Cerro Catedral - walking the dog

Cerro Catedral - walking the dog

Took the dog for a walk. In the Andes. Casual. The dog, Kona, adopted us, and entertained us by chasing lizards, stealing socks and barking manically if we paused for a kiss... After passing through enchanted forests of yellow lillies and candyfloss bamboos, we reach Refugio Frey, with this view. A perfect mountain lake surrounded by the jutting peaks of Cerro Catedral, so named due to the resemblance to gothic spires. As we watched the reflections flicker on the water, half way up a scree slope someone started playing the clarinet. The soft tones were perfect in the rocky amphitheatre, adding another layer of magic to this ideallic place. It was hard to drag ourselves away, but the falling light on the long scramble home drew us away, having filled our bottles from the clear pool of meltwater and actual mountain dew. Next time, we'll take sleeping bags and stay the night...

Cerro Catedral
wild lilies
Kona Refugio Frey

Exit Buenos Aires

Exit Buenos Aires

We have finally started touring. Properly. Three days ago we cycled out of Buenos Aires (Ok - we took a bus for the first 100km, partly due to numerous warnings of almost-certain-death from cycling through the 'burbs, mainly due to a shared hatred of cycling through the endless edgelands of big cities.) After drifting about Lake Chacomus in a kayak, watching cormorants and jet-skis skimming the surface, we hit the road to the coast. 
The tarmac stopped with the town, and we were racing through the dust. The occasional vehicle would pass and drown us a mini sand storm. 


Around us hearty cows and horses shimmered in the afternoon sun, patrolling their expansive pastures, as capybaras streaked across the road ahead. Kansas style turbines spun in the wind, drawing water through the fields. Clumps of trees broke up the landscape, which stretched out flat in all directions, leaving you forever at the centre of a circular view. 10m wide verges on both sides housed reeds or pampas. Eagles swooped, parakeets chattered, while a multitude of multicoloured birds flitted to and fro. 
After 30km we set up camp. Big Aggy (our tent) caught the setting sun amid the whispering grasses. We made our first spag nap on our petrol stove, then watched the fireflies and stars competing for the best night display. 

DSC01999.JPG

The next day led us down the main auto route to the coast, long straight roads leading into the blazing sun. The north bound carriageway was a solid mass of trippers returning to BA after a weekend on the beach. Stalls selling Regional Produce littered the hard shoulder - but cheese, chorizo and honey is a poor substitute for ice cold bebidas. 


We dozed under a tree in the midday sun, then hit the broiling tarmac once more. A few k from our chosen campspot, we were flagged down by a police patrol. With the power of Google translate, they told us to follow them, and they took us to the station where we could stay. Between the broken swings, the tree that looked like Sideshow Bob and the collection of burnt out cars, we made camp. They cleaned out the shower for us, and gave us home made tortilla (pronounced 'tortisha' here) as we waited for the stove to light. They seemed to enjoy having something to do!

The scrapyard that accompanies every Argentinian police station - and our allotted campground for the night...

The third day of roasting on the road, with a four hour siesta in an ice cream parlour and a service station (it had air con. Don't judge.) brought us to Mar Azul, a town whose entire existence depended on its beautiful beach. To ensure you never forgot this, they covered the roads with beach as well. As we stopped for supplies a man jumped out of his car and pulled something out of his boot - a cycling shirt from his very own brand - Lima. He wished us good luck and drove of in flash of dust.

The camping was at the far end of town; dragging bikes through sand is tough, but the pine forest dunes we pitched up in were worth it! 
We joined the band Forever Foal on the beach round a crackling pine cone fire, for some impromptu gaucho music, the guitar and drum melding with the crashing waves. Dreamy.

