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Friday, 13 July 2018

Breathe in... Breathe out....

Day 5... Breathe in...

My last whole day in Monachil and I was slightly undecided what to do... as in I was so spoilt for choice that it was hard to choose just one thing!

I decided to hedge my bets and threw the bike into the car. As usual first glance outside and the skies were blue... promising another astoundingly hot day.

I set off back towards the forest... only again I would drive further to the parking place I had seen near the end of my last ride. I bounced around the gravel roads... taking in all the scenery... breathe in...

I parked up and now came the choice... bike further down the road I had turned back on the other day... or ditch the bike for a day and head off into the foothills along one of the myriad of footpaths that dotted the hillsides.

A quick glance at revealed a sign for a waterfall along a walking path (signed with a 'no bikes' sign. The waterfall won the argument and I set off one foot in front of the other along the dusty path... bleached almost white by the force of the sun.

The path skirted along the hillside to begin with... each bend round revealing another glacial rock formation. The valleys had been carved out by now dry rivers and the only clue left to the myriad of waterways that once existed were the chutes down the mountain sides... now a parched parody of what they once were.
Amazingly greenery existed in the form of scrub bushes and wild lavender along with alpine plants. Excepting the lavender, it seemed that to exist up here, a plant must be armed with spikes of varying sizes and I tested these on many an occasion where even a slight brush past would leave me with a scratch or a blood trail.

The trail was kept interesting with rocks to scramble down or more usually up and the air was fresh. Not a soul was to been seen... I literally could have been the last person on the planet. At times it felt like I was on a different planet ... the rocky outcrops resembling a moonscape at times.

Eventually I reached the turn off for the waterfall. The path stretched downwards and the brush got thicker and thicker as I descended towards the river at the base of the valley. At times I was almost crawling as I ducked and dived under and over the greenery... thicker and thicker ... with the aforementioned thorns grabbing at my clothing as I went.

I came to a sudden halt at the rushing river... the continuation of the path visible on the other side. Off came the socks and shoes and as I gingerly stepped into the water.. my feet almost instantly froze from the glacial water. Fortunately it was only a short crossing but at one point I was up to my knees.
Socks and shoes back on... I continued along the 'path'... so overgrown even I would hesitate to name it thus. My doggedness was rewarded as the sunlight streaked through the bushes and a clearing was revealed... a pool and the roar of a small waterfall as it crashed into the pool. It felt like a discovery of epic proportions and if it wasn't for the pair of discarded socks I could have believed that I was the only human to have set eyes on this.
I sat there for a while... perched on a rock near the edge of the pool... Breathe in...

I watched the butterflies and dragonflies as big as my fist dart around the edges ... listened to the bird song... became lost in the sound of the waterfall rumbling...

But reality hit with the flies biting my legs and the serenity was disturbed. So I followed the path back up to where I had branched off... where now?? Another glance at showed me a possible route that stretched along this valley.. then climbed up and over the ridge before tracing a mirrored path back to the beginning. Time was on my side and water supplies were reasonable even with this heat.

As I wandered along the path... shade was hard to come by... the scrub not tall enough to offer any relief from the burning sun... the scenery was enough to distract. I tried to hold the air in my lungs... the memory of the silence and peace in that place... as it would soon be a thing of the past.

I came to a double track path... and it started to climb up... fortunately the pines were now evident providing a better approximation of shade.

All was going well until I rounded a corner and came face to face with a pair of horns... rather long ones... attached to a rather mean looking cow. Behind this were several other mean looking cattle and a few young.
I dont like cows... especially ones with horns... and these ones didnt seem to like the disruption. Unfortunately for me.. they were blocking the path and I wasnt about to try and herd them!
So I took the other option... climb up the bank of scrub bushes (remember the thorns) and make my way up and around the roadblock. Great idea! Made better when one of the cows glared at me and began pawing the ground.

Having made my way past.. my next problem was how to get down off the bank/cliff. Put it this way... it wasnt elegant!

I bum shuffled (over the thorns) and tried a controlled slide....
It wasn't very controlled and ended with a wrenched arm socket ... a few bruises... and a myriad of thorns embedded in me.

