In a world increasingly preoccupied with throwaway materialistic things; where people are constantly busy earning money to pay for those things, or so their children can have those things;
This is the story of my dreams of travelling the world by bicycle. Because it's there. And because I dont want to die without experiencing the truly important things in life .

A sense of wonder and a sense of adventure.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Last Blog Before the Start.

This will be the last blog I make before I start the’ World Cycle Race’. My start time is set for 9am on Tuesday morning. And to be honest , although the thought of leaving still scares me, the thought of more days of contemplating this and that and worrying about what needs to be done before I go, I can do without. I’m at the stage where I just want to get on my bike and ride for better or worse.

Bolivia is currently in flood from unusually heavy seasonal rain so it’s good that I put my start back a week. This was partly the reason for the delay and also because I couldn’t get my Visas and vaccinations in time. My Chinese and Kazakhstan Visas have been granted and my NZ passport is on its way back from the Kazakhstan embassy in Singapore apparently. If it doesn’t get here by Tuesday it will have to be sent onto me in Christchurch.

Our cat Bob who had an accident two weeks ago when I was in Wellington is slowly recovering but not before costing us $3000 dollars at the vet. He’s our child and has a very loving personality especially to Adi so I feel very sorry for him.  He hasn’t had an easy recovery. But it was such bad timing. At least I am still here to Vespa him to the vet each day for bandage changes etc. When I go Adi will have to cope with work and nursing. I’ll also teach her how to access the WCR site so she can comment on my state of mind and position when I can’t easily get internet access. The link for the race website is on my blog under the heading ‘am I winning yet & where the f am I’

From what I gather so far the other contenders have all started. However after day one Kyle Hewitt Scotland’s entrant has pulled out due to I believe family pressures, stress and financial concerns. I think this is really sad because he would have spent a lot of time and effort getting ready for this challenge and it’s unlikely that he will get the opportunity again. But I can certainly understand the pressures that a young person with a new baby, home and wife would be under. It’s certainly madness to try to do everything all at once in life. Kyle’s young and with ambition so I’m sure he’ll make the opportunity to do this again in the future if it’s still important to him.

From what I can gather Jason is having trouble with his bike and after getting a couple of days into France has packed up his machine in what seems, reading between the lines is a case of ‘My bike is just crap, get me off it’. He’s now back in London working on what he is calling plan B. At this stage no one except Jason knows what plan B is but I hope it’s ‘get a decent bike’ and get going again. I’m not sure he’ll be able to tell us his bike was crap because it may have been sponsored to him. Let this be a warning to Mercian Cycles. If my bike breaks the followers will know about it by way of a range of words I will not be afraid to publish. Actually the guys at Mercian should know by now, if they follow my blog, that I love my bike and I wouldn’t be using it for something like this if I hadn’t already tested it across continents.

Some of the other riders in the race are sounding a bit down about various things. But that’s only natural for an event this hard physically, and mentally too big to comprehend. You just can’t imagine the end so have to get through it day by day and then look forward to finishing each leg.

Then there’s others currently flying. I say currently because I’m sure they’d agree, nothing can be totally counted on in this sort of thing. And some of the contestants have what seems like absolute minimum kit and are flying close to the wire. It all makes for an exciting event to follow.
Loaded and Ready to Go.

The vet wanted to see me about Bob when I went to pick him up from his bandage change today. It felt like waiting to see the headmaster at school. I thought it could only be one of three things;

1.       Maybe I was going to be told off for dropping Bob off on the back of the Vespa each day. Or

2.       He was not improving or had got worse and the bill was about to double, get ready to mortgage the house.

3.       The bills so high we want immediate payment!

But it was none of the above. He said that he thought stem cell therapy would improve the healing and outcome. And once he had reassured me that it wouldn’t cost any more than conventional treatment, due to the fact that it was new and they wanted to practise it, I agreed.

