Archive for the 'Round the world' Category

America - The Final Continent

Tuesday, July 31st, 2007

Yo folks,

Well I left Bangkok on the 21st of June after a sad farewell to Corinne. The doctors had given her the all clear to fly once a flight was available and so I felt able to leave without worrying too much. We’d been together 24/7 for 4 months and it felt strange to be heading off on my own again. Travelling together by bicycle truly is a baptism of fire for any relationship especially in SE Asia with it’s inherent risks but we’d gotten to the end closer than ever with plans to meet up once my journey was over.

I arrived in LA with the prospective of 1800 miles in 27 days to look forward to if I was to complete my round the world in under a year. It`d mean an daily average of close to 70 miles without a single day off. It was more than I`d averaged at any point in my journey and I didn`t hold much hope of managing it.

There was a number of factors which worried me. The first was that I hadn`t been healthy since falling sick in Vietnam. I`d have maybe three days where I felt good and then four days of stomach problems as well as feeling weak and nauseous. The second was the headwind I`d been warned about by everyone who knew anything about the Pacific Coast. My intention was to cycle LA to Seattle and everyone said I was looking at a month of headwind. The third factor was the terrain. The Pacific Coast isn`t renowned for being flat with constant rolling hills from Santa Barbara to San Francisco and then short sharp hills from there north. Things weren`t looking good.

Things went from not looking good to being bad quite quickly. I arrived in LA to find the airline had managed to lose my tent, sleeping bag and pedals. Tent and sleeping bag were a big problem but not as much as the immediate problem of being unable to propel my bike. I reported the loss to baggage claim and they responded with the complete disinterest I expect from baggage claim all over the world. Unless someone came over and smacked the guy over my head with my bag then I could forget seeing my things ever again.

I pushed Bessie out of arrivals to grapple with the immediate problem of getting myself some pedals. I saw a bus for Santa Barbara where I knew there`d be some bike shops. The bus driver pointed out that I couldn`t put the bike on the bus unless I had it boxed but after a bit of grovelling and an explanation of my predicament he let me and Bessie catch a ride to Santa Barbara.

I arrived in SB around 5pm and ran round looking for a bike shop which would stock the same style of pedals so that I could use the same shoes. No luck so it was a $200 bill for pedals and shoes. Things really were starting off a treat. Next I headed for an outdoor shop and bought a fleece sleeping bag liner just to get my through the first night and then it was some hard pedalling to get out of the suburbs of SB so I could find a place to wild camp for the evening.

I`d pretty much lost the first day and once I started on my way I got a taste of the headwind and it was brutal. I managed 60 miles and I reckon I spent 9 hours on the bike. I had the advantage of plenty of daylight hours but sitting on a bike for 9 hours into a headwind isn`t fun. I passed plenty of fellow tourers coming the other way all wearing that smug smile of people being pushed along by a 20 mph tailwind.

I had other problems as well. No tent. I`d been checking the weather reports and it looked like I`d be OK until I got to Oregon with the chance of rain increasing as I headed north. I decided to change my plans and stay in California. I decided to head north for 850 miles and then spin round and return to LA again. This had a number of advantages. First being I wouldn`t have to shell out another $200 minimum for a tent. Second being that I`d get some of that tailwind for the last two weeks of my journey. Apart from increasing my chances of finishing in under a year it`d mean I could enjoy the end of my journey that bit more. An obvious downside would be I wouldn`t get to see as much of America as I wished and I realise that any opinion I have about America are really an opinion about California.

I continued north into the headwind. The wind pretty much ruled my life. It dictated when I got up as I had to be up with the sun as the wind didn`t pick up till around 8 am. It dictated my mood as at 8 am I knew how bad my day was going to be ranging from bad to god damn awful. The wind was all I thought about and all I heard. I had little interest in my surroundings as it was just constant pain from when I got up till when I stopped cycling. Time moved at glacial pace. I`d received an email from a friend who couldn`t believe it was only a month till I was home but with the headwind that month may as well been another lifetime away for me. If I averaged 8 miles an hour for the day I was doing well and with 70 miles needed every day it meant 9 hours sitting in the wind every day.

The thing that made it bearable was the American people. I can safely say the people were the kindest and most interested I`d found anywhere in the world. I`d discussed this with people in the past who seemed to think the ‘have a nice day’ you get in McDonald’s is indicative of the sincerity of your average American but the two are completely unrelated. Ordinary Americans are genuinely kind. Everywhere I stopped people would ask what I was doing and where I was heading. Another great thing was the way Americans would always end a conversation by asking if I needed anything. They didn`t ask if I needed a ride or food but if I needed anything. An unconditional offer being the best type of offer. A bit weird was the constant offers of money. Maybe I needed to shave and wash more?

My route took me up Highway 1 which hugs the Pacific Ocean pretty much constantly. Most of the highways I`ve cycled in the world that bill themselves as a coastal drive could find themselves prosecuted under the Trade Descriptions Act. Not the American Pacific Highway. It`s just miles and miles of tarmac which is usually no more than a few metres from the crashing surf. A few Americans had warned me about the RV`s and the general traffic but when you`ve cycled Vietnam most roads in the world feel like the ones you see in car adverts.

As I headed north I continued to meet Americans from all walks of life from your aspiring American Dreamers driving their mobile palaces to the hobos who`d opted out. The great thing about travelling by bike is the range of people who will give you their time. A constant was their desire to discuss the war in Iraq which, in California at least, is universally opposed. I felt sorry for the people I met as they felt mislead by their own government and confused how what they saw as a chance to make the world a better place had ended up making things worse.

Eventually I reached San Francisco which ranks as one of the cities in the world I reckon I could live in. I read in the newspaper that a ‘cycle to work’ day had got 53% of commuters on their bikes which amazed me. We`ve had similar initiatives in England and still my daily ride to Bradford saw the same three cyclists I see every morning with thousands of people stuck in their cars on Bradford Road. That`s the interesting thing about America. We hear about fat people, big cars and the excessive consumption but it`s a place of extremes so while yeah those things do exist there`s also the plenty of people who ride to work everyday, people who have given up the car and dropped off the power grid. The media isn`t interested in that side of America so we just get fed the negative stereotypes. In San Francisco I slept in the Marin National Park which is just next to the Golden Gate Bridge and in the morning I awoke to views of the city, the bridge and Alcatraz.

As the days went by I noticed the people I met where changing. As you head north you leave behind the money orientated culture of southern California and head into hippy country. The smell of dope becomes more prevalent, the people become even more friendly and the anti-war sentiments grow stronger.

Maybe I was changing a little as well. I hadn`t shaved in a month or showered since Thailand and noticed I was becoming every hobo`s best friend. I like the hobos but for everyday conversation I like a spread of people and when a guy sat down in a mask and had a genuine conversation with me about how Paris Hilton was stalking him I figured it was time to find a river and have a shave and a good clean.

I hit the town of Mendocino which is another in a line of beautiful little Northern Californian Pacific towns. The great thing about cycling north of San Francisco is that there is a town every 10-15 miles but each town is small enough that it`s a pleasure to stop and chat to the locals. I`d been making good miles and was only 4 days ride from my turn around point so decided to give myself a break and buy some books. I hadn`t had time to read since Corinne had fallen sick and sometimes it`s great just to sit outside a cafe and watch the world go by with a good book.

I found a great little second-hand bookshop in Mendocino where I got chatting to Carl the owner. We had similar taste in books and I was able to recommend some books he`d never heard of and vice-versa. After hearing about my journey he offered me a place to camp. I headed up to his house to meet his wife Elaine. I had a feeling that even though he`d offered me a place to camp, if his wife decided I wasn`t a psycho then`I`d be offered a bed and a shower. I passed the wife test and spent a wonderful evening discussing books, music and politics. I was also offered that much needed and appreciated chance to shower and shave.

In the morning I left Elaine and Carl`s house and continued up to Fort Bragg and then a 2000ft climb then down to the town of Leggett. I`d kicked inland to the home of the Giant Redwoods some of which seem impossibly wide and had the pleasure of cycling up the famous Avenue of the Redwoods. The wind was having less effect inland and the trees were also giving me plenty of protection.

North of Klamath and I was 850 miles north of LA and it was time to turn round. It`d been a tough 850 miles, possibly the toughest of my journey so far. Sure I`d spent 30 days battling a headwind along the coast of Oz but that was a long time ago when I was probably fitter and far more enthusiastic. The last leg of the journey was proving to be the toughest and every morning I dreaded getting back on the bike and spending hours crouched up against the wind. I`d also developed an interesting and strange fear that something would happen which would stop me from getting to the end. A cycling accident being the obvious main fear. Where in the past I`d be nailing it full speed down big hills, tucked in for maximum speed, I was suddenly braking when the speed started to feel like anything remotely dangerous. If I saw I car at a junction I`d slow down to make until I was 100% sure they`d seen me. I think I even booked my flight home with Aer Lingus on the basis that the luck of the Irish would make sure I got back to England safe and sound.

Turning around and heading south was a revelation. I did 90 miles and then 100 miles the first two days. The wind which had tortured me for two weeks was suddenly my best friend and miles disappeared without me noticing. I think only someone who`s headed into a headwind for a long period of time can understand the joy and pleasure of suddenly being able to freewheel along flats and climbing hills with the speedo showing double figures. I now had time to look properly at the amazing scenery around me. I`d been told how great Big Sur was but I didn`t begin to appreciate it until I did it with a tailwind.

After 6 days of heading south and some big miles it was pretty much a dead cert that I`d finish the round the world in less than a year. I had a problem just north of San Francisco when my left crank snapped clean in half as I was climbing a hill. Turned out my previous shoes were a little wide and had worn away enough of the crank arm wall which weakened it enough to allow a crack to develop and after climbing out the saddle one to many times I snapped it in half. As always it was an opportunity rather than a problem and after 20 minutes and hitch hiking I was picked up by typical Californian surfer dude who`d finished hunting waves for the day and was heading home. I`d done enough surfing in South Africa to be able to understand his excited talk of off-shores and point breaks and passed an enjoyable 20 miles in his car before he dropped me at a bike shop and headed off to a waiting wife. I got lucky with the shop as they had a second hand crank arm which was the wrong colour and length but with 500 miles left to go I wasn`t willing to spend a possible $150 on an entire crankset and for $20 was happy to suffer a bit for 10 days or so with a wonky Bessie.

The 10th of July was my birthday but emails from friends and a phone call from Corinne meant I didn`t feel too alone. Plus as per usual the friendliness of Americans came through to save the day. I was cycling near Monterey when I met a guy called Ollie on his daily commute. After hearing about my journey and that it was my birthday he invited me for a meal out of the blue. I had a few hours before dark and the pressure of the miles was now off so I figured why not. We spent a good few hours in a restaurant having a few beers and some food and, as always with Americans, discussing politics and the Iraqi War. I had to leave when I realised I was losing light and with my camping spot still 8 miles down the road I knew I`d be doing some cycling in the dark. It was dark when I got to the place I`d be sleeping for the night and when a guy stopped in a pick up truck, I thought he was going to have a go at me for cycling in the dark with no lights but it turned out it was just another American being kind and asking if I`d like a lift to the next town.

I continued south with the wind at my back. North of San Luis Obispo I offered to help a woman who was struggling with her new bike. It was no big deal and it turned out she`d just misaligned the front wheel. I adjusted the brakes as well but all-in-all it was 5 minutes work. She asked me where I was heading and I told her about cycling round the world for cancer and as I left she asked me name. I only gave her my first name but when I stopped at the next town and checked my email I noticed she`d made a $100 donation to Macmillan which was just another example of the kindness of Americans.

Eventually I reached Santa Barbara which I thought was less than 100 miles north of LA which was perfect as I`d done 15903 miles and I wanted to pass the 16000 mile mark in England. I went into a hostel for the evening as I felt like a treat and figured a shower would be the least I could do for my fellow plane passengers. Ironically the hostel turned out to be anything but a treat as I`d forgotten how noisy hostels can be. Strange that I can sleep like a baby next to a three lane highway but put me in a dorm with a bunch of people asking each other the banal traveller`s questions of ‘where you been, where you going to’ till 3 in the morning and I can`t sleep a wink.

In morning I set out for LA and discovered I`d made a slight miscalculation. While SB is less than 100 miles north of LA if you can drive on the highway it isn`t if you`re on a bicycle and required to take alternative roads. It turned out it was 115 miles and so I crossed the 16000 mile mark just somewhere near Malibu but hey ho.

The next day I cycled into LA Airport and had my usual battle with the airport staff with regards to Bessie being unboxed. As much as I like America I can safely say they have the worst airport staff anywhere in the world. The increased security precautions seem to translate into an excuse to act like members of the SS. By the time I left JFK I was happy to leave American airspace and head for home.

In terms of people I met I`d say America was my favourite place but I`m also aware it`s the place I spent the least time. I noticed a pattern that places like NZ, where I spent a long time relative to it`s size, were the places I enjoyed the least. I left America with a real desire to go back and check the place out some more. For one I`m curious if the kindness and the intelligence of the people I met in California is the norm throughout the States. If so, then who voted for Bush? My impression of America is that it contains a diversity that people who live in smaller countries struggle to understand. I`d like to go and learn more about that diversity. I get the feeling the Pacific Coast just showed me a snapshot of American culture. I met some great people but then school kids in the inner city of Chicago are being killed at a rate of two a week. America is the land of extremes and everything in between. You have no real hope of understanding the place no matter who much insight you may think the media gives you. As I said I hope to go back one day and understand a little more.

