Facebook Group and Event, Maps

These days everyone has a facebook account. Even my boss at work. And nothing becomes official until there’s a group, or event, or relationship request, or photo to represent it. As such I’ve created a facebook group called, you guessed it, “Small Wheels Big World”. This is more of a holding page pointing towards the blog (here) and upcoming website, and to let everyone know of my going away party on Friday 25th July 2008. It’s planned so far in the future, there’s no excuse for not coming! The group will also allow me to message all members occasionally – it’s so much easier to click “Message All Members” on the group than to paste 100+ email addresses into the CC field in Gmail. So join the group and invite others as well, and RSVP to the party!

In other news, I’m bored of waiting for Stanfords to get hold of the final map of Greece I need, so I found I can order it direct from the publisher for the same price, plus postage and packing from Greece, so a little bit more. But that should be here reasonably soon and then I can carry on with route planning again.

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Books

While Stanfords still can’t get hold of the final Greece map I need, I’ve been reading a lot of books.
The first is by Alastair Humphreys, called Moods of Future Joys, the first book chronicling the African leg of his epic 4 year around the world bike ride. It’s a fascinating tale of chance – after 9/11 happened it became impossible for him to cycle through the middle east, so he decided to go south instead through Africa.
The second is the Adventure Cycle Touring Handbook. This has everything anyone ever needs to know about touring on a bike. It’s really quite useful.

Trailers

Stanfords still don’t have the final Greece map I need, so i’ll keep things rolling by writing about my thoughts and indecision over trailers.

I have basically narrowed it down to two options. The Burley Nomad, or the Carry Freedom Y-Frame. Both have their strengths and weaknesses, neither is perfect, and I can’t decide which to get. The Nomad is a mass production trailer, designed with sides and top so it has a closed luggage space, however, it is still not waterproof and the hitch to the bike may be a problem, especially for a Brompton. The Y-Frame is a simple flat bed trailer, with nothing but a flat area with no sides for luggage, however it is simple and apparently very tough, and the hitch I know will work with my Brompton. To show how equal they are, here’s a detailed description of how I would use each one, with both strengths and weaknesses of both.

The Nomad attaches to the bike with a hitch I can’t find many details of. From what I’ve heard it isn’t as well designed as the Carry Freedom hitch, is fiddly, and uses rubber to allow full rotational movement, which can be unreliable over time. The luggage space is enclosed, meaning I could just throw bulky items in without packing them in bags first. But even so, the luggage area is not waterproof, and so any items that had to stay dry (clothes, sleeping bag, documents, etc.) would still need to be in a waterproof bag. It has a cargo rack, basically a rack above the cover so it is possible to attach more items on top – maybe a daypack so it’s easily accessible. But from what I’ve read the Nomad isn’t as durable as the Y-Frame, only taking weights up to 40kg, and Nic and Sedef, the Nuts on Bents, managed to buckle the frame of theirs.

The Y-Frame attaches with an ingeniously simple hitch that I know will work very well with the Brompton, and looks to be very durable – there doesn’t appear to be much that can go wrong with it. The luggage space is unenclosed, as it is just a flat piece of plywood with grip material on. This means that everything would need packing into bags, but the Ortlieb Rack-Packs are perfect for this. It also allows for modifications, for example I could add a frame so one bag would go straight on the base, then another above similar to the cargo rack on the Nomad. It allows for more options, but could be less convenient having to store everything in bags. Looking at the construction of the Y-Frame, it seems to be built to be very tough. The large version can carry 90kg, and the small apparently 45kg, although the large is simply a scaled up small using the same grade of materials, so one would presume it is able carry the same weight. Indeed there are numerous photo’s of heavy loads on the small, including people.

So that is the choice – more convenient but maybe less durable, or less convenient but maybe more durable. I just can’t decide. Dilemma.

Charities?