I got home with Bob on the back of the Vespa to find a Bride and a gaggle of Bridesmaids getting their pictures taken in the paddock next door. It had momentarily slipped my mind that Jamie and Blair (our neighbours) were getting married today. Bob was too drugged to notice but it was a pretty sight in the field and I will have to get a copy of a photo for the Potters-End history.

I think that’s enough for now. My next report will be from the road. But I’d like to leave you pondering my current dilemma.; I have three unwrapped Easter eggs on the coffee table and a fly has just walked on one of them. Do I eat that one first knowing that I won’t now enjoy it but definitely enjoying the other two knowing that I got the contaminated one out of the way early? Or do I mix them up without looking in an effort to enjoy them all since I won’t then know which one was stomped on? (Easter always comes early in my life and lasts until the big chocolate egg sales are all over at the end).

Saturday, 18 February 2012

The Official Start.

I’m in the corner counting to ten.

Ten days until I depart!

The other contestants are all in London as I write this and will be about to jump on their bikes and start the event that none of us will ever forget. I’ve tried to keep in touch with their preparations leading up to the official start in London and know that I’m going through the same things, just ten days behind. I’m at the stage where I have all my gear lined up on the spare bed thinking, ‘Am I going to get all that on the bike?’ And also wondering how heavy the whole thing will be when I head off.
Have I Forgotten Anything?

I had a chat to the travel Doctor and managed to convince myself that I could get away with fewer vaccinations than strictly advised in the interest of saving money. I also found out that I was too late to get the full set of rabies shots so will have to get the last one while I’m away. I must make a mental note not to pat any rabid animals until I’ve had that last shot. So got my yellow fever, typhoid, and first rabies shot last week and will get my second rabies shot next week.

I also had to put an explanatory note together for the Republic of Kazakhstan people as they couldn’t understand why anyone would want to ride a bicycle through the Southeast of their country. So hopefully I have sufficiently explained myself and will get my passport back this week with the stamp in it. In fact two stamps because I’m rapt that my Chinese Visa has been approved.  That passport has got to be back in my greasy little hand this week because I will need it in the following week. My suggestion of starting the trip on my NZ passport until I got my other one sent on to me didn’t go down well with Diane my travel agent.

I’ve put a lot of thought into my tool kit as you can see from the photo. In addition to what you see there I have added a complete front axle with cones, bearings, and quick release lever. So much thought has gone into it that the tool kit weighs 2kgs and that’s not including the 3 spare tubes and spare tyre. I think I’ve got the mechanicals covered. I should be able to remove every piece of my bike on the side of the road and put it back together again. Once I’ve pitched the tent or hung the mosquito net and got a rice risotto on the boil I should be able to rebuild both wheels while listening to the local radio station or sweet talking the natives. (Well that’s how it all pans out in my dreams). Any tool that you don’t see in that photo I have decided I can make or borrow from the local farmers. Rest assured I won’t be having cycle mechanics or bike parts flown in like some of the adventurers you read about these days. I won’t have the luxury of a support vehicle to call upon when things get grippy. My parents refused to drive along behind me when I got to 12yrs old. They said ‘Niel its time you grew up. If you get on your bike and go for a long ride you get yourself home. Here’s your ice cream money and make sure you’re home for dinner’. Well I certainly will not be home for dinner this time!

 My mother doesn’t remember who I am now so she won’t worry if my dinner gets cold.  My father showed me how to fix things, how if I pedal for long enough in the same direction I’ll return to where I started, and how once you’re married with kids your dreams remain just that. So I think he’d be happy for me to miss the odd meal. (Adi’s going to pack me a cut lunch before I go I’m sure. I’ll really miss her.)

If you see anything on the bed that you don’t think I’ll need please let me know. I’m always happy to save weight. I think I know what you’re going to say though. ‘We don’t think you need the Digitech Mini Weather Station Niel’

But when I’m lying in the tent aka ‘The two Gay Girls’ and the rain is drumming down but my Digitech Mini Weather Station says fine weather, I can still have hope of sunny blue skies and tail winds. And besides it doesn’t weigh much nor does it need an internet connection.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Like Circuit Racing? Try this Circuit.