Still at least the cattle were behind me!

From there it wasn't far to the confluence of tracks where I would find the return path. It was as I had hoped a path that skirted the tops and followed the ridges. My mouth was dry and my fingers were swelling due to dehydration setting in. The sweat was pouring off me as the path followed the dry stream bed... now just loose gravel and dust. The dust coated me from head to foot..  perhaps providing some protection from the rays scorching my skin.

And yet I was truly carefree... wandering these paths.... devoid of thought beyond where the next footstep landed.... a peace descending.... Breathe in

The miles passed and before I knew it I sighted my car from the top of the last rise... of course I elected to follow the narrower... slipperier path down... avoiding total disaster with more luck than judgement.

Back in the car realisation dawned that that was the last of the peace and the silence for a while... I was required to descend back into civilisation and mingle with humanity... still at least I knew a good restaurant on the way!!

The evening was spent disassembling my bike and packing it into the AW Cycles bike bag... hard work in the still intense heat of the evening...

Tomorrow a visit to the Alhambra palace for my dose of culture on the way home....

And breathe out....

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Be still... Be Calm... Be Peaceful....

Thanks to the wonderful world of technology I have had hopes raised and dashed (again) whilst watching England v Croatia on the Sky Go app.... just as well the rest of my day was much better!

Once again returning to the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains I decided to explore beyond the forest I cycled up to the other day. The bonus of hiring a large car means my bike can squish in the back without taking the front wheel off.... a bonus with a dynamo hub as the wires for that are zip tied to my bike meaning its a real pain to take off the front wheel. The detractions of having a car larger than the one you are used to as well as driving on the wrong side of the car... is that it is hard to judge the distance between your car and the edge of the road. Now when your sat nav leads you up the garden path... or in this case up v narrow windy gravel roads instead of the main road... it gets a bit hairy.

So thats how my day started off before I ignored the sat nav... turned round (very carefully) and aimed for the forest car park. From here my plan was to cycle from there... up the ridge I came down the other day... and then beyond into unknown territory.

It started well... I found the car park... parked up in shade... and emerged into yet another blue sky sunburnt day. Around here there aren't any worries about what the weather will do next other than sun... or more sun... hot or hotter.

It then went a bit pear shaped... the legs weren't playing ball. Ok... so the gravel road was not the easiest and there was a steady uphill gradient all the way but they felt pretty dead... weather as a result of the exertions of the past few days... or chronic dehydration... who knows... they just didn't go round well.
Fortunately... I am for once not in a race against time... or the weather... or myself... or others and have started to relax into the slightly slower pace of life here... not getting up for breakfast till 9am a case in point.

So I jogged along... with frequent stops in the shade (only stop in the shade if possible) and opened my soul to enjoying the views... the fact that I was out and abouf in the fresh air... with my bike... and pretty much alone. What was not to love??

The scent of pine was all pervading and it took my head back to last year... Canada..Montana... roads that went on forever. The searing sunshine beating down adding to the illusion.
It took an age to get to the point I had come back from last time and without a thought turned up the road to continue on. Ahead lay unexplored roads and scenery...

It is a bit weird for me to be cycling but based in one place... it detracts a little as it removes the endless possibility of new sights and sounds ... whatever I saw today... I would see again on the way back... I couldn't just keep pursuing the road...
It did feel a bit different today though as I headed on... ever upwards. By now I had left the forest and any semblance of shade and was exposed to the full power of the rays of the sun... to say I was sweating would have put it mildly. I ground on up... the legs feeling a fraction better as the road disappeared underneath them.

I saw a few mountain bikers whizzing downhill past me... but here it seems as though there is less road camaraderie... the bikers here don't nod a greeting... that said... none of the drivers who I gave way to did either. The whole place seems more insular than other places I have been as a general rule.

I passed what looked like a restaurant ... saved the stop there for the way back and continued up the gravel road... bleached white by the sun and so very dusty with loose gravel on all the corners. Fine uphill... but i noted that care would have to be taken coming back.

