Hawkes Bay NZ Water trail

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Hobart Tasmania

Flying from the Gold Coast, in the daily flooding rain downpour, to Melbourne, then Melbourne to breezy, super Southern Hemisphere sunny Hobart , next stop Antartica, was a bit rough. It's the holidays, so the planes are packed with more toddlers in the "terrible twos' age bracket than I've seen for some time. The queues at check in for JetStar, Qantas' cheap subsidiary, remind you why you get the fares cheap. They were beyond ridiculous. But it seems that Australians are a stoic lot. After a good hour of lining up, no one was having a screaming counter pounding meltdown, which is what I'd expect to witness back home in the US. I was so tempted to apply my fists to the counter after my endless wait.

Once in Tazzie, beyond the cute beagles, the drug-and-contraband-fruit sniffer dogs at the airport, I got into a dinky rental car, and whizzed off to Richmond, to the pure luxury of a B&B called Cornwall Cottages. I'm used to driving on the left by now. It's a lovely place, set between a raspberry orchard and a vineyard, with a gorgeous view of a lake, rolling tree-covered hills and an interesting looking radio telescope. The air is clear down here, so star gazing must be exceptional at times.

Today I'm hanging out on Hobart's wharf-front, at the Taste of Tasmania weeklong food and wine-fueled blowout. Everyone is there, including the local bike advocacy group, which has a booth where you can sign a petition to get a bike lane installed on a major Hobart road, and pick up a "Leave 1.5 metres" bumper sticker. Back home in Washington State, we still don't have a 3-foot rule, and these folks are asking for 5. Hope they get it. Tasmania looks like a great place to ride, but the roads are rolling, narrow and seem to have no shoulders at all. Outside the Tourism information center in Hobart I chatted with a long distance touring cyclist I'd seen riding into town over the Tasman bridge. He's come from 6 weeks in New Zealand, and he told me the drivers over there are a bit of a challenge. Yikes. Can't worry about that today.

The Taste is really something: booths selling everything from oysters on the half shell to panna cotta, in vanilla, chocolate, raspberry, passionfruit and leatherwood honey flavors. Strangely, the most popular booth appears to be one selling deep-fried Huon Valley mushrooms. These "treats" are dipped in tempura batter, and served in various quantities. There are many lines of customers at least 6 people deep at the counter. Why the locals are going crazy for the most basic type of supermarket mushroom, is utterly beyond me. I've heard that Tasmania is the only place in the world able to domesticate the truffle. No signs of those here, though. I'm not sure I want to try them. I've already had enough grease for a lifetime, as I ate crumbed trevella, a fish with large white flakes, and a mountain of french fries last night for dinner.

The Sydney-to-Hobart yacht race ended yesterday, but there are two other races in progress: Melbourne to Hobart and Launceston to Hobart as well. I watched a bunch of lobster-red-faced guys wearing red coveralls pour off one of the boats as it docked. I presume they were headed to the nearest pub. As always, the Tasman Sea and/or Bass Strait, have been one big vomit-fest, with several boats pulling out after some sailors got washed overboard. The things people do for fun...

Tomorrow, I'm going to hit the wine trail and sample some of Tasmania's pinots. Life is so tough.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Sunny Christmas Down Under

The bike and I made it safely to Brisbane Airport. The bike box got a
bit bashed up in transit, but as far as I can tell everything that
belongs to the bike is still inside. Today is my final day in
Queensland, where I spent time with family on what should have been the bright, sunny and hot Gold Coast. Unfortunately, it's been a downpour every day
since I got here. Torrential rain, all the rivers and streams are
flooding, and lots of birds and animals that normally live in the
rainforest seem to be heading, two by two, down to the coast.

The only good thing about the rain is that it's warm. Very warm. It's
so humid here, so it's not so bad walking around in the rain. I've
seen a few of the green tree frogs that are the State's national
emblem.

Riding a bike here is impossible. Still, the surfers are out, as
always, riding the small waves at the beach. Lots of sodden families
trying gamely to picnic at the beach and make the best of it.

Tomorrow I fly to Hobart, for what I hope is warmer and drier
Tasmanian weather. Looks like El Nino in this part of the world is as
weather crazy as back in Seattle.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Riding with Reindeer [folding bike to Finland]

I'm almost finished Robert Goldstein's Riding with Reindeer, his funny and well written account of his 2007 solo ride, on a Bike Friday, through Finland to Lapland and arctic Norway. His work's the most accurate account I've read, so far, about what it's like to do solo touring. A good companion read as I've been putting together my solo New Zealand "baby bike" ride.

I'm hoping I don't get to deal with as many mosquitoes as Robert did, and that the rainy weather I get is a lot less than he got. I'd like to ride with this guy sometime. He's got a good attitude. Makes me want to ride in Finland sometime, myself.

But first, land of the Kiwis.

Pike Place Market Seattle farewell for a few months


Today's typically Jeckell and Hyde Seattle winter weather. Difficult to ride on those cobblestones, but the Market is packed with holiday shoppers. Still, it's always amazing to think that I'll be heading to a summer down under. First to Queensland for Christmas with my family, then off to New Zealand to start my first folding bike tour. Wm the conquerer is snugly packed in its d-i-y transport, and should be under the 50 lb weight limit. The next time it will see the light of day will be Auckland on January 8.

I will spend 2-3 weeks riding on the North Island, with visits to Tongariro National Park and Mt Taranaki, then to Wellington. Riding will be alternated with folding the bike and boarding an intercity bus to cover long and/or dangerous sections that don't suit a bike with only 6 gears. On the South Island, I hope to do some loops out of Nelson,visit the Malborough wine region, and up to Golden Bay, and do some kayaking near the Abel Tasman National Park. After that I will head to Christchurch, via Kaikoura. The next stage is still fuzzy: either down the east coast via Dunedin or down the west coast, ultimate goal of Queenstown, with more hiking and some touring down to Milford Sound. I will return to Christchurch and head over to Akarora for more hiking. I will leave from Christchurch in early March.

This trip is much less structured, as I've learned that cycle touring demands you throw out your planned itinerary after the first week and roll with the punches.

It's a new adventure.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Off season riding how to's

Riding a bike in winter is the test that separates the committed from the fair weather cyclists. Yesterday Seattle experienced a "pineapple express". We got soaked by over 2 inches of rain. There's been a few landslides but today it was warm and sunny from around 11am to 2pm. Sure, the ground is soggy but riding after a downpour is sweet. Here is my tourer Sir Gulliver parked by Larsen's Bakery, a local Seattle gem. they're doing a roaring trade in their famous Kringle a pretzel shaped puff pastry and almond paste treat. If you keep your bike oiled and inflated, you can grab a ride at moment's notice. Great for the spirit in dark days of winter.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Across America by Bicycle/Alice and Bobbi's Summer on Wheels


I just finished a 2010 book about 3,600 mile cross country ride from Oregon to Maine by two retirees. The authors Alice Honeywell and Bobbi Montgomery did not mention the year of their trip anywhere in the narrative, but I finally figured out it was 2003. The book's tone gave it away: old fashioned with a lot of comments about safety on the road. They followed an Adventure Cycling route, which even back in 2003 was hardly unknown. Still, they carried bear spray and seriously considered taking a firearm along. Apparently one woman talked the other out of the gun idea. Good for her.

I wouldn't even think of packing either item on any of my solo riding. The bear spray would have been next to useless, unless one of the riders always carried it in an easy-to-reach pocket at all times. Digging around in a handlebar bag when dealing with a charging bear? Don't even think you'd have the presence of mind to make it work. Also, I've read somewhere that bear spray can act as an attractant, not a deterrent. Hmm. Neither of these women were from the western US, so perhaps they can be forgiven for not knowing how useless having bear spray really was.

And, as for a firearm idea, well, why the hell go down that road? It troubled me as I turned the pages to keep reading about how many people asked these gals if they were afraid, and several sections of the book do attest to these riders' unease with some of the strangers they met. Yet, the writers have nothing but praise about nearly everyone they met along the way: all the 'trail angels' who offered advice, company, a car or truck ride over a tough section, a seat at their table, or a free bed for the night.

Hmm. I rode in France, alone, this past summer, and the idea of packing any sort of weaponry did not cross my mind for one second. You don't have to naive, thinking everyone you meet is going to be perfect, and you need to be street smart, but I doubt I'd ever offer any assistance to rider I met that I thought was packing heat along with their bike tools.

I put this paranoia down to the timing of the trip. 2003 wasn't all that long after September 11, 2001, and the whole country was still on edge. Thank goodness those days are behind us.

I am leaving next week for Australia to spend Christmas with my mother. After that, I'm off to New Zealand for a little over 2 months to do some more riding, on my folding bike. The only challenging wildlife I expect to meet are the crafty kea parrots, and they tend to hang out in the mountains. I will be packing my commonsense, and leaving the weaponry at home.

I've been doing some test riding with a loaded bike. The photo is of William the Conqueror and the kit I'm planning to take.

I'll write about the proposed route in a later post.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

David Byrne of Talking Heads and bike riding


I recently finished a great book by David Byrne, who I’d only known as the distinctive lead singer in the group Talking Heads. The 2009 book, Bicycle Diaries, is an intelligent chronicle of David’s observations on history, art, music, the urban landscape, fashion, globalization, with a good dose of thoughts of how cycling enriches one’s life in interesting cities. He pedals in some major cities of the world: Berlin, Istanbul, Buenos Aires, Manila, Sydney, London, San Francisco and New York.

David uses a folding bike, which is why I first picked up this book. Lots of food for thought as I plan my coming two month bike trip to New Zealand early in 2011. Here’s the folding bike, William the Conqueror, that I will use for my next tour. I am planning a variant of a fully loaded bike tour. Wm is designed for large city urban commuting in a place without a lot of hills. I'm going to New Zealand, which is rural open road riding with plenty of hills. It will be a "trip" for sure.