Cigars and Socialism

Cigars and Socialism

Airport stopovers aren't meant to be exciting, but Lima was something else. Matt and I ran around like kids released into a candy store. We goggled at the wild choice of tat in the tourist shop, picking up Brightly Coloured Things that we didn't need, gorging on tester chocolates, admiring all the numerous Pointless but Pretties on the shelves. 
"Don't mind us. We've been in Cuba..."
We'd got used to supermarkets selling biscuits, booze, Tu Cola and maybe, if you scraped out the bottom of the ice-cream cabinet, a frozen chicken. Homeware stores offering plastic pipes, shoes, tupperware, old curtains and a garden gnome. To buy anything you would have to wait for the assistant to finish filling in whatever forms they were busy filling in, make your request, then wait for them to fill in another form before you paid. Sometimes they'd ask for a passport as well - especially if you were moving or staying somewhere. The paperwork requires half an hour to buy train tickets - after queuing. 
It is socialism in paradise - or something like it. 
The landscapes are beautiful, the people are lovely. If you need anything, don't bother with anything official, just ask. Best dinner in town? The guy will take you to the freshest food, and join you to eat. Gaffer tape? Give me two hours.  Somewhere to camp in the middle of nowhere? A farmer jumps on his moto, motions us to follow 4km to a mountain ranger's house. The ranger moves out for the night so we can have a bed. After a solid day of cycling hills, the cold beers and hearty home cooked dinner are heaven. 

Cuba - Mil Numbres - when we needed a bed in the middle of nowhere...

Everything costs, mind. Security guards want £10 for you to camp on their mosquito ridden bit of land 'so I can keep you safe' and £1 to look after a bike for an hour. You feel like a massive cash cow, till you realise that a government tour guide receives just £15 a month - dinner for one at a tourist restaurant. Everyone here has a few private sources of income - renting rooms, teaching, beauty, repairs, and of course tips. Tourists are vital to Cuba's economy. There are heavy laws against anyone acting to deter tourists, just as there are laws against unregistered casas allowing foreigners inside. 
There are different economies. The classic dinner of meat with rice and beans, tomatoes, shredded cabbage, and fried plantain is 50p at a local cafe, or £10 in Vinales, the honey pot of West Cuba. There are even two currencies - convertible and national pesos. 

The landscapes of Cuba are rich and varied. The mountains of Sierra del Rosario were beautiful, rising and falling sharply amid their green shroud of rainforest. We met no other tourists; they were all racing along the Autopista in air conditioned coaches, as we churned every pedal stroke to reach Vinales. The views were hard earned, but worth every ache. The people and villages we passed were lost in this other world, cut off even from the rest of Cuba. We raced with the cowboys, got laughed at by farmers walking (uphill) faster than us, and felt exalted by our surroundings. 

Cuba Cowboys in Sierra del Rosario
Cuba Sierra del Rosario

Elsewhere the mangroves and palm fringed white beaches of Caya Jutia were as beautiful as you would imagine. Though we were bemused at all the staff, drivers and tourists leaving by 6 - until the moment night fell and the mosquitos swarmed. As soon as the sun dipped below the horizon the air grew thick with the hungry. We dived for the tent, zipping up in record time. 50 bites on each leg, and a we gave up counting.  We never camped near mangroves again... 

Cuban car, Caya Jutia

We headed South to Cienfuegos, an old town we wanted to explore away from the chaos of Havana. We dawdled through city then took a ferry to the far side of the bay and headed into the wilds. Down a country track we were hailed by a policeman. 

"Bandit country." He wasn't letting us past. We peered into the lush farmland and forest, wondering what horrors lay beyond. 

"No." We turned back, hoping to finally wild camp for real. 

We found a beautiful bay, with a beach and a small hut. We asked if we could pitch our tent for the night. The three men said we could, but only three months earlier four travellers had to be taken off in an ambulance after the bandits attacked them, right there overlooking the sea. We weighed up our chances. They apologised for not being able to let us stay with them, but Cuba's laws and snoops would make mincemeat of their generosity. They gave us dinner, so long as we ate it outside, and were unwilling to take payment for sharing. 

We headed back to the village to find a casa, with bandit proof walls, pining the genuine hospitality we had left behind.