Anyway that’s the end of the American section of my journey. I`ll do a summing up when I get some more time and a bit about how all this ended.

Lots of love as always,

Craig. XXX

Greetings from Bumrungrad Hospital - Bangkok

Thursday, June 21st, 2007

Yo folks,

I’ll get straight to the point and give the details later so no one is worried. Corinne contracted Dengue Fever about 10 days ago which is a disease transmitted by mosquitoes which kills thousands every year. The chances of it killing you is seriously reduced providing your aren’t in a third world country like Cambodia which is ummmm…..where she contracted it. She’s been in hospital for over a week now and is on the mend and we’re hoping she’ll be flown home to Switzerland tomorrow. Her original plan was to cycle down to Singapore when I fly to the States but Dengue leaves it’s victims exhausted for up to 4 weeks so even though she’s bitterly disappointed it’s time for her to go home.

My last email was from Siem Reap which is where we believe she contracted the disease. We cycled past the local hospital and it warned of a Dengue epidemic but we were taking plenty of precautions as part of our malaria prevention programme so hoped it’d be enough. Turned out it wasn’t.

We left Siem Reap for the capital city of Phnom Penh; 320kms to the south-east. Our aim was for a 4 day ride and then a day off in Phnom Penh before heading south the sihanoukville. The going was tough as the rainy season hadn’t started and the temperatures were usually around 40C. I was also still recovering from my illness from the week before so Corinne had to take the front more than normal so we could get through each day.

Along the route we got to meet plenty of ordinary rural Cambodians as the people are incredibly friendly and curious by nature. Every time we stopped for a drink the owner of the shop would ask to look at my map and then it’d be a half an hour discussion on where we’ve been and what our plans are. Men seem to love maps no matter where you go in the world and they’re great when you don’t have a shared language.

The people of Cambodia have a great nature, always smiling and trying to communicate which is amazing if you consider their history. In the West we really only became aware of Cambodia in the late 70’s when the overthrow of the Khmer Rouge caused mass famine and the death of millions. Even after 1979 the civil war continued right up until the end of the 90’s with the resultant death of even more people.

It’s a tough place because you see the people trying to improve their lives but with such a recent trauma you still have the constant reminders of the war with hundreds of amputees and orphans begging in all the major urban areas. It’s heart breaking because you feel powerless in the face of it all and you can only give to the worst cases or you’d have nothing in a second. On a positive side you can see a real future for the country. Trials are on the cards for the former Khmer Rouge leaders and tourism is on the rise every year. The place has enormous potential which will hopefully be fulfilled in the coming years. We went to the Killing Fields or Phnom Penh and Tuel Sleng prison. Both are horrific places but if you’ve spent anytime with the people of Cambodia you feel it’s the very least you can do.

Phnom Penh feels like the wild west of SE Asia. Coming in from the north, the city is probably the worst for traffic I’ve encountered in SE Asia. Corinne was cycling in front and I lost count of the number of cars that were inches from taking her out and presumably the same was happening to me. You can’t do anything but keep moving and hope.

Phnom Penh has a ‘anything goes’ feel to the place. A five minute walk and you’ll be offered enough drugs to last a lifetime. On the way to the Killing Fields our happy-go-lucky tuk-tuk driver asked if I liked to shoot. Apparently I could go to a shooting range right near the Killing Fields and shoot live animals with everything from guns to rocket launches. I have no idea what type of sociopath would think a ‘Killing Fields - shooting cows with an AK-47′ combo sounds like a great day out but I’d rather not meet them.

After Phnom Penh, Corinne and I headed south to the small town of Takeo. We both had a terrible day, both struggling to turn the pedals. We arrived in Takeo and Corinne was exhausted. I put her straight to bed and took her temperature which was running at 39.5C. We figured it may be similar to what I had suffered from in Dalat so decided to sit it out for a day. Next day things weren’t any better and when other symptoms started to appear which sounded like Dengue we took the decision to taxi it back to Phnom Penh in the morning and get to the nearest hospital.

At the hospital they diagniosed Dengue but there’s different strains with the haemorrhagic strain being the dangerous one but we wouldn’t know for a few days which it was. We settled in and waited while the hospital took daily blood tests. If the platelets hit a certain level then it’s haemorrhagic and because they don’t have blood transfusion facilities in Cambodia you have to be airlifted out to Bangkok. By the third day Corinne was found to have the haemorrhagic strain and her insuarce company swung into action.

Although Corinne could fly to Bangkok on a normal commercial flight providing she had a doctor as an escort the paperwork involved makes it a poor option in emergency cases. Instead the insurance company arranged for a medical team to fly out to Phnom Penh on a chartered plane and then fly back to Bangkok on the same plane and then an ambulance direct to Bumrungrad Hospital.

At the Phnom Penh end the ambulance driver arrived earlier than expected so it was decided he’d take the bikes and load them into the airplane. Anyway this guy has the ambulance parked in the middle of the street, sirens on, blocking the traffic and I go in to get the bikes. Obviously loads of people start gathering round for a morbid look at the sick patient. Out comes me with two bikes which are loaded into the ambulance and then driven off without anyone in it. Locals must have thought Westerners are the most spoilt people on the planet. Later when we were driving to the airport the doctor from Bangkok could believe the madness of the traffic. When people from Bangkok start worrying you know you’re somewhere special.

It was a strange feeling having an 80 seater Bangkok Airway flight all to ourselves. The air hostess looked a bit confused with only myself and the doctor to serve and kept on offering my orange juice every 30 seconds. Corinne joked that this is the closet we’ll ever get to being rock stars and having our own plane.

We arrived in Bangkok and Corinne was whisked off to the hospital and I was left to get the two bikes from the airport. I got myself a taxi and marvelled how Bangkok had now come to represent safety and civilisation to me. I remember arriving for the first time, 9 months ago and being awed by the place. Now after where I’ve been, the places I’ve slept and the things I’ve seen it feels like normality. Strange how traveling just destroys your sense of what’s normal.

As I said earlier Corinne is now on the mend and it’s just a case of the insurance company sorting her flight out of here for tomorrow hopefully. I fly to the states today and start the final leg of my journey. Recent events have meant I have very little chance of completing the challenge in under a year but Corinne’s well-being obviously far more important. I’ve worked out I have about 25 full days on the bike but 3000kms left to cycle. It isn’t impossible but with my recent health issues probably not a good idea. I’ll probably do it at the pace I can and then any remaining miles I have left to do I’ll do in England before I head home. Anyone fancy a weekend in the Lake District?

Anyway best go as I still have a few things to sort out before I fly to LA.

Catch you all later,

Lots of love as always,

Craig. XXX

Greetings from Siem Reap - Cambodia

Monday, June 4th, 2007

Yeah I know it’s a bit confusing. Logically I should still be in Vietnam and I was, up until last night at about 7pm, but I’ll explain everything later in the email. First Vietnam.

Vietnam, whereto start. I read a quote in Lonely Planet about Vietnam before I came here. They said you either love or hate the place but I disagree. You love AND hate the place. Your opinion changes from day to day, hour to hour minute to minute. It’s the people and the place. One day you can be cycling along some of the most spectacular coast line you’ve ever seen and the next day you’re stuck on a hard shoulder with trucks honking their super powered air horns two inches from your ear. One minute you’re sitting, laughing with some curious villagers, using a globe to explain where you’re from and where you’ve traveled and the next minute you’re being ripped off blind by some street vendor who obviously hates you and everything about you. Then there’s the other variable which is you. With all the noise, all the aggression and the curiosity of the people you have to be feeling 100%. Have a bad day on the bike or wake up on the wrong side of the bed and you’ll hate everybody and everything. It’s a place of endless possibilities both good and bad.

We left Hue about 20 days ago and it was back to the madness of Highway 1. No description of Vietnam is complete without explaining the driving. It’s utterly insane. Maybe they drive worse in Laos but they have 6 cars in the entire country so it matters less. There are more cars per 30 metres of tarmac in Vietnam. Someone told me driving in Vietnam is like playing a video game and the analogy couldn’t be more accurate. You need fast reactions. The noise will make your ears bleed. You need to concentrate 100% and of more relevance is that you only need to worry about what’s going on in front of you. As a Westerner it’s a completely alien concept. We’re taught to be aware of what’s going on all around us. You change lanes you look over you shoulder. You turn right or left and you look behind you. You use your mirrors before every manoeuvre. Doesn’t work like that here. You just look in front and make sure you don’t hit anything and let the people behind worry about you. It seems to work although when you see what’s going on in front it makes you skeptical about the people behind you. I reckon we see 3 or 4 incidents a day where you think there’s going to be an accident but somewhere everyone seems to avoid them. Maybe without all the safety trappings of Western society people concentrate more on the road.

It’s the honking that drives you crazy. Honking in most places means that something bad is about to happen. Honking behind you usually means something bad is going to happen to you. You hear someone leaning on the horn back home and you get off the road. It’s a reflex action but you have to break it if you’re to spend more than 5 seconds cycling in Vietnam. Here honking the horn can mean anything from ‘I have a very small penis and I’m trying to compensate by intimidating people with my massive horn ‘to ‘hey you on the bicycle, I think what you’re doing is really cool and want to lean out my window at 100 miles an hour and wave to you as I go past’. In fact the last thing it means is that something bad is going to happen behind you. You think you’ve gotten used to the horns but sometimes you’ll find yourself dreaming and a truck will catch you unaware and let off their high powered air horn two inches from your head and the old instinct comes back and you head for the bushes.

The horn also serves as a warning that a driver is about to do something incredibly stupid. Over take on a blind bend for example. The ideapresumably that in the event of an accident the guy who did the dumb ass overtaking manoeuvre can say I told you so if anyone survives. The real problemis that you have no idea if the horn you hear coming round the corner is a guy with size issues if it’s a 20 ton truck on your side of the road. We usuallyplay it safe and get as far to the right as possible but it makes for some hair raising descents.

From Hue we headed south towards Danang. Just before Danang is the famous Hai Van Pass which is a ten kilometre climb up the side of mountain with the Gulf of Tonkin shimmering a perfect blue on your left. The climb isn’t easy but you barely notice it and I’d put that stretch of road in my top ten favourites of all time. Just a warning though if you’re ever tempted to do the climb. Don’t stop at the top. The top is populated by the most aggressive business women I’ve come across yet. They offer you cold drinks and before you know it you’ve bought all manner of utter dross you don’t need.

We skipped Danang and headed for Hoi An which is one of those towns where you feel you’ve stepped back in time except the shops all seem to sell the same T-shirts you can buy anywhere else in the world. We got ourselves a room over looking the river and spent 3 days sampling the famous Hoi An cuisine. We even booked ourselves into a half day cooking course so you can look forward to my squid in chili and lemon grass when I get back.

After Hoi An we headed back onto the highway and either we’re getting used to the madness or the traffic is improving. I suspect the former. Our route down the coast of Vietnam was decided on after much consideration by yours truly. I’d read that the wind blows from the north-east which would give us some much appreciated tailwind for a 1000kms or so. Turns out this isn’t actually the case. We’ve had a head wind about 90% of the time in Vietnam. Hey ho.

Another thing that amazes you when you cycle here is what people manage to carry on their bikes. We have state of the art racks with waterproof panniers with lightweight equipment and you feel slightly humbled when you go past a guy carrying three pigs on the back of his bicycle. So far I’ve seen someone carrying an entire tree, a whole bicycle (which is taking the carrying of spares to the extreme), three pigs, three dogs and someone carrying what looked like 10 ducks strapped to the handlebars. That’s ignoring the run-of-mill people I’ve seen carrying what looks like an entire crop in two baskets on either side of the bike.

We kept heading south and eventually ended up in the town of Q. Nhon where we spent a sleepless night in a bedbug ridden room. Luckily we intended to be up early anyway as we’d read in Lonely Planet about a great little beach 30 km south and we were due are laxing day. Things didn’t quite turn out as planned. Appears that LP got their town names mixed up and we eventually hit the town they mentioned after 50 km. Unfortunately they got a lot more than the names mixed up and the town turned out to have zero accommodation. We were offered a hammock for the night by one of the locals but it was one in the afternoon so we figured we’re press onto the next decent sized town which turned out to be another 60 km down the road. In total, our 30 km easy day turned into a110km slog. On the plus side the room we got in Tuy Hoa got my vote as my favourite $12 room ever with a bath tub I could do lengths in.

It was another 160 kms to Nha Trang and we decided to split it up into two days as we’d been putting in some big days without any rest. The road to NhaTrang is fantastic. Some of the best scenery I’ve had in SE Asia. The traffic had calmed down a fair bit as well so it was a great ride into Nha Trang.

In Nha Trang we made the decision to cut west into the highlands as we’d been on the coast for 10 days now and fancied a bit of a change. The heat was also becoming more of an issue as we headed south and gaining some attitude would lose us some heat. The plan would be for me to leave Nha Trang the day before and Corinne would catch a bus up. Dalat was 1500mabove sea level and we weren’t sure if it could be done in one day fully loaded so Corinne would take some of my gear on the bus and I’d tackle the mountains on my own. Turned out to be a bit of a mistake.