David’s website is www.davidbyrne.com

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The purpose of the bike

"I was reminded once again that one way to look at technology is that is simply a device that amplifies and extends a natural human ability. The bicycle amplifies the leg; the telescope, the eye; the telephone, the ear. I am still trying to figure out what exactly the computer and Internet amplify." Doug Johnson Sept 6, 2005 blog post.

Doug is a school librarian, school technology speaker, writer and runs the Blue Skunk Blog, which I found recently when I was researching something else.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Seattle Bike Polo














Despite today's forecast for showers and cool temps, the weather turned out sunny, perfect for a fall ride. I was walking my bike through the Ballard Locks this evening, when I saw this curious pair, leaning against the wall that overlooks the fish ladder.

Took me a while, but I figured it out: bike polo! This Halloween weekend there's an event in Seattle: the Emerald City Open.

Here's an excerpt from a Sept 13 post on the Seattle Bike Polo website:

"...Seattle was the birthplace of hardcourt bike polo (as opposed to traditional, grass-field polo, developed in Ireland in 1891). About 35 people currently play in Seattle, and a team from the city placed fourth in the National Championships in Madison, Wisconsin this year.”

Who knew? The event in Judkins Park tomorrow and Sunday sounds wild, crazy and fun.


Monday, October 25, 2010

Two Wheels Around New Zealand

I just finished reading this book recounting a 1986 bike tour by Scott Bischke and Katie Gibson. The New Zealand Scott and Katie experienced back in the 80's no longer exists. I was first in New Zealand in the early 1980s, and have been back for hiking trips three times: 2004, 2005 and 2008. What a difference a couple of decades makes! I first read about riding in New Zealand in Barbara Savage's classic book Miles from Nowhere, which was written in the 1970s. If I remember, the Savages never visited Australia by bike, as they ran afoul of the immigration folks, but New Zealand welcomed them with open arms. That book must have done more for Kiwi tourism than anything the NZ government could ever dream up. Check it out from your public library sometime. It's a winner.

Scott and Katie did a year long trip on the North Island, then down the West Coast of the South Island to Stewart Island, then back up to Christchurch, and back up the North Island, eventually making it to Ahipara. They camped most of the way, met both wonderfully friendly, and terribly ornery people, and they seemed to have been rained on a lot. Did a lot of fly fishing and even fit in a marathon. Wow. They did the ride on a couple of mountain bikes, and the few color photos in the book are hilarious, showing a couple of scruffy tourers in their half billiard ball helmets. Still, they were both in their twenties in the 1980s (as was I) when they did this great trip. I wonder where they are now? They sound like an appealing couple. I hope they're still riding.

I'm back to planning my North and South Island trip, circa 2011. I've just booked a flight from Melbourne to Auckland for early January, and a return to Australia in early March. Fortunately, Australian immigration is OK with long distance cyclists by now I figure. I don't plan on doing much riding in Australia. I go "home" frequently, and the motorists are still the crazy galahs (my Dad's phrase) they always were. I hope the Kiwis are better. I've read mixed reviews on this, so I'm trying to think positively. I'm figuring out how to carry everything I'll need for about nine weeks' of riding on my folding bike. As far as I can tell, there is no Brompton dealer anywhere in New Zealand, so I have to bring everything I need with me. It's at the Chinese puzzle stage, let me say.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Folding bikes are cool - it's official

On Sat October 2 that source of all things trendy, the Wall Street Journal, ran an article called The Folding Bike Goes Cool. Reporter Michael Hsu wrote a light piece identifying the Montague Crosstown, the Puma Pico, the Citizen Bike Barcelona, the Dahon Smooth Hound and the Freeman Transport Gravel Racer as "cool."

Strangely, although he mentioned Bromptons as being the iconic classic, he didn't include them in the piece. I wonder why? Perhaps he considered them in the class of clownish bikes, as "having tiny wheels [which] can make the bike's handling disconcertingly hyper-responsive."

Heavens no! My Brompton only has 6 gears, which is the most they sell. Their other models only have 2 or 3 gears, which are fine for riding in flat cities, but watch out for any hills. I'm still getting the hang of riding with only 6 gears after being used to having a triple ring on my full sized bikes. But they seem spaced OK for me.

Or perhaps he thinks they're not for sale in the USA. Not so. My local Brompton dealer is called Electric Bikes and is in my neighborhood of Ballard. There are others.

And compared to a Montague, which seems to be built like a tank, it's like chalk and cheese having these two in the same set of transportation options. I have friends with older Montague's and they do seem to handle like military vehicles.

Bromptons seem to induce passion in their owners. There's a gallery of interesting photos uploaded by Brompton owners on the company's website that show the little bikes in various interesting locations.

I've been studying these photographs because I plan to take William the Conqueror, my Brompton touring bike on a 7-week tour in New Zealand in January 2011. I want to test out its touring credentials. Right now, I'm trying to figure out how to load the bike so I can carry my touring gear. It seems primarily used as an urban bike, so my little experiment is presenting some interesting challenges.



Thursday, September 30, 2010

Being a fashionable urban biker

New York Fashion Week just ended, and the traveling road show of fashionistas is now in Milan. I've been reading several fashion blogs this week, where after a while you feel like you've entered an alternative universe. I'm pleased to report that, according to those in the know, riding bikes is "hot" again.

Last weekend saw something called the First Annual Upright Bicycle Ride. Lots of people without helmets and dressed in street clothes tooling around town on their cruisers. Some pundits dubbed it the "anti-Critical Mass" ride. Critical Mass is a completely different topic, to be explored, perhaps, in a subsequent blog post. Let's go back to this ride. The ride seems to have had something to do with Bicycle for a Day, which, in turn, seems to have something to do with actor Matthew Modine. On this site you can watch a movie of Matthew ride nonchalantly around a remarkably traffic-free mid-town Manhattan, demonstrating just how cool it is to be a cyclist.

During my time this summer dodging killer traffic in London, I learned that the British call their upright bikes "Sit-Up-And-Begs," which, given how "doggy" the Brits are, is a way catchier title. But, if you spend any time in London, you soon get used to seeing men in bespoke suits whipping around the City on their foldup bicycles, some with a leather briefcase attached to the front handlebar.

OK, OK I succumbed to this charming sight. I am now the proud owner of a third bike, which would qualify as a "SUAB." While I was away I bought an extremely cute and technically curious Brompton bike, which I named William. Why? I spent so much time in Normandy during the summer being surrounded by "Wm. the Conqueror" stuff, the name just made sense. I brought it back on the plane and avoided the usurious Delta bike transport fees, because, well, it's a fold-up bike, so is hidden in plain sight. Plane/plain, get it? Argh. I have future plans for William that may involve international travel, but for now I am experimenting with dressing myself in a skirt and heels, and riding around Seattle to see how practical this can be. Plus I'm making even more friends as people smile and point at me on my "little" bike and want to know more.

Now, according to one fashion blogger to be a totally totally cool urban biker, you need to take a look at some fashionable new offerings from PUMA. According to the website, PUMA is "known for paring a bike down to its bare essentials" as well as being "designed to find solutions to everyday annoyances that come with maneuvering bikes through the urban jungle." If you buy one of these pretty machines, you get a sticker book of bike names which will allow you to customize a unique name for your bike.

Although they think they have, I don't think PUMA has cornered the market on fashionable bikes. Hmm, I wonder what happened to those beautiful customizable Klein bikes I used to see everywhere a few years ago?

As for putting a name sticker on my bike, oh please. I recently had a chat with my trusty tourer Sir Gulliver. My stickerless Sir G. just faithfully carried me on my trip in Northern Arizona and then came home with me on Alaska Airlines, for the somewhat reasonable fee of $50, snug in a cardboard box I got from friendly Flat Tire bike store in Cave Creek, AZ.

Sir Gulliver would likely be insulted by a sticker, and is perfectly capable of finding his own way of avoiding the annoyances of urban riding.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Riding Rim to Rim





Top: L/R North Rim Grand Canyon Lodge/Ash Fork, AZ Get your kicks on Route 66
Center: L/R Grand Canyon from NR/NPS is trying to build Greenways [bike paths] on the South Rim. Yeah!
Bottom: L/R The moment before a screaming descent into House Rock Valley on the Arizona Strip/My souvenir of riding the highways of Arizona

Monday, September 20, 2010

Riding Rim to Rim

A popular hiking trip, called going "Rim to Rim" involves going down the South Kaibab Trail or the Bright Angel Trail from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon National Park, passing through Phantom Ranch, and climbing to the North Rim via the North Kaibab Trail.
Less known is the fact that you can ride your bike from Rim to Rim as well. I'm not talking about doing so via the Kaibab trail. That would involve mountain bikes and super human endurance. Also, the NPS doesn't allow any bikes below the Rim, so that's out.

But riding it is possible, and you can even skip the part of the Arizona Strip [from Marble Canyon to the eastern entrance of the park] by taking a shuttle.

I've just done it. Plus, once you're on the South Rim, you can ride to Phoenix. I'll post some photos to the blog once I return to Seattle. Today I'm shading up in Phoenix, as it's been a bit hot to be on the bike out there, and it's triple digit weather here.

One of the tools I used for this ride was Adventure Cycling's Grand Canyon Connector map. I also used the bike option in Google Maps to map out the last bit from Wickenburg to Cave Creek. Google only fails within the last mile of the map, pointing to non-existent streets.

