jude and Astrid.


Cycling Paradise – Welcome to The Netherlands.

Belgium border via the North Sea cycle route to Den Haag (The Hague) -> Breda -> Amsterdam -> Breda -> Hoek van Holland.


Cycling Paradise.

When most people think of the Netherlands, visions of tulips, wooden clogs and windmills spring to mind.  For me, first and foremost it’s bicycles.  After decades of cycle friendly laws and infrastructure spending, Holland can claim its well earned title as the cycling capital of the world.  There are more bikes per capita than cars, more people cycle than drive and the easily navigable maze of bike paths that criss cross the country make this cycling paradise.


Cycling towards the Belgium/Holland border


Welcome to the cycling capital of the world – The Netherlands.

Crossing early in the morning from Belgium into Holland, we were excited about hitting the cycle routes, reaching the coast and going for a swim in the North Sea.  Our friends in Belgium had suggested the best and most scenic route to Den Haag would be along the North Sea cycle route – the LF1.  This route would also take us passed Hoek van Holland,the port where we will be catching the ferry to England from, after spending a couple of weeks exploring the Netherlands and visiting friends.


Cool art on a disused lighthouse, due to engineering the sea is now miles away.


Our first view of the sea for many months.


Waiting for the ferry in Breskens.


There is ample bicycle parking on all ferries in the Netherlands.


Sea views.

We followed clearly marked signs and cycle paths through small villages until we reached the coast and our first ferry crossing from Breskens to Vlissingen.  After being land locked for so long we relished the sensations of the salty air filling our nostrils and the blue of the water enticing our vision.  Most of Holland is below sea level and the Dutch have built hundreds of sea walls and constructed dozens of sea dams to steal land that the sea had once claimed as her own.  Kilometre long bridges and tunnels join the many land legs that jut out into the water, saving kilometres of backtracking to reach the same destination.


Cycling the North Sea coast route, wind at our backs.


Taking a little water break and admiring the view.

Windmills and wind go hand in hand, and the Netherlands has more than its fair share of both.  Luckily for us it was blowing from the south west, the perfect direction for a tail wind.  All we had to do was sit back, let the wind do its job, enjoy the sunshine and the wonderful scenery that the North Sea route provided.  Oh yeah and go for that swim…


The North Sea cycle route took us through sand dunes…


Through forests…


Along man made sea walls…


Passed lighthouses….


Along more sea walls…


Passed modern wind mills…


Over sea dams….


Passed pacific gulls….

We had flown that day and as the sun began to lower herself towards the horizon and rain clouds gathered in the sky, it was time to find shelter for the night.  We had passed many signs for micro campgrounds, so we pulled into one and found the owner who showed us to a lovely patch of grass (and a warm shower) that we could call home for the night.


Setting up our home at a micro-campground.


Jude thought it was time for a sign on her bike.

We woke early the next morning to find the wind still in our favour.  After a quick cuppa and a bite to eat we hit up the local church fair where we stocked up on home made jam and cakes.  Hoping to make it to Den Haag that afternoon we needed all the fuel we could get.  The riding continued to be stunning, the villages inviting and the kilometres fast.


Through fields of wildflowers.


Eating cake for morning tea.


And then stopping for a coffee.


In this cute village.

Jude’s sign turned out to be a hit with everyone.  It was an ice breaker that started conversation and we spent our time cycling with groups of other cycle tourists sharing stories from the road.  This was also helpful as when we turned west along the south bank of the Hoek van Holland Port, the wind ended up in our faces and the lovely people on electric bikes provided the perfect windbreak.


The route then hit the industrial shipping area.


Where we caught another ferry with bicycle parking.

The cycling day was slowly drawing to an end.  A quick ice-cream stop perked up the energy levels enough to see us pedalling along a path through some sand dunes which popped us out into Den Haag.  It was here that we would again meet some cycle touring friends from the road – Pimm and ChuHui – whom we had met in the Cameron Highlands and again in Penang back in Malaysia.


We then cycled our way through Den Haag.


To visit with the wonderful Pimm and ChuHui

Three wonderful days were spent sharing stories and food, wandering the streets, admiring the works of the Dutch masters at Mauritshuis, eating the best ice-cream in the world and sailing on one of the many lakes nearby.  It was here that I had my first lesson in sailing.  Being a very windy day it was proving to be a struggle, my knuckles were white from nervousness but I was holding it together until our last tack where I managed to almost capsize us.  As water entered the yacht my heart sank as I acknowledged that both cameras were now submerged, never to be used again.  The engine then failed during our return to the dock and as we struggled to get the yacht in (with a mixture of ropes and pulling and pushing), other sailors sat back and watched the spectacle, glass of wine in their hands, not one offering to help.  Back at home in dry clothes with a cuppa in hand, we had a good laugh and agreed that next time things would be better.


They took us sailing.


Like father, like daughter.


Jude looking ubercool.


The last photo on our SLR before it went swimming never to be used again.

From here we split paths for a few days, dad went to visit an old friend and we cycled on to Breda to meet Franz and Eveline, other cycle touring friends who we first met when we hosted them in Melbourne.  It was a full days ride from Den Haag to Breda, following a myriad of cycle paths.  Somehow this time the cycle route number system left us in a pickle, so good old maps.me was consulted and we continued on our merry way.  This was our last day of long distance cycling in Holland and we relished in the joy of our movement and the freedom cycle touring instills in your heart.

Franz and Eveline had just returned from a cycle tour of their own, starting at the place in Greece where Eveline had been struck by a car a few years ago (an accident that turned into a life saving coincidence), continuing on to Turkey and beyond.  Indefatigable as they are they welcomed us with open arms and open cellar – Franz has been tempting us to their beautiful home with promises of great beer.  Evenings were spent sipping many of Franz’s favourite beers, outdoors overlooking the garden, sharing lively conversation about touring and the state of the world. Days were a relaxing mix of perusing one of the many books in their library (mandatory cuppa in hand) and wandering around the lovely town of Breda soaking up the Dutch architecture and culture.  And a few more beers.  We celebrated Eveline’s birthday with her, an occasion that filled me with hope, happiness and inspiration that I will continue to cycle tour and live an adventurous life like she does.


Dinner time with great beer and great friends.


Back at it – relaxing at one of the many outdoor bars in Breda.


Maybe a few too many brews? – teaching Gieske how to do a bum dance in the street.


A little more classy – Eveline’s birthday lunch (when the food did arrive it was incredible…)

Photos_Europe Cycling Trip 2015 148

Jude loving the dessert.

All too quickly it was time for us to head on to Amsterdam to meet other friends.  Bill had flow over from Australia to spend some days exploring the delights of the capital with us, and a Dushanbe reunion was brewing for the last day.  Arriving at Amsterdam Centraal we followed the bike lanes east to the campground we had booked for the week to come.  Seems like we weren’t the only ones in town on a budget, the place was pumping.

Photos_Europe Cycling Trip 2015 151

Saving time and catching the train to Amsterdam.


It still amazes me how easily you can take bikes on public transport here.

Photos_Europe Cycling Trip 2015 161

I love the dedicated bike lanes – heading east from the main train station.

Photos_Europe Cycling Trip 2015 167

Camping with a view.