posted on Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Marrakech




The winds were still against us but showed a little more mercy giving us a break every now and then. We had to climb only 400 metres more to reach Tizi ‘n Tischka pass. The wind force picked up when we reached the top; we hoped not to get blown back down where we had started. Marrakesh was all the way downhill or almost. The distance punctuated at regular intervals by hand painted, stone road marks. It was about time to find a suitable child for my last Japanese sticker. This was all pinky and flowery, definitely meant for the ladies. I spotted a smiling little girl waving in the distance as I approached her little village. She was walking with her brothers in the dusty village deep in the valley but her eyes were eyes of hope and joy of living. She was too shy to say her name but her joy at receiving such simple gift, something to behold. Her father thanked me too but it was I that had to thank all the friendly and beautiful people that made my stay in Morocco such a discovery and treat. Marrakech was an incredible entrance. Menno and I just cut right through the middle cycling our way in and out the maze of souks, losing our way before finally emerging into the central Jemaa el-Fnaa Square for farewells and a final cup of mint tea.
Read More
posted on Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Telouet


 


I woke up with a jolt. I could hear a kerfuffle and shouting. ‘Get up, get up, get up’. I later found out that this was only Menno’s way of getting motivated early morning. He downloaded a US Army sergeant major bullying his young recruit at the start of the day. We had a fantastic ride up to the 1800 metres of Telouet before climbing over the Atlas and close the loop to Marrakesh. Once off the main road the road to Telouet took us past Ben Hadou where the large Kasba attracts many tourists. We had a long climb ahead and like yesterday the wind was blowing strong right on our face so we didn’t stop for a visit. We left the tourists behind and headed up a fantastic valley of mostly abandoned villages with a few oasis contrasting the rocky, dry landscape. The head wind was again making a hArd day even harder. Along the deserted roads I spotted three times black hooded djellaba. Each time I thought it was death calling us but each time the black figure turned out to be a smiling and polite local villager taking a stroll. Few times I shouted some not too kind words to the roaring wind but it didn’t really make things any better. In Tamdakht I contemplated knocking on the mosque door and convert to see if some faith would work. We were late reaching Telouet, it was getting dark and when we had ten miles left we bumped into a local with a wrecked ford van that was happy to takes up to Telouet. We both agreed that with two days of strong head wind we had earned the rights to cheat a little.
Read More
posted on Monday, March 19, 2018

Ouarzazate




There were two Brompton cyclists on the road today. Menno joined on what was meant to be the best cycling sceneries of the trip. The second half of the Draa Valley had lost any sign of the river or oasis. A very dry landscape with a mountain to climb and hardly a village between the town of Agdz and Ouarzazate. Now to the blasted strong headwind that hit my face all day long. I remember along the Pacific Coast, seeing birds wasting their time trying to get a little north. They flapped their wings frantically to be able to stay still, before giving up, realising South was not bad and letting the wind do the carrying. I flapped my legs with energy to move at a snail pace and didn’t have any of the freedom; turning around meant going back to Zagora, where I know people never sleep. The ultimate cyclist humiliation; having to cycle while going down a steep mountain. Menno was the real Flying Dutchman. At a towering height, legs of steel, he rode like a monster on tiny wheels! From flat Holland he climbed mountains like a goat. Being behind most of the times, I had the chance to get filmed a lot, struggling with the miseries of slow progress. Still the views were amazing and made all effort not vain. Reading blogs of other cyclists I realised how some bring small gifts, mostly pens, for children they meet in the most unlikely villages. Trying to be original, I collected a series of Japanese children stickers instead. Still all they asks is: Monsieur vous avez un stylo? Do you have a pen? Not unlike the adults that were trying to fill out entry cards at Marrakesh waitport. No. I am still looking for one myself. What about a Japanese sticker instead? They accept but I can detect some disappointment on their faces. It’s hard to get them out of a vicious circle. Tourists bring pens to children who ask for pens because they know that tourists might have them.
Read More
posted on Sunday, March 18, 2018

Agdz



Forget New York, Zagora was really the city that never sleeps. Admittedly, I come with a messed up body clock, occupational hazard of any long haul airline employee but Zagora I can confidently say, is not for the light sleeper. I had hardly dozed off comfortably at Karim Sahara guest house where Samir had even kindly upgraded me to a really nice hard bed when I was woken up by the crescendo of a rumble of drums and accompanying chanting and screaming of all sorts. I checked the time and it was 1 am, I pinched myself and it was real. I had been starved of news for over a week. Was there a revolution going on in Zagora? The riot settled around my neighbourhood and for a good hour kept the beats going as the general commotion gathered pace. I felt like my bedroom had been slowly lowered on the centre pitch of Wembley stadium during a hotly contested football match. After an hour and a half the rattle settled down but threw the cockerel crowing out of sync instead; it was three am and their duty to wake up people first had been inappropriately usurped. After hardly half an hour of peace, at 4:30 there was a pre call from the Imam at the mosque, calling people to prayers. People answered the call and prayers went into full swing by 5 am at which point I had given up trying to get more rest. I was excited by the fact that the further I traveled south the cheaper it got. In Aoulouz I was served some chicken, beans, flat bread and mint tea for the cost of six pictures of old lady with mule or a little less than 3 euros. If I kept traveling south at this rate, I had a theory that soon I would get paid to eat instead. Skins here in the south, including mine, were getting darker too. I continued my cycling, following the oasis along the Draa Valley to the town of Agdz where my friend Menno from Holland would have soon arrived and add another Brompton bike to the roads.
Read More
posted on Saturday, March 17, 2018

