Friday, December 14, 2007

Packing List

The following is a list of items carried on my trip to France. This has changed quite a bit since we started touring - on our travels last year there was no cooking gear, dgym was carrying the tent and I had a much bigger and heavier sleeping bag. We also had laptops on us, and I carried a smaller camera. Somehow, and it still doesn't entirely make sense to me, the weight losses more than outweighed the gains, and the bike felt lighter on this trip than it had done on any other. Most days, anyway...

Clothing - on the bike
What I wear on the bike on a daily basis

3/4 length cycling trousers
Merino t-shirt
Sports bra
Trainer socks, 3 pairs
Fingerless gloves
Shoes with SPD cleats

Clothing - extras
For when the weather demands a little more

Awesome hat
Thermal base layer
Arm and leg warmers
Woolly gloves

Clothing - off the bike
Pottering around town once I've finished riding for the day

Light cotton trousers
Underwear x 2
Flip flops

Staying warm, dry and comfortable at night

Terra Nova LaserLarge 1 Tent
Vango Venom 300 sleeping bag
Thermarest inflatable mattress
Mini pillow
Lightweight microfibre towel
Mini torch

Trying to survive on my own cooking

Trangia 27-1 UL stove
Bottle of methylated spirits or equivalent
Matches, in mini ziplock bag. Two boxes of spare matches, also in mini ziplock bags and stored in separate panniers.
Plastic box to store kitchen items, lid doubles as chopping board
Light My Fire Spork (it snapped and was replaced with a child's fork)
Sabatier mini knife
Combined tin opener / corkscrew
Vegetable peeler
Small plastic bowl with lid
Small plastic cup for measuring out porridge
Green scratchy pad for washing up

Staple Food
I try to keep these in my panniers at all times.

Porridge oats
Rice or pasta
Snacky cakes
Mini ziplock bags of garam masala, mixed herbs, English mustard and dried chillies.

Trying not to smell too bad.

Small block of solid deodorant
Soap - takes care of washing me, clothes and hair.
Razor head - no handle, to save weight.
Highest factor sunblock I can find
Loo roll
Lip balm

Useful bits
Never know when you might need these...

Duct tape
Luggage straps
Cable ties
Clothes pegs
Needle & thread
Plastic bags


Old-school on this front, have so far resisted GPS


For the bike
It has needs too, you know

Home-made housse + 5 and 6 mm Allen keys for bike disassembly
Puncture repair kit
Alien 2 Multitool
Tyre levers
Topeak Roadmorph mini-pump
Spare bulb
Spare inner tube

Even on the road, I'm still allowed a little bit of geekery.

Panasonic FZ7 camera + spare battery and memory card
Mobile phone
Solar charger for gadgets

Don't lose these


Bits n pieces

Reading material
French dictionary
Grey Mouse

Monday, December 10, 2007


Some links relevant to my recent France tour:

Sunday, December 02, 2007


I've been back from France a while now. My family and I spent a nice week in Normandy before returning to England, and everyday life has been resumed.

Coming back

It's always a little bit hard coming back from a tour, it's nice to see everybody but nothing is quite as exciting as being out on the road, riding through beautiful scenery, seeing somewhere new every day, living out of a few bags, and getting bucketloads of fresh air and exercise. The pain-au-chocolat withdrawal didn't make it any easier, I was hoping to wean myself off them during the week in Normandy but they are just so tasty I couldn't help it, and had to go cold turkey upon arriving back in the UK (You can get them here but they are not as nice).


There was no easy DIY fix for the dynohub problems, so it had to be taken out of the wheel and sent off for examination by skilled repair technicians, who informed me that not enough glue had been used in the manufacture, the stator had come loose, and they had "never seen one like it". It was returned to me properly glued and ready to roll, and I was very happy to get my bicycle back after a couple of weeks downtime.

My knees are feeling less rattly than they were at the end of the trip. Knee problems can often be caused by bending the knee too much while pedalling. I am gradually raising the saddle, and may also try shorter cranks, to try to reduce the problem in future.


France was probably the least exotic-sounding of all of the destinations I'd had in mind, and I do seem to end up there for lot, whether for skiing, cycling or just passing through. However, it was a good "safe" choice for a first lone tour, and first long camping and cooking trip. It's also well-renowned among the touring community as being a cyclist's paradise and, for the most part, the cycling really was very pleasant, the people agreeable and the scenery, while a bit dull and farmy in some places, beautiful in others. There are parts that I'd happily do again, and parts that I'd skip if I wasn't interested in riding the full coast-to-coast distance.


Travelling alone was fine, and in a country like France the biggest worry is that people are worrying too much about me back home. People I met were often surprised to hear that I was travelling alone. It was nice being able to do exactly what I felt like without having to argue about it! I didn't get lonely much as I was usually too busy. There's always something to be getting on with - looking around town, putting up the tent, cooking, laundry, washing up, cleaning mouldy stuff out of panniers, planning tomorrow's travels, writing about today's... I wish I'd met more fellow cyclists along the way, but perhaps the time of year wasn't so good for that. Things got a bit more interesting towards the end as I "tuned in" to the language and became more able to hold conversations with locals.


I was hoping that writing about the France trip would distract me from getting over-excited about the next one quite so quickly, unfortunately that's never gonna happen and I'm already well into planning a trip around the Western Isles of Scotland which will probably happen some time in the spring.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Sunday October 21st - rewind

It was the last day. Apart from a couple of short trips across town, the cycling was over and I just had to get back to the north coast.

