Chasing The Sun
Dumfries to Mallorca Summer 2012
1650 miles by bicycle for Macmillan Cancer Support. Anyone wishing to sponsor me can do so
Planning the Trip
When I was nine my parents took my brother and I abroad for the first time. I think my father wanted to ‘do’ the whole of Europe in one go and so during a two week holiday we travelled through France, Belgium, Austria, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Germany and Italy, staying in hotels the whole time. For our first night in France we stayed at a Relais Routier called Georges (which we as kids pronounced the English way of course). It was here that I tasted ‘real’ coffee, baguettes, croissants, unsalted butter and apricot conserve for the first time and, to this day, they remain my most memorable foods. During subsequent years our holidays were ‘calmed down’ a little and, not only did we visit just one or two countries, we camped the whole time. I suspect that this is where I got the travelling and camping bug from (plus four years in the boy scouts). Nearly every Easter and summer, until I was about fourteen, we loaded the car up with camping gear and headed for the south of France via Dover/Calais and I now have fond childhood memories of that route through France.
I thought that it might be nice to retrace my childhood journeys by bicycle and then, make my way from the south of France to our apartment in Mallorca – a trip of about 1650 miles that would be feasible within the timeframe dictated by school holidays. I also decided that if I was going to do this trip I would try and raise some money for Macmillan Cancer Support at the same time. Several of my friends have been affected by cancer in recent years and I have seen the effect that it can have on someone. It’s a sobering statistic that 1 in 3 people will be affected by cancer during their lifetime and it’s charities such as Macmillan who help sufferers pick up the pieces of their life during and after treatment.
My route through France suggested that the Dover /Calais ferry crossing would be the obvious choice but, on a bike, this would be problematic. London is in the way and makes life very difficult for cyclists trying to get to the southeast coast. There aren’t many campsites in London and I don't fancy camping wild in Trafalgar Square! (They really should move London somewhere else – somewhere that doesn’t stop cyclists from getting to Dover easily - the Isle of Wight perhaps?). So, despite the fact that I intend to cycle down the east side of France I have opted for Portsmouth as my point of sailing, taking the ferry to Le Havre and then heading east across France to join my childhood route, turning south and heading down country. Although it lengthens the distance, the Portsmouth/Le Havre crossing does have the advantage of taking eight hours overnight and so I can save on a night’s campsite fees! However, it has the disadvantage of leaving at eleven o’clock at night (There’s only one ferry per day) and so I’ll be cycling in the dark for part of the day. Bicycle lights are OK for travelling around towns with streetlights but they’re pretty useless on unlit country lanes unless you spend a lot of money on them. Consequently I’ve made my own by mounting two small 24 LED worklights on a homemade bracket. The result is a very bright front light for the princely sum of £8. This, combined with my three rear lights, should ensure that drivers see me and hopefully avoid running me over.
Although my route will be roughly planned, no ferries or campsites will be booked as it’s impossible for me to say where I’ll be at any given time. Even my departure date is uncertain as I’m unsure of my teaching commitments at the end of the summer term. Nevertheless, even at this early stage (The end of Feb. 2012) I’m already organising my camping gear and hope to get in an overnight stay at a local campsite, once the weather improves, to check that everything is in working order. My long suffering wife Karen, and my two boys Gary and Mark, bought me a netbook for my last birthday that will allow me to update my website with photos and diary notes whenever I can find somewhere with wifi, so that my sponsors can keep up to date with my progress. I’ve also installed Autoroute, which will help with my day to day route planning, Skype, to keep in touch with home, and Kindle so that I've always got plenty to read.
I’m hoping that my bike, a Saracen Skyline (Sky to her friends), will be up to the task and will only require a little maintenance prior to departure. She’s eight years old but, like a fine wine, has improved with age as I’ve upgraded various bits and pieces. I, on the other hand, am a completely different matter. At sixty years of age, I’m no longer in my prime and I’ve had no replacement parts or upgrades. Friends are already asking me what training I’m going to do for my ride (they must think I look unfit!) but I’m planning to keep the daily distance down to about 50 miles as I travel down to the south coast and then hopefully adjust it upwards as my fitness improves. When I’ve been cycle camping in the past my luggage has weighed in at about 32kg (more than twice the suitcase allowance with Easyjet) and you can feel every kg as you slog up steep hills. This time I’ve added the netbook and a few other bits and pieces to my packing list and so my only real preparation will be to lose about a stone in weight (just over 6kg) to offset these extras.
April 20th - Ah well, it seems that I'll be teaching full time until the end of the summer term and so I'm now guessing that my departure date will be Friday 6th July. Whilst this means that I have more time to prepare for the trip (and lose some weight!) it also means that, when I set off, I'll only have six weeks before my return flight to the UK so they'll be no time for delays ,etc. (My flight is booked for Monday 20th August and, theoretically, I'm back at school on Tuesday 21st!)
Early May - the bike has now been serviced (G&G Cycle Centre - highly recommended). The rear wheel that was running slightly out of line has been trued and new brake blocks and tyres fitted. I always like to get any work done well before leaving on a trip so that I have plenty of time for test rides. Once I've ridden the bike around for a few weeks and I'm happy that all is well then I'm fairly confident that it won't let me down whilst I'm away.
Mid-May - Great news. HSBC are opening a new branch in Dumfries and they have decided to hold a charity day on August 3rd. with staff on an exercise bike, etc., collecting money from passersby, all of which they are going to donate to me for Macmillan Cancer Support. Not only that, whatever the staff raise, HSBC are going to match. This is potentially a terrific boost to the total sum raised.
June 2nd - Went for a fully loaded ride today to check out the balance, etc. When I got back I had a broken spoke in the rear wheel - not a good omen! Whilst searching the internet to see if I could find a stronger make of spoke I noticed on the Koga site (They make the creme de la creme of touring bikes - you can pay over £2500 for a Koga) they say that for their bikes the weight of the bike + rider + luggage should not exceed 140kg. I did a weighing session and discovered that I'm currently at 150kg (Hmm - could be the reason for the broken spoke!). So it's going to be a severe diet for the next month, I'm going to check through my gear to see if there's anything I can throw out, and I'm going to take plenty of spare spokes with me!
June 26th - All my gear is now assembled and so I'm ready to go. I've been scanning the weather sites for some time now and although the temperature is increasing as you head south (as you would expect) - it's already reaching 34C in Palma, the wind has been coming pretty consistently from the south all the way to Majorca - a headwind. Hopefully it will turn around or ease up in the next ten days before I leave. On the plus side, the diet is going pretty well and I should reach my 6 kilo (1 stone) target before the 6th July when I head off.
July 5th - Somebody 'up there' must like me. The weather sites are sugggesting that whilst I'm probably going to get quite a bit of rain, the wind is finally turning around and starting to come down from the north.
I,ve lost my stone (6kg) in weight by going on a carb-free diet and so I'm now reintroducing them as I obviously will need all the carbs I can get on my ride - the general concensus is that I'll burn approx. 6,000 calories a day. Final weigh in - me + bike + luggage = just over 137kg (luggage = 34.2kg) so I'm now under my target and things will get lighter (including me!) as I go.
Just the last few bits and pieces to pack and then that's me ready to go .................