Zagora



It was time for the bus transfer to Zagora in order to cycle the Draa Valley and meet Menno, my Dutch friend and adventurer who would join me for the rest of way. Time schedules, carefully researched online, failed miserably. Not only the timetables were wrong, entire journeys in reality simply didn’t exist. My 11:50 Tailouine to Zagora according to locals, was wishful thinking and pure fantasy. I was offered Ouarzazate instead a mere 200 kilometres north of my target, if just a little closer. Half of the crowd waiting at the bus stop got passionately involved in working out my plans. Consensus was reached that once in Ouarzazate a further bus trip to Zagora on the same day should not be impossible. As I spotted the bus approaching from down the hill I had to make up my mind fast. I decided I should be dispatched there instead, Inshallah of course. Priority to the lost tourist was duly granted and in split seconds the ticket was bought and Bronte folded small and put into a plastic bag with the helpful assistance of a passerby and the admiration of the remaining crowd. One man, obviously so impressed by the amazing feat, asked me how much the bike was and asked whether I would sell it to him. 100 euros I said not wanting to attract too much attention, but no thanks... Bronte was over ten times that but priceless to me. We set off on a four hours journey of sermons and prayers blasting through speakers faithfully tuned to Prophet fm. The mystic experience was complemented by a few sudden Allah Ah Bar ringtones from mobile phones receiving calls. I was the only foreigner on the packed bus, asking for some music would have been plain rude, I felt an outsider, ready to convert. The good deeds bore fruit and miraculously it all worked out. After a two hours stop for more prayers in Ouarzazate station, I boarded my connecting bus and reached Zagora by eight. I was now on the brink of the desert, things and individuals were getting more and more exotic. I extricated my bike through a mountain of luggage bundles and in the darkness set out through a maze of bustling alleys and streets in search of my guest house.
Read More
posted on Friday, March 16, 2018

Taliouine


All guests survived gas inhalations and frost and saw the light of another day. More accurately we saw the sunshine piercing through a thick fog bank, a blanket covering the rest of the mountain below; unlike Morocco, it was still bitterly cold. We were back having breakfast together, fighting for warmth next to our beloved fire. Energy restored, glowing in fluorescent yellow I dived down, disappearing into the soupy mist. In an icy drizzle I witnessed the appearance of my second messenger. This time he was not a local, rather it came in the shape of a chubby cyclist with a northern British accent. He emerged like a hologram from the fog, faint shadows giving ways to more definite contours; his long grey beard touching and flowing around the handlebar was collecting water that slowly trickled down forming shining beads. I exchanged a few words with this fairy, wondered where the heck he was coming from or going in that desperate weather. Surely, he must have had the same thoughts about me and my little folding wheels. As I descended lower the fog eventually lifted but the road disappeared instead. Ten kilometres of road works had been scheduled in order to bring Morocco to the twenty-first century when to me old twentieth century tarmac would have done just fine. I crawled through the dusty road works, into the Souss plain, finding myself into a much sparser vegetation of hills scattered with clusters of argan trees. Prices needed some updating this side of the Atlas. A picture of a Berber shepherd with goats cost 10 Dirham. When running low with small change, you could get a Berber only photograph for 5 Dh. As always GoPro filming was free. My camera clamped to a chest harness and protruding mysteriously out of my chest was ready to film at the push of a button. A small red light would start flashing but nobody dared asking any question or risking to be insensitive . For what they knew it might have well been some kind of medical device giving some warning signal or a portable spare lung. As far as road signs, there was little concern; next to Arabic and the familiar French a new unintelligible hieroglyphics appeared, Berber. I hoped they wouldn’t drop my French or I would be totally lost. In my vast ignorance I didn’t know that goats climbed trees. You can imagine the expression on my face as I spotted a tree full of goats, a goat tree. It cost me 5 Dirham to convince the Berber shepherd to approach them and take some pictures of the incredible feat. Interesting has it seemed to me, in this part of the world it was simply routine. Goats just climbed trees. After a few hours of passing by goat trees along the road, the novelty wore out and I could hardly notice them myself. There were some hints of desert as I approached Taliouine, the world biggest saffron growing area. Undoubtedly, together with Argan oil, the most useless ingredient to the wandering cyclist.
Read More
posted on Thursday, March 15, 2018