The high desert is in bloom, as there's been a lot of rain during the monsoons of August. The flowers are pretty impressive. And I found Arizona motorists to be very considerate all-in-all, despite some long stretches on hot, straight, rumble stripped desert highways. Looks like "share-the-road" is taking route here, which is great.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Kick those cyclists while they're down

Seattle got a new mayor last year, Mike McGinnis, and he rubs some folks up the wrong way because he's a committed cyclist. Recessions always bring out the worst of self-interest, as everyone is having to make hard choices about what where we, as tax payers, should be spending our $. I heard some guy on the radio recently pontificating that we shouldn't waste our $ on public art, and it's better to use that money to let builders just get on with building more stuff without pesky government oversight. Now, personally, I'd rather support some sculpture on a street corner than put up with yet another boxy 4-unit townhouse complex so inappropriately designed anyone with a car bigger than a sub-compact can't actually drive into their own garage. But that's me.

The local newspaper has been doing an ongoing series called "Reset 2010" wherein they prod readers to reconsider our local governmental spending priorities in the light of state tax shortfalls.

Recently it was "kick those irritating spandex people" day, with columnist Joni Balter writing:
"The bicycle lobby helped elect the mayor and now it wants significant bike striping all over town in return." Read the full article: "Now is not right time to ask Seattle voters to fund bicycle improvements" here.

As a cyclist who also drives a car, I get a tired of such either/or logic. If you build the bike infrastructure, people will use it. I often ride on two streets: 32nd Ave NW and 24th Ave NW, which, during the past 18 months have been painted, where wide enough, with a bike lane and in the narrow bits, been "sharrowed," that is, had the road surface stenciled with the symbol that means: "motorists and cyclist need to share this road." At first, it felt strange heading my front wheel at the apex of the sharrow, which notes the position on the road where it's safest for cyclists to ride, but if you do it, you avoid the danger of being "doored" by someone opening the driver's side door into your path. Sure, it costs money to sharrow the road, and motorists are puzzled and sometimes get a bit upset initially, but after a while everyone adjusts and it's the new normal.

Striping a road is an investment in the future of the community. You may not use it now, as you don't ride a bike. But that can change. If it's safer to ride on the road, you will be more likely to do it. It has similarities with using tax payer $s to fund public schools. I don't have any kids in the public schools, but I still pay my property taxes, as a downpayment on the future. When I'm retired and need to use my pension, the kids I supported in school will be grown up and paying back into the system by paying into social security. I invested in their future, they invest in mine.

If you think about funding road infrastructure improvements that expand the possibilities for multi-modal use, whining that "we're shoving aside the cars" isn't necessarily valid. I wonder what the bottomline, $-wise, really is. Cutting out all the white paint still won't build us a new 520 bridge, and when we come out of the current recession, we'll still have terrible traffic and too many of us will be obese because it's still too dangerous on the road if you don't drive, and too darned difficult to incorporate biking short distances into our normal life because cyclists will still be marginalizes as wierdos, instead of normal people like everyone else.


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Pacific Northwest's free biking rags and politics of riding

Around Seattle you can pick up free copies of local bicycle publications. The BicyclePaper calls itself the "Northwest Cycling Authority Since 1972."

I picked up the August issue at my local car roof rack retailer. I'm far from being involved in race events, so I sometimes wonder if this newspaper has anything to say to me. It does. Tucked in among all the reports of people setting records in local velodrome events, and an interesting piece by a local physical therapist on whether a midfoot cleat position will give me more racing power and economy [would this have made pushing Sir Gulliver up some of those Breton hills any easier, I wonder?] is this one: "League of American Bicyclists 2010 State and Community Rankings" on page 6. Apparently I happen to live in the number one bicycle friendly state, followed by Wisconsin, Maine, Minnesota and Oregon. For the reports, go to LAB. There's a related one from Alliance for Biking and Walking 2010 Benchmarking Report that gives a shout-out to Idaho, along with the usual suspects WA and OR. What is it about rainy places?

This is a nice antidote to the reactionaries out there who think that people who ride bikes are the Anti-Christ. The LA Times recently carried a story about the 100-person town of Black Hawk, Colorado that has banned bikes from its narrow horse- and buggy-era streets, because they inconvenience the tourist buses dropping off weekend gamblers at the local casino. Hmm. I wonder how many of the town fathers have ever sat on a bike? But, those gotta protect the revenue stream to those one-armed bandits, right?

Here in Seattle we have a lot of noise without much light being shed on the city's plan to put 125th Street, another of our dangerous and congested roads on a "diet." The Seattle Department of Transportation has reduced and reconfigured lanes elsewhere in the city [Fauntleroy, Nickerson] to force speeders to slow down, stop terrorizing pedestrians, and open the roads to other users besides cars. The battle lines are being drawn, with the extremes dividing into the "get off your duff and ride a bike, you porkers" and "roads were built for cars, goddammit, so-you-bikers-git-the-heck-outta-my-way" camps. Read about it in The Seattle Times.

Unless asked, I don't think I'll be sharing my recent experiences riding in a first world country where nearly everyone, from cars to tractor-trailers actually slow down behind cyclists out on the open road.


Writing and biking

I've cleared out the Seattle Public Library's collection of bike trip narratives, and bought a couple of books in London to see how others have written about their experiences.

So far I've finished Eloise Hanner's The First Big Ride: A Woman's Journey [2000]. It's interesting to read a first hand account of doing a cross country charity ride, back when these rides were novel. Sincere and nicely written account of a ride that started in Seattle and ended in "the other Washington," as we call it around here.

Perhaps it will be as wonderful as Erin Warmbrunn's 2001 Where the Pavement Ends: One Woman's Bicycle Trip Through Mongolia, China and Vietnam.

Next it's on to Gwen Maka's Riding with Ghosts: An Englishwoman's 4,000 mile solo ride from Seattle to Mexico [2000] and Anne Mustoe's Lone Traveller: One Woman, Two Wheels and the World [1998].

Hmm. Is this possible? Eloise started in Seattle, as did Erin and Gwen. Dare I look at Chapter 1 of Anne's? Who knows, maybe she also started here.

Must be something in the water around here. I'm in good company.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Re-Entry



When you come back from a "big one" like riding France, adjusting to life back home is a strange experience. For the first few days of jet lag, you wake up in the middle of the night, find yourself staring at the bedroom ceiling, and asking yourself: "where am I?" For the first few times I somehow convinced myself I was still in France, in a hotel whose name I'd forgotten, and that I needed to remember next morning when I loaded up to make sure I had enough fruit and baguettes to make it to the next town.

You come home, you drop back into the life of family and friends. It's nice, but unsettling. While I was away Seattle apparently skipped summer. It's raining and dreary. The Blue Angels did their fancy air tricks over the lake this past weekend for Sea Fair, to an audience clad in fleece and raincoats. Huh?

The other big surprise is getting back on any other bike you happen to own. I took my road bike for a quick spin around Magnolia and I almost crashed. I can't seem to clip into the pedals and the seat feels too high. Still, once I got through the wobbles, I found I could ride straight up the biggest hill in town with barely a sweat. That was nice. Somewhere during my time away, I got fit.

So, while I'm figuring out where to find a new job in my old profession, I'm working through my notebooks, editing my photos, and writing a few query letters to various media outlets.

And, planning another ride. This September, I'm setting up a solo ride from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon to Phoenix. More elevation this time, more mileage, replace those medieval villages with big open spaces, and very few places to grab a croissant and cafe creme, but riding in France taught me that I can ride anywhere I feel like. It's all about attitude and grabbing the opportunities out there as they float by.

It's also about editing the load I plan to carry, based on my experience of just what is truly essential on a bike tour. Here's a photo from early in my learning experience. Sort of says it all about how I first set out.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Back in Seattle


Flew back to Seattle on Thursday July 28. It will take me a few days to deal with jet lag.

42 pounds to take a private hire car from Epsom, and despite what's was listed on on Delta's on-line checkin website on July 27, at Heathrow I found that the airline had upped its fee by $50 for transporting "sports equipment, so it was $250 to shop my trusty steed back home. Sir Gulliver made it back safely, with a few more scratches on the frame, and a little pamphlet inside from the TSA telling me my bike box was opened and inspected.

In the foggy dawn of a Seattle morning I'm waking up and thinking I'm still somewhere in France. It feel odd not to hear the pigeons cooing and doing my morning run into town for a croissant and a cafe creme. Instead, it's time to mow the lawn and find a new job.

I've loaded my stash of digital photos on my Mac. I'm looking at my journals and will figure out how to turn those scribbles into some magazine articles and a book.

So, what's it like to ride in France?

Mont Saint Michel, Normandy, June 30, 2010.

That's what it's like.

Monday, July 26, 2010

London and the launch of Barclays Cycle Hire



Yesterday, after I unloaded Sir Gulliver from the EBE bike bus at Thorrocks Services in East London, I took the train from Chafford Hundred to Fenchurch Street, walked through the City, and got National Rail from Waterloo back to Epsom, a bittersweet experience, given how Sir G and I have been partners for nearly 7 weeks. I'm sad, my trip is coming to an end, and people are staring at me again because I'm wearing my wierd cyclist clothing here among all the bespoke suits of the banking set.

Cloudy, humid, light rain is falling, cobbles are slick as heck, it's July, London is now just like Paris, infested with hordes of visitors tripping over their own feet, just the sort of "downer" day you don't need at the end of a truly fabulous adventure.