I got to the top of yet another rise and nabbed a chink of shade for a bit. Time was deffo on my side and I debated what to do next. There were a variety of footpaths stretching up to the hill tops..all looked interesting. There was also another gravel road heading slightly down and then round the mountainside in an echo of the million dollar highway... no barriers... steep drop...

Whilst I had a lock for my bike.. the gravel roads were calling me... in particular the curiosity of 'what was round that bend'. Yes it meant uphill on the way back but given that it would be mostly downhill given all the climbing so far... it seemed a small price to pay and therefore the gravel won!

So off I set... a small descent ... followed by just enough flat to lure me into a false sense of security. I was headed into another valley albeit above the valley floor. It may have even been a river valley only all the rivulets were dusty stream beds and the sound of rushing water was totally absent. On my side green pine trees rose out of the dust with pine cones as big as my hand... on the other side... rock walls stretching up from the valley floor... caves and crevasses littering the smooth rock.

In my new found slower pace of life... I decided to sit and let the fresh air and nature surround me for a bit. I sat staring at the wall of rick in front of ne across the valley... the wind gusted past... the insects buzzed and whined and chirrupped... the butterflies gracefully flittered around and there I was sat silently in the centre. A feeling came upon me... one that simultaneously disturbed and enlightened...
The rock walls and the way that the valley had been carved out gave a sense of the vastness of time gone before and to come...  it was easy to visualise this same valley ... in thousands of millenia... the rock walls still standing tall... the insects still buzzing and the butterflies still flittering around the pines... nothing changed... and me a blip in the memory of a time long forgotten.

It was strange....

After all that introspection... it was time to continue the uphill plod... each bend in the road revealing a new perspective of the whole. Here I saw the lizards darting across the gravel... so quick that you barely had time to turn your head at the movement before they were gone... skittering across the road in alarm at the vibrations from my wheels.

One more bend... one more uphill... the pull of the road had grasped my soul again and it was pulling me inexorably onwards....
But this time ... I was going to have to turn round and leave the next bend calling softly in vain. So it was with a slightly heavy heart that I caved to the inevitable and set myself for the return journey.

At least it was mainly downhill....

I pulled in to the restaurant, past the tethered horses... and managed to communicate my requests for food... duly arrived... bloody good!

Then freewheel all the way back to the car...

Perfect day... nothing could spoil it....


Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Day 3... The highest of heights...

Day 3 made it perfectly clear to me that up till now I had just been messing around in the foothills.
Given the location of my hotel... to cycle anywhere fun... I first have to slog up... and up... and up... just to get to tracks which are deserted.

So today was going to be slightly different. I decided to load my bike in the car and drive up.. to Sierra Nevada itself. A small mountain town which mainly comes to life in the ski season but which also advertises bike trails for the summer months.

It looked as though I could drive there, park and then throw myself around the trails up there for a bit.

Fortunately the bike just made it into the car without any removal of anything and I began the short drive... up of course.

The road from Monachil to Sierra Nevada literally wjnds around the mountain tops. This would normally be ok ... despite the lack of barriers on the drop side. However Im in a car that is significantly wider... driving on the wrong side of the car... which makes judging the distance between my car wheels and the edge of the drop difficult to say the least.
Add in a very narrow road and my hands are gripping the steering wheel like no tomorrow and I am wishing that I was on my bike... despite the gradient!
The view from this road would have been fantastic if I had dared to look at it but instead my eyes were fixed to the road.

Given how slowly I was going... it was no surprise how long it took to cover the miles.
Given the road signs warning me of animals it should have been no surprise to find cows wandering down the middle of the road... but it was!

I got to the highest possible car park eventually... had the pleasant discovery that it was free and unloaded my bike.
Despite being nearly at the top of the mountains... all the tracks were pretty steep... many of them looked suitable only for hikers... and some of them appeared to just tumble off the cliff side.

However there was a tarmac road... up which most cars weren't allowed and as I stood and watched I saw many cyclists tapping up it... both roadies and mtb'ers.

This then was what I proceeded to do and  because of the windy nature of the road... the gradient was reasonable.

I stopped at the monument a bit further up and as a tradition dictates... searched for a stone to leave in memoriam. That done... off I went... up and up and up...