While I’m still waiting for more maps from Stanfords I’m getting on with planning other aspects of the trip. Ever since I decided I am definitely going ahead, I’ve been deliberating over whether to cycle in aid of a charity. Now, not to do it in aid of a charity seems selfish, but before you think that of me, let me try and explain my feelings about the subject either way.

On the one hand, I’ve always thought of this trip as being a journey of personal discovery, of me, out there on my own, fulfilling a dream. Overcoming the seemingly impossible. If I was to do it in aid of a charity, it would add the pressure of living up to the expectations of the charity and donators, and would mean if I were to fail I wouldn’t only be letting myself down, but also the charity, its cause, and anyone donating money as sponsorship of the trip.

But on the other hand, a trip like this is ideal for raising donations to a charity. And there are so many charities that could benefit, if I were to do it for a charity, which one would I choose? A big worldwide charity that is relevant to the majority of places I’m going, or a smaller charity that maybe needs more help fundraising, but is much less relevant to where I’ll be going for most of my trip.

I’ve come down on the side of doing it in aid of a charity, but I still have to decide on which one. I’ve got a few ideas, but any suggestions are welcome.

Practicalities

While I wait for Stanfords to order in the third map I need for Greece, I thought I’d write about some practicalities of my trip. This applies more to the European leg as I know more what to expect, I’ll work out India and the Far East as I get there!
First, accommodation. I will be camping most of the time to save money and give me greater flexibility and options of where to stay. I’ll either know which campsite I’m going to go to beforehand, or stop when I reach a campsite at about the right distance, or stop anywhere with a bit of grass for the night. Taking a tent means I have all options available to me. If I’m staying in a city, I can find a nice cheap hostel and have a hot shower and proper food, or if the worst comes to the worst, I can pitch my tent in a field by the road and find civilisation the next day.

Food: Most of the time I’ll eat food I’ve cooked myself on a camping stove or made in the morning before the days cycling, such as sandwiches. This will be much cheaper, and since most campsites have good basic shops, just as practical as eating in restaurants. Breakfast I’m really looking forward to in France and Italy, known for their croissants and pastries.

Luggage: I’m taking a trailer, maybe the Burley Nomad with a cargo rack, but I still have to work out how it would attach to my bike. The cargo rack can be used to put a solar panel on to charge things like a mobile phone or camera. This trailer isn’t waterproof, and isn’t the perfect trailer I envisage in my head, but it is pretty close to it, and gets very good reviews online. The alternative is the Carry Freedom Y-Frame, which is a simple flat bed, but I could build up whatever trailer I wanted on top of it.

Medical and Visas: I’ve made a list of countries I’m going to, and am going to the doctors soon to see which vaccinations I need. I’m also researching which visas to apply for, and where to apply for them in case they expire before I reach the country. In Europe I’ll have my EHIC card, and for the rest of the world I’ll take out comprehensive medical insurance.

Contact: Everywhere now has internet cafes, and I’ll be using these to keep in touch by updating the blog and website and uploading photo’s to them. Select people may also get the occasional postcard sent to them. I’ll also have my mobile phone, and to save money and battery (since I’m camping) I’ll have it turned off most of the time, only turning it on every evening to see if there are any urgent texts.

Sponsorship: This isn’t a cheap trip, and so I’m going to write to various companies asking for sponsorship as money or goods or services. For example, companies may like to sponsor me in return for me talking up their products and services, or putting their logo on my trailer, website and blog. If you know of anyone that might want their logo on my trailer, website and blog as part of a sponsorship deal, get in touch!

Now I just hope that Stanfords gets the Greece map in soon so I can finish that route, blog it, and buy the Turkish maps I need.

Plan for France

It’s been a while since my last post, but my computer and internet have been fixed twice since then!

The plan for France is to generally follow Anne Mustoe’s route, but with a few changes.