I hadn’t been feeling 100% for a few days before. Hills I’d normally race up were proving tougher than expected. On the ride up to Dalat things got worse. It’s a tough climb anyway with two nasty alpine style climbs of about 15 km each but normally they wouldn’t be a problem. By the time I got half way up the second hill I could hardly turn the pedals. I had to lie down and rest every km and eventually I had to push the bike. After walking for 10kms and still with 25kms to go I couldn’t even push the bike anymore. Eventually I conceded defeat and caught a taxi the rest of the way.

I got to Dalat and by the time I made it to the hotel I was shivering like it was below zero. Corinne took my temperature and it was running at 39.5Cwhich isn’t healthy. It was bed for the next 3 days. Losing three days at the moment isn’t ideal for me. I’m hoping to do 4500 kms in SEAsia which would leave be 2500 kms to do in America in about 25 days. The fewer miles I do here the more I have to do in America and once it starts getting over 100 kms a day then things start getting tight. I still want to do the 25,000 km in under a year and time is getting short.

After Dalat, we started the 300 km ride down to Ho Chi Minh City. I still wasn’t feeling great but we needed to get going. As I said earlier, Vietnam isn’t a place you won’t to be when you’re feeling below par and Ho Chi Minh City probably the last place in Vietnam you want to be. As we got closer to HCMC the madness of Vietnam just seemed to intensify. In the four day ride I can safely say there wasn’t a30 second window of peace from the blaring horns. We got to within 30 kms of HCMC and then formulated a plan which would get us some extra cycling days in SE Asia. Crossing into Cambodia from Vietnam using our original plan would involve a day on a boat and then we had the problem of getting from Siem Reap to the Thai border as the road isn’t sealed.

So we decided on a spur of the moment change of plan. Fly from HCMC to Siem Reap and then travel south east to the coast and get a fast boat round to Thailand. It has the added bonus that it also means we should have enough kilometres between us and Bangkok.

Anyway, so that’s how we ended up in Siem Reap, Cambodia. We arrived last night after a nervous flight. Not because of the flight itself but because in our rush to get to the airport we forget to check out thevisa regulations for Cambodia. As with most things though we got here and an ATM dispensing the required American dollars was located two feet from the visa desk.

Today we did the usual tourist stuff and cycled out to the amazing Angkor Wat and back again. I like Cambodia so far. People are helpful and friendly even though we’re in a major tourist area. Tomorrow we head east to the capital city of Phnom Penh. It’s around 320 km and we’re looking to do itin 4 days. It’ll be interesting to get out into the countryside as that’s a better measure of a country’s character.

We were talking today about what our favourite country has been so far in SE Asia. 10 days ago, Vietnam was mine and Corinne’s favourite. Today Laosis my favourite whereas Corinne’s is still Vietnam. I think it’s just indicative that I got ill in Vietnam and it’s not a forgiving place. If I had been 100% all the way through Ihave no doubt that the people and the place would have made it a firm favourite. As it is I have mixed feelings. I have some great memories but I also have some negatives. Maybe that’s what makes for an exciting place?

I’ve booked my final tickets back home and will arrive back in Manchester Airport on the morning of 20thJuly. I have 2100 miles left to reach my target of 16000 miles and around45 days. It’s doable but I’ve put a lot of pressure on myself if I still want to finish in under a year. There isn’t much room for error there. For the last 1600 miles I’ll be on my own again and it’ll be back to sleeping under bridges and in ditches again.

Anyway best be off as it’s late here and we have to get an early start. Here’s hoping for tailwind.

Lots of love as always,

Craig. XXX

Greetings from Hue, Vietnam - Farewell to Laos

Sunday, May 13th, 2007

Sabaai-diiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii dudes,

Sabaai-di, man do you hear that a lot in Laos. In Thailand most of the kids speak some English so you have to really get out into the sticks to hear a Sawatdi but outside the main towns of Laos it’s just one constant Sabaai-di from the kids. Sometimes you cycle through a village and it feels like one of those cop target practice sequences where a kid pops up in a window, fires a Sabaai-di at you and you have to spot him and return fire before cycling past at 20 mph.

Anyway what have I done since my last email. We went elephant riding for one. The actual tour was billed as a Mahout training course but I think that was pushing the definition a bit. I don’t actually know anymore about being a Mahout than when I started apart from pick the elephant that looks the most placid. Corinne chose one that looked a bit wild to me and she spent a few hours on the back of an elephant that did pretty much what it wanted and tried to get into fights with other elephants. The highlight of the tour was getting to wash the elephants. We woke at 6, fetched the elephants from the forest and the rode them into the river where we spent a playful half an hour washing the elephants although at the end it looked more like we’d been given the wash. After that it was a 4 hour kayak down the river back to the town of Luang Prabang. Kayaking was mint although it’s amazing how sitting on a bike for 10 months makes you rubbish at everything except cycling. I can pound out hundreds of miles no problem but a few hours of kayaking and I was knackered. We got back to Luang Prabang and collected our bikes from the tour office where I’d found someone had been messing with my speedometer and so it’d been zeroed again. Not the end of the world but a bit annoying.

We set off from Luang Prabang the next morning with Corinne a bit nervous about the impending hills. I’d been reading about a guy who’d followed a similar route to us a few months before and he caught a bus for the 200 kms south to Vien Vang so I figured he was either a bit of a wimp or the hills were serious. We left the town and a few kms later we started climbing. Then we climbed and climbed and then climbed somemore. 20kms later we got to the top of the hill and I could see Corinne wasn’t having much fun. Then it started raining. Coming down hills in the rain in Laos isn’t much fun. The corners are sharp and there’s no crash barriers. The first corner I came round a guy had come off his motorbike and so after a quick check that he was fine we carried on down the hill braking all the way. 12kms later and going down had become as tiring as going up. Then we started climbing and climbing and then climbing somemore. 25 kms later we were still climbing and Corinne was having even less fun. It was still 20 kms to the next town and it was 20kms of climbing as the town was on top of a mountain. I worked out we had three hours of climbing left to do an hour of daylight so we flagged down a bus and got ourselves to the next major town. On the bus I noticed a kid in front was carrying an AK-47 and I was told he was the guard for the bus which didn’t create the sense of safety I expect the bus company was hoping for.

Few days later we got to Vientiane and had a day of the bike and spoilt ourselves at the local restaurants. Laos is an interesting place for it’s contrasts. In the major towns of which I reckon there’s about 4 or 5 you can get great food from all corners of the globe. Outside the cities and noodle soup can be your only choice in some towns which has led me to have a pathological hate for noodle soup. Outside the major towns the place is truly third world although I’ve noticed that even the towns where they have no schools or medical facilities there will always be an extravagant temple. Religion truly is the opium of the people.

We left the capital city and headed south-east. The next major town would be Savannakhet 500kms away so we had a minimum of 5 days of the ubiquitous noodle soup. The other noticeable change outside the major towns is the quality of the accommodation. Cockroaches and squat toilets become the norm with a constant paranoia about bed bugs ensuring a fitful night’s sleep. Having said that no matter how bad it gets I know it’s better than some of the places I’ve slept in the past.

Our first night was spent in Ban Hai which seemed to be populated mostly by men who flirted outrageously with me. I’d walk down the street and you could be sure a few guys would just reach out and feel my arm. A non-English speaking English teacher sat down with us at dinner and proceeded to chat me up while obviously ignoring Corinne. She just sat their and laughed while I made doomed attempts to include her in the conversation.

The next day the rainy season started in earnest. The rain was torrential but it was that beautiful warm tropical rain that feels more like a shower. In the middle of the day we overtook some kids on bikes who then came after us obviously fancying a bit of a race. Being the lovely person that she is Corinne let the kids catch her and then pass her on the downhill. Me being the overtly competitive person let them get within 10 feet of my back wheel, dropped down a few gears and gave them some stick always keeping them the same distance behind but continually increasing the speed until they cracked. I knew Corinne would eventually catch up with me and have a disappointed in me look on her face but hey ho. I’m sure someone will get revenge on my next Monday night club ride.

The next day Corinne was feeling a bit tired as we’d done 3 sequential 100 km days and a nasty headwind had kicked up. She decided to catch a bus after about 50 kms and I’d do the remaining 60 kms on my own. As she’s correctly pointed out it was me who was stupid enough to want to cycle 25,000 kms in under a year so it’s me who has to stick it out on those days when the going gets really tough. I had to laugh though as 5 minutes after she flagged down a bus I met our first fellow cyclist since we left Bangkok. Even more bizarre was that the guy was from Corinne’s home town of Basel and he was on his way back home from Darwin, Oz.

5 days after leaving the capital city we reached the town of Savannakhet on the river Mekong. We planned to have a day off the bike as Bessie was needing some serious TLC as my gear and brake cables of been playing up for a while now so I figured I’d replace them all and retape the handle bars at the same time. Plus it’d be great to have a day or two eating something other than noodle soup.

The guesthouse we stayed in wasn’t fantastic but it had a great mix of people. Before I started on my travels I was probably a bit cynical about the travelers I expected to meet. My vision was one of people out in the world “trying to find themselves” or people just spending a year getting hammered in the backpacker hostels. I know those people exist and certain countries do have a reputation as places where people are just looking for the next cheap party and not caring what impression they make on the local people. In Laos though I’ve met a different type of traveler. Most are genuinely interested in the region and many are actively helping the people. Everyone has an interesting story with a genuine passion for making a difference. One night we had around 10 of us sitting round a table and it was 10 different nationalities with all the differing viewpoints that come from different parts of the world.

After a day off the bike we headed east for the 250 km ride to the Laos/Vietnam border. The wind had been coming from the east since we’d headed south down the Mekong so I anticipated a tough ride over to the coast and it turned out as expected. It was a fairly non-descript ride except for the masses of kids who instead of shouting Sabaai-di as we cycled past would shout bye-bye. It’s difficult to explain how excited the kids get when they sees us coming but a few times we’d have groups of kids running next to us shouting bye bye and doing high-fives. At one point I went past 5 kids standing in a row and managed to get them all high-fived. All those years as a bowler coming in handy at last.

We sailed over the border and into Vietnam with no great hassles apart from the usual thing of being stopped every 5 metres to show our passports. One thing Communist/Socialist countries have in common all over the world is too many people working at the border who have nothing to do and so they all just ask to see your passport to look important. Eventually we left the border with our only problem being a lack of the local currency. Luckily, Corinne had some universally accepted dollars on her which got us a bed and some food for the night. A strange thing about Vietnam is that the restaurants and cafes all have these little tiny chairs and tables. I know the people are smaller but not that much smaller than Laos and Thailand and yet you sit in these places feeling like Gulliver.

The ride from the border was something special with great views and minimal traffic. That leads me to my current impression of cycling in Vietnam. We left Dong Ha this morning in torrential rain but with a beauty of a tailwind and managed the 75 km ride in about 3 hours riding time. The traffic is chaos though. The drivers here are probably as bad as Laos except in Vietnam they have more cars/trucks/buses in a km than they have in the entire of Laos. To make things even more interesting, Vietnamese truck drivers communicate via high powered horns and use them at every opportunity even if it’s just to let you know they’re three feet away from your right ear. We have a hard shoulder to ride on which is a great help but it doesn’t make for a great ride. Our original plan was to stay next to the coast all the way south but we’re considering kicking inland after Nha Trang which is about 600kms south. It’ll mean some some climbing in the central highlands but I can see the coastal route wearing after a while. We’ll see.

Anyway so now we’re in Hue. Our first tourist town since Savannakhet. It’s notable for the number of tourists being pushed around in cyclos. When we go out for a walk we’re constantly hassled by people who want to cycle us round the city which seems somehow perverse. For me it makes a pleasant change to get out and have a walk. Tonight we’re going to find a decent restaurant that serves wine and have a bottle or two before we start the ride south tomorrow morning. Hopefully that tailwind will continue for a while.

Catch you all later.

Lots of love as always,

Craig. XXX

Greetings from Luang Prabang - Northern Laos

Wednesday, April 25th, 2007

Guten Tag zusammen,

Yeah I know it’s only been ten days since my last email but I’ve left Thailand and I always like to do a bit of summing up so here goes.

My last email was written from the town of Lampang in Northern Thailand. On our last day in town we rented a motorbike and headed out to the Elephant Conservation Centre which is on the road between Lampang and Chiang Mai. I’ve never ridden a motorcycle but I assumed I’d get one with automatic gears so it’d be no different to riding a motorised Bessie. My assumption turned out to be wide of the mark but once the helpful Thai lady gave me a 2 second summary on how the gears worked I hoped I could figure the rest out for myself. She neglected to mention the whole clutch thing to me which made for an interesting couple of hours but it’s a rented bike so I wasn’t too concerned. The elephant place was pretty cool. We just went for the elephant shows which is a couple of hours with the elephants doing tricks like playing musical instruments and painting pictures. Afterwards we fed them sugar cane which they go mental for. The place also did elephant rides but it was just an amble round the park and I figured I’d rather do it as a trek.

We left Lampang the next day with big plans to do 150kms but things didn’t quite turn out that way. By 10 pm I reckon it was easily 40C and getting hotter. To add to the fun we also hit some serious hills. The minute you’re going up hills you lose speed so bang goes that bit of wind that makes cycling in 40C heat bearable. We dragged ourselves over the hills for 80kms and then stopped in a road side minimart to ask if there was any accommodation up ahead. The guy working in the minimart said he had a bungalow for rent just next door and we could come check it out when we’d finished eating. We said sure and off he dashed. I could see the place from the minimart and I was watching this guy doing what looked like cleaning things up. We went round to have a look and the bungalow was fantastic but I reckon it was actually his house and I kind of felt bad about turfing him out for the night even if we were paying money. It really was great though with a verandah over a pond he’d built although he seemed to think we needed a romantic setting so he kept playing rubbish music by Phil Collins. Still we had a great time and the guy was a fantastic host.