Tizi 'N Test


Rivers never sleep, I didn’t either. The gushing water flowing next to my right ear got louder and louder the more I forced myself to ignore it. I was about to begin my first ascent to the High Atlas, all the way up to Tizi n’Test at 2093 and there were no excuses. The road was skilfully built by the French in the twenties and took me four hours of incessant climbing through a narrow meandering road snaking through red and purple terrain. The slow progress allowed plenty of time to fully appreciate marvellous views of deserted valleys and abandoned Kasbahs. It also allowed me to gather a fact or two. Taking a picture with an old lady standing by her mule cost 10 Dirhams, no change was given. In the remote villages they haven’t caught up with chest mounted GoPro cameras, discreetly filming was still free. I encountered the first Moroccan dogs too; much wiser than their Sri Lankan counterpart I must say. They just stared at me with melancholy in their eyes and without the slightest fidget, let me pass by. I was in awe at the resourcefulness of man vis-à-vis the lack of services. In this remote corners of Morocco, every van or truck took part into an unofficial but efficient public transport system; I regularly spotted these vehicles stopping in the middle of nowhere. A loud blow of their horns was all that was needed to trigger a procession of people trickling down the mountain or scrambling up undetectable paths in order to get a lift to the nearest town. Fares I assumed must have been very reasonable too as they made a creative use of their limited space. When full there was always space on the roof and for the young and intrepid ones the cheapest bargains involved what looked to me like an inverse crucifixion. They held for dear life, squashed against the back doors, arms stretched wide holding a bar, feet precariously placed on the protruding bumper. Bargaining skills improved. I was proud of a 33 % off an omelette. There was still room for improvement, given the fact that the café man was still smiling at the end. The valleys got dryer as I climbed further but here and there were signs of spring with wild flowers and cherries in full bloom. In Ijoukak I visited the imposing Tin Mal mosque. Built in 1153 and a Unesco Heritage site. The gruelling climb eventually led me to the top of Tizi’n Test, searching for Mustapha. He promptly appeared beaming with joy as apparently his brother had told him a crazy cyclist was on his way and warned him I might try to not run off without paying. I got a room at the top of the Atlas while dark clouds built up on the mountain ridge upsetting one of the guests who had come equipped with a large telescope to watch the stars. Two gas canisters were set alight in my room in what seemed a pretty primitive portable heating system. My room was pasted with ominous warning notes reminding to turn off the gas off before bed or risk incurring into steep funerary costs. I met the other few guests for the night too. An old couple of Germans traveling with a camper van and the Moroccan young astronomer. In subzero temperatures we were all wearing everthing we carried and got a little respite over dinner served in the only warm room on the premises, huddled together by the cosy fire. It was time to get some rest. I walked back to my room, by now smelling like a gas chamber and turned the flimsy shutoff valves. Preying the bombs had been properly disposed of, I disappeared under a ridiculously thick pile of blankets.
Read More
posted on Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Al Haouz


I cycled to the medina in order to finally get some Dirhams, the local currency. Nobody so far liked my credit cards; the simple act of withdrawing one from my wallet triggered sudden power failures and technical faults of all sort. Sorry my machine doesn’t work...You have euros? I spotted an atm machine and just as I inserted my card, a character approached me begging with great persistence. Not the best thing to happen while I was waiting to withdraw what might be the equivalent of a good monthly wage. Sorry as I felt for him, I was feeling rather uncomfortable. Hoping he wouldn’t try to snatch the bundle and run, I couldn’t come up with a lamer excuse than to say that I didn’t have small change.  After a quick glance at the Koutoubia mosque and gardens nearby, I finally got to some proper cycling following route 203 pointing to the mountains, straight as an arrow. From the start I was faced with some mystery. A frail and old man I later found out to be called Hassan, kept on appearing in front of me riding a rickety bike in his flip flops. His progress excruciatingly slow, I would overtake and politely wave at him; hardly ten minutes would go by and I would spot his figure far ahead of me, getting larger and larger as I caught up with him once again. The intriguing event repeated too many times for comfort. He was either a very popular chap that got countless rides from cars picking him up along the road or he was a sort of guardian angel watching over me, spurring me safely on. Out of the blue morning misty haze the snowy peaks of the Atlas unveiled clearer and clearer. The highest of them, Mount Toubkal at 4167 metres of height, was quite a sight to behold. Whether in Colorado or Morocco, mountains always brought back the familiar views of the Italian Alps. I stopped and spoke to many people all of them incredibly friendly and kind. Being bad remembering names I instantly liked the fact that everybody today was a Youssuf, an Ali, a Mohammed, an Hassan or a combination of them all. I had a tasteful introduction to my first lamb tagine. I had a long chat with the owner and some of the other customers sitting on the sunny patio before somehow getting up without feeling I should pay. I was half over my bike, ready to go.  "Monsieur, monsieur. L’addition!" I heard.  Yussuf the owner was pleading for his due. He also passed on a card of his brother Mustapha, who managed the hotel on top of Tizi ‘n Test, my next destination. Berbers salesmanship is something to behold. As I passed along the road, I was invited to sit down in a café's garden by an imposing figure wearing a white robe and a torquoise turban. All I wanted was a mint tea but I had hardly taken my seat that off came the silver bracelets. Determined to say no, I offered him to join me for a coup of tea instead. The man sat down but wouldn’t let his sales pitch slack for moment, determined to make a sell. He succeeded, partially let’s say. I accepted a small bracelet offer that had amazingly dropped half his original value in a matter of few words. I thought he would let me off the hook. "You are a good man." he said.  "Thank you." I replied rather puffed. "...and because you are a good man I will give you this larger bracelet instead." "Just give me back the other one and only 200 dirhams more."  I had relented enough and kept pouring some more mint tea in his cup hoping to drown is eloquent skills. If they were all such talented tradesmen, I feared that by the end of the trip, I would come down the mountains, bracelets dangling until I run out of arm. I climbed further on until dusk wrapped the mountains and a perfect free tent pitch by a river was found.
Read More
posted on Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Marrakech