Still, I consoled myself by finally getting to see the pretty new bikes of London's version of Paris's Velo Lib. Tfl managed to get a big bank to sponsor the scheme, so the bike fenders aren't the nice pure white ones like in Paris, with a simple decal saying "Velo Lib" no, these are blue ad racks, but they aren't too bad really. The official launch of the scheme is this Friday, July 30, when Sir G and I will be back home unpacking in Seattle, but there's been a "soft" launch, as most of the racks near any Tube station are completely empty of bikes. I got lucky and found one parking lot which did have bikes still ready to roll. I checked out the list of rules on the info kiosk. This being the UK, the list was a long one, and I found it somewhat amusing, with its polite advice to "consider wearing a helmet," "don't ride on the left of a vehicle," etc. This gave me a good laugh. I haven't tried riding Sir Gulliver recently through a major city, while holding an open umbrella. Am I missing something here?

So, let's paint a picture now. I now have some experience with riding. I had just deliberately walked through the City of London (the banking district, where Fenchurch St Station is) with my completely loaded bike. I did this because, well, this is London, not Paris. It's midday, there is traffic everywhere, lots of lorry drivers from Europe who are driving on the opposite side of the road to which they are accustomed, and it's raining. As I walked over Tower Bridge, coming towards me was a woman on one of these Barclay bikes, riding, naturally, in heels, and sheltering herself from the rain with an open umbrella in her right hand. This caused me to think over my recent experience. I have ridden, and often pushed a bike that quite easily must weigh, oh, perhaps 50 kilos, been on the open road and dealt with gravillons, pavees, chaussee deformee, routes barrees, lateral ridges, potholes, soft shoulders, road kill that includes pheasants, hedgehogs, eagles, innumerable song birds, frogs, snails, several rabbits and a fox. I have ridden through double level "rond points" and learned to give hand signals as I approach the exit so that I don't get a "left hook" from a driver trying to speed past and beat me through the exit. I have learned to listen to the traffic coming from behind, and I can immediately tell when a "convoi agricole" is heading my way. This convoy involves a New Holland wheat thresher and a dumpster truck of enormous size and is a signal for "get the hell off this one lane rural road fast, because you're riding in the wheat belt and it's harvest time, kiddo." I have bent one of the arms of my back rack through the sheer weight of riding loaded, added more scratches to the bike's frame after 100s of times of leaning it against rocks, church walls and the often gorgeously tiled walls of the local bar tabac or boulangerie. My odometer is hanging from one of its wires, because I tore off the housing doing something stupid somewhere. But it still works, and it's reading 863km. It's already done a full rotation, so that means I've ridden 1,863km, give or take a few. I've been greeted warmly by teenagers, young mothers pushing baby strollers, municipal workers, delivery drivers, farmers, new retirees, old grannies in little little one street towns. Oh, yes, got the thumbs up and waves and shouts of "Salut!" from the Sunday pelotons I saw out on the roads. I've been invited by 3 sets of people to stay overnight, accepted one in Normandy and made new bike friends for life, been treated to several petit cafes, and received one marriage proposal from a Breton house builder.

Oh, yes, I've seen Mt Saint Michel and Chartres Cathedral rising up from a flat plain like phantasms, and ridden my own pilgrimage towards them. I've seen stands of menhirs and allees couverts in Brittany, and walked in the sands of Omaha Beach. In Les Andelys, I've seen the light that the Impressionists so loved to paint. All through the Loire valley area, I have seen masses of the most beautiful rose in the universe, named naturally for the rose poet, Pierre de Ronsard, followed by fields of ripened wheat full of poppies and cornflowers. In the last 2 weeks I hit my first massive stands of sunflowers. I've been through a lot of forests of linden, oak, beech and chestnut, and I'm pretty sure I identified a perfect porcini (cepes) mushroom in a ditch in the Beauce region of the Loire et Eure. All that rain over Bastille Day combined with heat means its time for 'shrooms. I know this because there are lots of wild mushrooms in Washington State.
And I've also been blessed with the opportunity to ride completely across the Paris of everyone's imagination and seen Notre Dame cathedral, the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower shining in the cool of a 7am morning.

And been asked by countless people: "So what's it like to ride alone? Aren't you scared? Isn't it hard?"

Here's the answer.

Yesterday at Fenchurch Street Station, I took this photo of Sir G resting against one of Tfl's posters telling people to "catch up with the bicycle."

They got that SO right.

The French, old and young, had generally one farewell for me: "Bonne courage!"

So, Londoners, please, please "consider leaving the umbrella at home" and always, always: "bonne courage a vous!"

It's been a blast.

Orleans July 25









My last day of riding in France, 68km in the Loiret region, from Bonneval to Orleans, and my first chance to load a few of the photographs. These are just a few samples of the vitraux (stained glass) in the cathedral in Orleans. Most of the windows are C19th, although a church of some sort has been on this site since before the C10th. It was damaged in the religious wars, which I think is what I learned as the Reformation, then rebuilt, damaged during the French Revolution, then rebuilt, damaged in 1944 during bombing, then rebuilt. Looks like stained glass is an easy to attack target. But the cathedral rises again.

Currently the entire central part of Orleans is torn apart. They seem to be redoing the tram system, so getting to the church was an obstacle course of ditches, rock, manhole covers, heavy machinery, and mess everywhere.

Orleans is the birthplace of Joan of Arc, who's known here as Jeanne d'Arc and even Jehanne d'arc, which seems an archaic spelling variant. Makes sense, as her brief life of 19 years ended in the 1200s, yet she was really something, known as a mystic, matryr and a political leader. She's a popular saint in many of the churches I've visited. The cathedral here has a superb collection of windows featuring the life of Joan.

Orleans is the end of my tour. At 00:40 on July 26 I took the European Bike Express back to Calais. That's a picture of the bike trailer end of the bus, at the Orleans' "peage" the toll booth entrance to the autoroute back past Paris, through Picardy and into Normandy to hit the coast.

Back to London for 2 days, to disassemble Sir Gulliver, squeeze him back into the bike box, say goodbye to my good friend in Epsom, and then, la rentree ("the return").

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Chartres

I left Chartres this morning about 10am. I showed up at the Cathedrale of Notre Dame at 8:30am to beat the mob scene, and see the morning sunlight streaming through the stained glass windows. The front of the cathedral is under wraps as they are cleaning it, but I saw one of the rose windows and the blue madonna window, which is lovely. Best of all, I was heading out of town as the first tour groups were showing up.

Yesterday I skipped a visit to the Palace of Versailles because of the tourist mob. I got fed up with dodging groups of idiots walking every which way on the bike lanes in Versailles. It's not as if there is a lack of footpath folks! Sheesh! Plus I had at least one "know-it-all" make a face at me when he saw my loaded Sir Gulliver. OMG, the number of panniers I'm carrying and they're so full!? Yeah, right, so you're suddenly the expert in long distance touring, eh? Hmm, "if I just let go of Sir G's handlebars just so quickly I could take you down in a New York minute buster..."

I did recover my sense of humor later, after getting my daily dose of "bonne courage!" from a delivery guy, and a guy pushing his grandson in a babystroller. Thank god for real people.

And yesterday; I did ride alongside the Parc of the palace on the way out to Chartres. Maybe I'll come back and visit again bright and early when I can have a clear view of a fountain without some idiot taking a cellphone picture of themselves in front of it.

!
Bah humbug!

Riding across Paris

I didn't really think it would be so easy, but on Thursday I rode clear across Paris, from the Pré St Gervais/Porte de Pantin area to the Bois de Bologne. I did it using Paris's network of bike lanes, often separated from the traffic by a big rounded hunk of concrete. Only at Pantin did I have to deal with illegally parked trucks in the bike lane.

Where there is no bike lane, you can use the bus/taxi lane and cars keep out. The biggest challenge was getting around the Trocadero, as the bike lanes and bus lanes disappear for a while and I just clip clopped the bike up and around until I could connect with the route to the Bois de Bologne. The Bois was fine, as well, until I had to lose the bike path and take the main road to Porte de Bologne and the neighborhood called Bologne Billancourt. By now it was rush hour, and the road surface outbound here is basically dangerous potholed crap. I'd started early at 5:45am, when it was finally getting light, and that is the key. There is little to no traffic and you can ride your bike around the Place de la Republique, past the Centre Georges Pompidou, past Notre Dame, the Louvre, Concorde, and also; get a full on ride past the Eiffel tower.

I never bothered to rent any of the velo lib's while I was in Paris, but I can see why people use them. The road infrastructure is there, so it's relatively safe to ride.

A big help was the little fold-out map I got from the Office Tourisme folks in Pyramides. You have to know to ask for it, but it shows recommended routes. And they work!

I rode from Paris to Versailles. Vive le velo lib!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Paris time to get back on the bike

Today is my last day being a tourist in Paris. It has been a very mixed experience. The Paris I remember from 30 years ago has, not surprisingly, changed, and not in a good way. Paris in July is a dirty, scruffy, noisy and over-touristed town. It has also been as hot as hell, which makes life really miserable. Riding the Metro is almost an exercise in fainting from the heat. Noone can help it, everyone's sweating and uncomfortable, and there is no air circulation, so it's great to get above ground. However, the sun has been blistering, so walking on all those famous boulevards, well, it ain't all it's cracked up to be, I'm afraid!

I tried to escape the heat by spending the day at the Louvre Museum on Monday (mobbed, and the a/c is also C17th!) Yesterday was a bit better, the Musée d'Orsay, with all the French Impressionist art, and an a/c that worked.

The Louvre is amazing, both the collections and the buildings itself. I queued at 8:30am to get first dibs on a ticket 9 euros at opening time, 9:00am. A very good idea, as the queue became enormous as the day heated up, and entering a museum through a glass pyramid when it must have been in the upper 30s, well, let's just say it was toasty. Mona Lisa was mobbed, as was Venus de Milo, but after I paid my respects, I headed for the Richelieu wing, with all French art and sculpture from Middle Ages and beyond, which was great as fewer people, and the collections were wonderful. I've been visiting Gothic churches all through Normandy and Brittany, and the Louvre has similar treasures, properly provenanced, so it was wonderful to get the full picture, and also know that it's possible to see this stuff, as good or better than the Louvres' collection still in place in little French towns.