Next day we headed for the town of Phayao. It’d rained for the whole morning which made for a much cooler ride. The town of Phayao is located on a lake of the same name. We cycled along the lake and were looked forward to finding a great place to stay lakeside. Amazingly although the town is built around the lake there isn’t any accommodation actually near the lake. Ironically we ended up in this strange guesthouse in he middle of town were the beds were surrounded by curtains just like you get in hospital wards. As a bonus we got our own pet cockroaches for the night and cockroaches are one of the few things in the world I’m scared of so a fun night was had.

After Phayao we headed for Chiang Rai. On the way I saw one of the more amazing Wats I’ve seen so far. In a country with thousands of temples it takes something special to stop you in your tracks. I’d try to describe it but it’s one of those things you just have to see so you’ll have to wait for the photos. We arrived in Chiang Rai in the late afternoon with plans for a day off but the previous days hadn’t been too taxing so we skipped the day off and headed for the Laos border which is two days ride from Chiang Rai.

The ride to the border is pretty sweet as you’re cycling large parts along the Mekong River. It’d be a lot sweeter if it wasn’t for the steep hills for the last 20kms or so. They really were nasty hills probably as steep as any of the passes I climbed in Kiwiland but obviously the heat just destroys you. We eventually arrived in the town of Chiang Kong which is the border town on the Thailand side. From there you catch a boat over to Houei Xay in Laos. We were stamped out of Thailand and then made our way over the river. Once on the other side we noticed there were a fair few people waiting for the boat to take them over to Thailand but what worried me was that it was the same people who’d just left Thailand before us. Turned out the immigration officer and stamped the wrong date in our passports so we either had to get it changed or spend a night on the pier. I headed back to Thailand and the immigration guy was very apologetic and so after some quick changes on my passport it was back to Laos for the second time that day.

I enjoyed my second time in Thailand although maybe not as much as the first but that’s because the place isn’t new and exciting anymore. It’s still one of the countries I’d recommend first to anybody wanting to get into cycle touring although the ride down the south coast is more enjoyable then the ride north simply because of the great beaches and the islands. Anyway I’ll be back in Thailand in about a month and a half for the ride from Cambodia to Bangkok so more time to continue the love affair.

Corinne and I had decided to catch a slow boat down the Mekong to the town of Luang Prabang and then head south from there on the bikes. It’s a two day boat ride with an over night stop in the small town of Pak Beng. We were told to be down at the pier at 9 in the morning to secure decent seating but as we found out time is a flexible concept here in Laos. The boat eventually left at 11:30 but it’s the third world so you expect these things. There were a fair few fellow tourists on the boat and it was interesting to see how the English managed to conform to their national stereotype and were hammered by the afternoon and playing drinking games by 5. A few of the older passengers were annoyed but they weren’t doing any harm so I didn’t see the big deal.

The next day was pretty interesting as the English tourists had obviously been up till late partying and were far more subdued for the rest of the journey as they nursed hangovers and concentrated on not throwing up. To add to the general discomfort the ferry company had pulled a fast one on us and used a different boat for the second day with half the space but the same amount of people. Honesty appears to be another flexible concept in Laos.

The boat journey itself was great. I know everyone is always trying to avoid their fellow tourists and look for the quiet spots but Corinne and I get that anyway because cycling means you tend to spend more time in the bits that other people just pass through on the bus. It was actually fun to spend some time with people and we met some interesting people and everyone had a good story to tell. I even got to do my round the world cyclist dance that I hadn’t done in ages as there was a dutch guy who’d done a fair bit of cycling so we passed the time comparing notes. Corinne sometimes takes the mickey out of me because I’ll go off to find some information we need about a place and then she has to come find me because I’ve gotten talking to someone and I’m chatting about cycling instead of finding us a place to stay.

We arrived in Luang Prabang yesterday late afternoon. The boat journey down the Mekong was a great experience and one of those must do experiences even if it does mean two days sitting on a wooden bench with zero space. Luang Prabang is a beautiful city, one of the best looking cities I’ve seen so far in SE Asia. It’s small enough that we keep on meeting people from the boat which is amazing considering it’s one of the bigger towns in Laos. Our original plan was to head off south pretty much straight away but we kind of fell in love with the place so will stay an extra two days. We’ve also booked ourselves on a two day Mahout Course which is a day and a half learning how to ride and care for Elephants with a couple of treks through the jungle and then half a day kayaking back down to river to Luang Prabang.

So far Laos is more touristy than I expected. I’d heard some stories about Laos being a difficult place the last time I was in SE Asia but I’ve seen more tourists here than anywhere in Thailand outside of Bangkok. Maybe that’s because there’s really only a few decent sized towns so everyone ends up in the same place. I’ve enjoyed it so far but you have to be more careful when dealing with the locals here as they seem more inclined to try and rip you off. I’ve been in a few situations where a coupe of thousand kip has appeared on the bill and the mistakes are always in their favour so I’ve discounted bad math. Also you’re dealing with multiple currencies and if you ask them to convert to a new currency it’s best to work out what you’re getting beforehand and then make sure you count it. It’s also important to check any transport you’re getting as that luxury boat they show you a picture of suffers from the fast food picture syndrome when you turn up and it’s actually a rust bucket. Another downside is that the Americans left enough unexploded bombs lying around for a couple of world wars so you have to stay on the beaten track when you’re doing any exploring but that shouldn’t effect our cycling. For it’s these quirks it’s still an exciting place though and I’m looking forward to getting into the countryside on the bikes and seeing things outside the main population areas.

Anyway it’s time for bed as I have to get up in the morning and learn how to ride an elephant which is one of those sentences I won’t type very often in my lifetime.

Lots of love as always,

Craig. XXX

Greetings from Lampang in Northern Thailand

Sunday, April 15th, 2007

Yo dudes,

Well it’s been about 20 days since my last email so figured I’d get another one out before my Mom gets the Thai police out searching for me. Having read a few books about the Bangkok Hilton that’s something best avoided so here we go.

My last email was sent from the town of Plimmerton about 50kms north of Wellington on the North Island. We had two days rest as we’d done some hard cycling from Christchurch and had spent a day in Wellington which was taken up with sorting flights out for Thailand and the required visas. We set off from Plimmerton with the aim of spending 4 days on the bike before catching a train to Auckland. The plan was to get to Auckland a few days before the flights as we needed to sort a number of things out before heading to Bangkok.

This time my trip to Bangkok was going to be a bit more complicated. For one Bessie isn’t young anymore. She’s done 20,000 hard kilometres and it’s starting to show. I really needed to get her a quality service in Auckland but time constraints meant this wasn’t possible. The other complication is that my route this time requires me to be more self sufficient. I’ve needed to buy pretty much all the major components for both mine and Corinne’s bike because if anything goes wrong somewhere like Laos you’re pretty much on your own.

I left Kiwiland on the 31st of March. My feelings about NZ are mixed. It’s a beautiful country but not the amazing cycle touring experience I imagined or had been told about by others. Culturally the entire South Island is too similar. You don’t get the feeling you’re cycling through a real country but more a eco-disney park for adults. The North Island is supposed to be more culturally diverse but as a cyclist you have the problem that NZ doesn’t have a secondary road system so you share the road with all the other traffic. To me it was too similar to Europe but without the advantages of a well developed road system where you can pick a road and not see a car for hours. Maybe I spent too long there or maybe it just came at the wrong time in my journey but NZ is the only country I’ve left with no real interest in either going back or learning more about. Even Serbia stirred emotions and got me reading books and trying to understand the Balkans.

I arrived in Bangkok late on the 31st. Corinne was on a later flight so I spent a stimulating few hours in the baggage area trying to finish Crime and Punishment. Corinne arrived and it was out of the airport and into the madness and heat of the Bangkok night. It was 30C at one in the morning so after the usual haggle with the taxi drivers we headed for the air-conditioned luxury of an 8 quid hotel in Chinatown. We spent two days in Bangkok mainly to sort out our visas for Vietnam and get any last minute supplies we couldn’t organise in Auckland. Shopping in Bangkok is a great test of how two people get on. Shopping and dodging the traffic in 40C heat not my idea of fun.

After Bangkok we caught the train 70 kms north to Ayutthaya. Last year I cycled out of Bangkok but I figured it’d be more difficult with the two of us so we braved the world of Thailand’s third class public transport. We arrived in Ayutthaya with a plan to head off early in the morning. Temperatures of 40C were predicted and it was Corinne’s first time cycling in anything approaching that type of heat so I figured we’d get up at sunrise and see if we could get some miles in before the heat got unbearable. That night we did some touristy stuff and checked out the temples by night. Afterwards we went for some food and had one of those small world moments when I met a French guy I’d seen a month ago in Christchurch. Not sure if it indicates the world is small or that people tend to travel the same road.

In the morning we were up with the sun and heading for the town of Lopburi 80kms to the north-east. I was worried about Corinne coping with the heat but by 10:30 we’d made good time and had done around 50kms. We had 30 kms left to do and while the temperature was starting to climb we could take it easy and increase our stops for cold drinks. We arrived in Lopburi at 12:30, a town famous for it’s marauding monkeys.

In the morning we set off even earlier than the day before as the distance to the next town with accommodation was over 100 kms. It was the first time Corinne had ridden over 100kms and the heat was a worry again with 40C plus being predicted again. As usual I was worrying about nothing and Corinne managed the distance without any problems. We were probably helped by a downpour mid-afternoon but the rain only clears the air for an hour here before the oppressive heat starts again. Most days we keep our mind off the heat with my attempts at learning German. I’ve bought a German phrase book and the days on the bike are spent seeing how much I’ve learnt. Usually not enough and the principle of gender in language makes a tough job just that bit tougher.

We continued heading north increasing the daily distances as we went along. By the time we reached the town of Sukhothai and had our first day off the bike, we were averaging a similar daily distance as when I was on my own. The only difference is that we’re having more days off for enjoying the country. I’d still like to finish the round the world in under a year for numerous reasons so it’s a case of getting that balance right. Obviously the other thing is that Corinne isn’t trying to cycle round the world in under a year so I have to balance the miles I need and ensure we have enough time off the bike for Corinne to do the things she wanted to do before she agreed to cycle SE Asia. This may include her traveling ahead by public transport to give her more time but I think she enjoys the challenge as much as me so we’ll see.

We left Sukhothai to time perfectly with the Thai festival of Songkran. I’m sure the festival has some deep cultural meaning but from what I can see it’s an excuse for kids to throw water over people passing by with tourists on bikes seeming to be some kind of bonus. Every town we go through involves running the gauntlet of kids armed with buckets, hoses and water pistols. As in keeping with Thais being polite it’s always done with an apologetic word and we’ve had kids say “I love you” before emptying a bucket of water over us. Corinne even had the police single her out for a special drenching when we cycled past a police station.

As with the last time I was here, the Thais have been as friendly and as courteous as you could hope for. We had a puncture one afternoon in the hottest part of the day and after fixing the puncture we were beckoned over by some guys working for the highway agency who fed us and watered us before sending us on our way. I was even challenged to drink some of the local whiskey which didn’t help me cope with the heat.

We’re in Lampang now which is about 250 kms south of Chiang Rai. We have one more day off tomorrow and we’re planning to head for the Elephant Conversation Centre and do some Elephant riding and if we have some time head over the hills to Chiang Mai. Chiang Rai is about three days ride from the Laos border and after crossing the border it’s a 2 day slow boat ride down the Mekong to Luang Prabang. Laos is going to be different and I anticipate a tougher ride than Thailand. Gaps between civilisation will be greater and it’ll require more thought and planning. It’ll be great to experience another country and a different challenge.

Anyways best go as it’s to try something new at the local restaurant.

Oh and for those people interested, my mobile is now working again although I’m not sure if I’ll have coverage in Laos.

Lots of love as always,

Craig. XXX

Email silence is broken!

Saturday, March 24th, 2007

Yo everyone,

Yeah I know I haven’t written for a while but I haven’t done a great deal of round the world cycling so I figured I’d chill it with the emails for a while. That’s not to say I haven’t had an interesting time of late just that it may not be of interest to anyone else. Apparently my family have been a bit concerned about me because I haven’t sent an email since February the 17th. I think my Mom even sent people emails asking if they’d seen me which for a round the world cyclist is one of the more embarrassing things that can happen to you. I wonder if Sir Edmund Hillary’s Mom was sending mail to all his mates checking if he was OK but I suspect the answer is Yes. To anyone who was worried I apologise

My last email was on the 17th February from the town of Greymouth. I’d decided to head over Arthur’s Pass and then over Lewis Pass which would mean I’d cycled all the major road Passes in the South Island. Arthur’s Pass was quickly put to the sword (get it?) and it really wasn’t that difficult. The last mile or so is tough but most of it is just about patience. Arthur’s Pass was more notable for the possum that ate through my right hand front pannier while I was camping one night. I’d left some Weetabix in there and hadn’t taken my pannier off the bike so he’d had the whole night to munch his was through. Even more annoying is that it turned out he didn’t even like Weetabix as after destroying my pannier he took one nibble and then ran away in disgust. I patched the pannier with industrial strength insulation tape which I’m hoping is waterproof.