Mention Cuba and everyone thinks about 50s American cars - and they are everywhere. Where there are tourists to taxi, they've been done up, rust spots GRP'd over, new paint job, new Pioneer sound system, plastic over the seats. They cruise up and down the Malecon along Havana's seafront, tourists sat on top of the back seat, pretending they're extras in Grease. Where there is money, there are also new cars, shiny silver things deadening the cacophony of colour, and diesel, on the roads. 
What no one talks about are the Ladas, the Soviet cars bridging the gap between Americana and modernity. Outside the Tourist Hubs, these and the 50s classics are the beat up workhorses, swerving along roads avoiding potholes, horse drawn traps and stray livestock roaming free. Bikes are everywhere too, a few mountain bikes (the Cubana cabin crew were importing a few on our flight in from Toronto), but mainly pre-revolution sit-up-and-begs. Riddled with rust, clanking and groaning, wheels wiggling like ensnared snakes, but still going. 
We loved Cuba, the place and the people, and being cut off from the rest of the world (especially when that world includes a certain Fart.) WiFi was available - in the main square of large towns, where Cubans gathered with their screens to connect to friends and family far away; 1hr, £2. No vacant facebooking whenever. 
We drank the best Cuba Libres, Mojitos and Pina Coladas, and a few ice cold cervezas nacionales,  smoked the cigar made by Miguel from the train, thinking how lucky we are to be here, but looking forward to ordering a dinner free from rice and beans... 


 

Race to Cadiz

29th November 2016

For a few minutes before 7am the quiet camino in the Valle de Ojen became a superhighway, four wheel drives racing past, hooting at my tent, in case I forgot I was there, before returning to its standard status of broad bike track.

The wind turbines continued their gentle whmmm hrrr as I packed up, and the sun painted the sky a thousand shades as it climbed over the Eastern hills.

Valle de Ojen turbines

I slipped out of the Valle to the coast, the azure Mediterranean tempting me out of the highlands. I passed the military zone, consisting of a few blokes in desert khaki, standing around in a cow field trying to work out how to get their tank out of the mud. The cows looked on nonchalantly, chewing the cud while waiting for the show to begin.

I lazed through the deserted tourist towns of the Costa del Sol, the ‘local’ bars easily identifiable by being open. I headed for the Faro de Trafalgar on a sandy peninsula.  It bore no scars or memorabilia of the naval battle beyond the name. I wandered the sands; marram grass, succulents and tin cans were all striving to thrive in the dunes.

I headed back inland, expecting to be stuck on dual carriageways for most of the afternoon, wearing my best grin-and-bear-it smile. I was unpleasantly surprised to hit a camino (track with a road name) made up of lumps of rock chucked at random, between deep ravines cut by the recent raging torrents. Good training for Patagonia, at least.

My surprise became far pleasanter when I hit a firm, sandy camino through a slither of lollipop pines, cutting through the open fields. I trundled through the dappled light, slowed only a huge herd of goats tinkling through the forest on their way for milking. Heavy udders hung low while mouths reached for any stray branches.

The peace was finally shattered by a loud crunching noise from Brutus’ rear end, and my resultant swearing.

I ground to halt and looked back to see one pannier bag half eaten by the spokes, after a screw came loose and the whole thing swung down and got caught being the seat stays. Fuck. A trail of toiletries had made a bid for freedom behind me.

TFIGGT – TF I got gaffer tape... I wrapped it all up like a shitty parcel, rescued my mooncup and deodorant from the bushes, and pushed on towards the city.

Through the industry of Puerto Real I made it the to bridge – looping high over the docks to Cadiz. The main carriageway was an Autovia, no bicycles, scooters or pedestrians. I went for the bus track – no pedestrians – I won’t be getting off... Three guys with a pet digger flagged me down to warn me, in Spanish:

“No. You can’t go there!”

“Donde esta la ruta para bicycletta?”

“San Fernando...” they offered, a 30km detour to avoid 3km of bridge, as dusk was falling too.

“There are many police...” They mimed having your details recorded and being marked down for ever as hardened criminal.

“It’s ok. You go. We never saw you.”

“Gracias!”

They looked up at the high arc of the bridge, and slapped their thighs.