Clear signs of spring looming, the end of winter had come with a Siberian twist, bringing snow, blizzards and ice. The evacuation couldn’t have been more timely. As an introduction to a new continent Bronte and I opted for at least some familiarity. Total African beginners, we thought it best clinging to the edges rather than diving too deep. Morocco it had to be. Warm, friendly, land of mountains, desert and sea, it had become a popular destination for European cycling adventurers seeking a little culture shock closer to home. They would also understand my bad French. The proposed plan was a loop departing and ending in the walled medieval city of Marrakesh. Starting from the former Berber empire medina, with its maze of alleys and souks, it would take in a lot of Atlas Mountains, countless Kasbah, a taste of Sahara and surely a lot of tagines. Africa was only three hours away and yet so far. On a late winter monday, all airlines conspired to land at Menara International Airport at the same time and see what would happen. Descending the steps into the large immigration hall we all gasped in horror; it wasn’t going to be painless. The crowds were shifted left and right in a haphazard scramble by polite and immaculately dressed traffic attendants. Everybody trying to figure out how to best fill in entry cards without a pen, rumour spread that there was an imminent German arrival. Surely they will come well equipped with pens. For good two hours we joined an aimless queue where one kept bumping into familiar faces that disappeared into a different lane to then magically reappear half an hour later, nowhere nearer the elusive immigration desks. Lasting friendships were built. There were screams here and there too. A man yelled he had claustrophobia and felt unwell. A skillfully played card indeed as he was paraded right at the front of the mayhem. The long wait to face the law was a total let down. My grumpy officer, with hardly a look at my face, produced the stamp.  "Is that all?" I said  rather disappointed.  "Can I go?"  There was no reply but an annoyed nod.  I was almost in Marrakesh was it not for a further set of unexpected checks and x ray scans of my luggage and patience. Packed bike and all the rest, disappeared on the conveyor belt. The officer waved at me, calling me to the other side. "You have drugs?" "Well... not that I know of." is all I could say.  The news, delivered in rather abrupt fashion, had left me a little shocked. My luggage is always a bit unusual but with my outdoor smartwear I hardly looked the part. There were better candidates around I thought. Bags were opened, the stern search focusing on the countless silica gel sachets to keep humidity away from my electronic gadgets. I breathed a sigh of relief as the sliding doors opened and I finally was granted access to Marrakesh. On the other side I was rescued from the frenzy by Youssef my driver; he had been patiently waiting with a card board reading Riad Si Amarra, amongst all the taxis, buses and private cars, jostling for work.
Read More
posted on Sunday, October 15, 2017

Palo Alto



End of an holiday and finally running out of an amazing large pack of delicious Hawaiian Macadamia nuts I had some time to spare and decided to have a little ramble up and down the Silicon Valley. I wanted to visit those places that take all my money ( Apple ), my information ( Google and Facebook ) and waste all my time ( YouTube ). Barred Amazon they were all to be found within biking reach... In the end I only managed Apple and Google. I visited 1 Infinite Loop, the old headquarters and also the nearby massive Apple Park that was about to be inaugurated. Now I really do know that I pay too much for my computers and phones... The day ended in Palo Alto with a little pilgrimage to the late Steve Jobs house.
Read More
posted on Saturday, October 14, 2017

Russian Ridge


It was unusually crowded for an early Saturday morning. The Half Moon Bay annual pumpkin weekend festival was in full bloom and crowds had started harming themselves early with all kind of fried pumpkin themed breakfasts. I was still struggling to digest last night ‘Los tres amigos’ burrito and thought it best not to get involved. I quickly evacuated and disappeared down the highway. It was soon time to bid farewell to the ocean. Sure it won’t be too long before I come back. Baked in a hot summery sun I stopped once more in the quaint village of Pescadero. Country Bakery served me the largest and tastiest sandwich I ever had. Sandwich was a misnomer, the mighty sourdough loaf would have filled up the hungriest family of four. Here, all my efforts fail; I thought a sandwich would be an healthy option, but I struggled my way up the mountain instead, loaded with regrets. Alpine road was beautiful and steep, often requiring an humbling walk and push. I reached Skyline just before sunset and found a perfect tent spot on the jetty by the lake at Russian Ridge Preserve.
Read More
posted on Friday, October 13, 2017

Half Moon Bay


Kirby Cove last night was a fluke. This hidden paradise has only 5 places. Site one is the best, with a view over the bridge and gets booked three months in advance at 6am. I turned up determined to find a spot anyway and Suzy and Dave whom I met there, were happy for me to share their place if needed. At sunset still nobody had turned up for site one so before it got too dark I pitched my tent in this lucky spot with a view...Sleeping was tough as I was a stone throw from a cove and the loud crashing waves, but unlike at the Fairmont, there was nothing and nobody to complain to. In the morning I was back riding the bridge into the city and heading south down the coast, destination Half Moon Bay. Devils Slide on a bike was magnificent. A cyclists and pedestrians only diversion, it takes you off the highway, on a little road hugging the coastline high up the ocean. Away from the traffic the silence only broken by gusts of wind and the sound of the tumbling waves. After driving a week in Hawaii the contrast couldn’t have been greater. I realised that while driving, you mostly appreciate the destination the drive itself demanding full attention to the road and the traffic. On a bike instead I was once again free to enjoy every minute of the journey. What a blessing. I reached Half Moon Bay where I had stayed before ready for another sunset; the last one before heading back up the mountains.
Read More
posted on Thursday, October 12, 2017

San Francisco


After a week long tropical break in Hawaii, my plans for a further few days cycling the wineries of Napa and Sonoma county were thrown up in the air. News of extensive forest fires ravaging the exact areas I had planned to cycle through, demanded an alternative plan. I could call it a day and return to the dark misery winter’s dawn of England or make the most of the warm and sunny days of California. The latter seemed a rather more appealing option to me; it had to be another few days spent cycling around San Francisco, for once free of any constraints, unhindered by any tight schedules and detailed maps. Armed with a large bag of succulent Hawaiian honey roasted macadamia nuts I would roam the Bay mountains and ocean roads, basking in the sun and spending what remained of my few left dollars. First was a relaxing days up and down the streets of San Francisco, reminding myself why I loved this city so much. The smokey scent of nearby fires filled the air and filtered every far sight in haze. I crossed the golden gate into Marin county and after a stop in Sausalito climbed up the Headlands in search of a night spot with a priceless view over the bridge. Forget the Fairmont, last night at Kirby’s Cove spot 1, I had the best view no money could have paid for. Right in front of my tent, a bright red Golden Gate reflected the last rays of sunshine.
Read More
posted on Friday, October 06, 2017

