The smile says it all :)
The smile says it all 🙂

With just three weeks to go until Michele and I head off to France  to explore Brittany on our trikes we still haven’t managed a camping weekend. The beautiful week that has just passed by coincided with Saturday work for Michele and although I took the opportunity to ride out from home I didn’t feel up to camping or being away.

There have been many changes since I set off at this time last year for France. Apart from our trikes the biggest change is that we now have to transport the equipment of two people. We have bought a bigger tent and some new sleep mats in order to improve comfort. The tent is a relatively cheap one from Vau De, the well-known German manufacturer. It’s a value for money kind of a tent that pitches inner first. Although this isn’t always ideal in the kind of weather we get in the UK I managed nearly twenty years with a Wild Country tent that pitched this way so it should be fine.

The big advantage of this tent is that it has the benefits of a simple two-pole dome tent in its simplicity but with an extra transverse pole for strength and (hopefully) the ability to withstand winds. It also has two entrances, one placed on each side, with space between the fly sheet and inner tent for each of us to keep our personal belongings. This makes getting in and out much easier, especially if one of you has to get up at night. I’ve pitched it in the play area next to my house and it seems of a quality as you would expect from such a big, internationally known company. At 3.8kg it should provide a comfortable living area for us on our travels without being too big to lug around.

I’ve said many times that as I age I want more comfort. In order to keep enjoying my touring trips. This year I decided to head down a different road regarding sleeping mats. Every self-inflating mat I’ve owned has given me problems at some juncture leading me to dub them self-deflating mattresses. This isn’t that surprising given the high usage I’ve demanded of them. Putting that aside I don’t find them particularly comfortable and for that reason we have invested in to rather expensive Exped Synthetic mats. I should say that they are not much more expensive than top-line mats from Thermarest but they are different.

I first heard about Exped’s products from fellow travellers who were impressed by the quality and comfort of the mats. They come in a range of thicknesses from 5cm to 10cm and you choose whether you prefer  down or synthetic insulation. There is little weight difference between the down and synthetic models but you get a much higher level of warmth from the down versions. If you choose to use the down version in the UK the same things apply as when you use a down sleeping bag: you have to keep it dry and air it well on a regular basis. We chose the 7cm thick model which seems luxuriant when tested in my lounge!

Devon at its best
Devon at its best

I don’t suffer from cold when I sleep, the opposite in fact, so the synthetic one should be fine for me. These mattresses don’t self-inflate but come instead with a built-in pump. This may be a little more of a hassle than rolling your mat out and making a cup of tea while it inflates of its own accord but the pump seems fast and efficient from my practise attempts and a couple of minutes of steady work will give a nice, firm, comfy mattress. The versions we have bought are the long-wide versions where all of you stays on the bed, not just your body. I personally hate short mats, narrow mats, and ultra-light mats, particularly those the squeak or rustle loudly each time you move (sort it out Thermarest). The weight penalty over an ultra-light mat is considerable but comfort levels seem incomparable.  Our Exped mats come in at around 1100 grams each, more than many ultralight tents now weigh. If you need ultra-light take a look at the many other offerings from top manufacturers. ‘What price for a good nights sleep?’  is my mantra regarding this issue.

Cooking wise we will stick with the Trangia. Slow, simple, and reliable, just like me in fact, and with easy access to fuel in France  this is a no-brainer as far as I’m concerned. I love the little thing, despite the weight and bulk. Always happy to boil water whilst pitching the tent, (weather permitting) the boiling pot and I meet harmoniously as the last peg goes in with a little luck.How to carry it all has given me a headache. If you read this blog regularly you will know I love trailers and all the reasons for that being the case. It isn’t that simple with a trike. Trikes can easily carry weight and don’t:  a) waste energy moving the load about like a bike with panniers can, b) fall over when you stop, or: c) make life awkward trying to get your leg over without falling flat on your face (if you see what I mean). You can load it up and go and there’s the problem.The only real advantage of the trailer when triking is  that the weight of all the equipment is removed from the rear of the trike which will almost certainly aid the handling while removing the stress placed on the rear wheel by loading it.