“Fuerte!” that familiar call.

The setting sun glinted off the cables, the view evolving with every stroke as I headed over the water to Cadiz.

Cadiz

Having spent Sunday listening to Matt salivate while watching Rick Stein eating sushi in Cadiz fish market (“this is just about the freshest tuna you can get anywhere in the world!”), Gadisushi was the only option for dinner.

Most of the stalls were closed, just a couple of cervicerias and the sushi stand. One man was busy rolling, placing, cutting, creating edible works of art, while the others sat around chatting, glaring at the occasional customer who dared to interrupt. I placed my order, and sat as the table while the master worked his magic. The tight rolls and ngiri were delicious, but the red tuna sashimi was out of this world... Rick and Matt – thank you for leading me here!

Knife sharpener in Cadiz market, handy if Brutus ever needs to earn his keep... 

Knife sharpener in Cadiz market, handy if Brutus ever needs to earn his keep... 

Seville oranges

 I start early, taking leave of the orange grove I slept in, and cycle to the next town, Palma del Rio.

I meet Rosa in a café. She orders me tomato on toast with aciete and sal - a classic breakfast, and so perfect, with a coffee of course. Though freshly carved, the jamon  was merely gilding the lily. A better breakfast for 2€ could not be had.

 She tells me of how she moved from Mexico, and is now trapped in this town.

“There is no life here. I am bored. There is no cinema, no Burger King. Nothing happens. There is no one here who I can speak English with – sorry – I forget so much. It is too hot in the summer, and there are flies and mosquitos and cockroaches. Too many bugs. I like the cold. I want to move to Sweden, or Finland. I have a Panaderia two streets away. I have bread, sweets, drinks...”

She gave me her number, and a contact for her friend in Malaga, if I pass through there.

I thanked her by visiting the Panaderia,  where she spends 13 hours a day. “I have no life.” The bread was excellent, though that must be little consolation.

 

I cycle on through orange groves smelling of Copydex, then through mixed agriculture, on quiet backroads following the river, flanked with eucalyptus.   

I pass through villages the tourist coaches never see. In Guadajoz people sit around on plastic chairs in midday sun, tied dogs bark, breaking the lethargy. Dust rises as I pass through. The ceiling fan slowly rotates in the station café, “Uno Euro” her face remains bare of emotion as she serves the pastry. The atmosphere is one of despair. All they have is their community – the greatest commodity, but a little more money would not go amiss.

I’m getting used to conversations now.

“Viaje sola?”

“Ci.”

“SOLA?!?”

“Ci.”

“Con grupo de quattro o cinco, ci.... SOLA???”

“Ci.”

“Muy valiente! I couldn’t do that!” (Not picked up the Spanish for this yet, but it’s what everyone says at this point.)

“Y Fuerte!”

“Ci.” I slap my thigh hoping it’s muscles rippling rather than fat flubberling...

 

I surprise myself how soon I hit Seville. A 100km before 3pm – not bad - assisted by a low lying landscape, tarmac, and limited photo stops.

I follow a recommendation for a hostel. I scrub myself down and head into the city. I get lost. Only when I realise the hostel map isn’t aligned North can I start to navigate the winding alleys of the old town.  

I should be impressed with Seville. I am told it has much great beauty and history to be sure, but it is so hard to see through the racks of kiss-me-quick postcards and imitation flamenco dresses that I can’t be sure. I was meant to be impressed with Las Setas – the largest wooden structure in the world, an interlaced omeba-ous platform on gargantuan legs, covering a few bars and restaurants. Maybe I wasn’t in the mood to wowed, or maybe it just felt devoid of character, a set piece foil of Modern Design to generate profit for the bars beneath. Awesome.

Flamenco accessories shop

Flamenco accessories shop

Rating company over photos of overpriced food, I opted for homemade chicken stroganoff in the hostel. 30 people perched on stools, sofas and armchairs, sharing stories, tips and dreams of travel. Itchy feet come as standard.