The view was gradually revealled with the higher mountains as a backdrop.. the remnants of the winter's snow still clinging to some of the slopes hidden from the blistering heat...
Actually though... it felt much cooler than yesterday... not cold by any stretch of the imagination.. but cooler nonetheless.

This meant that dehydration didn't hit as quickly as the previous days and it was a comfortable climb up.

The start of the mountain bike trails was basically a 'throw yourself off the mountain' kinda approach and visions of broken legs meant that I chickened out somewhat. The blue routes looked very much like black routes and probably not to be attempted whilst on a hardtail with a seat pack... so I contented myself with the gravel doubletrack trails before sitting at the top of a rise to take in the scenery.

Then a plummet downwards... brakes starting to squeal... dumping me back at the car park with a final skiddy flourish.

Not content yet with my days calorie output.. I left the bike in my car and hiked up to the top of a rocky escarpment... searching for a bit of peace and tranquillity. It was not to be.

I could have ignored the incessant bleating of the goats as they bounded up and down the mountainside... but the incessant chatter... howling... and hollering of a bunch of noisy teenagers kinda ruined the ambience. Unfortunately because of its easy to get to nature... this place was somewhat more crowded than the other places I had been so far...

So I trotted back to the car... pleased with being in the highest of heights today but determined that tomorrow I would go back to messing around in the somewhat more deserted foothills.

Now hopefully as it isn't Sunday... or Monday.... there might be a restaurant open for dinner this evening...
Fingers crossed

Day 2 - A Day of Two Halves

Now my title of today's blog is in no way a subtle link to my book (on Amazon) or the documentary (Available from
but it was a weird day ... starting one way and ending up so different  as sometimes happens.

I had looked at a map of the area to find a good place to ride and remembered the gorge I had seen the day before. A trail ran right alongside the river and led in the direction of it. So after a breakfast of toast, ham and cheese ... I set off on my bike.
It was already scorching hot at around 10am and the path provided some much needed shade.

The path was narrow with very steep ups and down and as I progressed along became more and more tricky to negotiate with a bike. Roots... overhanging trees... fallen trees... rock steps... just steps...
You name it... this path had it!  In fact it was totally unsuitable for a bike. Several times I had to catch myself before I fell in.

I resorted to pushing. In fact at a lot of points I was carrying my bike. It was a good workout but not the one I had envisaged.

In itself the path was an interesting one... full of twists and turns and there was the constant babble of the rushing river as a constant. Also as a constant were the hoardes of flies which took delight in my sweat stained legs.. biting whenever I came to a standstill. It was also incredibly humid... like being in the Amazon jungle andthere was no escape from that.

I realised that this path was a bit ridiculous to be taking a bike on and when I came to the hydroelectric station ... there was an opportunity to escape the river path... so I turned onto the intersecting gravel path and wound my way upwards (of course) until I found myself on the uphill of the day before.... long ... steep uphill.

The sun was burning mercilessly down and despite having taken 3 bottles of water I was almost halfway through my supplies. Sense kicked in (and the uphill) and i made a decision to freewheel back to my hotel... fill up water supplies... and then what??
The heat was getting to me a bit. (I later checked the weather for the day and accucheck weather kindly informed me that it had been 38°C today with a Real Feel of 40°C.)

So I made my way back and took it easy for a bit... stopped in a cafe for a coke... read a bit of a book... whilst the sun ticked past the high point of the day.

But sitting around doing nothing isn't me .....

Part 2...

After a bit of a sun break... I re-packed water bottles and headed back to the river path... only this time without the bike. The path had intrigued me and I wanted to find out what was beyond.  In no time at all I was at the point where I had stopped before. Turns out this path was much easier without carrying a bike!!

There were lots of steps to climb beyond that and it reminded me of Switzerland as the path wound up and down beside the river.  Then I came across my first suspension bridge of the day... fortunately short... it made the one on the Europaweg seem solid! With old planks of wood fraying at the edges and gaps between them... it swayed as I tentatively went across.  It was the first of many to cross... each one requiring a slight steeling of nerves. Most of them looked like they had been there for ages tho!

