Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Kosovo, Albania

After two weeks of coastal cycling (and lazing around) in Croatia, I for one was definitely ready to get away from the tourist trail and back up into the mountains for the next leg of our adventure. We were initially thrown however, as after sitting down to work out the logistics, we realised that due to our speedier-than-expected cycling (and my bad planning), we had basically double the amount of time we needed to reach Bulgaria and my parents. Too much time is a strange prospect when you’re used to cycling along a planned trajectory in a logical direction, so for a day or so we wondered what on earth we were going to do. We decided on a huge zigzagging detour of exploration, and it turned out to be the best decision of the trip so far!

Getting yourself into the mindset of going in a sideways direction is difficult, especially when there are mountains involved. However after a few days in Bosnia-Herzegovina we knew we had made the right decision and every extra kilometre was worth it. Taking the long road from Trebinje to Foča, we were stunned by the amount of wild natural space all around us, relatively untouched by humans. Wild camping was easier than ever (although we were a little nervous about landmines so made sure we stayed on land that had been grazed and walked on by cows). On our second night we camped out on the shore of the beautiful lake Bileća, which in any other European country would have been seized upon by the tourism industry, but there wasn’t a single building in sight. We were starting to feel very peaceful. The following night was equally as rewarding with a high altitude wild camping paradise amongst the mountain tops in the Avtovac region. Ok, we were ambushed by a herd of scary mountain cows in the morning who decided that licking our bikes (and in particular our ukulele) was the height of fun, but it was a small price to pay to be able to sleep under the lights of the Milky Way with no light pollution to mask it.

No tourists!

No tourists!

Wild camping paradise

Wild camping paradise

We were also well looked after here – only an hour after crossing the border, we were shouted into the home of an elderly bee keeper after stopping near his gate for a quick rest. He demanded that we have a drink of his homemade rakiya, followed by a tour of his bees and a mimed explanation of how he makes honey (which we were also instructed to taste out of the barrel with a spoon). When I mime-asked him whether he gets stung by the bees, he proceeded to give a demonstration involving taking a bee, holding it against his leg and tickling it until it stung him, and then very proudly pointing to the sting sticking out of his leg as if to say, “I am immune to bee stings”.

After Lake Klinje, the gorges began. Our descent into the Sutjeska national park was like a scene from another planet in its appearance. Once again, almost no evidence of human inhabitation for hours, just speeding down in between towering walls of rock, in the crevices carved out by the river. Never has a mountain range looked more unforgiving and majestic. When we did eventually come to a man made structure, it was this strange thing, which really did make us suspect we had stumbled onto the set of Star Trek:

image

 

Gorges and canyons would set the tone for most of the following week, following the path of the River Drina out of Bosnia-Herzegovina into Montenegro. On the Montenegro side, this became really dramatic, with dark tunnels that looked like they’d just been hacked out of the rock to be entered at your own peril (the road was littered with fallen rocks so were were grateful for our helmets at this point) and terrifyingly high bridges from one side to the other. Reading about the atrocities committed in these areas we were cycling through by rival nationalistic and religious groups during both the Second World War and the more recent break up of Yugoslavia gave a chilling edge to the natural beauty.

image

 

After such an intense day of tunnels, it was a relief to stumble across a no frills campsite on the shore of lake Piva, complete with a friend for the evening in the form of Janet- another cycle tourer from New Zealand, going in the opposite direction. It was great to have a few beers together and share stories, and after an early morning swim in the lake we parted ways and started our all-day climb up into the Durmitor national park. (We instantly regretted the beers after realising that our climb would indeed last the entire day, the altitude and distance equalling that of an Alpine pass- oh if only our map had contour lines)! Our efforts were rewarded by rolling meadows of wild flowers and brightly coloured butterflies fluttering everywhere. (One even came to join me when we stopped for our usual midday combination of reading and snoozing, and sat inquisitively on my kindle for half an hour as I read). The villages up here were strikingly basic- mainly consisting of tiny triangular wooden huts, outsized by the giant haystack pyramids that surrounded them. Most of the people we saw seemed to be herding goats.