Trevor, my faithful and highly regarded Carry Freedom, Y-Frame trailer, recently took a trip to Scotland. After thousands of miles I decided that new bearing were in order despite the fact the old ones still seemed perfect. Whilst it was there I suggested to Nick, who owns the company, that it was time to remove all the gubbins that is supposed to release the wheels with the push of a button (but no longer does) and to glue the axles in place. Nick being the great engineer he is found a better way. He has drilled the axles and they are now held in place by simple bolts through the chassis/axle with a nyloc nut on the other end. Remove the nut and bolt and pull the axle out, wheel removal couldn’t be more simple or reliable.

Once Trevor came home I made a lightweight cargo base for the chassis. I had the intention of using a sturdy cargo bag from the gear manufacturer, and now high street name The North Face, which I’ve had for years. This alone saves nearly 1.75Kg’s in weight. I then changed my mind and dragged my lovely aluminium box from the shed. Changing my mind again due to weight worries and concern over intense leg pain I put it back and reverted to the bag. Then I spied my big plastic storage box which was ironically full of storage bags! Large, light, strong, and waterproof, it fits beautifully on the chassis. Hoorah, a decision made at last.

Towards Dartmoor
Towards Dartmoor

Michele is going to use my Ortlieb, Back-Roller, panniers for her personal stuff and between us we now have enough space to move house. The rest of the equipment is the same stuff I’ve used over the last few years. We have bought some new fleeces. Michele never had a really good quality fleece and the ones I’ve been using no longer look or smell too good after thousands of sweaty miles in the saddle! Once biological powder fails to freshen them up it’s time to reduce them to bike rags I think. Enough said?

So all in all we are ready to roll. The weekend forecast looks a bit dodgy but it’s only Tuesday and we are running out of time for a trial run. The venue will be Stoke Barton Farm Campsite near Hartland, North Devon, one of my favourite places in the world. I spoke to the owner this morning only to learn that the wonderful cafe they ran is now closed. I felt heartbroken for a minute until she told me that they still make/sell the scones, clotted cream, and jam, that makes up the best cream tea in the UK (up until now anyway). It should be a pleasant ride from Barnstaple and we are both excited about our first trike trip.

Not so pleasant was the phone call to Brittany ferries concerning car parking while we are away. They want £10 per day for us to leave our car at the ferry port which would add the princely sum of £210 to the cost of our trip. Our initial response was a simple and united ‘sod that’ and we are looking at alternatives. If you know anybody who would be kind enough to let us leave our car at their house please do get in touch via my website or GraemeWillgress.com Facebook page. We would be extremely grateful if anybody can help out with this. Alternatively we will leave early and cycle there, which could be the perfect start to the trip.

West coast cruising, Isle of Arran, Scotland
West coast cruising, Isle of Arran, Scotland

Back home things are much the same. My energy levels rise and fall like the wind and although I feel a little more settled it’s really taking its time this year. I find myself easily exhausted and overcome with anxiety and depression. I get frustrated and angry with my inability to overcome what’s happening and it’s a battle from day-to-day to get going for more than an hour or two. Riding my bike, talking to my friends, therapist and doctor, and being realistic about what I can do are all helping me deal with this. My routines and rituals are being heavily leant upon and Michele is more supportive than I can express in words.

In the last week I’ve had an inclination of an idea. An acorn to grow for a while before any execution is needed. I think it’s a great idea and I will let you know what it is at some future point if I think it’s a realistic extension of my project. It will involve riding and writing but from a completely different angle from what I’ve done up until now. It’s exciting to ponder this and make tentative plans towards making a start. I have no idea at present how long it will take to reach fruition but that’s the joy of new things. Can I? should I? Will I be able to? This is the stuff that us humans are made for and for me it’s the food of life. I need to stir me soul, to explore new avenues, and to find a way forwards. It isn’t easy to do when you feel pinned down in life but it is what makes it all worthwhile.

Until next time……………………….