At some point I met a german family who were visiting from Granada for the day. They asked me if it was a round trip walk or if out and back was best... given that there was absolutely no planning involved in my day... I consulted the oracle ( and tried to help. I continued upwards ... more steps... more bridges.... including a nice long one up to the top of the waterfall and the entrance to the gorge.

The rock walls rose up with a narrow  path to one side... by narrow I mean narrow. In places the rock walls jutted out do that you grasped onto the walls and lent out whilst shuffling sideways. In other places crawling was necessary.  I stopped to watch two men climbing up the rock face with ropes... fixing in as they went... impressive!!

The family I met earlier caught up with me and together we edged along the gorge... then stopped and chatted for a bit. They had half decided to turn round but as I went on... I found a cave with the path running through to the other side... I turned round and beckoned for them to come and have a look.  We walked through the tunnel and got to a bit where the path seemed to run out.  Climbing round... the path did continue... and I left my companions to make their way back via the river. I wanted to see what was beyond!

I was rewarded in spades. The path opened out from the gorge into a bowl surrounded by peaks. Here the sun beat down furiously onto the dry and dusty path... and as I looked up I could see many different trails to take. I decided to climb up and take a circular route back ... I was confident that I would find a trail on the other side of the river that would return me to my starting point.

There was fortunately a little bit of a breeze as I climbed up the slippery dusty path... I did have a thought that the bike would be good here... but dismissed it as soon as visions of me sliding off the edge of the mountain came in mind.
It reminded me of Arizona or New Mexico... partly because of the heat... partly because of the rock formations... but I was grinning from ear to ear as I bounded along the high trail. The view was spectacular... given the incredibly clear skies... I could see for miles in any direction.

I knew where I was aiming for and it seemed that all paths eventually led back to Monachil.. whichever one I took. The sun was still beating down and once again supplies were running low. God knows how much water I have drunk over the course of the last 2 days but I still feel permanently dehydrated. Reluctantly I stopped just path wandering and aimed for the river once again... basically straight down. The very loose gravel made this more of a slide than a controlled descent but somehow I stayed upright and un-scraped by the descent.

I crossed the river again (another rickety bridge) and was almost jogging back (for fun) when I saw just ahead the family I had been speaking to earlier. I caught them up and we proceeded to natter all the way back. Fortunately their English was better than my German !!

We hit Monachil at a time when most of the shops and cafes had shut for the remainder of the afternoon but found 1 still open so grabbed a much needed cold drink and ice lolly. Bliss!!

This afternoon's walk had killed an awful lot of calories but once again nothing seemed to be open on Mondays...
Luckily I had some provisions left over so all was ok. That and because of the heat I didnt really feel hungry anyway.

An evening chill out was on the cards... so between a bit of Amazon Prime and planning for the next day  the time flew by....

Today was a lesson in... plan A didn't work... lets try Plan B and the results were a far greater adventure in the making!

Roll on tomorrow

Monday, 9 July 2018

Day 1 -Overdone and Underprepared ...

Day 1....
First thing to do today was put my bike together... easy... at least until the back wheel got stuck. After a bit of swearing.. I realised that the brake pads had no space for the disc to go in... it was then I remembered Lewis from AW Cycles showing me brake installation and I realised what was wrong... easy to fix after that...
So bike working well... I sat down to breakfast.
Lack of Spanish a fairly big problem (must learn more) ... I kinda got a breakfast.. at least coffee is easy...
It looked a bit cool.. and I worried that i had packed enough clothes.

I filled my water bottles and water bag... in fact only one bottle with the bag as I wasn't intending to do too much today... just get the lay of the land.
I hadnt managed to do my usual trick of nicking food at breakfast for lunch... all I had was a packet of starburst from the airport... so my first stop was going to be the supermarket.... only I had forgotten that it was sunday ... and there were no 24 hr shops here... and sundays everything was shut!

So I set off anyway...
By now ... it was hot ... not roasting... but warm enough.. 
Monachil basically sits at the foot of the mountains.. so to get into the mountains.. one must inevitably go straight up...