As I arrived in the breakfast room of the Monte Cinto, one of the crew took me aside and gently broke it to me that England had lost the rugby final last night. I couldn't really give a stuff about rugby but played along and feigned disappointment.

Once in Marseille, it was easy to find St. Charles station, and I set about dismantling the bike. I succeeded in turning the handlebars, which had been the greatest source of concern, but was unable to detach the pedals. I'd learned that my pedals could be detached with a 6mm allen key instead of a huge pedal spanner so had just brought the allen key, unfortunately I couldn't get enough leverage. It turned out not to matter too much as, once I'd put the wheels on either side of the frame, the pedals didn't stick out so much.

I felt like some kind of street performer, passers by occasionally stopping by to observe my struggles, it would have been nice if they'd gone the whole hog and thrown me some spare change. In my flustered state, I spent several minutes trying to remove the rear wheel before realising the brake was still connected. The front rack was as much of a pain as it had been on the trial run. The side that hadn't snapped last time, just wouldn't come off this time, but I was able to rotate it so it didn't stick out, and tie it in place with string.

The bike only just fit into the housse - if I wasn't going to be reassembling it to ride across Paris, I would have removed the rear rack too. It was a triumphant moment when the bag finally zipped up, and I quickly set about rearranging my baggage, managing to fit one front pannier and its contents into one of the rear ones and making sure all my valuable / breakable stuff was in the handlebar bag and other front pannier. No sooner had I'd finished repacking, than my train's platform was announced. Unable to find a luggage trolley, I wore the two smaller bags across my body, picked up the two rear bags in one hand and hooked the bike bag over the opposite shoulder, grabbing the frame on the inside so I could lift. I could just about shuffle along like that. Fortunately a nice lady helped me to carry the rear pannier, compost my ticket and find the right carriage.

I wasn't the only person on the train with big luggage, there was also a Kiwi bloke with a very compact one-man sailing boat neatly packed away into two cases. There were already lots of bags on the racks so we both placed our respective sporting equipment in the corridors. Later on, the train staff came along and found us both some luggage space.

The TGV was a train of great speed. It was fast, clean, on time, and after stopping at Aix-en-Provence early on in the journey, it made the rest of the way without break. It was like watching my long bike journey on a fast rewind - not exactly, as the TGV takes a different (and flatter) route, but we passed the Aqueduct de Roquefavour, the Provence countryside, the distant Ardeche cliffs and the massifness of the Massif Central.

We arrived in Paris on time. It didn't take long to reassemble the bike, and onto the back rack I affixed two rear panniers, with one front pannier and a rear mudguard strapped on top. The bike was horrible to handle like that, but I didn't have to go far. I quickly found the cycle routes - as I had been told, there are lots of bicycles around Paris these days, but it's still no Copenhagen or Amsterdam. I followed the cycle route along the Seine, but managed to lose it at some point and ended up bumping along the cobbled river banks and dragging the bike up steps, unfortunately this being Paris, people strolled blissfully by without offering help. I eventually found a ramp that took me back to the road, and made my way to Gare St. Lazare.

It really wasn't a great way to see Paris, and maybe I should just have taken a taxi across town. It was clearly a beautiful city - I passed by Notre Dame and the Louvre, and saw the Eiffel tower in the distance, and I would like to visit properly some time, but on that day it felt like I was in another London, and not in a good way. I was missing the France where people say bonjour back to you, and offer to help with a heavy bike.

When I reached Gare St Lazare, there wasn't much time left, so perhaps it was for the best that, due to strikes, my train had been cancelled and the next one would leave in three hours time - although at the time I didn't exactly feel that way. Waiting around at St. Lazare was not fun, there were redevelopment works going on and they can only be an improvement. It smelled of wee in places, not surprising when you have to pay 50c to use the loos, there's a big queue and the lady manning the toilets is a miserable cow. She kept me waiting ages as she counted out a big pile of 50c coins. I paid with a 1euro piece, which she insisted I place on the counter rather than hand directly to her, and then gave me a bunch of coppers as change, despite clearly having lots of 50's available.

I packed away my bike, sat down on the cold floor and munched on a chicken sandwich, waiting for the next train.

When the train arrived, two fellow passengers offered to help with my baggage, and the assistance was gratefully received. We found a luggage space occupied by a young chap and his (unbagged) bicycle, and we all piled on. The train rapidly became jam-packed with people and bags, and I found myself squatting in a corner beside the young lady who had helped carry my bags, an electronics student from Caen who had been visiting her sister in Paris. "C'est toujours comme ca en Angleterre", I told my fellow sardine-passengers. My bike had become part of a huge tower of luggage. It had stuff on top of it, all around it, poking into the already stretched fabric of the housse, which was undergoing strains I hadn't anticipated... but it held out fantastically well.

Hordes of people got on and off at every station, the luggage pile getting no smaller until after Caen, when I was finally able to stretch my legs again.

I spent the last couple of stops chatting to a Mexican girl called Monica, who was going to Carentan for work - she had just flown in, and not slept for about 30 hours. She spoke English but not a word of French and said she found the language difficult and was worried because she'd heard the French weren't very friendly. I told her she had nothing to worry about there. On the topic of yummy Mexican food, she said she wasn't really into spicy stuff. She was probably in the right place... neither are the French. The train dropped her off at Carentan, and we carried on to Valognes.

At Valognes I found a dgym, who took me to Reville where my family were staying in a gite, and fortunately some dinner had been saved for me.