Anne went in to Boulogne, and I originally planned to do the same, but the ferries that go in to Boulogne only take cars, not passengers or bikes or motorbikes or lorries or anything else, just cars. The only other choice of ferry leaving from the Dover area goes to Calais, so that has to be where I’ll take the ferry in to. Anne doesn’t detail her exact route, but from reading and re-reading I’ve managed to work out her approximate itinerary. So from Calais I plan to take ten or eleven days crossing France to Switzerland, going via Arras, St Quentin, Reims, Vitry-le-Francois, St-Dizier, Chaumont, Champlite, Besancon and Pontarlier, with those being the approximate places where I’ll spend the night. There are various interesting sites in some of those places, for example the war cemeteries during the first few days travel, and then General/President de Gaul’s home village, and of course the atmosphere and life in the villages towns and cities being an attraction in itself.

Obviously I won’t be able to cycle 120km a day 7 days a week, so the average distance while crossing France will be a leisurely 70-80km a day, including rest days once a week, which I have scheduled usually for a Sunday, but sometimes a day or two before or after so I can stay somewhere interesting instead of being “stuck” in a tiny village with no services open for an entire Sunday.

From the last stop in France, Pontarlier, I’ll cycle over the Jura Mountains into Switzerland, and on to Lausanne. Downhill all the way after the pass, I’m hoping the 63km total for that day will be possible, as only about half is uphill. From Losanna (I’m on the Italian map and spellings now) the route takes me over the Great St Bernard pass, no small undertaking. From Losanna I’m hoping to be on the coll in three days, the first one being a long day around the flat roads along the shore of the lake, then growing shorter until I’ll have to cycle 28km from Champex to the top of the coll. However, since it is freewheeling all the way to Aosta and further, my distance for that day should total over 95km.

From here it’s the Italian leg, which will be detailed in the next post.

Planning Overview

Since it’s been two or three weeks since I decided to go on this adventure, I’ve already started planning. Here’s what I’ve decided so far.

The biggest question is what route I’m going to take to Sydney and then on through the Americas. Well, the general route is through France, across Switzerland and the Alps to Italy, then to Brindisi where I’ll get the ferry to Greece, then through Turkey to Ankara where I’ll fly to either Pakistan or India, then since most of Myanmar is still not accessible to tourists, I’ll fly to Bangkok and cycle down Thailand and Indonesia, island hopping to Darwin, then finally right through the middle of Australia via Uluru and the big south eastern cities to Sydney. In Sydney I’ll work for a year to earn some more money, before flying across the pacific either to South America to cycle up Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Columbia and through central America to the US and New York, or I’ll fly to San Francisco and cycle across just the US.

The next biggest consideration is where to stay each night. I can probably cycle on the relatively flat about 50 to 60 miles per day, six days a week, occasionally pushing it to 70 or 80 miles if I need to. I can either stay in hotels or hostels and not have as much luggage (although a Brompton will still need a trailer), or take camping things. Any trailer I get will have ample space to also take camping equipment, the only difference being the weight, but the difference in cost between staying in hostels and cheap hotels or camping will make a huge difference on how much extra spending money I have for touristy things. So on that basis, I’m going to spend most of the time camping, only staying in hostels or hotels in big cities where campsites are a long way out of the centre. Or when I feel like a bit of relative luxury and a hot shower!

Stanfords map shop in Covent Garden is an excellent resource for world maps, stocking maps from just about every country in the world. In the haste of excitement following my initial decision I went and bought maps for France, and got the cycling specific 1:100,000 maps. These are great, except I ended up needing about twelve of them to plan the full journey across to Switzerland. At £5 each that’s the sort of money I was hoping not to spend. So for Italy I bought the ‘touring’ 1:400,000 scale maps, which also included the parts of Switzerland I need. These are adequate for my needs, showing the minor roads as well as the major ones I’d rather not cycle down.

Using the France and Italy maps I’ve planned my entire route day by day from London to Brindisi in the ‘heal’ of Italy. Details to follow in the next post soon.