It’s a strange title and one that might be easily misconstrued. You may expect this article to be concerned with the finer detail of the 100 Cols tour that I want to undertake this summer. You could be forgiven for thinking it might be about mental preparation or the fundraising aspects of my next journey, but it isn’t that either. The challenge I’m rising to at the moment is one where changes seem to dominate my life, both in the detail, and the bigger picture.
A few weeks ago I wrote candidly about the frightening changes that were occurring in my mental well-being. Following advise from my doctor and my therapist I changed the drug regime I had been on. I did it in the hope of stopping what had begun to feel like an inexorable slide towards another major episode in the battle to maintain my mental health. There were immediate positives from the change. I began to sleep better with far less nightmares. The waking anxiety seemed to begin to fade and I felt less like another mental collapse was inevitable. Then, out of the blue, my body shut down. Easy rides left me exhausted and muscles ached after any physical activity. My mind went wild with negative emotion, leaving me in a state of shock at this unexpected response.
I contemplated what may have caused this decline and made a decision based on my thoughts. I’ve been trying to fundraise in order to ride the 100 Cols tour this summer. To date I’ve managed to raise the sum of £650.00. Whilst I’m very happy with this, it isn’t enough to allow me to undertake the route I wanted to do without some major compromises that could have a negative impact on my health. Of course I was initially disappointed, but it will still be there for the future.
Alongside this a fundraising day I had been organising has fallen through. This is completely outside of my control, so if you hoped to see me speak at Yarde Orchard Cafe and then eat and dance the night away to local bands, I’m sorry but it isn’t going to happen. There was another possibility that I haven’t followed up (apologies to Graham Heysett for putting in the ground work), but faced with the need to completely re-organise my ride, launch my next book, and find the strength to pedal, I felt it best to let this go.
I’d also been worrying about benefit changes and what they would mean to me. I now have it confirmed that my house isn’t under threat from being too big for my needs. It’s a shared-ownership property and therefore exempt from bedroom tax. I also now know that my local council will continue to pay my council tax for the next year, another small event that was worrying me deeply. Isn’t it odd that a government who want us all to be well and working create the conditions that ensure we probably wont recover any time soon?
At the end of last week I made a decision that seems to have helped. I decided that it doesn’t matter where I ride or what I do, that I just need to be out there riding. I have enough money to ride in France for a good few weeks, and I have friends I hope to see who live in the south of the country. Just being in France would represent another big step forwards for me, and as I mulled this over the pressure I was putting on myself began to fall away.
Since I changed my medication my energy has gradually increased and my mind has begun to settle. I completed a short ride with Michele on Easter Saturday and felt good in myself. Afterwards I took a good rest, sleeping for several hours, but I woke feeling fine and are now looking forwards to riding again tomorrow (Wednesday). I recall feeling similarly to this last year and I succeeded then, so it’s best to accept the changes and be thankful that I’m able to do anything.
This leaves me with one decision to make. What am I going to do? With so little time to make a decision and organise anything complex I’m going back to the old formula that has served me well for the last three and a half years. France is a stones throw from Plymouth, so I’ll ride from home to catch the ferry, which in turn will deposit me in Brittany, at Roscoff. The new Velodyssey route runs for 1200 Kilometres in France, all the way down the west coast from Roscoff to Spain. At eighty percent traffic free it’s a must ride for any touring cyclist. From somewhere around Bordeaux I will leave this route and head south-east for Pau. Crossing the Pyrenean high passes eastwards should be a highlight and deposit me close to my friend’s house and a well-earned rest. The journey north will then begin and the route may well see me riding through the Auvergne and later picking up the Eurovelo 6 route along the Loire before heading back across Brittany from Nantes.
I haven’t even looked at mileage yet, but the easier route south, and the number of towns I will pass should mean longer days are possible with stop-overs using a combination of camping and Warm Showers feasible. I hope to use this organisation to cut the cost of the journey and break the solitude of solo travelling.