It was Lewis Pass which I found the more difficult not due to the steepness of the road but because the top of the pass is over 100 kms from the nearest town of Culverden and I had a headwind for those 100 kms which took me to the cleaners. I most have looked exhausted as I started to climb the actual hill as a farmer took pity on me and pulled over and offered me a lift to the top. If I was a religious man I’d have assumed it was a test from God. I said no thanks and told him that I was climbing all the hills in South Island but he just looked at me the way farmers do when you tell them you’re punishing yourself for pleasure. I guess their lives are hard enough without having to make challenges up.

I headed down Lewis Pass and for the town of Murchison. The sandfiles were still very much part of my life with cooking and eating being the biggest challenge of my day. Trying to eat when you have a fly net on is something I’m not sure I’ll ever master. Maybe soup would work but anything solid becomes more difficult. I’m personally still amazed that humans haven’t come up with a way of destroying the entire sand fly population. I’ve never wanted to kill another human in my entire life but the govt still spends billions every year developing weapons that do exactly that. I’ve spent my entire time in NZ wanting every sand fly killed but the govt spends nothing on making it happen. So much for democracy.

I left Murchison and headed up towards the north of the South Island. I’d had a hard few days with the two Passes and hadn’t had a rest day in three weeks so when I went past a Backpacker place called the Hu-Ha Bikepackers I figured it’d be a great spot to spend a day off the bike. In fact I’d kind of stopped enjoying what I was doing. My life just seemed to consist of cycling and sleeping and while I appreciate that cycling round the world is going to have a heavy bias towards cycling I’d been really struggling to stay motivated. I felt like I wanted to get home which isn’t good when you still have 5000 miles to cycle.

I was in Hu-Ha Bikepackers when I met a Swiss girl called Corinne. We just got on straight away. I’ve met a lot of people on my journey who I connected with but with Corinne it was more than that. Within a few hours of meeting we were having great conversation like we’d known each other for ages. I explained about how I was feeling with regards to my journey and we got talking about my favourite countries and my biggest regrets. My biggest regret so far is that I didn’t apportion enough miles to the SE Asian part of my trip. If I knew at the start what I know now I’d have given far more miles to SE Asia. Corinne asked me why I didn’t just go back if I loved the place so much. I couldn’t come up with any reasons why not apart from the obvious financial one. We sat talking about it for ages and the more we talked the more it felt possible. Corinne was planning on heading to SE Asia around the same time so the idea was floated that we could meet up and do a bit of traveling together if and when we crossed paths. I spent a few more days at the hostel and after exchanging contact details with Corinne we went our separate ways and I continued heading north.

After a few days of cycling I still wasn’t enjoying myself. Corinne and I had been in contact and I asked if she’d like some company for a few weeks and I’d take a few weeks off the bike and we could travel round together by car. It’d give me a chance to do the things I’d missed while on the bike and she’d have someone to share costs with. Bessie was relegated to the back of the car and it was time to do some touristy things. I had a great time but after a week or so I was getting a bit restless for the bike again. I suggested to Corinne that we cycle the Otago Rail Trail together. It’s a 150 km off road track and perfect for someone new to cycling. She was keen on the idea and the only proviso was that I had to carry all the luggage.

The night before we were to start the trail we met a Kiwi guy in a pub who had a spare bike and he offered to let us have it for a few days which was great and meant a healthy saving on hiring a bike. He was a bit hammered when he made the offer so when we went round the next morning to pick the bike up we were just hoping he’d remembered. In fact he’d more than remembered and when we got round there the bike was cleaned up and ready for us. All the beer we’d bought him was more than worth it.

We headed onto the trail and I started off slowly for Corinne’s benefit as she hadn’t been on a bike in a long time and I wanted her to enjoy it. I needn’t have bothered as the first time I nailed it a little she kept up no problem and we managed 50 kms the first day in about three hours including stops for drinks and food. I doubt I’d have done it any faster if I was on my own. The next two days were the same. 50 kms every day done in around three hours. Remembering back to when I started riding bikes with all my mates back home there’s just no way in the world I could have covered that distance in those times.

On the trail we started talking about SE Asia again. Corinne had enjoyed the cycling enough to consider the possibility of cycling SE Asia with me which would mean we could cycle together and I could still complete my round the world journey in under a year. I explained that cycling the rail trail unloaded was nothing like putting in sequential big days with a fully loaded bike so we agreed on a compromise that she’d hire a touring bike for a week and tour NZ fully loaded and we’d decide from there.

We headed for Christchurch and hired a Cannondale T800 with panniers for a week with an option to buy. We then headed up the east Coast for Picton. It’s about 300 kms and we managed it in 4 days for an average of 75 kms a day. I’m amazed that Corinne could manage this and even though it’s been tough, going from not cycling to doing 75kms a day fully loaded she’s made it look easy. I doubt I could have done the same if the roles were reversed. When we got to Picton we sat and spoke some more about SE Asia and amazingly she was still keen on cycling.

I’ve booked my flight back to Bangkok for the 31st of March. Financially it isn’t one of my smartest moves but this is my journey and the chance to go back to somewhere I enjoyed with someone who’s company I enjoy isn’t something that happens every day. We’re just north of Wellington and will cycle up to Auckland with an aim to get there on the 30th and get some spares for the bikes

My plan is to stay in SE Asia till the 21st June and then spend a month cycling in America before returning home. It’s a plan at the moment and as likely to change as all my other plans.

Anyway it’s dinner time so I’m off to grab some food.


Lots of love as always,

Craig XXX

Greetings from Greymouth - Kiwiland

Saturday, February 17th, 2007

Yo lads and ladies,

Yeah so what’s been happening since my last email? Cycling and lots of it. My initial plans of taking it easy have pretty much taken a back seat now. The meandering aspect of my plans have remained intact and I’ve now cycled 1600 miles in NZ but I’m only about 120 miles from Christchurch, my initial starting point.

I left Dunedin on the 31st January and headed for the Catlins. After going on about how great cycling in NZ is I experienced some of the worst weather I’ve had since the start of my journey. Freezing conditions, fearsome headwinds and constant rain. To make matters worse I also experienced my first night of being unable to find anywhere to camp for the night. The Catlins is supposed to be one of the scenic highlights of NZ but I couldn’t see further than 100 metres for two days so I have no idea if this is true or not.

While tackling the Catlins I met a German cyclist called Jochen. It was great having company for the two days as we pounded out each wet, miserable mile. I was cycling with Jochen when I noticed my front tire was on it’s last legs. I didn’t have a spare but figured I’d make it the 130 kms or so to Invercargill. We got to Curio Bay and made camp for the night and I arranged to meet Jochen in the morning as I figured it’d be better having company for the last 100 kms to Invercargill with my tire looking so flaky. We’d arranged to meet at the junction at a specific time but I got on the bike in the morning and found I had a puncture. By the time I got the bike sorted and cycled on to the arranged meeting place, Jochen had set off.

I set off for Invercargill on my own into the driving rain. All the time worried about my now very dodgy looking tire. Part of the road from Curio Bay to Invercargill is unsealed and 6 miles after setting off I had another puncture. I fixed the puncture, carried on and managed 4 miles before I had another puncture. I managed another 3 miles and then another puncture. The tire was now truly history and fixing punctures was just an exercise in futility. The tire had a penny sized hole and the tube was pushing through. This combined with the unsealed road meant it was walking time and praying I could get a lift. Being an unsealed road, traffic was a bit scarce and to make matters worse, I was a bit restricted on the type of vehicle which could pick me up. It was a pick up truck or nothing really. I pushed the bike about 10 kms with no success on the lift front. Eventually I saw a farmer working in his field and asked him if he’d give me a lift up to where the road joined the main highway and then hopefully I’d have more chance of a lift. We lifted a sick Bessie into his pick up and headed for the Fortrose junction.

It was still 50 kms to Invercargill but I was hoping the increase in traffic would increase my chances of a lift. I walked another 10 kms without any joy. Pick up trucks would go past and just carry on going. Ironically I eventually got a lift when I wasn’t even trying for one. I was just sitting on the side of the road having another fruitless bash at fixing the tire when I couple stopped and asked if they could be of any assistance. They had a nice big pick up with nothing in the back so once again a sick Bessie was loaded into the back and off we set for Invercargill. They even dropped me off right outside the bike shop and as an added bonus, the shop had the make of tire I was looking for.

All this could have been avoided if I stuck to my New Year’s resolution of doing the small things. I’m great at doing big projects. Cycling Round the World, yeah, no problem. Something small and insignificant like walking into a shop and buying a new tire, I’ll just keep avoiding until I’m trudging through the rain in the middle of nowhere. This isn’t the first time I’ve done something like this and I’ve tried to analyse why. I came up with two conclusions. The first is that I don’t like doing mundane things. The second is that I enjoy the excitement generated by the possibility that something might go wrong. I knew that the tire would implode and then I’d have to walk for miles and hope for a lift but I viewed this as some kind of adventure.

After Invercargill I headed down to Bluff which for me is important as it’s the furthest away from home and the furthest south. There’s a sign post there with all the distances from the major cities in the world and London is over 19,000 kms away. For me it’s the end of my general heading of south, my direction for over half a year. From there it’s north until the day I return home.

Another change after Bluff was in the weather. I had my first day off since leaving Christchurch as the guy at a campsite heard what I was doing and gave me a night free in one of the cabins. I spent the day enjoying some of things I miss while traveling like steak and a bottle of red wine. I was happy to have the day off as the weather was still atrocious with a howling headwind. The next day the skies were clear and the wind had died down and changed direction.

I headed along the southern scenic route in the direction of Te Anau. Just south of Te Anau I met Lucy, a Scottish cyclist heading in the opposite direction. She was looking for a place to camp for the night and after sitting talking for an hour or so we figured we may as well camp together. She liked to wild camp where possible but felt better doing to with someone else so we headed down a side road and found a great spot next to a river. If there’s such a thing as status symbols and brands in the world of cycle touring then Lucy had the best everything. Hilleberg tent, Koga-Miyata World Traveler, Icebreaker merino wool cycling tops. She took the mickey out of herself about it but secretly I think she loved having the best kit. I shouldn’t be too hard on her though as she introduced me to the great tradition of bathing the Kiwi way as well as cooking me up a great feed. She said she was heading down to the river for a bath before dinner and asked me if I was coming. I said I didn’t have a swimming costume and when she replied neither did she it took me a few seconds to twig. Being English, bathing naked in front of people I’ve only known for a few hours makes me a bit uncomfortable but in keeping with my saying Yes to new things policy I figured what the hell. I’m sold on the idea and since then my main way of keeping clean has been bathing naked in the rivers and lakes of NZ. Hopefully I’ve scared a few tourists so expect reported sightings of dirty, naked Mexican fruit pickers to hit the local newspapers.

In the morning we went our separate ways with a general plan to maybe meet up on the West Coast. I can’t see it happening though. As a sense of perspective, in terms of the miles I cover compared to most cycle tourists, Lucy was just north of Christchurch on Christmas Day when I was half way up the east coast of Oz, 500 miles north of Sydney.

That’s one of the differences between NZ and Oz. In Oz, the cyclists you meet are mostly long distance cyclists not cycle tourists. Here people cycle maybe 30-40 miles a day and have every 4th day off the bike. In Oz, everyone you meet is covering outrageous distances with no rest. If you’re cycling in Oz you’re doing something serious. In a way it’s left me feeling a bit unfulfilled. Don’t get me wrong, I love NZ. The scenery, the great cycling roads, the climbs and the descents all make for a quality cycling but sometimes it all feels a bit easy after Oz. I’ve started inventing little challenges for myself. My current challenge is to complete all the famous road passes in the South Island. I have two left to go being Arthur’s Pass and Lewis Pass. Arthur’s is supposed to be the most fearsome and I’m doing it from the most difficult side tomorrow evening. I’m looking forward to it but it does feel a bit strange that I have to hunt these challenges. Maybe it’s because I’m meandering for the first time. Up until NZ every stage was point-to-point. Meandering sometimes feels like I’m padding out the miles. I’m not going across a continent, I’m kind of just wandering around. It doesn’t feel right that a round the world cyclist is wandering around.

In a way, it’s left me looking forward to the States where I can get back to point-to-point cycling. I’ve decided on my route through North America now. I bought a ticket from New York to Manchester for the 21st June so my North American route is now set. I believe it’s 4200 miles from LA to New York and I’ve given myself about 80 days in which to do it. With time at either end for preparation, this is an achievable target and I may even end up finishing early. Based on my current pace I’m going to leave NZ with around 12800 miles. You’ll notice that with the 4200 miles across America this means I’ll be cycling 17000 miles rather than the original 16000. The extra 1000 miles is obviously optional but cycling across America is an achievement within itself that I’d like to complete.

Not sure if it’s a coincidence but since I booked the flight I’ve started to feel a bit homesick. I’ve been thinking a lot about the people and things I care about back in England. Nothing serious but booking the flight has raised a lot of very real questions with regards to what options I have when I return. How do I balance my work ambitions with my desire to travel? Traveling is great but at what point does it become the norm and stop being an experience? It’s change that keeps life interesting. Having goals and dreams. There’s still three big rides I want to do. I want to cycle the full length of South America. I want to complete the full circle of Oz, taking the route from Darwin to Perth and then across the Nullabor. I also want see more of Asia. I reckon each could be completed within three months. My options then become to do all three in one hit which would essentially be another round the world or to work and do one of the tours and then work again. If I actually have a choice then I’d prefer the second option. Maybe find a job where I’d be allowed 3 months out every three years or so. I guess it’s all food for thought.