 

Forests of olives and columns

After a night basking under the Supermoon outside Jaen, I set off to Cordoba. It’s 115km, so I reckoned leaving myself 20-30km the following morning.

My route had other ideas.

The road rolled gently over hills and valleys, oozing through infinite olive groves that turned the landscape into a Litchenstein painting. Dot like trees forming a matrix across the read and golden ground. Farms, villages and refineries area the only accents, accepted only to service the monoculture. Plumes of olive scented smoke drift through the hills, clouds beyond the reach of the Andalucian sun.

The road was so dreamy, the views surreal and beautiful, photo stops aside I made good progress, flying through the meanders.

As darkness fell I felt no desire to stop. I finally got round to adjusting my front light so I could see more than 6ft ahead, and suddenly the night world was my oyster. Buoyed up by the energy of a wonderful day, the gleaming lights of the city ahead and the challenge of a couple of hills at the end, I rode on. 115km in one day. Boom. And what a treat lay in store at the end...

To misquote Bill Bryson, if you’ve never been to Cordoba, go there at once. Take my bike.

The old town twists and turns, with Moorish design and architecture creating the perfect city for 45 degree summers. Flowered patios compete for beauty and tranquillity, a thousand oases in the urban heart. The bars, tapas and gelatarias are plentiful and excellent. La Bicycletta called out to a lone cyclist, a hipster haven in the historic centre; the food, drinks and atmosphere were all there.

 And that's before I've even mentioned the Mozquita. It is stunning - but the atmosphere when you walk in can't be captured - the smell of burning incense, the calm, the cool. Walking through a forest of columns, moorish arches crowned with gothic gargoyles, to the sound of the organist warming up.

To the South, somehow

After a wonderful weekend in Guadelajara, with my old housemates from Manchester, and new arrivals, I was sorry to head back out on my own, but Andalusia was calling, and I knew there were great things ahead as well as behind. 

From Madrid I had found a train that I thought would take Brutus and me to Cordoba, and I arrived at Atocha station a with a hour to spare to buy tickets. Easy!

I queued at the Information Desk for information.

“Can I take a bike on this train? “

“I don’t know. You’ll have to go to the Ticket Desk.”

I queued at the ticket desk, an hour later I reached the front of the queue.

“I know I’ve missed this train, please can I buy a ticket for tomorrow?”

“With a bike, no. There are no trains to Cordoba for a bike.”

Poor Brutus, the scourge of Renfe... They were keen to help, and offered another soliution.

“Take the train to Alcazar San Juan, and then you can cycle to Cordoba from there, about 4 hours”.

Brilliant! I Google mapped the distance...

“280km!”

My chin’s still sore from hitting the counter.

“Yes, 60km/ per hour, that’s about 4 hours. On a bike, easy!”

I blame the Tour de France for raising expectations. The bike’s not carbon fibre, I don’t have a support car, and I’ve not been doping. No chance.

I took the ticket in the end, it got me closer to Cordoba, and the nice man at Alcazar sold me a ticket on to Jaen, a mere 115km from Cordoba. I also got a couple of hours to explore the town, trundling through the streets to stretch my legs, posing with the regulation Don Quixote statue. It seems everywhere in Spain has a connection. Cervantes lived here at some point, Cervantes’ father was born here, the fictional character would have had to pass through here if you read the story right, honest... Either way, it’s worked. The Don Quixote trail has led me to download the book, so I can read of a very different adventure through Spain as I explore it myself. It’s a good read, so far... 

Posing with Sancho Panza and Don Quixote, Alcazar San Juan

Posing with Sancho Panza and Don Quixote, Alcazar San Juan

Jus de Pommes

I was treated to another day of La Vilaine, and it did not let up on its delights.