And so the path that I chose did... up and up and up. .. and as I went up... the sun got hotter and hotter. I was following a tarmac road which gave way to a gravel one..
The view also got better quickly and soon I could see for miles. Of interest... a little to my right was what looked like a river gorge.. with spectacular cliffs rising up. The landscape was burnt to a crisp with golden yellow dotted with barely green trees (olive trees maybe)  and as I went up the road became dustier with each pedal stroke kicking dust up from my back wheel.

Eventually.. after much puffing.. panting.. and stopping (to admire the view) I came across the track I had planned to take across the hills. Upwards of course...
This was not smooth gravel and reminded me of The Ridgeway... only dry... ruts in the hard baked earth from tractors... it was a steeper than the Ridgeway and a glance at my altimeter told me I had climbed a way up in the few miles I had done.

I was extremely hot and my water was being drained quickly. I was kicking myself that I hadnt brought the second water bottle... and given how strenuous this riding was... was regretting the lack of food supplies... still ... onwards and upwards.

The next few miles were good gravel roads and with some steep rollers... i.e down a steep incline... followed by up a steep incline....
The sun was beating down and there was almost literally no shade... no escape from the burning ( yes I did put on suncream).

I navigated my way up... and chose a left hand path... as I did so I looked up to this cliff edge... beautifully rocky escarpment high above me. As I did so I saw a couple of cyclist whizz down it...
I made a decision to loop round to that bit later.. and continued on

The good thing about wandering aimlessly on my bike is that I, unlike my usual challenges, have time to stop and take it in. This holiday is not about going far... its about being out in the sunshine and away from people. Literally listening to the birds and insects and enjoying the peace.... so when I found a shady spot... I sat.... headphones off and just listened....
The crickets were chirruping... some winged bug was making a dreadful racket with a hum more reminiscent of a jumbo taking off... the smell of lavender pervaded ... the slight breeze most welcome and the absence of human sounds gratifyingly glorious. In all ... it was perfect. But I cant sit too long and soon the sound of my wheels on the gravel was again audible.

I looped round and hit a dead end... tried another path... to no avail so I turned round and found another path ... this one leading up to the top of the escarpment. It wound round and down and to my surprise..I found a small village nestled there. This meant... a coke... and a much needed refil of my water bag. Unfortunately I had descended which meant another hefty climb but worth it... as I found myself at a forest park. The smell of pine pervaded my senses and hauled my memories back to a year ago... in the middle of Canada... when all I could smell was the pine. Beautiful! I followed the nice gravel path up and around then decided to split off... do a loop of the forest and descend down the escarpment path as I had seen the cyclist do from afar...
This meant a wonderful downhill... on skiddy gravel... which meant that I had to take a bit of care.
Of course... down means that at some point you have to go up... and so when I picked a track ... thats where it went. It would have been more suitable to come down this track and go up on the gravel one... but since when have I ever done anything the easy way. What would have been a perfect downhill mtb track turned into a struggle. Littered with roots and rocks and features that would have made any track builder proud and any mtb er full of delight were difficult to go up and many a time my feet planted on the ground just in time to stop a fall.

By now I was becoming seriously dehydrated
My water intake ... despite the refills was not enough to balance the sweating... and the flies were making the most of the sweat bar once again! Bites were being administered all over and although a few flies paid for it with their lives... most got away scot free.

I guess I was also suffering from lack of sustenance as it was a struggle upwards and by now I was running on empty... so much for an easy first day!

I eventually got to the top... and found a smooth bike path running next to the road... uphill of course... but it was nice not to be bouncing over rocks and roots for a bit.

This led to another gravel path... flattish
.. through the trees and at last some shade!!

Then finally the downhill.
After a day of mostly up... it felt like a much deserved reward. Running down the escarpment... where the rocks jutted out over the valley... the path was loose gravel ... and several times I caught the rear wheel in a skid... avoiding a wipeout by millimeters. Stunning. It was then downhill all the way... past the village and down to the bottom of the valley to connect with the road back to where Im staying.