After leaving Lucy I headed for the town of Gore. I met Tony, a Kiwi bloke traveling through to Christchurch from Bluff. Ironically meeting Kiwis is a bit of a rarity in the South Island. Generally three types of people exist in the South Island. Farmers who you never meet, kiwis who service the tourists and tourists. You get that walking wallet feeling a lot. Meeting normal kiwis just engaged in every day jobs is difficult. I met Tony wild camping next to a river and after it started bucketing it down we did the only thing two blokes can do and headed for the pub. It was great to spend an evening talking to an obviously intelligent guy and getting an insight into NZ. A lot of the time it’s difficult to get past the tourist guff that’s handed out because it’s just so prevalent. I think that’s another reason NZ doesn’t really suit what I’m doing. I’m not a tourist and it makes it difficult when the whole place is geared towards extracting your tourist dollar when you’re trying to get by on a tenner a day. In most countries you have the option of getting out the tourist areas but South Island is pretty much one big tourist area so it’s unavoidable. The locals see everyone as a tourist and the tourists see the the locals as there to serve them. You meet people and they’ll exclaim how friendly the kiwis are and I wonder how many they’ve even met. Sure they’re friendly in the visitor centre but that’s their job. How many real Kiwis are people even meeting? I reckon I’ve met maybe four so far which is pretty poor considering the miles I’ve covered and the places I’ve been.

I said bye to Tony in the morning and headed north to Queenstown. I had a pretty bad day which wasn’t helped by my hang over and the continuing rain. First I found out some money I’d been hoping for wasn’t going to materialise which put a bit of a dent in my finances. Then my cassette lock ring came loose as the guy back in Christchurch hadn’t tightened it enough. I haven’t got the tools to tighten it so had to stop every 10 miles or so, unload the bike, take the back wheel off and tighten it by hand until it loosened again. This also put my hard gears out of action so I was spinning along at 6 miles an hour even on the flats. To end the day in style I also had a puncture.

I eventually reached Queenstown after stopping off at a local bike shop to sort the cassette lock ring out. Queenstown is just tourist central so my plan was just to cycle on through and head to Glenorchy. Lonely Planet had described the road as a killer for cyclists so it had to be done. It’s a tough ride but the old lady/devil ride out of Akaroa is still the toughest day I’ve had in NZ. It’s a great cycling road though. You skirt the lake all the way with mountains all around. I also had my first encounter with the dreaded sandfly on the way to Glenorchy. Each place seems to have some form of winged insect which makes my life hell. I figured out another reason that Kiwis are so active. If you keep moving then they don’t bother you. It’s when you stand still that they get biting. Question then becomes how do you do such life essential activities like cook. There’s been a fair few nights I just haven’t bothered and just got in the tent with a pint of milk and a 250g slab of chocolate. I could be the first man to be starved to death by sandflies.

After returning from Glenorchy I got to tackle the highest sealed road in NZ. There’s a cycling book called Peddler’s Paradise that the cycle tourists all have and it lists this road as an alternative which is blasphemy. It’s a tough climb but anyone who loves riding a bike should consider the highest unsealed road in NZ a must-do rather than an alternative route. It’s a great climb as well. Unlike most hills in NZ it’s more like the european alpine climbs which plenty of hair-pin bends so you’ve got plenty of time to admire the views of Queenstown and the surrounding mountains and lakes. Once at the top you’re greeted by a sign warning you it’s a 40 km down hill. Seems odd to be warned about something which feels so great. I pretty much free wheeled the 40 kms down to Wanaka.

After Wanaka I headed for Haast Pass which is another of the passes on my must-do list. I climbed over the pass and set up camp for the night just on the other side after finding the best camping spot of my journey so far. Just down from a waterfall, next to the river with a piece of perfectly sized flat grass away from the road. A bit of Kiwi style bathing was in order but man is that water cold when it’s coming off the mountains. Luckily I was on my own this time. I’d done 5 days of serious climbing including the highest sealed road in NZ, Haast Pass and the road to Glenorchy and I reckon this, combined with the great spot meant I didn’t wake up till 10:30.

Haast Pass is the gateway to the West Coast. The ride down from the pass winds through countryside of stupendous beauty. Every corner takes you breath away as you go past another waterfall, another lake and all this time you’ve got the peaks of the southern alps around you. After the town of Haast you’re in West Coast proper with mountains to your right and the Tasman Sea to your left and all the time you’re cycling through lush rain forest. I’ve been really lucky with the weather on the West Coast. I headed up to the two famous glaciers, Fox and Franz Joseph. Franz Joseph gets 7 m of rain a year but I’ve had perfect weather every day. I checked out Franz Joseph Glacier rather than Fox as it’s a shorter walk so less time worrying about the bike. All along the West Coast I’ve been finding camp spots that money couldn’t buy. I have no idea why people pay for a camp site when you can just pitch a tent in some of the best looking spots in the world for free.

After Franz Joseph it’s been a fairly flattish ride up to my current location, Greymouth. I met a Bob, a 60 year old Scottish cyclist in the town of Whataroa. I seem to get on with the older travelers more and we sat and had a good talk for a few hours. I told him my journey was to raise money for Macmillan. He gave me his number back in Aberdeen to give him a call when I return home. He said he owed the cancer charities some money and I’m guessing he’d lost someone close to him but he obviously didn’t want to go into details so it was left unsaid but there.

Today I had a shortish day. I’ve done some big days of late with some tough hills and tomorrow is supposed to be the toughest of them all. I’ll head East over Arthur’s Pass and then come back on myself to do Lewis Pass. After Lewis Pass my intention is to head north to Picton and catch the ferry to the North Island. I’m still a bit undecided on my route as I haven’t heard great things about cycling in the North Island but I wanted to get to Cape Reinga as it’s the northern tip of the mainland of NZ. If I want to head to Cape Reinga I’ll need around 1500 miles on the North Island which means I have to leave the South Island in the next two week or so.

Anyways catch you all later.

Lots of love as always,

Craig. XXX

Yo peeps and peepettes

Tuesday, January 30th, 2007

Well I managed to get out of Oz. Left Andy’s house after a great 3 days chilling and doing normal stuff like eating take-aways and going to the cinema. Andy was a great host although she was a bit shocked to hear Morgan had only known me for a few days. She was under the impression that we’d been mates in SA. She handled this new found knowledge with aplomb though and didn’t throw me out which was a bonus.

I had a bit of a hiccup at the airport as it turns out you need a flight out of NZ before they’ll let you in. I found this out at the check in desk so I had 15 minutes to decide when I’m leaving NZ, where I’m flying from and then buy a ticket to America. After a quick rush round to the Travel Agent, which is no easy feat when you have a bike balanced on a trolley, I managed to get myself a ticket from Auckland to LA for March 31st. This gives me around 75 days in NZ.

Each section of my journey I seem to have a theme. The theme for NZ is going to be meandering and taking it easy. The theme in Oz was meeting great people and making sure I did enough miles so that cycling round the world in under a year was attainable. With that pretty much done I can now meander and take it easy so I’ve given myself a target of 3000 miles to be cycled in 75 days.

I arrived in Christchurch (ChCh) at 1am on January 14th. Rowena and Morgan had arranged a place for me to stay in ChCh with Rowena’s sister, Ange and her husband, Ives. Ange had offered to pick me up from the airport but, in true cycling round the world fashion, I declined and decided to ride the 20 miles or so from the airport to the suburb of Sumner. Probably not one of my brighter ideas as I was cycling through the city at closing time for the clubs so took a mixture of abuse and well wishes from the drunkards staggering home. I also happened to get my most random bit of abuse ever when I guy shouted at me “You look like a terrorist mate” which got me wondering what terrorists look like in NZ and made my instantly suspicious of anybody on a bike with panniers.

Additional excitement was provided once I got to Sumner and attempted to find Ange’s house. Ange had said she’d leave the key outside in a shoe. In NZ a lot of the houses are sub-divisions so 2/15 means the second house of number 15. Morgan had just written down the number 2 and I didn’t know about the whole sub division thing so went looking for the first house with a 2 on the outside. I found some shoes outside number 2 but no keys. After searching for a while I figured I best knock on the door and after some serious knocking an old lady answered the door and I figured this wasn’t the right house. Luckily she was the old lady of the confident and sprightly sort rather than the panicky call the police sort and wasn’t vaguely worried about inviting a stranger into her house at 4am. I had a phone number and a surname so she went through the phone book and found me the correct address I was looking for. 100 metres more pedaling and I was at the right place and into a welcome bed.

Next afternoon I woke up and met my hosts Ange and Ives. Like her sister Rowena, Ange is one of those people where nothing is too much trouble. I thought it was pretty revealing when I noticed a book on her shelf called “How to Say No More”. If you’ve met someone who everyone thinks needs to say no more then you’ve usually met a great person. I recommended she read Danny Wallace’s “Yes Man” in an effort to counteract the negative effects of the other book. Ives is one of the most active people I’ve ever met. One day while I was lying around reading he went rock climbing, surfing and mountain biking. In a way he reminded me of one of those religious people except his religion is fun. If they weren’t out doing something fun and active then they were planning something fun and active.

On about my third day there, I had the option of mountain biking with the guys or a road ride with the girls. I’d been out with Ives for a quick jaunt on the MTB the day before and apart from being beasted up a hill, I realised my MTBing skills were even more appalling than when I was in England. I had zero balance. Maybe if someone had chucked on 35kgs of panniers I’d have been better but that didn’t seem in the spirit. So I decided to go out riding with the girls hopeful I’d get a bit of an easier ride. I’d like to say that my decision was in no way influenced by the idea of cycling with 5 lycra clad women before anybody says anything.

The easier ride didn’t quite materialise as I expected. The ride was short but involved a 6 km climb straight from the off. The girls were all pretty fit and we set a decent pace going up the hill. I had the excuse that I was on an unloaded Bessie, with her big racks and wide tires, and they were all on light road bikes but it’s just that, an excuse. It was a great ride though and riding without panniers felt like heaven. I pushed the pedals and the bike actually responded. I was climbing with the speedo showing double figures instead of the usual 4 miles an hour. The weather was also great and the views of ChCh and the surrounding bays were awesome. It was just an added bonus that I was cycling with 5 women and got big smiles of “lucky bastard” from the blokes we’d pass going the opposite way. That’s what amazed me about ChCh. At any given time the ratio of male to female cyclists was pretty much equal. In England most cycling clubs are pretty much all male and it’s a shame these divisions exist as it’s great that weekends and activities can be planned where everyone can take part fully.

By Thursday I’d run out of excuses to hang around Ange and Ives’ place. Bessie was fully serviced and with a new chain, rear cassette and front rings, we were ready for the hills of NZ. I’d had a great time and, once again, I was completely in awe of the kindness of strangers. Every time I start a new section of my journey is feels daunting for some reason. Like it did the day I left home. The feeling goes after a few days but that first day is a bit of a “first day at school” moment and I have no idea what to expect. “Will I be able to find places to sleep?”, “Will I be able to find Stagg Chili?” and “Are the cows as friendly in NZ?” are just some of the questions troubling me. Yes, with great difficultly and no are the answers in case you were wondering.

Luckily I was ready for the hills as within 2 minutes of leaving it was climb time. Evan’s Pass was first on the agenda, a little 3km, 250 metre climb to let the legs know they ain’t in Oz no more. This was following by Gebble’s Pass, similar to Evans and then 20 miles of flat before my main course of a 6 km, 450 m climb over to the French town of Akaroa. None of the climbs were that steep, just long and constant. Having said that I had the reward of the great descents and as with pretty much every descent in NZ, I was accompanied by great scenery to take the pain out of the climbs and add even more pleasure on the way down. That night, I arrived in Akaroa and set up camp next to the lake.

In the morning I headed into the small French town of Akaroa. It was founded by a group of French settlers in 19th century and has tried to retain some of it’s French charm so you cycle down Rue Lavaud, turn left into Rue Benoit while passing all the shops with cheesy French names. While there I was asked by a old lady if I’d take part in a questionnaire. I say old lady but now I realise she was actually the devil in old lady form. After helping her with the questionnaire she suggested an alternative route back out of Akaroa that, while a bit steeper than the way I’d come in, would mean I wouldn’t lose any height once I’d done the climb. One half of her advice was an outrageous understatement and the other half was an outright lie. The road she sent me up was a 4 km, 650 m world of pain. It works out to an average gradient of around 1 in 6 but this only tells half the story as the first 2 km aren’t that bad, maybe 1 in 8 before you get to the last 2 kms of 1 in 4. You know things aren’t looking good when the cars go past in 1st gear with the passengers looking at you sympathetically. At the top I started pedaling along what’s the lip of an old volcano. This would be the section where I don’t lose or gain any height that Beelzebub had been referring to but which turned out to be a sequence of steep down hills followed by steeper up hills. I eventually dragged myself into Little River, having taken 5 hours to cycle 30 miles, set up camp and passed out.