Kailua


Taking advantage of a friend visit to Hawaii and the fact that I was in San Francisco I had planned a week visit to Oahu Island in Hawaii. Usually too far from Europe to even consider it I thought it would be my best and only chance to pay a visit to what since my childhood was the synonym of paradise on earth. At that time I never imagined to one day be able to spend some time there and the closest I could get to it was watching a Magnum PI series on television. Since childhood I had heard some mixed reports about the Main Island as it is also called. Most of them seemed to agree that they were indeed beautiful places and Hawaiians, wonderful  and relaxed people but in the end the message was that they were not worth the hype. Days were spent driving up and down the island on a Chevrolet often fighting for parking spots where there were none. An overcrowded paradise.
At least I had a chance to find out for myself that indeed there are beautiful scenic spots and great climate to enjoy but from an European perspective there are more impressive coastal resorts much closer to home.
Read More
posted on Monday, October 02, 2017

Big Basin N.P.


Not as an exciting day as yesterday, which was good. The first half was about the ocean, heading down to Santa Cruz, I tasted again those wonderful views I am so fond of. Under a beautiful sunny sky the air was filled with the scent of artichokes being harvested. I had missed this coast and was so grateful to taste its rugged beauty once again, even if just briefly, only for a day. I reached Santa Cruz where it was time to part from the ocean and head up the mountains and highway 9 where I had cycled in my very first trip to the US, more than a decade before. This time I would ride it from the opposite way, from the sea to the redwood groves of Big Basin State Park. All those years ago in Felton, I remember stopping for an haircut. I looked for the same barber in vain, thinking it would have been nice to say hello once again. As the road got steeper the redwoods got mightier, it was like returning home to a place I had never been. I pitched my tent in a chilly night under the watchful guard of beloved trees.
Read More
posted on Sunday, October 01, 2017

Pigeon Point


As I was about to reach the top of La Honda I got a taste of fear. One of the most popular biking and cycling mountain roads connecting the Silicon Valley to the ocean on the other side, it winds up twisty and narrow. The fact that it is so popular with local cyclists made me think it would be relatively safe; it turned out anything but, at least on a Sunday... Hordes of software engineers, IT young millionaires or wannabe racers, were competing with their latest Ferrari and Porsches and powerful motorbike toys and this was their race track.
As I gently and slowly slogged my way up behind a tight bend I heard behind me a screeching of brakes and tires and found myself gently pushed up and off the side of road .
A lady emerged from the car, shaking and in tears as if she had just been hit by a car!
“Oh my god! Are you alright? I am so sorry...” she screamed in a shaky voice.
Despite my best effort to put this into perspective the wisest words I came up with were
“Go slow for f**k sake”.
“I mean, I could have killed you...!” she said, as if I needed reminding.
Luckily unhurt my attention was all for Bronte, who surely I thought would be damaged in some way. The back wheel was a little iffy and the rack was bent.
“Are you sure you are ok? I mean...can I give you a lift somewhere?”
She continued, by now a total wreck on the verge of a breakdown.
Given her current state and driving skills I thought it best to refuse.
“No thanks. Hopefully you’ve learnt something today and will be careful next time” said the wise man regaining some composure.
“Oh you are so nice” she sobbed.
“Well I am still alive, there’s still something worth being positive about”. I walked the remaining distance to the top where all the racers were celebrating their madness in the sunshine. One of them helped me to straighten my rack and magically the bike seemed a little wobbly but overall fine. Weary of some other damage and more bad driving I slowly dived down the other side heading for Highway 1 and the ocean.
Bronte once more surprised me and we safely reached the idyllic setting of Pigeon Point where an old lighthouse now functions as a hostel. The setting was magical, I had always wanted to stop here in my previous journeys and I had finally made it. Tested and a little dazed I soaked my fears in the hot tub overlooking the ocean, seals playing with the crushing waves.
Read More
posted on Saturday, September 30, 2017

San Francisco

After only a few years that seemed too long, I was back in San Francisco. The day started in London with a hiccup when I couldn’t get on an early flight that was too full. Standby tickets always add some spice to any trip, not quite knowing when you will arrive and trusting that eventually, one day, you should be able to return home. Patience paid off though, and I got on the second daily flight. Celebrating the event with a gin and tonic for starters, my cabin crew was determined to get me totally wasted at 38000 feet. They had a nice habit of collecting your empty wine bottle and quickly returning a full one. The ten odd hours whizzed past in a haze. The sun about to set, I had landed far too late for my planned ride up the hills, and the promises of a campground. Torn between a night spent at the terminal and an adventurous search for a tent place in the city suburbs I chose adventure. I started pedalling towards the residential hillside  suburbs of Burlingame and San Mateo. I chose the little side streets to avoid any danger with traffic but quietness came with lots of darkness, only disturbed by my flashing lights scaring stiff the all neighbourhood. With not an inch to spare I checked the local fire station for guidance. The bored night duty guys without fires to handle were eager to talk and in the end advised me to head down to coyote point recreation area where a perfect spot was waiting with planes landing over my head.
Read More
posted on Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Salida