Up of course... but on good tarmac... so good for legs that had run out of fuel.
Past all the shut shops... and back to the hotel.
Shower then out for dinner... when disaster struck...
My sunglasses broke...
In the still bright sunshine, it meant that the walk into town was uncomfotable... eyes screwed up half shut... like I said ... DISASTER!! and then worse....
Unfortunately... on Sundays... seems like all the restaurants I passed shut at 4pm.
I finally found one that knocked me up a ham and tomato sandwich.. even though the kitchen was shut. I grabbed that and sat in the garden of my hotel.

Bitten and sunburnt... knackered and dehydrated... but ultimately happy because I had been surrounded by nature and alone on my bike... it doesn't get much better than that!!

What will tomorrow bring??

Saturday, 7 July 2018

The joys of travel...

I got up early this morning... primarily because last night I couldn't be arsed to take my bike apart and pack it into the bike bag (soft shell from AW Cycles). So that meant that I was up and about at 0700... wielding a spanner and a bike tool to reduce my bike into a series of parts.

This is easier than it sounds... especially with a little practice. First the wheels (taking care to have undone the lead for my dynamo) then the seatpost and saddle... then the pedals and finally the handlebars. These are all then carefully inserted into the bag... taking care to refix important screws... and not to drop anything down the gaps in my decking. Lastly and new to me was to unbolt the rear derailleur and tape it to my frame... making sure that my new mech hanger (important part) was then protected with packaging. 

Once this had been accomplished... it was time to feed my snakes ... check passport and money... pack the car... and then wait to go... I was ready well before I had to leave so sat twiddling my thumbs for a bit.

Finally it was time to hop in the car and brave both the M4 and the M25. Fortunately I think most people were staying at home to watch the England game... so the roads weren't too bad.

The drive to London Southend Airport passed smoothly... parked in the long stay car park and then dragged both bike and kit the short hop to the departures area...

By this time I was well and truly sweating.

I had hoped to avoid the match result but fat chance of that as the entire airport was glued to screens... chants of Its coming home' and shouts of 'Get in' rang round the empty space... and when a huge shout went up... I figured England had scored!

Finally boarding ... after the inevitable plane delay... apparently the Jersey gate staff weren't very good at opening doors on time! The flight was uneventful... as all good flights should be... and we touched down in Malaga to a balmy 28°C.

Then the hassle... finding the shuttle to the car hire place and the inevitable q there. Still it wasnt as bad as it could have been with one couple having to fork out an extra £300 for their car due to having no mastercard or visa credit card. Still their week has to get better... at least I hope so as they are out here to get married!

So with a deep breath... I got in the wrong side of the car... reached for the gearstick ... which wasn't there... tried to remember how automatics worked... and then drove off... with the boot open!

Once that mistake had been rectified... I left the carhire place around 22:30... set my satnav... and tentatively drove off on the wrong side of the road. It was now dark and it was pretty unnerving ... unfamiliar windy roads .. in the dark... on the wrong side of the car... on the wrong side of the road... so I drove slowly...talking to myself as I went...
Look Left... stay on the Right...

Look Left ... stay on the Right

It took a load of concentration and as both the miles and minutes ticked by.. I decided that the car would not be driven much on this holiday!

I arrived later than I was aiming for at the hotel but fortunately my arrival was awaited and I got shown to a nice room.. 

There I set my charging going and settled down. The gentleman had asked when I wanted breakfast but 0700 didnt seem to be suitable for him so we settled on 0800 😁

So bed now... unpack the bike in the morning... and then go find the adventure!!

Nite x

Sunday, 17 June 2018

The difficulty of transporting a bike

One of the big considerations about doing a bike challenge is how to get your bike from your home country to the country where you are doing the ride and more importantly how are you going to get it back. This may sound simple... and it may be simple, if you are driving to your destination or taking a train. But when you throw in air travel... things take a turn for the complicated.

Bikes are generally designated 'sports equipment' and on many airlines that means a hefty charge or oversized baggage fee. How much your bike weighs may be the difference between a £50 and £150 charge! Some airlines (thank you United) include it in your checked in allowance meaning that if you are economical ( saw off toothbrush handles, take no spare clothes etc) then bike and kit will make it in without an extra fee.  Aside from the expense though there is a far bigger problem.... what to put your bike in???