After Little River I headed inland, avoiding the main highways, heading for the quieter, more scenic regions along the Southern Alps that run down the spine of the South Island. My intention was to head south and then kick further inland again towards the Lakes region before coming back out to the coast again along the Otago Rail Trail.

My route took me over Burke’s Pass which was my first climb since Akaroa. It was 750m and after my pasting at the hands of the 650 m climb out of Akaroa, I approached it with some trepidation. I got to the town of Burke’s Pass which is at the foot of the climb and, engaging in some top class procrastination, I got talking to some locals. First question I asked was how high was the climb and I was told it was 750 m which I already knew. Next question was the important one, how long was the climb? 2 kms I was told. I did some calculations and worked out I was looking at a 1 in 3 climb. Luckily the women I’d asked saw my look of horror and explained that I was already at 550 m and had been climbing unnoticed for the last 40 kms so I now had a nice little saunter of 1 in 10 for the remainder. One thing I’ve learnt about NZ is that it isn’t the mountain passes you need to worry about. They’re usually gradual and the biggest test is of your patience as you twiddle up them for hours on end. It’s the rolling hills that’ll hurt you as you constantly lose and gain height over a very short space of time.

It was here that I also figured out why Kiwis are the leaders in the world of extreme sports. I reckon they suffer from danger envy. Kiwis have been hearing Aussies go on and on about how dangerous Oz is and how they have 9 out 10 of the most dangerous snakes and how “YOU’RE GONNA DIE” if you do anything, that the Kiwis had to even things up by doing bungee jumping, cave rafting, river sledging and anything else you can think of that’ll kill you.

After Burke’s Pass I headed to the stunning Lake Tekapo. The lakes in this region have been given the most vivid hue of blue from fine rock left behind when they were created by the encroaching glaciers. If you get there on a clear day, the shade of blue is enhanced by the reflection from the sky and even more special. It was 30C when I arrived and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky so I sat and had a nice long lunch by the lake before setting off for Lake Pukaki with it’s much vaunted views of Mt Cook. Since I’d come over Burke’s Pass I’d had majestic views of the Southern Alps. It makes putting in the miles so much easier when you have such amazing scenery around you.

I arrived at Lake Pukaki and noticed a spot by the lake with a few tents already erected. I headed over that way and pitched my tent. I was dying for a cup of tea but didn’t have any milk so asked one of my fellow campers if I could borrow some milk. She looked at me a bit funny, said yes, so I wandered back to my camp and brought my cup over. We got talking and I asked if they wanted some books as I had some I’d finished and I know it can be difficult to find decent books to which they said yes. After I came over with the books they invited me to join them They introduced themselves as Nikki and Heather, two Northern English girls from over the Lakes way. They’d been traveling round India and Sri Lanka before coming to NZ and after talking to them, India and Sri Lanka are now on my agenda. We had a fair bit in common as Heather worked in a bike shop when she wasn’t at uni and had been to a talk given by Alastair Humphreys, a guy who’s the round the world cyclist of round the world cyclists and someone I’d gotten some advice from in the past. We lit a fire and Nikki pointed out one of the most awesome comets I’ve ever seen which easily took up a third of the sky.

Nikki also explained why she’d looked at me funny when I asked for milk. A guy had asked them for milk the night before and they’d said yes. In the morning, they’d left their tents and gone for a walk and the guy had gone into their tents and covered the inside of the tent with honey which was one of the more random acts of tent vandalism I’d heard of. Hopefully I left them with a more positive impression of milk borrowers. Great thing that came out of our meeting was that I think I convinced them to cycle the Bangkok to Singapore route as their next place to go. They left their email addresses so I can send details when I get back and I can also answer any questions they may have. The more long distance cyclists the better.

The next morning I headed for the fearsome Mt Cook which just a few days before had claimed the lives of some Japanese climbers. The road hugs Lake Pukaki for the 55kms from the turn off and so you’ve got the majestic Mt Cook in front of you and the distinctive blue of the lake to your right. A truly awesome ride. I camped in the DOC park for the night and set off again in the morning. Along the way I noticed a bloke riding an Orbit bike which are made in Sheffield so I figured he’d be a northerner. Turns out he was from Seacroft in Leeds just across from where I used to live in East End Park. He’d cycled across America twice in both directions so I got some advice from him with regards to my route. Seems everyone I meet has an influence on where I’m heading.

I left Paul in the small town of Twizel and headed for the town of Omarama where I found another great spot to camp next to the river. Seems I find a great spot to camp every night in NZ and they’ve all been free which increases the pleasure. In the morning I left Omarama and headed over Lindis Pass which is a 1000 m climb but one of those long gradual climbs with an even better long gradual descent on the other side. Think I measured that I didn’t have to pedal for 10 kms on the other side. I also met a great looking Chilean girl called Claudia in the tiny town of Tarras. Her English wasn’t that great and she was trying to explain to me that she’d seen some guys cycling the South Island on unicycles. This involved a game of charades with her trying to describe their seats to me which looked more like she was telling me she’d met some guys with massive erections. I was going to say fair enough but eventually I figured out the unicycle thing. She was amazed that South America wasn’t on my itinerary and set about selling the place to me which wasn’t too difficult. Further down the road I stopped to help a young guy who was having problems with his bike. After we had it sorted, we cycled along together. He asked me how old I was and when I told him he said it was great that someone my age was cycling round the world. The highs of Claudia to the lows of some 14 year old kid making me feel my age in the space of 15 miles.

The next day I joined the famous Otago Central Rail Trail (OCRT) which is 150 kms of disused Railway Track that the DOC have converted into a trail for cyclists and walkers. It took me in the direction of Dunedin which I was headed for as I’d ran out of books a few days before. Running out of books is fatal to my attempts to take things easy as I start increasing my mileage in an effort to get to a bookshop. The OCRT is brilliant with no steep hills, unbelievable scenery and most of the time it’s just you out there on your own. With it’s tunnels and viaducts you really get a sense of traveling the gold fields of the past. The track is a bit rough in places but Bessie handled it all with her 2 inch wide MTB-style tires. It made a welcome change from pounding the roads. As a bonus there’s a sequence of huts along the way and I spent the night in one of the better ones and had a great sleep. People ask me if I ever get lonely when I’m out there on my own but the time I most wish I was with someone is when there’s something positive to share. The tough times I get through on my own and the monotony of endless miles I can cope with. It’s those moments when you see something amazing or find that great place to sleep for the night that you kind of wish there was someone there. I guess more so that you’d have someone to reminisce with when it’s finished.

As I said earlier, my theme for NZ would be meandering and taking it easy. I’d decided to go for an average mileage of around 40 miles a day, a lot less than the 60 miles a day I’d been aiming for in Oz. I wanted to see more of NZ and I’d figured reducing my mileage and meandering more would help. So far I’ve succeeded only in the meandering aspect of my aim and I’m still averaging similar miles to Oz. I just seems that’s the mileage I feel comfortable doing. I’ve done 700 miles since I left ChCh and a direct route would have been 200 miles. This may mean I leave NZ with more miles than my target which will have an impact on my route through North America. After talking to Paul I’m considering another route which wouldn’t involve Canada and, weather-wise, would be a better option. I don’t have to decide for another month or so but I need to buy a ticket to the UK to fulfill my visa requirements before I leave NZ.

Anyways best go. Apologies that it’s another long one and well done to anyone who makes it to the end of this email. The South Island is low on internet cafes but high on great things to write about.


Lots of Love,

Craig. XXX

Fair Dinkum from Melbourne!!! - Sydney to Melbourne and the end of my Oz journey

Thursday, January 11th, 2007

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G’day Cobbers,

Man how to start this email eh? First off I’d like to say a few thanks to the people that have tried to keep the fund raising ticking along of late. I know a few of you in particular have tried to raise awareness by hassling family and friends as well as by posting links to the websites in various places on the internet and by also trying to contact a few newspapers. We’ve gotten some donations using these channels and as the cliché goes, every little helps. On top of that, even if these channels don’t bring donations, we’re still raising awareness for Macmillan Cancer Relief. I’d also like to thank the Brighouse Echo for running the story in their Christmas edition with plenty of mentions of the website and how to donate.

Well I’ve finished Australia. I arrived in Melbourne yesterday evening on the 10th January 2007 after what was, by my usual standards, a fairly sedate 13 day, 1050 km meander round the SE coast of Australia.

My original plan was to do a 10 day ride to Melbourne and then spend a few days in Tasmania before flying to Christchurch on the 13th January 2007. This was probably unrealistic and foolhardy for a number of reasons. The first reason is that I hadn’t had a day off the bike since Mackay which was on the 8th December 2006 and close to 2000 miles ago. I’d averaged around 70 miles a day since, day in, day out without a rest. The second reason is that it wouldn’t have allowed for a rest period between Australia and starting New Zealand. I think a bit of contemplation about where I’m going and where I’ve been is vital so I binned the idea of Tasi and decided on a more sedate ride down to Melbourne.

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When I left Sydney I reckon I may have been suffering from a degree of physical exhaustion. It’s sometimes difficult to measure whether the aches and pains are real because I’ve noticed that when the end of a continent is in sight, I start noticing physical problems that I’ve been ignoring for the last few thousand miles. I try and tell myself that if I’ve gotten this far without noticing these things then I should be able to continue doing so but to no avail. The legs start feeling stiffer in the mornings, the lactic acid burns more when I’m tackling hills, the skin on my hands and feet starts cracking and bleeding from the hours spent putting oressure on them and I seem to have developed a problem where my right shoulder goes numb after a few hours riding.

None of this was helped by the terrain when I left Sydney. I had a choice of routes to get me to Melbourne being the scenic Princes Highway or the monotony of the Hume Highway which crosses the Great Divide and then ploughs through barren Outback for 750 kms. I obviously chose the more scenic 1050 km but as always on a bike, you have to pay for the views.

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An interesting development is how my perception of distance has changed. I was discussing the impending leg from Sydney to Melbourne with a guy I’d met and realised the idea of cycling 1000 kms didn’t seem remotely daunting. When I entered Germany I remember looking at the map, measuring out the 1000 kms and just feeling awed by the miles ahead. I think there’s a number of reasons for this, the first obvious one is that Australia has readjusted my definition of distances. It does that to you. “Down the road” can be two months cycling. The second and most important reason is that every distance in the future is a proportion of what’s gone in the past. 1000 kms in Germany was 60% of what I’d ridden up until that point. Now, 1000 kms is around 7% my total distance. This means that each time I contemplate a distance in the future it becomes less daunting. Unfortunately this doesn’t work for individual days as the physical reality of sitting on a bike for 6 hours still over rides everything.

The physical reality of the Princes Highway is a lot of very real hills. You climb constantly from Sydney in NSW to Orbest in Victoria which is around 600 kms of climbing and descending. Forget your image of Australia being flat and barren. After 8 days of climbing I know I had. The hills are very similar to those I found in central Germany. Short and sharp so you climb for long periods before a quick sharp descent then it’s back to climbing again. None of this is helped by my bike which is now in desperate need of a new chain so I only have about 5 gears out of the 27 which don’t slip every time I put some pressure through the pedals. Choice of gears now limited to what’s available rather than what’s needed.

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As I’ve said in the past, I don’t really mind hills and prefer them to flat terrain with a headwind. The downside of hills south of Sydney is that they involve a reaquaintance with my old friend the fly. I’m pretty sure that at the bottom of each hill there’s a little fly bus stop. Millions of the little bastards wait for some poor unsuspecting long distance cyclist to go trundling past and then they hop on the back of the bike and get a free lift up the hill. I wouldn’t mind if they were well behaved and just sat on the bike but they have to swarm around and pester the driver. This involves making darting dives at my eyeballs, trying to get up my nose or in my mouth. Obviously I’m climbing out of the saddle most of the time so need both hands to stop me from falling off the bike so the flies have carte blanche to torture me as and when they wish. I use the fly net for the big hills but I try and wear it as little as possible as it makes me look like spiderman in the descents and acts as a kind of cheese grater on my nose.

I continued south down the coast line for a couple of days before I reached the small town of Kiama. I found what I thought to be a beauty little spot but which turned out to be some Wetlands. Lesson number 459 of cycling round the world is never attempt to sleep near any Wetlands. The grass is always too long to get any tent pegs in and mosquitoes just love Wetland so you’ll be mozzie fodder as soon as the sun goes down. Finding places to camp has been tougher of late, mainly because I made the conscious decision to always put my tent up. This decision was very much influenced by the last few times I’d looked up at the sky and thought “no way, I mean no way is it going to rain tonight. Tonight I sleep under the stars” only to wake up at 4 in the morning in a tropical storm. I was considering getting a tattoo at some point and I’d been trying to think of something relevant to my journey but “PUT YOUR F***ING TENT UP” across the back of my hands seems the most fitting.

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I gave up on the Wetlands and headed into town to see if I could find anything. I was standing in the middle of a field trying to look like I wasn’t looking for a place to sleep (difficult with a fully loaded bike) when I met an Aussie couple out walking their dogs. With them being Aussie, we got chatting, they introduced themselves as Mart and Julie and after I’d told them I was looking for somewhere to make camp for the night, they offered me a bed back at their place. I think it was that maternal thing again which seems to have saved me on numerous occasions during my journey. Women with children of their own, look at this daft bastard wandering around a field and think that could be their son. Their offer came at a very opportune moment for me. I don’t think I’d had a shower in about 10 days, I was seriously struggling for clean clothes and everything I had that required power needed charging. On top of that a night in a bed and a chance to eat something other than packet noodle or tinned food is always appreciated.