I followed my gut, and went to the tumbledown barn by the side of the river, in the middle of nowhere, with a handpainted sign “L`atelier Jus des Pommes”

Inside 20 people in waterproof overalls were pressing and crushing sacks of apples and bottling the juice. After being passed from person to person, my “Je voudrais acheter une boteille de jus de pommes svp” was eventually fruitful. I was shown through the factory floor to the adjacent barn, complete with bar, stage, tables and chairs and the atmosphere of somewhere that would be buzzing that evening. I was sold a bottle fresh off the press – I think I even got a discount as it hadn’t been labelled yet. I sipped my fresh juice, tasting the local apples bursting with every sip, wishing I could stay on to see what would happen here later.

I made it to Redon, where I slept near the canal, tucked up in a bivvy bag in an open patch of grass. I slept the best night I’ve had outside, despite the constant trickle of water from a nearby sluice. 

Waterways and warm showers...

27th October 2016

 I was treated to the opening of the market at Bazouges la Pérouse; the first crepe from the creperie van, the first tomatoes from the veg stall, the first café from the bar. They were still setting up as I set off from the village, ready for a good ride after a crepe start.

The Canal de Ille et Rance took me down to Renne. The autumn colours reflected on the still water, almost bare of boats. The water points offered toilettes and even the odd douche – only a dirty cycle tourist could get tempted by the mouldy door to an outdoor public shower.

I was glad to have sped down by the canal first, as the river La Vilaine would have blown it out of the water. Whether it was the more sinuous curves of a natural waterway, the more varied landscape it cut through, or just a beautiful coincidence of nature and intervention that made it irrepressibly breathtaking, I’ll never know. The flat water meadows with picturesque cows, ancient oaks twisting out over the banks, old mills perched in the middle of the water, rocky cliffs rising up high above, golden leaved poplars glowing in the evening sun, and everything twice as stunning with the mirror like reflections in the surface. Every bend offered a new glory to the eye, another wonder to behold, absorb. The autumn colours, flitting electric blue kingfishers and arcing herons added to the glory.

The icing on the cake of a wonderful day was the promise of a Warm Showers host at the end. I arrived, and once washed and sparky, was treated to an excellent dinner of tartiflette – a delicious (and sustaining) local dish of potatoes, cheese and lardon. Lucky I like cheese! We shared our attempts at French and English, and managed to make good conversation, sharing stories of cycling at home and abroad, alone and as a family. Jerome and Delphine had cycled the world with their two children – the photos and tales were inspiring! We also shared our differing skills of music, sad that Jerome had to forego the bagpipes for a tin whistle, to save our eardrums indoors . (The Breton traditions still run strong.)

I was treated to a cat, Princess, keeping my feet warm all night – then I knew I had been accepted! 

Princess

Princess

South and West - picking up the tourist trail

25th October 2016

The Noireau remained as eerie in the early morning gloaming as it had been the night before. By the time day broke through I was in rolling hills and fields, where cream cows with mournful eyes peered round tumbledown barns to see me pass.

It wasn't long before I hit the next Voie Verte, another disused railway, this time leading through the green tunnel of trees, the sunlight glancing through, picking out cobwebs and casting sunbeams across my path, as a brook babbled by beneath.

Autumn light on the Voie Vert Suisse between Domfront and Mont St Michel

I met Bob and Mick as I considered the turning to Domfront. We chose different routes, but met again halfway up to compare notes, and up the top. I gave them a sticker in return for their persistence. From the castle on the hill the whole landscape appeared to fall away around, ruins, cliffs and autumnal oaks having escaped from an eighteenth century landscape painting to make the climb worthwhile.

Domfront

Domfront

26th October 2016

After to failing to take the turn for La Rochelle, I was excited to find myself on the Voie Verte to Le Mont St Michel. I went there when I was 8, but all I can remember was sitting in a creperie, cutting my crepe into ever smaller pieces, while my parents (and the owner of the creperie) looked on in frustration. 

The walk out over the new bridge should have offered incredible views of the island, mais il fait du brouillard - all you could see was a long line of people disappearing into the mist. The steep cobbled paths thronged with enthusiastic visitors, determined not to be put off by the fact it was a grey afternoon in Ocotber. Now exclusively for tourists, the hustle and bustle made the ancient streets come alive as they twisted round rocky outcrops and higgledypiggledy houses and turrets. If Escher and Disney had gone into town planning together, this is what you would get. 