If you like your bike and want it to get to the other side injury free then this is a very important consideration, complicated by the type of ride you are doing.  If it is a round trip ride, the box you take your bike in, may be left at the hotel or airport (maybe for a fee) ready to collect on the way back... if your ride is from A to B and you are flying out from a different airport then that is not a possibility and a different solution must be found.

There are different things that a bike can be packed in for air travel... all of which have their plusses and minuses.

1st up is the simple plastic bag... cheap being its main attraction but also with the added bonus of being able to be folded up and stuffed at the bottom of a bag on your bike ready to haul out at the end of your trip. The it gives no protection whatsoever to your precious steed and you may find upon arrival at your destination that the heap of junk which comes out the other end is not repairable.. let alone rideable! Not good if you are reliant on it to leave the airport on! Some people say that being able to see that it is a bike means that the baggage handlers will treat it with respect but that is a gamble I dont want to take...EVER!

The humble cardboard box...  definately the cheapest to procure as most bike shops will have a spare one they will give you for free. Packing the bike into these takes a bit of practice and reams of pipe insulation and bubble wrap is required to keep the important bits of your bike free from damage. The handkebars come off and are taped the underside of the top tube... the pedals likewise are removed and taped somewhere securely... the front wheel is removed and squashed down the side (with some of the air removed from the tyre) and then as much kit as possible is stuffed around the bike to protect it from the baggage handlers. This means that you are left with a small carry on bag but be wary of baggage weight limits as the kit might tip it over the edge and you will find yourself paying a ransom fee at the airport.

The downside to cardboard boxes is they aren't portable on a bikepacking set up and therefore you will have to disgard this one and find a replacement at the end of the ride. They offer a bit of protection but you need to add the bubble wrap to ensure safety for your bike and you may find a brake lever sticking out of the box at the other end. For a round trip.. the box can often be left at the hotel for you to pick up on the way back.

The third option is the soft bike bag. Mid price range (£80-£150 ish) they will have a pocket for the wheels... some have a bit of extra padding... some have restraints to hold parts in place. I haven't found one that will assure acommodation of 29 inch wheels though they may exist and depending on padding they may be able to fold down small enough to be able to carry it on your bike... 'may' being the operative word.  It seems a bit of a half-way house that is a bit like a hybrid bike... it does neither well! Again for a round trip ... you could leave it at the hotel but it would add to the weight you needed to haul up the mountains if you could take it with you... not to mention reducing space on your bike for other, more vital bits of kit.

For me the only reason to buy a soft bag would be it's price (cheaper than a full on hard case)... although the fact that a cardboard box is free would make me lean towards that option anyway for a non-round trip.

The final option is the full-on hard case. It offers guaranteed protection for your precious cargo. No use if your trip end with a flight from a different airport than the one you started as there is no way to transport this on your bike. However if you are doing a round trip cycle or can transfer by taxi or bus from your end point back to your start point then this form of packaging is well worth considering.

There are downsides....
Weight! This box in itself could tip the bike well over the scales of the plane company baggage limit... forcing you to pay a copious amount of money for exceeding weight limits. Im also not sure you could fit any extra kit in here either... weight limit or otherwise. Finally... these cost a few hundred pounds... making it by far the most expensive option. Hiring one of these is a slightly cheaper possibility or talking to your friendly local bike shop to see if anyone has one you could borrow could be an option as well. 
But at least you would know your bike would be rideable out of the airport!

So my choice for the upcoming Ecuador Challenge...

Well.. given that I will be flying in and out of Quito... I do not necessarily need an option that I can fold up and take with me. I am planning to leave it at the hotel I stay in the first night and then pick it up when I get back to Quito. 

Usually I go with the cardboard box option because I tend to do A to B rides and although this is not a circular route, I will be transferring back to Quito by bus or taxi, making the hard case a viable option. My only concern is the weight of a hard case and the inability to fit more kit in it. That said... because AW Cycles (highly recommended) have indicated that I could borrow a hard case, cost won't be the consideration and the increased protection for a nice new shiny steed may win the day in the end!