Categories
Inspiration Philosophy Of Travel

What the heck am I supposed to do now?

Bulgaria. Autumn. I roll to a halt beside Andy. “Mate,” he says. “We have a problem. A really big problem.” I look down. There’s a six-inch crack along the rim of his rear wheel and the inner tube is bulging horribly from the gaping maw. We are only 3 months into our round-the-world bike ride.

What the heck are we supposed to do now? 

Categories
Inspiration Scandinavia 2011

5 Reasons To Go Winter Cycle Touring (& 5 Reasons Not To)

Cycling Scandinavia in the winter of 2011 was an intensely memorable experience, ticking all the right boxes at that time in my adventure cycling journey. Here are five reasons I’d urge other adventurous riders to give it a shot:

  1. Challenge
    Winter cycle touring throws a lot of new considerations into the mix. After 18 months on the road in more temperate climes, I needed to push myself, broaden my experience and learn some new skills.
  2. Beauty
    The ethereal sunlight and snow-clad lands of the far north might be as familiar to locals as grey skies and patchwork fields are back home, but for me this harsh spectacle was rarely short of breathtaking.
  3. Solitude
    This region is sparsely populated, and the back country is all but deserted during winter, save for a few skiers and skidoo enthusiasts. Need a place to unwind and reflect? Head for the Arctic.
  4. Hospitality
    “We’re as cold as the weather”, said one Norwegian lady. But, although a world away from the hospitality of the Middle East, I was often taken in from the bitter cold for food and a place to sleep.
  5. Safety
    If you do get into a pickle, the fact is that you’re still on the road, probably in range of mobile phone signal, and therefore never far from help. You’re not so far from home. It’s not a polar expedition, even though your clothing, camping setup and ice-beard might have a lot in common with one.
Sleigh riders

Not convinced? Excellent! Here are some handy reasons why it’s a really silly idea:

  1. It’s cold. Really cold
    Frozen toes, cold-aches, numb buttocks, oozing nostrils producing giant snotty icicles, permanently fiddling with zips and hoods and gears and brakes whilst wearing massive mittens — and this is supposed to be fun?!?
  2. It’s dark. Really dark
    Go north at New Year and you’ll notice that the sun doesn’t bother rising at all. A little later and you get only a few hours of pale light in which to accomplish your daily distance. Otherwise you’ll be riding at night at minus goodness-knows-what-temperature, which is fine if you’re a masochist, but not if you aren’t.
  3. It’s expensive. Really expensive
    Norway’s reputation for high prices is well-earned. Expect supermarket food to be twice the price of back home; accommodation three or four times more.
  4. It’s slow. Really slow
    This can’t be overstated. You can’t ride at a clip without getting hot, sweaty, cold, and motionless, in that order. Everything has to be done with painstaking methodology, in acute awareness of temperature, sunlight, wind-chill, gradient, exertion, food intake and caffeine level. It’s exhausting.
  5. Camping sucks
    Sleeping bags suck up body moisture and freeze solid. Stoves, lighters, matches, cameras, laptops, tent-pegs and a host of unpredictable bits and pieces stop working properly. Forget to change into a down jacket immediately and you need half an hour of star-jumps to get warm again. Condensation freezes inside your tent and you get a shower of ice crystals every morning. Your food freezes on it’s way to your mouth, to the sides of the pan, and to your Edwardian-explorer-style moustache.
Sunrise in Lapland

Like many such endeavours, the memory of an experience like this is far sweeter than the reality from which it draws. But if you detect a rogue thought wandering your mind, craving irrational challenge, and you’re already well-versed in the routines of life on two wheels (or even if you aren’t), I’d highly recommend giving a winter in the outdoors a little consideration.

Find out more about the equipment I used when cycle touring in the Arctic Circle, or read about how to stay warm when camping at thirty below…

Categories
Inspiration Other People's Adventures

Who Is Jumber Lezhava? (And Why Should You Care?)

He’s sitting behind a paper-strewn desk in a unlit office with faded pastel-green walls, surrounded on all sides by boxes and files which obscure the room’s sparse furnishings. A woman in full-length furs is comfortably installed behind a flickering computer screen, clicking noisily away while talking on the ‘phone.

The stocky, white-haired lecturer rises to greet us and smiles calmly, an unassuming dignity and openness about him. This diminuitive, friendly-faced Georgian in a woolly jumper carries a glint in his eyes which speaks of experience beyond the limits of communication.

Jumber Lezhava looks nothing like the bristling superhuman I’d assumed he’d be.

“If I go more… er… seven countries,” says Jumber, matter-of-factly, “all world finished.”