The Orsay was equally wonderful. It's a terrific renovation of a train station from the 1840s that was almost demolished in the 1970s. Now superbly renewed, it has a collection of just about every famous piece of Impressionist art you could wish for: Van Gogh and Gaugin from their time together just outside Paris, Manet, Monet, Corot, Coubert, on and on and on. "Dejeuner sur l'herbe" is big and extraordinary. And "Olympia" is just as outrageous as when it scandalized the locals back in the late C19th.

Cooler today, so walked everywhere. Leave tomorrow, early to bet the traffic and head for Versailles.

I have to quit now as the Internet shop is closing for the evening.

More later if I can.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Velolib Paris's white bikes

I walked past at least 3 velolib charge in/out stations on the walk frol Gare St Lazare. First 30 minutes is free, the rest is chargeable. Some of the bikes are trashed, flat tires, vandalized seats, but I saw several people riding along on the velo lib bikes. There is also some sort of bike lane marking around here, with the panneaux (signs) featuring the green bike logo that I know from London) so I must have hit Paris's inner city bike experiment.

Another experiment I will see is "Paris Plage" which starts on July 20. Apparently some part of the city is turned into an artifical St Tropez, with trucked in sand, beach umbrellas, etc. Hmm, cue the Beach Boys. I will definitely check that out.

Whether I ride Sir Gulliver in Paris is another question mark for me. The traffic got more scary the closer I got to Paris. Vernon was a doozie: not only pavés but also manhole covers in random patterns right in the bike lane part of the arterial. Definitely "advanced cycling" terrain, and I have the numbness in my right wrist to prove it. I don't like rides that are serious "handlebar grippers" and I think Paris is full of them. Je marche à pied, je croise...

Giverny now Paris!

Today is the day for putting Sir Gulliver on the SNCF train from Vernon to Paris. I wasn't gonna let some damn storm that shut down the Paris airport for a bit, according to the Télé news stop me from seeing a bunch of waterlilies and a green Japanese bridge. So I went back to Vernon, stayed in the youth hostel, and rode out and back to Giverny. Well, it really must be quite lovely after hours, but during the day it is totally mobbed. I've not seen such a long queue for tickets for some time. Another blisteringly hot day, but this one shared with large groups of noisy American college students getting their art fix, and lots of Japanese tourists desperate to hit the gift shop (admittedly the best I've seen, in Monet's atelier no less!) I had to ride Sir Gulliver out to Giverny as it was 2pm and the hostel didn't open til 6, so I noticed a distinct drop off in bitchin' and moanin' about how hot it was and how tired they were from the college kids as I rolled by. Yes, kids, you think it's hot, then get a load of this.

Giverny is too popular for its own good. But, by spending time in Les Andelys, on the banks of the Seine, I think I experienced the light and atmospheric conditions so so beloved of the Impressionists.

Anyway, for 12 euros, I got the train. Would have been great if the SNCF had decided to unlock the bike hangar part of the train, so I spent the entire hour holding Gulliver on his back wheel and watching the buildings get grimier and the graffiti more pronounced. Got off at Gare St Lazare, which is pretty skuzzy, and of course full of flights of stairs and no access to an elevator. Luckily a guy smoking a pipe helped me haul Gulliver down the steps. For a country that I know absolutely loves its vélos, why the train/bike transportation link is still such a work in progress is anyone's guess.

Anyway, Gulliver is now locked to a bike rack in the car park under the YHA hostel in St Germain des Pres, and I have a week of riding the metro and walking to look forward to. Paris is very walkable, I'd forgotten just how much so, but I walked Gulliver from St Nazare to the hostel, and it allowed me to walk up some of the boulevards of Paris, and start seeing the city at last.

I've found an Internet shop run by some local French Arabs (a tip from the Venuzeulan guy running the desk at the hostel) so able to blog a little. Internet cafés and pay internet has been zero to none in the parts of Normandy I've been riding through.

I just had to content myself with Norman castles and Monet. Ain't so bad, really.

Bastille Day in Les Andelys

The weather in Normandy continues to be blistering, so became an effort in pushing Sir Gulliver up the hills. No matter how beautiful the surrounding countryside can be, it does get a bit old at times. When I pulled into the Camping Municipal de Bernay, I felt completely whacked: sweaty, sunburned, dehydrated, and more than a little bit ticked off by the 5+km additional road I'd just struggled over, due to the signs for "le Camping" continuing to point me away from the centre de ville. When I checked in with acceuil (welcome) the woman was totally delighted to meet what I think she said was the first American to camp there. Wel, I can certainly guarantee I was the first middle-aged female solo cycle tourist to show up on her watch. Anyway, she insisted that before I set up camp I spend time talking with about 10 other campers, all French, all talking a mile a minute, and drink a glass of champagne. Well, when you've just ridden 40+km in a broiling Normandy heatwave, of course that's exactly what you want to do, isn't it.

But she was so nice, how could I say no, so I agreed, accepted a glass and tried to remember how to speak French. Well, being exhausted, I couldn't remember the words to just about anything, and I mangled the verb tenses so awfully that one of the other campers helpfully tried to give me a grammar lesson. Well, it was about the only thing I could do was restrain myself from screaming:"listen, mate, I am totally whacked and the last thing I care about right now is the present pluperfect tense." So I smiled, and excused myself to go collapse in the shower.

After Bernay, it was évreux, chosen precisely because I notices a "voie verte" on the tourism map. This means S-H-A-D-E, so that's the route I took. I chose to skip visiting Rouen because there was no voie verte in sight. After Evreux it continued like this, until I ran out of Voies Verte and headed for the Seine, and Les Andelys, actually 2 separate towns: le petit and le grand, which are about 25km from Vernon, and the closest camping to Giverny, where Monet's house is.

This meant 2 days in Andelys, which was fine with me. The camping de l'ile de trois rois is in the loveliest location imaginable: banks of the Seine, at the foot of Chateau Galliard, built by Richard the Lionheart in C12th. Folks, we are talking seriously old here.

On Bastille Day I planned to ride, blessedly free of the full pannier load and zip out n back to Giverny, getting a good dose of Impressionism for the day. Well, I was impressed all right, impressed by a thunderstorm that involved 3 hours of non-stop rain, thunder so loud the birds flew out of the trees, and all happening about 5km out of Vernon, where, soaked and defeated, I rode back to Les Andelys, and spent about 30 mins shivering in the shower trying to warm up. Still, by 6pm, the weather turned blistering hot again, so the Bastille Day dance was held on the banks of the Seine, with the combined population of petit and grand all salsa-ing, or doing the tango, or, in one case happily doing some local version of Texas line dancing, all the while while the band played dance tunes that echoed off the walls of Richard's fortress. The other activity of the townsfolk is to set off all the firecrackers you have purchased within about, hmm 5 metres of the stage. Everyone was letting off firecrackers, dads showing their toddler sons how to light a stick of dynamite just so, groups of teenagers setting off firecrackers under the nearby bridge, to maximize the effect. The best moment was when Madame le Maire was doing the formal fireworks countdown, and we were about to witness 15 mins of feu d'artifice set off from the castle overhead. As Madame spoke, a wayward rocket, from one of her consituents, scored a direct hit on the stage. Oh-la-la! No worries, nobody hurt, not a gendarme in sight.

Sure is different here.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Summer is here

Now that I've reached the coast, things are busy and all the beach towns are hitting high gear. The campgrounds are filling up, with people who may base themselves there for a month or more. Aparently all hell breaks loose on 14 July, as France's national holiday means the start of the exodus of Parisians to the beach. I'm counting on going against the traffic. I plan to be in Paris on July 16. Hopefully all the museums will be open, plenty of restaurants as well, and that my accomodation is air conditioned. A/C is not standard in smaller hotels and museums around here. Thank goodness for "French windows" that you can throw open to catch the breeze, and a few mosquitoes as well. Still open windows means you can hear the turtledoves, the frogs and the churchbells that ring in every town. It's a lovely sound.

I am enroute to Honfleur, which everyone tells me is gorgeous. Let's hope the circulation (traffic) isn't too crazy. My Michelin map doesn't show a lot of smaller roads as alternates, and there's a lot of RED road here. Hmm. Pushing a major road through Norman towns often means the road cuts through a feudal enclave, of church, chateau and tithe barn, all in stone, all ancient, and many still working as farms, not simply as chambre d'hotes.

This morning I chatted with a local photographer in Courseulles-s-Mer who has a show both on the beach boardwalk and at the OT, opening today:Frederic Vignolles. Fred.vignolles@orange.fr. He's on Facebook he tells me. I haven't had time to facebook myself properly. Too busy riding and figuring things out. Check out Fred's photos. They're good and all taken of the local sites.

Had rain in the AM 2 days ago which made riding easier, but today's it's gonna be a scorcher. There is a circus in town, and a small car with a big loudspeaker is driving up and down the one street outside, telling everyone to come to the show tonight. You have to go, folks, I think I understood the word "camel" as part of the pitch.

And tomorrow the Grand Guignol (French Punch and Judy) is in Courseulles for one night only, an all new 45 minute show. Unfortunately, I have to miss it. Also, likely I wouldn't understand about 95 percent of what they say anyway. But I really am in traditional seaside resort land right now.