It’s all getting closer now.

I’ve used up the money put aside in the home improvements account so all focus is now on general home maintenance not involving money and trip preparations.

I have 2 ½ weeks before I plan to depart. Most of the other contestants are departing on the 15 Feb. That’s 13days before me. But really to be fair I thought I should give them a bit of a head start. After all, in an event of this magnitude what’s a couple of weeks? One of the contestants, Mike, a real trooper, said he’d go slowly initially to let me catch up.

I have begun to lay all my gear out on the spare bed as I’m sure we all do in situations like this and once I have everything together will practise packing it in the panniers. At that stage the big cull will be undertaken. This is the point at which you go ‘My panniers aren’t big enough. I either have to lose some stuff or grow some panniers’.  Desperate measures will need to be taken such as ditching the electronic chess set, and maybe leaving my antique compass at home. But I will not resort to dispensing with my electric hair trimmers and home grooming kit. Although I might be thinning a bit on top, contrary to popular belief, I still need to shave and cut my hair regularly. It seems to me so many long haul cycle tourists seem to come out of the wilderness looking like wild Yeti men. I like to think that if the early English explorers could always manage to cut their hair and have a shave in remote places I can manage it too. Indiana Jones always looks pretty sharp on the Tomb raider programs. I intend to go one step further than my colonial ancestors and shave my legs as well. After all, by jovs this is a bike race!
Hairy Cyclist Lost His Bike

Always tinkering with my kit, I have decided to combine my sleeping mattress with my bike bag. I might even market it as the ‘Sleepy Head Bike Bag’. The Sleepy Head bike Bag is guaranteed not to puncture, does not need to be pumped up, rolls up like snow foam and then once you get to the airport you simply throw your bike in it and jet off to your next adventure. Caught in a tricky situation you might even be able to zip yourself up in it and pretend to be a homeless man.
Kiwi Ingegu, Injignu, Smart thinking

What I have to say now will be of great interest to the more competitively minded of my followers and supporters. The World Cycle Racing site has added me to their riders list. Check it out;

I am there and will be doing my best to not only survive this little adventure but also to put some of the other contestants to shame. After all not only am I the only New Zealander attempting this challenge and need to do my country proud, I’m also the only entrant from the Southern Hemisphere.

Adi suggested this week that we redo our wills. Are you thinking of departing the land of the living, was my first thought. My second thought was that she thought I might be a temporary Earthling.  I think I might have to once again reassure her that this is not a race to the death and as soon as it starts to hurt too much I’m going to do what I always do in races… Stop for an ice cream. Doing a will I thought would be pretty easy. If Adi dies without me I simply get everything, and if I die distraught as everyone will no doubt be its only right that my chicken Woo should inherit all.

When Adi told me she had made an appointment to sort it out with the lawyer and it was going to cost $260 each I almost died there and then! Out of pocket by $20 an hour later I had bought a Will Kit from the bookshop. All four of us are around the table now trying to work out who gets what. Bob and Woo can’t seem to agree on anything.                     

Saturday, 4 February 2012

I'm in the Club.

I’m back from Wellington without incident. Those nice Vietnamese have stamped my passport and delivered it back. There it was sitting on the dining room table. So assuming I get my NZ passport back from the Khazaks in the next couple of weeks I’ll then have a week or so before I go in which the Chinese fellas in Auckland hopefully will rubber stamp me through the Peoples Republic.

I’m hoping the Khazaks won’t be doing what I intend to be doing the next 2-3weeks, and that’s to spend a bit of time in the liquor cabinet. I am finding that there are real benefits in not being a regular soak. When you do need a bit to ease the nerves and make the world go away you don’t need to drink that much. What would have the average NZ teenager just warming up for a night on the town has me praising the virtues of truckers and feeling sorry for them for  having to pay so much in road user charges. Two stiff rum and cokes might even have me thinking that the anti-smacking laws were a good thing!