Today was my final cycling day, I had almost made it to Salida but before I had to climb the highest pass in the entire tour. Monarch pass set at 3448 metres was a mere 12 kilometres up the hill and we had the advantage to start from a high altitude already. We woke up to blue skies and after  a full calories breakfast Chris and I were more than ready to tackle the obstacle. Not having had a day off in all this tour, my legs had been a little aching in the last few days but starting the climb while fresh, after a good night sleep and some food made the difference and was able to climb the road without too much walking involved. Bronte had taken me higher than any other bicycle had ever taken me and had once again proved that it is not that bad a solution even when mountains are involved! I waited for Chris at the top and we celebrated our small achievement taking pictures at the top. From there on it was just a long and enjoyable descent to Salida where I waived goodbye to Chris, wishing him well for the rest of his journey and all that remained was being thankful once again for the opportunity to cycle through some fantastic sceneries and remarkable roads.
Read More
posted on Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Sargents

I had planned a monster day of 130 kilometres including a climb to Monarch pass at 3448 metres! Chris was much more sensible and suggested we break up the day and finish our cycling in Sargents, where the real hard climbing starts. The day was spent cruising, tail winds most of the way and gently rising to 2600 metres. The town of Gunnison proved a good place to relax and replenish our energies. Chris was all excited about yet another visit to a marijuana dispensary where he had been taken through a comprehensive tour of the available products. After biscuits he ended up getting some mints for change! We were thinking we would just camp in the National Forests but once in Sargents, dark clouds and the scent of a storm in the air, convinced us it was well worth spending the money to stay at the RV campground where we could use showers and the restaurant facilities for food.
As soon as we pitched our tents the storm threats became real and we were able to enjoy the sound of the ticking rain drops on the flysheets of our tents.
Read More
posted on Monday, June 05, 2017

Elk Creek

Bronte doesn't like big roads and she tells me gently, by means of punctures. First one of this trip and it happened outside a little cafe where I had just had an ice cream. In the morning I was climbing the hills outside Montrose where I spot a man waving at me in the distance. It was Chris again, I thought he should be a day behind but there he was, smiling with a can of soda and some crisps in his hand. Quite how he could be ahead of me again is beyond me. He stops and chats hours with strangers, swims in the lakes, takes naps along the highway, rides a tank of a bike full of bags, weighs two times my weight but somehow he is there in front, waving. The man is such fun to be with that I was really happy to see him again. He hates Trumpy and loves to bash him whenever he meets foreigners on the road. He feels freer that way since lots of Americans still support him. "Next year I am going to take the whole year off to cycle around the world" he said "it will be an apology tour. I'll go from town to town to tell them I am sorry..." During the day a new recruit joined, Dave also known as "the brim" as he wears an adapted cycling helmet with a brim to keep in shade. We bumped into each other the whole day, usually at the front of a food store. We agreed to stay at Elk Creek camp, on a high, dry Mesa by an artificial lake. Marijuana is sold legally in Colorado and Chris a 58 years old hippy at heart, couldn't wait to try some psychedelic cookies he had gotten from a shop the previous day. We had lots of fun chatting under an amazingly colourful sky while Chris waited for the biscuits to take effect and set him off to a good night sleep!
Read More
posted on Sunday, June 04, 2017

Montrose

Yesterday, Placerville fire station was not to be found but I did spot the Sheriff car parked by the side of the road. I asked for some good spots to put the tent. "Go straight until you find a trail on the left," he said "follow the trail and you'll find a good place." "Nobody will bother you there". "By the way, stay safe." he continued, "Just watch out as bears and cats have been recently spotted in the area." Thinking he didn't mean pets, I put on a brave face and confirmed with confidence: "You mean mountain lions?" "Yeah." Came the quick reply. Shaken, I steadied the old nerves, dug deep for breath and calmly said "that's fine I'll store my food away from the tent...". Of course nothing was fine but still! I followed his advice, got to the trail he recommended, found the spot he meant but on close inspection, realised it must have been the county firing range and the Sheriff must have not liked me that much after all. The place was littered with hundreds of spent bullets, hardly a good place to pitch tents, never mind the cats... I decided to continue up the mountain until the light allowed and spotted a bonfire on the large lawn of a private property. A man waived at me at which point I thought it was meant to be! I went through the gate, sat down and chatted a bit to Tim and Hazel and casually asked if they knew a place I could pitch my tent. "Here!" they said. I pretended to look surprised but must admit it was exactly the answer I was hoping for. We had a nice conversation by the fire and was even offered dinner which I refused as I was still digesting the famous pulled pork I had up the road. Frosting and baking continues. Last night in Tim's lawn it dropped below zero and now, a few hours later I am frying in the lovely town of Ridgway. Unusual sights in the States. A grandpa with a long white beard is teaching his niece how to skateboard and generally be cool. People around here seem most friendly, each little town I visit someone comes by and tells me all the good places I should visit but don't have the time to. Over a thousand kilometres gone and a few hundreds more to go.
Read More
posted on Saturday, June 03, 2017

Placerville

Last night was below zero and during the night wearing a woolen hat and socks I had to seal myself inside the sleeping bag. That didn't work as it was still cold. I remembered Priest Gulch campsite had a warm laundry room so by six in the morning i scrambled in there and quickly regained full use of my limbs. I waved goodbye to him for the last time beginning the gentle climb to Lizard Head pass at over 3000 metres the highest place I have ever been on a bike let alone Bronte. While the man is getting old and grumpy she goes on and on reliable and strong. The landscape is so much changed from the dry deserts, canyons, granite and scrubs of Utah. It feels as if I have been thrown back on the other side of the Atlantic, cycling over the Swiss or the Austrian alps. In a RIco cafe I was served half a kilo of chocolate cake which made me feel rather heavy at first but probably helped me up the last steep grades of the mountain. After the long descent the stomach was calling again. Just as well as the pulled pork at the Mercantile in Sawpit came hardly recommended. Tonight stay still unknown, most likely complimentary of Placerville Sheriff, Fire Brigade or a kind farmer!
Read More
posted on Friday, June 02, 2017