Yesterday spent the day in Bayeux, first visiting the Cathedral; which is very rich in art and sculpture, and later at the Tapisserie de Bayeux museum. 70 meters of embroidered history, or propaganda from Wm the Conqueror's POV. It is amazing, sewn by English nuns (likely) in the C11th century, and full of vitality and gore and humor. There's Halley's Comet foretelling bad things, warriors using their shields as a table, the Norman navy storming the beaches, pillage and house burning, the horses leaping into battle, Harold being killed with an arrow in the eye, dead bodies on the battlefield being stripped of chain mail. If you really want you can buy embroidery kits for about 60 euros and sew a piece of the history yourself. Me, I settled for several 1 euro postcards. It's a terrific comic strip version of history. Wm had a rough time once he'd conquered the Anglo-Saxons in England. And it's a miracle the embroidery has survived. Napoleon took it at one point to prove that his proposed invasion of England was also God's will. The nuns used natural dyes and the colors are still beautiful.

After the tapestry, I had my normal 2 hour lunch of fish and dessert then rode into a horrible headwind all the way to Courselles. No wonder my back hurt this morning when I got up.

Allez-y!

Courseulles-sur-Mer

Riding the coast of Normandy towards the "Norman Riviera" of Deauville and Trouville and other famous seaside towns had both the good and bad things about being a bike tourist. Yesterday was the first time I've dealt with an impatient imbecile and "the left hook". He couldn't wait for me to roll through a roundabout, so he pulled out and went round me too close and too fast. Fortunately, I was heading for the same exit, so no worries. But in 4 weeks this is the first time it's happened. So, I need to pay attention and expect more imbeciles behind the wheel I suppose. It's a strange thing about beach resorts: the drivers are impatient and discourteous, always speeding, to, get this, go to the beach and relax!? Same the world over. My mother lives near a big beach resort in Australia, called The Gold Coast, and there are plenty of Australian imbeciles there as well. Ditto Miami, Southern California, Maine, you name it, there they are.

Yet, the good part of riding on the coast here is that I'm meeting more sympa folks. Met my first long distance US biking couple: Bob and Sherry (www;bsbikeadventures.blogspot.com) on their way to Spain. They have 3 weeks, quit their jobs and took off. Had some bad luck outside Paris, where Sherry had her trailer bag stolen: clothes, laptop, a real downer. One of those lovely waterproof BOB yellow bags, so bad luck. So, the closer I get to Paris, the more streetsmart I need to be.

I'm posting this blog from the Office Tourisme in Bernières-s-Mer (3 euros per hour) and a guy visiting his mother in the house across the street just came over to chat about bike touring. Maxim recently returned from Martinique and he's off in a few weeks for a tour. My matching bumblebee yellow ortleib bags always command a lot of attention. Not exactly something that fades into the scenery, but visibility is key when cycling, especially with roundabout imbeciles.

I've visited both the Normand-American cemetery outside Colleville-s-Mer and 2 of the Commonwealth cemeteries, called this because they include Canadians, NZ, Australians and South Africans, as well as fallen British military people from the D-Day battles. The cemeteries are truly moving places to see. So many young men and some women who gave their lives 66 years ago to help liberate France. The American cemetery and memorial is beautiful and possibly the best war museum you'll ever see. Excellent mutlimedia presentations that help you understand that the beautiful bucolic Normand countryside outside, all wheat, corn and beet fields once saw incredible carnage. Ditto for the beautiful towns you ride through. The cathedral in St Lo lost 2 of its turrets and is left as a memorial to the dreadful bombing that occurred. Many Norman towns were obliterated, some, like Bayeux, remained intact.

If you are an American you would be proud of the tastefulness and beauty of the Normand American cemetery. The Commonwealth cemeteries, and there are several, I went only to the one in Bayeux and another near Bazenville, are elegant in their simplicity and the touching epigraphs on the tombs. These cemeteries also include rows and rows of German soldiers, identified by name and date of birth and death.

Rest in peace.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Riding in Normandy

Normandy so far is gorgeous and total cyclist heaven: rolling patchworks of fields of corn, wheat and potatoes, herds of dairy cows, hedges of blackberries or copses of chestnuts, and roller coaster hills. For the last few days it's also been as hot as hell. Temps in the 31 degree range, where you feel the burn through the back of your bike jersey. When it's this hot, you don't like those patchworks fields and rolling roads so much. I skipped visiting anything of Avranches because I faced an uphill ride on the D43 where it seemed to turn into an interstate highway.

Fortunately, it was a downhill run into Villedieu-les-Poeles. If not, likely I'd have skipped its museums of copperware, lacemaking and Norman furniture. Today I took off from Camping Les Chevaliers in record time (for me) and was on the road at 7:55am. So a great ride on the rollercoasters to Tessy-sur-Vire. But by the time I got to St-Lo, I didn't want to deal with anymore patchwork fields, rolling hilly riding and pretty farmhouses. St-Lo doesn't have any camping, but the OT women helped me find a chambre d'hote about 3km out of town. After some wrong turns, particularly tough when they involved difficult climbs (I'm wearing out the knobs on the soles of my cleated shoes will all the pushing of the bike up hill) I finally found the place. The owner's grandson is sitting with me in the living/dining room of this C16th farmhouse, which is furnished with armoires and tables and sideboards exactly like the ones I saw in the Muséé de Meublee Normands back in Villedieu, and watching tonight's coup du monde match.

Tomorrow my goal is Grandcamp-Maisy on the coast, so I can visit some of the World War 2 beaches: called here les plages du débarquement. I've been passing more and more memorials noting some battle related to D-Day. The heat I'm experiencing must be exactly like that of the allied troops and French resistance fighters in 1944.

Tomorrow is July 4. Happy Independence Day to everyone back home in the USA. In Normandy, you feel that that you are welcomed.

Vous faites le vélo toute seule? You're a woman and riding alone?

Nearly every day I get asked this one. Sometimes it's "are't you scared?" Other times it's "aren't you lonely?" My answers are (1) of course, but not for the reasons you'd expect, and (2) never.
I'm not frightened of being robbed. I ostentatiously lash my kypto lock and super think cable extension to the tent on the back panniers, but (shush) rarely if every use them to lock the bike. I brought the krypto because I wanted to ride in London and basically a bike gets stolen there in, say 1 second. All the bikes left at the rail stations are total beaters and anyone who rides in London basically shells out for a folding Brompton and folds it up and carries it where ever they go.

When I go into a boulangerie every morning to buy 2 croissants, then go across the street to the Bar Tabac to pick up a café créme and give the local layabouts inside something to talk about, I never lock the bike. I just prop Sir Gulliver against a wall or a flower planter and go inside. Ditto at lunchtime, my main concern is to park Sir G in the shade so that my bike bags don't roast in the Norman sun.

Several guy cyclists I've talked with just can't resist lifting Sir G and they are amazed at the weight. So, that's partly the answer: the bike is way too loaded for anyone to dash off with it. Besides, I am the only cyclist so far I've seen with bright yellow matching front and back panniers. Believe me, all the little towns I've gone through must have a grapevine running hot n heavy: "Hey, Didier, tu crois, l'anglaise elle s'arrive!" and "Sophie, did you see what that americaine is carrying. I just peered at her through my pretty lace window curtains so she doesn't see me looking. She's totally mad!"

My major fears are having to change another flat, and again apparently forgetting how to do it, and skinning more of my knuckles than last time. Other fears are: "OMG! It's 12:15pm and if I don't find a restaurant serving lunch, or at least one that isn't serving only moules frites, I don't have enough time to make it to the next town, and I'll bonk because maybe that next town won't have an epicerie either! Final fear is: "where the heck is the municipal campground and now that it's July will it be totally full of camping-cars and will I have to pitch my little tent on a field of gravillons?"

As for being lonely, jamais! I seem to present such an unusual spectacle, and perhaps my smile and "bonjour!" is so disarmingly strange, that people really reach out to me. Sometimes it's some farmer cutting a hedge who gives me a big country smile, makes the pedaling motion with his arms and shouts "roulez!" Or grande-mére working in her potager or cooling her heels sitting in a chair in the open doorway of her stone house on a hot hot afternoon, who'll happily chat. Plus, now that I'm in the "anglais" belt of Normandy, I'm meeting lots of folks from the UK, and they're keen to figure out why someone would ride around France like I'm doing.

It's getting a little easier to find places with Internet, as in some of the Office Tourisme's or in the campground offices, so it's possible.

Out on the road all day, it's really pleasant to have only cows or chickens or doves for company.

No worries.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Mont Saint Michel

It is nearly 40 years ago (gosh where did the time go?) since I was sitting in my 8th grade French class in a hot tropical classroom in Brisbane, Australia, listening to Mrs Jerome try to teach me verb tenses, and all I can do is stare at the photo of an abbey built on a narrow peninsula that gets cut off by the tide twice a day, and it's somewhere in France, and I really want to see it.

Well, I finally made it. It is a magical place to see, like Disneyland, except it is real. Now, it's been a long time since they built a road to connect MSM to the mainland of Normandy, and the place is infested with ice cream parlors and post card racks, and overrun with tourists "checking the site off their must-see" list, but later tonight (it is now 8 pm and broad daylight, I am going to ride back over the 1.8km causeway and watch the sun set and the massive tide race back in. Yes, it is possible to believe some abbot had a vision of the archangel Michael clobbering the devil here. From a long way off it is a hazy specter, sort of like a large battleship floating off the coast. Up close, it's an extraordinary testament to faith. From the causeway you can see the light shining through the glass abbey window. Visiting it may be a bit challenging as it's all my favorite type of road: pavéés, and these ones are worn smooth by thousands of tourist feet. Hauling the bike over this, and not crashing into any tourists is a big challenge.