The advantages of this route are that I get to feel that I’m leaving home slowly, rather than being displaced quickly and having to adjust to that scenario. It also cuts the cost of the travelling by a huge margin. To ride and return from Strasbourg would mean travelling up to London and then across France. This way I can walk onto the ferry and arrive in the morning all refreshed and ready to ride. The three hundred pounds saved will allow me to travel for longer, as will any stop-overs where I choose to use Warm Showers, the cyclist community organisation whereby you can find a bed and a meal for free, wherever you travel. Take a look at www.warmshowers.org.
My proposed route crosses the path of the Bike Express at several points. This service is there to allow cyclists to complete linear routes or circular tours in many popular areas of France without having to ride from a ferry port in the north. It involves a luxury coach with a bike trailer that makes regular journeys down the west coast and central France to the south. They pick-up and drop-off cyclists at any number of points on pre-determined routes, providing a great service in some comfort. This will provide an easy bail-out option should I need one at any point. You can find out about this service at www.bike-express.co.uk.
So I now have an outline, an idea to develop. The mapping for the Velodyssey route is freely available online at www.velodyssey.com and if you wish to, you can download the GPX file to your GPS. If you wish to do something different you use www.viamichelin.co.uk. You can plan for the car, cycle, or walking, and then print of the sheets you require. Brilliant. All I intend to do is use these facilities to copy sections over to my road atlas, and use them as I go. For the techies amongst us I’ve downloaded an app to my iPad called Outdoors-France. I can use zoomable online maps and I also have the choice over paying to download map sections to the iPad that I can then use offline with all the same features as the online version.
To date that’s as far as I’ve got. The next few weeks will tell what’s what in terms of my health, but like many others I think the change of environment, and hopefully some warm weather, will help me rebalance after this unending winters weather. I did ride again on Wednesday. Michele was going home and I decided to ride to Bideford and back as long as I felt up to it. We left on a bright and sunny, but inevitably windy morning, making our way slowly along the hilly lanes that lead to the Tarka trail by following Sustrans coast to coast route .
Dartmoor rose majestically in the distance as we hovered on ridges and plunged into valleys. The roads were dry and once we reached the Tarka Trail we found it in a better state than I’ve seen it in months. Work is ongoing, filling pot-holes and water runnels, clearing ditches, and generally cutting back overgrown vegetation whilst clearing the surface of debris. Stopping at Orchard Cafe for lunch it was good to see so many people enjoying being outside on cycles once again. Families and children were all enjoying their adventures, along with the guaranteed peace and safety of this Devonshire asset.
The sunshine also brought all the normal springtime features. Some people rode past looking terrified at finding themselves on a bicycle again, whilst others whizzed along effortlessly. Walkers blocked the trail, runners were deaf to our approach due to iPods, and dog owners managed to almost always be on the opposite side of the trail from their pets, whilst one of those extendable leads lay in wait for the unwary. The more imaginative owners would wait until you were close and then call there animal to heal, leading to close calls as the poor mutt ran in obedience, completely unaware of the fast approaching cyclist.
These are the consequences of sharing trails, and it’s all our responsibility to make sure that accidents are avoided. For the most part people were happy to say hello, share a conversation, or step aside as they heard the pinging of my bicycle bell. All in all it was a very enjoyable ride, and I arrived home feeling tired and happy, pleased that my mind and body had both enjoyed the experience. Falling into a bath after stretching and eating completed the day, along with a gentle stroll to the fish and chip shop for tea.
This brings me neatly to fundraising during this years ride. I will spending time on the Velodyssey route as I stated earlier. Sustrans have developed trails all over the UK and continue to do so in partnership with Europe. The UK sections of Eurovelo 1, The North Sea Cycle Route, and Velodyssey routes, are down to their hard work and I continue to try to support them. This past year has seen the trails I know and love severely damaged by the atrocious weather. I remember my first days riding when just being away from home was frightening. Sustrans trails soothed my soul and troubled mind at that time, allowing me to develop as a cyclist. They also provide a facility that’s growing and developing to meet the ever-increasing needs of those for whom being outside, and away from busy roads, helps them enjoy their leisure time. For those reasons I have chosen to try to support them again this year. Watch this space, I will be launching a Just Giving page soon.
My own fundraising is now all but over. If you would like to contribute you can do so at www.gofundme.com/21d2eo Every penny helps me to stay on the road, but more importantly it helps me maintain the balance of my mental health.