Priest Gulch

The flat farmlands have given way to the first hills and once reached Dolores some threatening snow capped mountains loomed ahead. We are still on a high plateau and before starting the real climbs I am already over two thousand meters of height and often out of breath. I see lots of large animal carcasses by the side of the road and in the fields and wonder what kind of beast chewed them so neatly down to their bones. It's good to know that whoever does the chewing has such a large choice of food around here; very unlikely to chose us, after all we are only half meat, half steel with some unappealing rubber and plastic mixed in. Today a four wheeled preacher overtook me up the mountain, his diesel pickup puffing black smoke and pulling a trailer. On either sides the message 'Jesus Saves' while all I could think of was 'Gasoline Kills'. Half way I reached Dolores which was not as painful as the name might suggest. The mountains rising it felt like the typical alpine resort in between seasons. Winter skiing over and a summer yet to come. The second part of the day followed the Dolores River on a gentle and long climb to the 2400 metres of Priest Gulch. I was hardly enquiring about prices when Menno walked in. I hadn't seen him whole day as he got involved in passionate conversations with other bike enthusiasts he met along the way. We found an idyllic spot to share, just metres away from the fast flowing river that will surely be our gentle soundtrack for the night. Tomorrow Menno will move on to meet some friends. I wish for him that he'll be able to finally get on his bike and do what he so much likes to do. He was a great support on the way to all of us cycling and his cool cokes in the desert and chats along the road will be thoroughly missed.

Read More
posted on Thursday, June 01, 2017

Dove Creek

Yesterday we were joined at the campsite by Elijah, cycling across America from San Francisco to Virginia. He was lucky enough to be sponsored by this Japanese guy who sells energy drinks. The downside is that he has to pedal with two large bags of powder and cycle with energy and zest to prove they really work! Morning started with a trip to the local supermarket where I replenished my energies with a large coffee and three doughnuts. I had planned a late start and a shorter day. Just before setting off I heard my name shouted from the road, an unusual event in Utah. It was Chris, the eccentric university lecturer, emerging from the canyons and finally making it back to civilisation. I was wondering if he would continue with us but he was determined to call it a day and rest his legs. "I can't go on like this." he said "I need to properly wash and do laundry or someone is soon going to tackle me and light me on fire". Pity to leave him behind as he was really funny and an encyclopaedia of cycling in the US. Having cycled pretty much everywhere and loving to talk too he seemed to know an incredible amount of people. Highlight of the day was not the route but crossing into Colorado. I already found an appropriate plate for the new state by the side of the road, Bronte can't wait for it to be changed! Utah left me stunned by the incredible sights but it is time to move on and give Colorado a chance too.
Read More
posted on Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Blandings

I survived the second of the two days through the desert but it was too long and by the time I arrived in Blanding I was pretty much a wreck. The last three steep climbs before reaching the town were just too much and I ended up walking more than I would like too! It was 130 kilometres of desolation, a thousand metres climb, no water or food and a gusty wind blowing in my face all day long. Chris left at 5:30 while I left an hour later. We were trying to gain ground early morning when temperatures were much cooler. After one hour riding uphill in a fierce wind that made progress painful I reached Chris, his bike by the side of the road and him just lying next to it, taking a nap. We were the only cyclists on the road today. Menno stopped with the car a couple of times offering coke that never tasted so good. The lack of any water or shop to restore one's energy or even a place to sit in the shade meant I rode for about ten hours non stop, reaching Blanding pretty exhausted. Chris never made it to town but he had a tank of a bike with lots of water and food and surely he must have called it a day and put his tent down somewhere. No lack of space for tents there!


Read More
posted on Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Hite

Armed with a new tub of Nutella, a loaf of bread and as much water as I can possibly carry on Bronte, I sat off for the toughest two days of the entire trip. Not huge mountains to overcome but 210 km of dry desert and canyons with no facilities and lots of maybes. Maybe four taps with potable water, maybe one single little shop, maybe one open campsite. At the start I asked the guy at the gas station if I could soak my hat under a water tap and get an air conditioned start of the day. He then told me about a special collar one can buy for desert hikes; made of the same material as diapers the collar is soaked in water and retains it, keeping neck and ears cool. Hanksville market though was pretty basic. I was getting a lot of attention with my weird bike as such, there was no need to also be cycling around with a soaked diaper tied around my head. In the end maybes remained maybes, there was no water to fill up bottles the whole day and had to manage with what I was carrying. After a few hours Menno with a new black rental car appeared and worked his magic with the cooling box; dispensing chilled coke cans he spread good will down the highway to the half a dozen crazy cyclists baking along the way. These included two remarkable ladies in their seventies, a German guy called Willie who was carrying five litres of water and for some obscure reason two litres of milk and Chris, an interesting Californian man who was cycling the back ways and seemed to know how to get anywhere quicker than us. It had been a tough day but again riding through the impressive sceneries of Glen Canyon was with our sweat. After a nice chat we all pitched out tents under the spectacle of a bright starred sky.
Read More
posted on Monday, May 29, 2017