I rode to MSM this morning, after camping on the Baie du Mont Saint Michel in a little waterfront town of stone houses facing the sea front on in St Benoit des Ondes (St B of the waves). The shoreline ride is wonderful, as you cruise along next to the digues (dikes) and look out to sea and the oyster farms. If you want you can pull over for oyster and mussels snacks from roadside vendors. I chose to pull over in le Vivier-sur-Mer to talk to 3 touring cyclists: Harald from Germany, near Alsace, who is just finishing up a 4 week ride around France and heading back home as it's getting too hot. It was great listening to Harald speak French, as he's German, so he was enunciating the words slowly enough I could actually follow. Of course, I was up to my old tricks of speaking "troglo" French, messing up all the tenses and forgetting basic prepositions. Also met Nelly andDaniel, recent retirees to Normandy, and who are completing a 3 day ride. Later, at lunch at a creperie that was an uphill slog from St Marcan and I was hoping to heck that the restaurant would be open because things seemed dreadfully quiet around here, at 12:45pm and you can't be too fussy about le formule lunch of the day in these tiny places. Still, I met 4 pleasant West Virginians. Later I rode by Nelly and Daniel again, so after more coffee and chatting, we rode through les polders, the reclaimed farmland near MSM which is now full of farms growing corn, carrots, potatoes and garlic: all pre-salted, of course! It was amazing to ride these quiet back roads, and have MSM get closer and closer with each kilometer. Then, at MSM I chatted with Mary and Gavin, from Wales. Everyone so much fun, esp. my new French pals who patiently listened to me mangling their lovely language, and they never grimaced, not even once, trés sympa, as you'd say here, and such a change from the pretension of St Malo. St Malo looks amazing from a distance, as in from the Bus de Mer (water taxi) that Sir Gulliver and I rode over the Rance from Dinard, but it's heavily touristed and has the prices to match. After more than a week riding in central Brittany, where I was basically the only foreigner around, it was strange to be back on the tourist circuit. Still, even in "fake" St Malo I met really fun people, including a foursome of retirees from Hastings "popular with tourists since 1066" and we shared a few laughes in the overprice café where we met. St Malo is a curiosity. Basically a fort with a long history of "corsaires": pirates, and being the birthplace of Jacques Cartier who founded Quebec, so the French Canadian connection is strong, but the town itself is quite new. It was bombed to smitereens by Gen Patton in 1944 to dislodge the Germans, and 80 percent destroyed. It's impossible to believe that 20 percent of anything could have survived that, but the city was rebuilt, and only looks old from a distance. I've been in the real thing, towns like Dinan, for example, that still have their maisons du bois and other buildings from medieval times, so it was a bit odd being in a place that had been rebuilt. Still, I'm now moving into the region of France where I expect to see more monuments and reminders of WW2, after reading plaque after plaque after plaque of names like Gaston and Yves and Pierre in every Breton village I rode through that lost 20, 30, or more, "enfants mort pour la France 1914 à 1918.

Time to say goodbye to Brittany and onto Normandy.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Dinan

It's Sunday June 27 and I've bumbled my way across central Brittany. Weather has been very hot , 27 or 28 yesterday, and you get pretty sunburned when you're out on the roads as much as I am. I am lathering on the sunblock, so it becomes a sticky salty mess after a few hours. Yesteray I changed my route and rode to Dinan from Combourg via the canal towpath canal d'Ille-et-Rance. The canal was cut through during the early C19th as Napoleon was fed up with trade blockades by the English. You could actually get through using the canal system from one side of Brittany to the other, if you want. I don't know if you can ride it consistently. The path is a mix of hardpacked sand or pebbles and sealed road of various levels of repair. But you can walk it for sure. It's part of France's network of Voies Vertes. I think I rode a similar path when I was in the Loire, outside Cheverny. Back then, gosh only about 2 weeks' ago, the sand was sodden and pretty tricky to ride, like working through sand, but dried out, it's fine. I went this way because of the shade, and it's a lovely way to travel. You go past various infrequently used locks, all of which have a stone lock house, complete with flowerpots in every window, shutters, lace curtains, resident Grande-mére, you get the idea. It's not d-i-y here, like the Camden Lock in London. If the lock keeper isn't there, you phone ahead and someone will drive out from somewhere, to open the lock gates for you. It's quite a show. Because it was Sat yesterday, the lock keepers were around, so I watched a kayaker make his slow but picturesque way through one lock near Calorguen. The lock keeper filled the lock, then opened the gate at the far end, then once the kayaker went through, she emptied the lock with a gush of water. The gates are wood and have flowers and ferns growing out of them, so I guess they don't get that much use. Quite the change from the Locks I know back home in Seattle. I live up the hill from the Ballard Locks, so I'm used to seeing factory trawlers and seiners heading for Alaska going through those locks. Quite a different experience!



It is cooler today, so I may head towards Cap Fréhel via Lancoet. I haven' seen any foreigners for days, as I don' think many travel the places I go, but as I am now getting close to St Malo, I'm back in the tourism belt. I want to avoid the horrible traffic bottleneck on the dam across the Rance between Dinard and St-Malo, so I will look for a boat to take me, and Sir Gulliver across the bay. I have renamed my bike appropriately, given the number of places I've been through recently that have some chivalry aspect. Yesterday I was able to study the C12th tombs of Jehan de Beaumanoir and various other relatives or knights of the time. It is amazing to be able to place your hands on the stone carvings of knights holding swords and shields, and, in one case, an honorable lady of the time, also dressed in a stylish hip belt, short tunic, and cropped haircut of the time. The carvings are lovely in their simplicity, and having survived maybe, 800 years, it sort of puts things into perspective. I am shaky on the history of this time, and, at 1 euro per 15 mins of time in the Dinan OT (office tourisme) internet spot, I will save my historical re-education for later. But you don't have to know a lot about the history to appreciate the artistry.

Plus, again, it's a great place to ride, despite the fact that Dinan is a HILL town, and they sure love pavés around here. Actually, I have 2 new swearwords now: pavés! and gravillions! I feel my teeth rattling around in my head when I clatter over yet another set of pavés, and I say bad things about the little towns that decide it's "quaint" to add bands of pavés into their central town traffic circles. And getting gravillions stuck in your cleats, after several km of newly oiled road, as I got outside Hédé 2 days' ago, well. I think the last week of June is "let's re-il every small road in every small town" week. Still, today I was greeted by a large peleton of buffed out cyclists as I sat having my café créme in the Bar Tabac across the street from the OT with a chorus of "saluts" plus various grunts, waves, thumbs up, etc. It is so nice to be in a place where being a solo middleaged bike tourist, loaded with matching sets of yellow panniers, and lumbering up another hill is considered totally normal.

Alors, maintenant, il faut que je parte vers la cote!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Velo routes in Fance

Since leaving the Loire I have encountered bike routes, basically bike promenades in nearly every place i visit. It is amazing how popular the vélo is around here. For long distance cycling though I keep off these "toodle along and smell the roses" routes as they aren't direct enough. I stick to the smaller D roads, which are usually but not always marked in white on the Michelin road maps. I am using maps with a 1cm to 1,5km correspondence and it is possible to get around quite safely. Of course it is a pain to have to remove my sunglasses then put on my reading glasses and vice versa, and you still get lost a lot but I am still being treated like a moving vehicle with the same rights on the road as anyone else. Even when someone honks the horn at me it's in the "bonne courage!" mode not the "get the hell outta the way" mode.

I visit the tourist info centers in each town i go to, unless it is lunch noon to 2PM and mostly they are very helpful and go out of their way to be of assistance. I have had many cmpliments about my "excellent command of the language" which just goes to show how few Americans do anything like what I am doing. Bonne route!

Paimpont in the forest of the Broceliande Brittany

After many days riding through one street towns i have found an internet cafe so for 1 euro for every 15 minutes i can do a little post. I rode from Sainte Nazaire around the Golfe du Morbihan, near Vannes. Lovely coastal communities and every day the weather got hotter and the headwinds kicked in. No problem with packing a wet fly with a wet tent on the back of the bike in these parts. This area of Brittany is famous for its seafood: moules frites anyone and its oysters as there are lots of tidal pools. It is the center of the fleur de sel industry and you can buy pink and gray salt by the kilo in the local super U supermarkets if you want.
The breton houses are about the cutest ones you can imagine: whitewash stucco, wooden shutters, lace curtains in the windows, flower boxes full of petunias and geraniums on every ledge. I have ridden through serveral versions of "villes fleuries" where the number of flowers: 1 flower, 2 flower, etc., grades the show.

Brittany is also the location of more menhirs, dolmen, allees couvertes, tumuli and other neolithic stone constructions, tombs or circles or alignements than you can imagine. I spent Sat of the soltice weekend in Carnac, where it gets light at 4am and dark at 10pm. The only thing missing were a few Druids dancing around.

I am now in King Arthur territory. I tried to find the fountain of Barenton today on a little hike out of Trehorenteuc, but i guess i missed it. So no Sir Gawain and the Black Knight for me. But last night I stayed in the Auberge de la Table Rond in a tiny place called Néant-sur-Yvel and that was a treat.

I have plenty of photographs, and not a field of sunflowers in sight. Too early for that, the sunflower fields of France are planted but not yet setting flowers. I have had to content myself with photos of CXIVth chateaux and calvaries (roadside celtic crosses) that are everywhere. Brittany is unbelievably old.

I am making my way to St Malo and should be there in a few days. I am keeping away from the trains there is the first strike of the summer happening tomorrow. Ask a French person their opinion of the SNCF and they say "c'est la France" with a shrug.

I have been keeping detailed notes due to lack of technology readily at hand. Plenty to write about and lots of pix. You'll just have to read my book folks!