While I was away our poor little Bob got his back foot caught in a wire running along the neighbouring orchards Kiwi fruit vines. Luckily Adi heard him screaming and managed to cut him loose and get him to the vet. Poor little bugger had to go to the vet on the back of the BOB trailer. (Aptly named). Adi thought he’d be more scared on the back of the Vespa. He now has one back leg swollen to the size of a dogs paw and is feeling a bit sorry for himself. What he needs is some time also in the liquor cabinet.
Little Big Foot

The around the world cycle web site   has added me to their list of participants which is nice. So anyone following me around the world will also be able to follow others challenging themselves. Some of the participants will  primarily be going for time records and will be travelling as light as possible, over the fastest routes, while others will be more fully  equipped doing more circuitous routes. But in the end we’ll all be heading around the world for an adventure on the bike that we‘ll never forget. I’m not sure at this stage whether if I give them my coordinates they will add me to their little icons. But I will post blogs regularly showing my followers where I am the old fashioned way, by way of map and a little bicycle man.

I received a copy of the CTC magazine today in the mail. This was welcome too as I wasn’t sure if I was still a member. I tried to renew my subscription and then the computer seized as I was paying. So for a few months was in the dark as to whether they’d got it.The CTC is one bike club that I will fork out money for. They really do champion cyclist’s rights. And if cyclist’s rights can be preserved in Europe my rights down here in cycle unfriendly NZ, where the car rules cannot be totally ignored.
Is this like South America? Looks Somewhat Familiar.

I should be working on the house today as I’ve still got a list of urgent work that needs to be completed before I go. But it’s a bit drizzly so have been checking out on- line weather sites to see what I’m up for in South America when I turn up. Short of getting pissed I feel the best way to ease the nerves about heading somewhere new is to find out a bit more about it. Now I have found a useful site I will check the weather regularly. So far I have determined not only that it is going to be pretty warm but also that there will be sufficient oxygen for me to survive (although this could be marginal as I cycle over the Andes). The inhabitants are of a carbon base and don’t appear to kill foreigners on sight. I’m hoping that they may even be friendly although they won’t probably speak my language. I have scoured photos for familiar sights such as town squares, park benches, Coca Cola signs, smiling people eating ice creams, and signs of road carnage. I am reassured concerning road carnage that if I can survive cycling in NZ for extended periods, then I should be ok everywhere else. Not totally sure what side of the road they drive on yet though. Maybe it’s like here where we just drive on the left unless going around a corner where we drive which- ever side gives us the shortest distance. Whatever rules they have I’ll just do what we do here. Make it up as I go along and be sure to get impatient with anyone that gets in my way.

 After all there’s a world record to be broken!

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Festival Weekend in Wellington

Wellington has changed a lot since I spent time here as a teenager.

I cruised downtown today expecting to do the same old things like checking out the local bike shops and doing other window shopping in various shops that I'd had past interest in. I left my bike at my sisters place and walked into the CBD to save the wear and tear on my moutain bike shoes. Walking around town in my Sidi shoes would not be that good for them and I'd brought jandals with me so thought I could use those.
Gangs of Girls

Once run down suburbs with tatty Victorian buildings now looked smart and tidy. Where in the past i would have been walking past workshops and dumpy petrol stations i now found cafes with outside tables and painted facades. The whole walk into town reminded me of our strolls around San Francisco a couple of years ago.
Overly dressed Nice Girls
The central business district seems to have rid itself of a lot of vehicle traffic also. I don't know if I'm imagining this but the roads definitely seem less constricted. Maybe they've removed the parking so as to widen the footpaths. I have to say the bike shops didn't disappoint. I was expecting them to be boring. And boring was what I got. The usual run of cloned Avanti shops, Specialised shops, and Giant shops. The same junk sold all over the world in shops that all look the same. I was hoping I might find a boutique type bike shop with interesting things in it. But you generally have to live in a city to find gems like that. I didn't even bother going through  the door of these brand shops.