They were fantastically kind people. You can always tell good people by how much they consider what a guy who spends his entire life outside on a bicycle needs. Julie was always weighing up what she thought I needed and getting it spot on pretty much every time. People forget that just being indoors is novel for me and when I get the chance I just want to stay out of the elements for a few hours and relax. Julie and Mart thought of all this. I left them the next day with half of Julie’s Christmas leftovers on my bike. I think there’s an opportunity being missed there as all over the world, there are people who have Christmas leftovers and starving round the world cyclists just passing by. Put them together and everyone’s happy.

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I continued on my way, forever climbing and descending but energised by the kindness I’d been shown. I was sitting in a rest area when I saw a fellow long distance cyclist going the same way so after downing my free cup of tea I headed out after him for a bit of a chat. His climbing wasn’t too hot so after a couple of hills I managed to catch up with him. His name was Koen, a Dutch cyclist who’d just set off from Sydney and was heading out to Perth across the feared Nullabor. He suggested we ride together and has I hadn’t ridden with anybody since Thailand I figured sure, why not.

Now I don’t know if I’ve changed but I seem to have lost the ability to cycle tour with others. The guy just started annoying me after our first break. He was wearing full lycra and those cycling shoes which make you prance everywhere. Oz is a bit of a man’s type of country and if there’s one thing I can recommend to anyone thinking of touring Oz is DO NOT wear full lycra and racing cycling shoes. If you decide to ignore this advice then don’t blame me when the good ol’ boys in the outback consider you a welcome change from the cows. The other thing is that people tour differently. I’ve become a point-to-point cyclist trying to spend as little cash as possible. This creates it’s own routine and ways of doing things. I cook my own food, I’m always on the look out for that perfect wild camping spot where no one can see me and having a 6 ft 5″ Dutchman dressed in a fluorescent yellow lycra cat suit with shoes that you can hear from 5 miles away kind of puts paid to any attempts at remaining hidden for longer than 2 seconds.

I didn’t have the heart to tell him I really wanted to cycle alone. You know, give him the old “listen Koen, it isn’t you. it’s me man, I’ve changed and well I think it’s better we go our separate ways”. We headed for a campsite which really didn’t make me happy. I’ve grown to pretty much detest campsites. The idea of paying for $20 for a piece of grass in a country the size of Oz with a third of the population of the UK offends me. To make matters worse it was New Years Eve and all the normal rules were abandoned for the night so I had to pay for the privilege of listening to banging house music till two in the morning instead of being asleep in a beautiful bit of forest somewhere. I woke up the next morning in the foulest of moods, trying to come up with ways of getting rid of this guy. We cycled on for 10 miles when I was saved by my drunken friends phoning me to wish me Happy New Year. I told Koen not to wait for me and I’d catch him up later. I sat talking on the phone for a few while and then when I set off, found the first turn off and went the long way round. In fact Koen did me a favour because for the next few days I went on a bit of a go-slow for fear of catching him again and got the much needed rest I needed. I did sequential 40 mile days, finishing early both days and although it wasn’t a day off the bike, the short days helped me recover slightly.

It was on one of these short days that I met Andrew and his pregnant wife Kate in a rest area. They lived out of a campervan and were traveling the East Coast until Kate was due. Andrew was a great bloke and we hit it off immediately. Think John Peel but alive and without the ability for discovering fantastic music. Andrew appeared to be putting all his talents into living a life doing pretty much what he wanted. Maybe you won’t understand this and it probably won’t come across in print but he had a bit of a thing about stealing particular signs and then modifying them and putting them back again. In Oz there’s a bit of a thing going on where they keep making the rest areas no camping areas and obviously there’s a counter-movement that fights this. Coincidently it’s the caravan parks that want the rest areas closed to camping so we have to pay their scandalous prices for a bit of grass. Andrew’s thing was to travel around modifying the signs to say “YES CAMPING.” Yeah I know it sounds juvenile but, I don’t know, it’s a harmless form of protest I like. We stayed the night at the rest area and Andrew had some New Years JD so we sat up talking rubbish, looking at the stars and trying to come up with ways to modify Australia’s army of DO NOT signs. We said our byes the next morning and it was back to the hills again. We met up a few more times as they’d pass me on the road and stop and give me something bizarre like some corn on the cob they’d just picked.

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A couple of days later I made it across the border and headed for Genoa, the first town you come to in Victoria. Like any other country, the inhabitants of each state/county have disparaging stereotypes about the other states/counties. I’d been told in NSW that Victorians were considered simple country folk and I think I know what they problem is. Genoa is the first town over the border and I reckon people come from NSW, stop in Genoa for a drink, shit themselves and head back to NSW again. Honestly the place is Hicksville with all manner of interbred people staffing the one hotel and one shop. A barman with a face like he’s looking down a gun barrel, an old lady in the shop who treats your request for a Coke like you’ve walked in and took a dump on her counter. I half expected to find the cycling equivalent of the banjo playing kid from Deliverance. I’d leave on my bike and he’d cycle along and I’d speed up and he’d keep pace and no matter how fast I went he’d be keeping pace without breaking a sweat. Eventually I’d be unable to keep up and he’d prove how even with all my fancy city ways sometimes, simple animal instinct conquers all. Later on his uncles would find me in the forest and it’d be squeal piggy time. Luckily none of this happened and I managed to escape unscathed and back to the hills. Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.

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More hills saw me to the small town of Cann River for some much needed milk and chocolate. I was sitting outside the general store next to a woman when a South African guy, sitting opposite, piped up “so chocolate and milk is what gets you round Oz then?”. We got chatting and I went into my usual song and dance about what I’m doing and why. Turned out the woman sitting next to me was his wife and after spending a while chatting away to the two of them she disappeared into the shop and came out with their address and directions with an offer of a place to stay about 270 kms down the road. They introduced themselves as Morgan, Rowena and the two little girls they were trying to keep control of were Emily and Olivia. The condition of my stay was that I’d have to baby-sit joked Morgan. I asked Morgan about the terrain that lay ahead and he told me it was pretty much flat from here which was great to hear.

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Eventually two other long distance cyclists wandered up asking me about the terrain that lay ahead and Morgan and Rowena headed to the pub for a beer. I sat talking to the cyclists for a while, scaring them about how much climbing they had to do before they arrived at Sydney. It’s quite interesting how a hierarchy of cyclists exists and with more miles I move up the ladder. I remember being in awe of the people I’d meet who’d done big miles and almost apologising for my measly few thousand miles or so. Now it’s me that people talk to in an apologetic manner because they’re staying in campsites or only doing a 1000 kms. I certainly don’t feel any better than these guys and cycling 1000 kms is still an immense achievement that most of the population would never dream of doing but you still notice that hierarchy. I find it makes me always try and play down what I’m doing which when you’re trying to raise money for a charity probably isn’t the best thing. 15,000 kms? Outback? 45C heat? Easy dude oh and will you donate to my charity for this feat of easiness I’m undertaking?

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I headed out from Cann River, looking forward to this flat run that Morgan had mentioned. First thing out of Cann River I found a perfect little camping spot and called it a day. In the morning I started off cycling again and the first thing I did was start climbing. 8 kms later I was till climbing and starting to doubt Morgan’s word about it being flat from here. Maybe it’s after this hill I thought. 100 kms later and I was still climbing and descending. I reminded myself to have a word with Morgan when we met again.

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Eventually the road flattened out near Orbest. I put in a couple of easy days again as I didn’t want to arrive at Morgan and Rowena’s place on a Saturday night as I assumed they’d be out or busy. I’d left myself about 40 miles from where they lived, the town of Sale, so I’d arrive at their place early afternoon. This turned out to be a bit of a mistake as I cycled my way into a front that was producing 40-50 knot side winds. It’s probably the strongest wind I’ve ever cycled in. Much stronger than the winds I’d encountered in the Outback. The only saving grace was that the wind was blowing from my right so I was getting blown off the road rather than into the traffic. I was blown off the road maybe 10 times and to the car drivers I must have either looked drunk or like it was my first day out of stablilisers. I turned into Sale which then gave me a headwind for the last 2 miles to the house. I reckon it took me 30 minutes to cycle that 2 miles and when I arrived I was pretty goosed and covered in a thick layer of Victoria’s finest soil. The drought down here is severe and when the wind kicks up the dry soil gets everywhere.

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Upon arrival I was handed a towel and bundled towards the shower. Luckily I’m not a sensitive guy as this seems to happen to me an awful lot. It turned out they weren’t joking about the babysitting and after a few hours chatting they headed out for a short while, leaving me with some phone numbers and a baby asleep in the bedroom. Now you may think this was pretty trusting but it turns out Morgan and Rowena had done their homework and checked out my website with all my musings. I guess the advantage/disadvantage about having your soul bared on the internet is that people have a distinct advantage in as much as they can get a handle on your personality before you’ve even met them. Sometimes I’ll be sitting chatting to people and I get the impression they know the answers to the questions they’re asking me. It’s slightly unnerving because you’re not sure if someone is being incredibly insightful or if it’s just that they’ve read your writing. I asked Morgan about the hills and he laughed and said it was to keep my hopes up. Rowena reckons it’s because, being a pilot, everything looks flat to him. I reckon it was a bit of cruel South African humour.

I spent two days with Morgan and Rowena and they really are two of the warmest, most open people I’ve ever met and great parents as well. It was interesting for me just spending time around a young family and watching the complexity of dealing with two young children. Makes you realise that sometimes, those of us who think we’re out being adventurous and daring in the world are taking the easy path. Morgan and Rowena couldn’t do enough for me. Nothing was a problem. I’d wake up in the morning and Morgan had been getting maps for me to get to Melbourne via the back roads or putting my photos onto CD. Rowena made sure I had the meals she knew I couldn’t get on the road and this was after a day working as a doctor in the hospital. We’d have great conversations about the world till late in the evening even though she had work the next day. I told them about my planned motorcycle journey through South America and a CD of Che Chevara’s Motorcycle Diaries appeared one night.

I left their house after they’d organised me a place to stay in Melbourne and in Christchurch. I’m not sure my writing can do justice to how grateful I am. I’m also not sure if my writing can do justice to how kindness like that affects you when you’re on the road. One of my reasons for starting this journey was to test my faith in humanity. I was a theoretical believer in humanity before I left England and this journey has been about putting that to the test. Don’t get me wrong I’ve had bad things happen and I’m not naive enough to believe bad things aren’t going to happen. That isn’t the point though. The problem is that when you sit at home in a world of comfort you think you negate the effects of the world’s negativity but you don’t as it’s drip fed into you through numerous channels. All you do is cut yourself off from the positives, the day-to-day human kindness that exists. Kindness that humbles you and gives you the confidence to be kind and open.

I headed for Melbourne with a monster tailwind pushing me for the first day and made 70 miles with half a days riding. I found a fantastic camping spot just south of Drouin. It was on one of the back roads Morgan had written out for me. The next morning I made contact with Andy, a friend of Rowena and Morgan who lives in Melbourne City Centre and I arrived here last night. It’s the perfect place just to gather everything I need before my flight to NZ on the 13th and also to rest and relax. I’ve made contact with the people I’ll be staying with in Christchurch. Turns out there’s a mountain bike I can use so I’m going to check out some of the famous NZ single track. Should be amusing just to see what riding a fully loaded 50kg bike for half a year has done to my balance. I remember taking the panniers off somewhere in Germany and heading for the shops and being unable to ride the bike because I was so used to accounting for the weight distribution.

Well now I’m finished Australia. Jesus it’s been an epic journey. 5000 miles through some of the most unforgiving parts of the world as well as some of the most beautiful. I’ve met the most wonderful and interesting people you could wish to meet. Amazing to think that when I was in Malaysia it was Australia I feared more than any other part of the journey. Amazing to think that for the first three days on the stretch from Darwin to Katherine I didn’t think I could do it yet I adapted and even learned to love it. Interestingly it feels like yesterday. I get the feeling time is starting to accelerate as the miles mount up. I’m sad to be leaving and a few times yesterday I’d climb over a hill and feel moved that this was the end of my journey through Australia. I’ve had people question whether I’ve seen enough in Australia. I’ve missed out a lot of the sights that the tourists usually aim for but that isn’t what I came for. It’s people that interest me and in that respect I couldn’t have asked for more. I think I took the correct descision with regards to my route. 2000 miles in the Outback was perfect and then the variance of the east coast for the remaining 3000 miles. It means I got to see most facets of Oz from the outback of Central Australia, the tropics north of Rockhamption, down through the sub-tropics and then the forests and hills of the south-east coast line as well as most of the major cities. It’s the Oz people who have been the stars though. Kind and open in a way that’s a lesson to Europeans.

Obviously I’m also excited about New Zealand. I new challenge, new people and new experiences. If it’s as enjoyable as Oz then I’m in for a treat. I’ve also done some research into the North American leg of my journey and I’ve decided on cycling up the American Pacific coast, cross into Canada and then run parallel to the Canadian border till I reach my goal of 16,000 miles and then take it from there. 16,000 miles would put me half way across Canada which gives me the choice to keep going or get a plane home. Guess it depends if I have a tailwind or not.

Anyways best go as I have city things to do.

Catch you all in New Zealand.

Lots of love as always,

Craig. XXX