Now time to leave this cafe. The coupe du monde foot game is on now and i think it is the USA vs Grande Bretagne! Sans blague! Even France lost a few days ago. Le foot is the only news here folks,

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The best chateaux

I managed to visit Chambord, Azay-le-Rideau, Villandry and Fontevraud l'Abbaye. Also rode by Rigny-Ussè, Chenonceau, Cheverny, Chaumont, Montsoreau and Saumur. To me "best" means the ones i can get to. The bike touring is part of the experience as well, so i cannot worry about those i miss. And there is a lot of choice, way too much and all quite lovely in their own way. The village of Candès-St.Martin could easily win "best village in France" award so far and i havent even left the Loire yet. Plenty of hilltowns with narrow streets and horrible cobblestones "pavés" which are just awful to ride over. The bike is holding up and i am doing about 50 km per day which doesnt sound like much, until you try doing it with a full load, while trying to find roadsigns and dealing with the environment. But it is a wonderful way to see stuff and people are happy to stop to talk, Allèz en route and Bonne courage are common greetings even when people are laughing at seeing you.
i hope that Brittany continues to be as welcoming and i hope the rain keeps away. rain + bike + 4 panniers + getting lost + being a novice touring cyclist + pavees = '!:;è&$!!

Still you can park your bike outside any shop here and noone will touch it. Perhaps the fact that i drap my washing on the back panniers to dry while i ride along is part of the fun. Still there is a guy outside the internet place (actually the local print shop) having a cigarette while he checks out my rig). Time to go and make another friend

Loire a velo

I have some time before i get on the train, with the loaded bike, for St Nazaire. Cannot make it to Vannes as there is railwork so i will be riding an additional few kilometers. The Loire area, which is made up of several areas is absolutely gorgeous:fields of wheat sprinkled with cornflowers, lots of red poppies and the riding, even on the larger D roads has been great. neqrly every driver has treated me with respect as a fellow road user. it is amazing. The weather has been crazy hot then rainy then windy but at least no floods up here unlike in the South of Fr. There are chateaux everywhere, at least 50 that you can visit many more privately owned and lots of forests. i have followed parts of the L a V trail which varies from great to terrible and also done a bit of le indres à velo as well, which is much less developed.
no photos for a while. it takes a while to find an internet cafe as they are only in bigger towns, and even there you have to ask 3 people before you find one. This is a tip from Ron and Nikki, 2 other touring cyclists (USA and New Zealand) i met at Villandry. They are riding to Croatia which isnèt as impossible as it sounds. For me, the Loire toute seule is plenty of challenge and now it is time for hillier and windier Brittany. Everyone comments that "vouse etes bien chargee" which means "you are really loaded" likely they are making a double entendre as in "you are female over 50 and you are doing this? yes, you are vraiment loaded"

i have to get to the Saumur station now and deal with two sets of stairs as the platform is ripped up and being jackhammered. Bienvenue à la Loire à velo folks!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Tours!

I arrived in Tours at 2am this morning. The EBE bus was an experience,especially when they dropped me and 6 other cyclists off basically in the roundaout outside the Premiere Classe hotel, in the middle of the nite,which is a trucker crash place, but it only cost €38 and there was a shower and a clean bed. you get into the hotel after hours by swiping your credit card to obtain the room number and key. I am typing this on a French keyboard in the YHA in Tours, and the keys are in unusual places. Making mistqkes still learning. All the truckstops on the autoroute (routiers) hav free wi fi, but i am not carrying a computer and my UK cell phone isn't set up for internet. Internet cafes may be going the way of the public phone box and other dinosaurs. Rain today so i will start the camping tomorrow. I did navigate to the tourist bureau outside the trqain station doowntown,and i now have the Loire a Velo maps. I massacred my limited French and everyone was very nice in there and spoke English thank goodness as it is way confusing todqy. I also have mybike stored in the YHA closet,and i just joined them €24 and private room, so now it is time to find lunch. I just passed a great looking patisserie up the street so guess where i am headed now i have somewhere to stay.

And, get this, i rode about 5km from the airport this am with all the rush hour traffic, and it is true! French drivers, INCLUDiNG truckers, pull out to pass you and patienty tool along behind you, plus Tours has bike lanes all over. it is looking good despite the lousy weather. Now i just need to get used to reading my odometer in KM.

Monday, June 7, 2010

What it is like to bike ride in London









Photos top: Free Cycle Storage at Liverpool Street Station and a tfl poster for this summer's campaign to make cycling more acceptable
middle and bottom: selling pieces of junk bike in Brick Lane, and very witty activist "don't park, dump your car" signs outside Wieden and Kennedy advertising agency nearby

I'm spending today loading my touring bike as tomorrow at 11:45AM I have to be at Thurrocks Services in East London for the pick up by European Bike Express, EBE. It sounds easy, right, East London, and Epsom is SE of London, and in a normal city without traffic from hell, it would only be about 15-20 miles.

I ain't riding it, folks. Tomorrow I get up early to put Gulliver, my fully loaded bike, onto the South Eastern train from Epsom to Waterloo. I will get to W'loo before 8AM, when non-folding bikes on trains are banned for 3 hours. I will then walk Gullliver out of W'loo, using the handicapped acccessible exit #3, and likely walk it along the Thames Path and over either London or Tower Bridge, heading for the no-barrier entrance to Fenchurch Street Station. A ride up in the elevator [gosh I hope it's working! I checked last week, but they're constantly working on stations and rails around town] to the platform, then the C2C train to Chafford Hundred, a station that isn't an 1840s-era staircase-to-the-high-street special. The no-bikes-in rush-hour doesn't affect outbound trains at 8AM. From there, a few miles alongside the A10 to the pickup point, which looks like [thanks Google maps!] a motorway truck stop. I've been pestering the contact person at EBE for tips because, let's face it, I'm a middle-aged solo female cyclist on her first real bike tour going to a country where my grasp of the language leaves much to be desired.

By 1:45AM on Wed, assuming everything is fine, I should be using my credit card to check into the Premiere Classe hotel at the EBE drop off point in Tours, France. Then it's Loire a velo!

I'm a bike commuter from Seattle, a place with a politically active and quite effective bike lobby. I've had the chance to visit a much bigger and more complex city, and see how things works here. It's fascinating. Some of the things they do, Seattle should do. But London's Cycling Minister Norman Baker might benefit from a little bike holiday to the Pacific Northwest.

In a nutshell, London isn't yet in that happy nirvana of "Share the Road". Instead, it's still a lot of "get out of my way you !&*!%**! hippy/idiot/wanker/moron/prat/git/[fill in a culturally meaningful expletive of your choice here]. I've read too many scary stories in the free copy of the Evening Standard I pick up at Waterloo every evening. There's too many cases of cyclists, often women, being run over by lorries driven by European drivers in London's congestion zone. Now, what the heck are big trucks doing there at that time of day I wonder? Also a case where a cyclist took on a cabbie who ran him off the road to pick up a fare. The cyclist says the cabbie choked him unconscious with the cyclist's own scarf after telling him to, well, you probably guessed what was said. Now the cabbie is suing the cyclist, but I forget on what grounds, dinging the paint work of the cab perhaps? Who knows. Seems like there is a lot a mutual cyclist/driver hatred, and plenty of blame to go around. Motorists speeding and practically running you down on a pedestrian crossing, cyclists scaring the living daylights out of pedestrians when riding on the sidewalk.

What am I learning? Well, although it looks so cute, I would skip the scarf while cycling. I would wear a helmet, even if it flattens my hair and the locals look at you funny. If a double decker bus pulls up on my right I would get the hell off the road and jump up on the kerb. But I wouldn't ride at road speed into a bunch of pedestrians, I would deal with all the stares while I clippity clop in my outfit of parrot-colored clothing and flourescent cleated shoes. And I would walk the bike. Actually, I'd change my pedals and ditch the bike shoes if I lived here, but I certainly wouldn't don the high heels + dress+ cute hat outfit that is so popular. While it makes you look normal, it's dangerous for people here to use their London roads as sartorial venues. London isn't Oxford or Cambridge, or those towns where you can apparently tool around on your "sit up and beg" bicycle, with a cute puppy in the wicker handlebar basket. That puppy would be road kill and a bike is a vehicle. I don't like the playfulness approach. But I realize you have to start somewhere.

When I got here in May, I thought Mayor Boris's Cycle Superhighways were already running, and I thought they'd be segregated bike-only lanes with a barrier between the cars and bikes. Looks like it's more promise that reality, and a lot of take a paintbrush and paint an existing lane green. The start has been delayed to July, and there is both interest and skepticism in the idea. Not only is it Superhighways, it's things like the now branded Barclays Cycle Hire scheme, with expected 400 docking stations and 6000 bikes, at £1 for 30 minutes, also launching in July. Not quite the Paris white bike scheme, but similar. Perhaps I'll try out a white bike when I get to Paris in July.

The "ride it's good for you and good for the planet" approach is active. Looks like there's a bike week later this month, and a new campaign, showing a union jack made out of green things is running in the Tube. And the tfl posters are out there trying to convince meek and nervous cyclists to "Catch up with cycling." Hmm. Nearly every woman, irrespective of age, I've met here basically thinks I'm nuts to plan a solo bike tour that involves camping. Boris, you've a l-o-o-n-g way to go to get some buy in on your admirable scheme. But I hope it happens. There is so much to see in London, and doing it at the speed of the bike is great.

As for me, it's "B" day for me tomorrow. I am finishing up reading French Revolution, by Tim Moore, a ride done along the Tour de France route back in 2000. Let's hope things have only gotten better in the past 10 years. I'm not doing any piece of this year's T de F and I will miss the finale on the Champs d'Elysees by a few days, as I think I am scheduled to leave Orleans the day the tour rolls into Paris.

I think I'll save all those hors categorie climbs for the future.

The blog updates will become less frequent from this point, until I figure out French Internet cafes. And, this is assuming that I'll figure out the ridingand navigating and camping beforehand.