Bad Boys
I did see a few nice bikes cycling the streets or chained to posts and would have taken a few pictures had I not got overwhelmed with the number of people in fancy dress and the general merriment on the streets.

Attention seeking Girls. (What would her Mother Say!)

And the Odd Terrorist.

Wellington Does My Head In.

So I’m on my Mercian and headed to Wellington to visit my mother and sort out some Visas.

No I’m not apparently. My first point of call is to my Travel Agent Diane. Diane’s got her ears on when it comes to the Chinese and visas. She has heard that those embassy staff in wellington are rated the most diligent officers in the country. When it comes to Chinese embassy staff the Wellington ones are so conscientious that they don’t even take morning tea break. The best officers in the Peoples Republic are sent to Wellington and before they leave the homeland they’re advised that anyone wanting to cycle China must be mentally deranged and there’s a section in the application that states that mentally deranged people should not be issued with a visa. So I must not go and annoy said officers under any circumstances. And my application will be sent to the Auckland Embassy where Chinese New year is celebrated all year.

And the Vietnamese assure me they are back on the job and if I annoy them in Wellington things will only take longer. So it’s off to the Capital to see Mum after many years of absence.

The 130km ride to Picton was without incident. In fact it sailed by so painlessly that I arrived 3 hours before my ferry was due to leave! Three hours watching chubby cruise liner people eating ice creams and buying knick knacks. I spent the time productively worrying about how I was going to survive the loneliness in South America next month!  Then Mercian and I were on the ferry for another 3 ½ hours of forced relaxation. Either there were hundreds of kids on the ferry or the same dozen or so kept tearing past screaming as they did laps around the ship. I don’t think we lost any overboard because the same number appeared to keep coming past for the whole voyage. The parents were no doubt in the ships bar tanking up on premix drinks to try to make the rest of their trip, once the ferry docked and they had the little darlings back, go without stress.
Victoria University. Easterfield Building Where I Used to Study.

I was filled with nostalgia as I cycled through Wellington on the way to my sister’s place. When I grew up in Wellington I cycled and motorcycled everywhere so cycling there now was full of memories. From the age of 12yrs until I left when I was about 23yrs I pedalled the windy city. My sister lives on the hill suburbs above the university and since I hadn’t been there for about 10yrs I lost my way temporarily in the dark. Ringing her wasn’t an option as she is currently in Vietnam on holiday. So it was find her house or sleep on the street for the night. And I must say the streets actually seemed safer than I remember them. Quiet in fact.
The Hotel where I was Night Manager.( We all took turns at sleeping the night away).

I was relieved when I finally stumbled on the correct street and after finding the hidden key let myself in. Things got even better when I found the instant coffee and a bit of sugar. I was a worried for a minute because I think my sister is a tea drinker and seeing real coffee equipment was leading me to believe that Nescafe instant might not be allowed in the house. But I was wrong. While getting my instant coffee fix I looked up to see a cat giving me the eye through the window while simultaneously giving me an earful of complaint. It was wet and windy outside so I let the little fellaess in. Well I’m not sure if my sister has got a cat but she certainly has now. Very friendly feline quickly made herself at home taking the best bed.
Government Buildings. (I never Worked Here, but they are near where the chinese embassy staff hang out.)

I wasn’t looking forward to visiting my 92yr old mother today but it had to be done. I really didn’t know what to expect. I wasn’t sure she would recognise me as she’s suffered from dementia for years. In the end I thought that even if she didn’t recognise me I would feel better afterwards. Following two visits today I really didn’t achieve anything since my mother gave no indication one way or the other that she knew what was happening around her. And I felt pretty sad after the whole thing. You could cry seeing your mother as such an old person like this. Tomorrow I will try again to get some connection with my mum. It may well be the last time I see her.

Until then it’s Chinese for dinner and a chance to read a bike magazine I brought with me.