Hanksville

Today it was like gate crashing a John Wayne's movie set on a bicycle. Before that I waved goodbye to Menno at the campsite. To add to his long list of misfortunes, his rental car dashboard now gives some warning lights and being in the middle of nowhere he'll have to find a rental place and change the car. He is definitely learning patience and acceptance, by the end of the trip he'll be a saint. I haven't given up hopes on a cool gin tonic in the desert but will have to see how things go. Cycling was incredible today too. It started with the lesser known Capital Reef National Park. The road twisting through large granite vertical rock faces, not unlike Zion. I got a little scare while riding; I suddenly heard some ruffling in the bushes by the side of the road and two large turkeys who hadn't heard my quiet engine, crossed the road in front of me, terrified as if it was Christmas. By the way I might have met president Carter but will never know... I chatted to this man with a southern accent and slow paced voice of the real man. He really looked like him too but was wearing some shades and I didn't have the guts to ask 'is your name Jimmy Carter?'. Back to John Wayne, I sat in the only cafe in the desert and found out that he actually did shoot some of his movies here in Utah. The cafe was full of his pictures, some signed and I was told he visited the place often, was friend with the current owner's grandpa and the battered rocking chair in the corner, was brought by him because he liked a comfortable chair to sit on. Going through desert and huge red faced canyons I imagined what an easy prey I would be for a bunch of determined Navajo Indians suddenly appearing from the top of the mountain and setting a chase on bare back horses. Not the slightest chance! I would probably get an heart attack before any arrows were shots...if John Wayne was not there that is. The landscape was barren, desolate and immersed in a silence only broken by the wind. I had to manage my three bottles of water as for hours there was none and I didn't meet any campervan rescuer along the way. No wonder It is a few miles from here that a Mars Laboratory has existed for many years, simulating how to cope with life on Mars. Pretty grim if you ask me, but we all love to explore, don't we?

Read More
posted on Sunday, May 28, 2017

Torrey

Eight bananas later I made it to Torrey! Today was not plain sailing as I had to climb up to almost three thousand metres. The great news is that I can do it in style. Now I have a one man crew filming me as I ride along the way too. Every now and then, in the middle of nowhere I spot Menno's white Ford car and familiar face by the side of the road, waiting for me to pass by. Not only is it reassuring to know somebody in the middle of nowhere, he also comes with an ice box and drinks neatly stowed  in the boot of the car. In two days I will be riding the desert and can't help but having fantasies of gin tonics and cool cans of coke served along the way! Menno is aware of my collecting car plates of the States I visit with Bronte. This morning, as I took some interest in the Nevada plate of his rental car and said how nice it was he was quick to point out I couldn't possibly remove it! People I meet along the way are always fascinated by my little bike; I get asked questions and have the most wonderful conversation with strangers. After three sweaty days managed on baby wipes these dialogues were getting shorter and shorter and I thanked god for finally being able to take a good shower. I just wish some enterprising person realised the market opportunities of larger sized baby wipes. Grown ups need they XXL wipes too.
Read More
posted on Saturday, May 27, 2017

Calf Creek

Last night I reconnected with Eric. I found first his bike and later saw him coming towards me with a big laughter on his face. He let me share his campsite spot and this morning I returned the favour by treating him to a breakfast buffet At the local hotel. The man is big, a bit of a wardrobe and piled up several servings of bacon eggs, potatoes, bread, fruits, yoghurt. Buffets for bike tourers are a loss making enterprise anyway. We can pile it up generously and somehow still feel like a little more will just do. We stumbled out of the front door a little overflowing and wobbly, wondering if we could stride over our bikes. Eric was a mystery to me. In his sixties, bear like figure, two metres high, huge belly, hulk hogan moustache, hardly a cyclist physique; I could easily imagine him wearing a leather jacket and riding a Harley Davidson instead. What puzzled me was that he set off early mornings, disappeared in the distance and was never to be seen for the rest of the day. Again he got on his bike with two extra kilos of fat breakfast and sprinted ahead of me, no chance to keep his pace. I doubted he was hiding an engine of some sort but later on with steep hills ahead I was able to catch him and trust he was carrying all that extra weight with brute force and shear determination. Recently divorced he was cycling to escape the ex wife. He bought a bike right after and left admitting he had never been so happy in his life. He was a prison officer and was also carrying a variety of weapons. A large hammer, knife and a large can of pepper spray that he proudly showed me how to use. Mostly meant for bears he said he always keeps it by his side as personal defence. "I keep it right by my side in the tent too" he said. "You just never know what could happen." I guess living in close contact with convicts, he was ready to snap at any moment. I made sure to never approach his tent without ample voice warnings. Today seemed an ordinary day, until after a straight climb I found myself in front of a vast view down below, a most unusual barren landscape of stones and rocks, the Escalante Staircase. Menno also made it and joined me to the campsite tonight! Unfortunately unable to cycle he will follow some of my journey and experience the sight from the comfort of his rental car.
Read More
posted on Friday, May 26, 2017

Bryce Canyon

Today I would stay in Bryce Canyon, bike up to Rainbow Point Loop, almost three thousand metres high before returning down to Bryce the same way. Hardly a loop but there you go, nothing should be taken at face value around here. It promised and delivered grand vistas. I finally start my bananas diet and there is no doubt that they are to me what spinach is to Popeye's. I climbed up for three hours and some steep parts too but nothing seemed to stop the legs spinning. Maybe after three days lived at altitude I am turning into an Italian Sherpa, red blood cells running riots and lungs of gold. In a rather dry landscape of firs Bronte and I were rising impervious to any strains. She sported her new registration plate too, reading Utah, 'Life Elevated', number X80 1BY. Funny thing life really felt elevated, maybe there is some wisdom in States mottos after all. Solar panels are sitting on top of my front bag. With sunny days they work wonders in keeping my array of gadgets alive but also bouncing light right up to my face as I ride, are also a terrific mobile tanning machines. Light affects the colour shades of the canyons too and as I sit on top of Rainbow Point...well...Loop, I am waiting for the sun to dive a little and bring out some shades too.

Read More