Approach to Mont St Michel

Approach to Mont St Michel

A quiet day in the tourist calender

A quiet day in the tourist calender

Explored out, I found a creperie, and ordered my crepe. However, aware of my three-day odour, and the queue out of the door, I ate it at normal speed. Having seen the crowds, I appeciated the look of frustration on the on owner`s face last time I was here. 

On the Rue des Moulins, I found two moulins. One an empty stone cylinder, abandoned in the landscape; the second fully restored in 2003, and now providing the livelihood for the owner in flour and tours. One of only six working moulin de vents in France, the owner was suitably proud. He told me how it worked, and all the work he'd done on it (with EU money, of course!) to restore it to full working glory. I was sad not to be able to buy any of his flour,but with no stove, it would be a sad waste of his enthusiasm.

Mist and sun

I emerged from the depths of the ferry to a dark quayside, lights flickering in the water.

I had no route planned beyond 'head South.' Luckily, the first sign I saw was from the Voie Verte heading South to Caen.

Soon I was slipping along by the canal, cranes dipping and bowing in time to the dawn chorus, reflections glimmering through the early morning mist. I was overtaken by a less heavily laden cyclist.

"How far are you going?"

"New Zealand."

"Oh! I'm only going 30k and I have battery."

The electric motor kicked in and he sped away.

The early morning mist on the canal leading to Caen

The early morning mist on the canal leading to Caen

The Voie Verte Suisse-Normande continued beyond Caen, following the Orne river valley along an old railway. "Autumn is a second Spring, where every leaf becomes a flower."

Industrial architecture on the Suisse-Normande

Industrial architecture on the Suisse-Normande

From Thery-Harcourt to Conde sur Noireau I followed winding roads, catching my breath as every turn gave a new view where the low sun illuminated the rolling hills, stone escarpments and cotton wool woods.

As darkness fell I followed the D17 deep into the Noireau valley to find a bivvy spot. Dark, dank woods rose up high on both sides of the deep valley. A mist settled on the valley floor, oozing through fences and hedges. Historic mills loomed ominously, their blank windows giving out little clue as to what lay inside. An acrid scent and bounding lorries reminded me that there was still industry over the black water.

DSC00335.JPG

So it begins

The last few days have been a rollercoaster.

Thursday saw me running around like a headless chicken trying to get things in place, ferry tickets, packing, laundry, insurance, while trying to ignore the hangover from leaving drinks the night before. I went to bed knackered, stressed, and wondering what the hell I was doing.

Turns out that cycling through the Surrey Hills in a PA peloton is a decent cure, with the October sunshine breaking through the cold, clear morning. Check out Peaslake for amazing pasties and a cyclist hangout - though on my tank-like tourer, 'Brutus', I'm not sure whether I would join team mountain bike or team racer...

Yestival went by in a flash - so many people. Old friends, new friends, all gathered round the campfire, talking about the highs and lows of life, and working out how make the most of everything we have! The mist gave the field an ethereal feel, something that would sing for a weekend and then be gone back into the ether - enjoy it while you can. We all did.

To leave Yestival without inspiration would be a challenge indeed - I certainly felt excited and ready to go, if a bit sad at all the opportunities I would be missing out on over the coming year or two. After my own talk, having babbled through as fast as I could, I felt much calmer and ready to make the most of everthing on offer.

The goodbyes were the hardest - hugs, hugs and more hugs. (Well - the hugs were lovely, the goodbyes less so.) It hasn't yet sunk in that I will be away from friends and family for so long.

The grand send off was wonderful - Matt and I left the site bounding from the energy of the crowd, cheers ringing in our ears. We made it as far as Pulborough before stopping for lunch - the café by the river gave us a final view of Little England before we headed up over the downs, to Chichester, retracing Ham Sandwich to Portsmouth. 

What to do at a final meal? The final goodbye. I left for the ferry, Matt for the train. Cast off into the ocean.

Yestival campfire
So that's how far it is... Glad someone checks these things!