We thought we were winning again when it came to camp-time, with so much untouched space amongst the mountain tops, and set up our tent under the looming shadow of Bobotov Kuk. The illusion of freedom was quickly shattered in the morning however when an angry national park warden spotted us and came over to give us a hefty bill of 11 Euros. (Apparently you have to pay to be in the park yourself, and then pay an extra fine for your tent). Of course he wasn’t concerned by the fact that we were on bicycles, had cycled all day until we were completely exhausted and found nowhere to stay because, well, we were in the middle of nowhere! I wasn’t impressed by his angry shouting- it didn’t fit well with all the natural beauty. After this abrasive start to the day we sulked our way down to the Tara canyon and towards the mountain border with Kosovo.

Arriving into the town of Peć after freewheeling down the switchbacks from the border, we decided to stay in a motel for the evening as it was late and we were slightly nervous about looking for a place to camp in a new and unfamiliar country that was immediately different to any we’d travelled through previously. We quickly realised that we had nothing to worry about however and were met with open friendliness wherever we went. Joe happened to mention he was hungry when we arrived at our family-run motel, and half an hour later there was a knock at the door, which opened to reveal the owner and her children bearing a platter of homemade food (burek, stew, bread, salad) with excited grins on their faces. Best spinach burek ever tasted, and she even gave us a bag full to take away for lunch the next day when we told her how much we loved it!

After so many days of climbing, we were quite happy to relax and cafe-hop for a day, talking to people and soaking up the atmosphere of Southern Kosovo. We had so many questions but obviously of a sensitive nature so just let people talk and gauged what we could about the situation. There seems to be a lot of post-war regeneration going on, but the villages we cycled through still had high outer walls built up around each house for protection so that you couldn’t actually see the houses at all. At one point, we saw a ‘camp’ sign with a tent symbol, so pedalled up the side road curiously to investigate. All of a sudden an Italian army officer appeared with his gun, shouting at us to stop. Joe’s direct questioning of this stern character as to his purpose there didn’t yield very much information (surprisingly) but a man we met in a cafe down the road told us that the camp is for the Italian military unit based there to protect a nearby Serbian monastery, which is in a predominantly ethnic Albanian area. Many people that we met though said that they felt things were good now.

After camping in the garden of a friendly restaurant up in the hills above the village of Junik, we made our way towards the Albanian border and into another world entirely. For a minute I thought we’d skipped back a century, as some of the first ‘traffic’ we saw on the road was an old man in a black suit and tie, riding along on a donkey. The occasional car passing by brought us back to the present, but now everybody seemed to be beeping their horns and waving at us in greeting. Before we even reached the first town we’d been stopped by a passing car and invited into a nearby village to stay the night (unfortunately we never found the village as it wasn’t signed, so ended up in the town of Bajram Curri, where we were met with more waving, shouts of ‘hello’, people stopping us to ask questions, children pointing, and a generally overwhelming feeling of welcome. All of this sudden vibrancy was enhanced by the backdrop of the half built- half shell buildings, open front shops with piles of watermelons spilling out onto the streets, the call to prayer echoing out from the minaret as cows wander around in the side streets and just the general chaotic atmosphere of the town. We found ourselves grinning uncontrollably with the liveliness and unfamiliarity of it all.

Some cows just stopping for petrol...

Some cows just stopping for petrol…

Early the next morning, we boarded the Fierza to Koman ferry with our bikes, heading back west (in the wrong direction completely) so we could spend more time cycling across the country and exploring. It was novel to be able to see parts of the landscape that were completely inaccessible by road, and felt like we were being let in on an Albanian secret as we weaved through the silent mountain passageways. You can imagine my surprise then as we sailed around a bend to find an old man in his best suit, waiting patiently on a rock at the water’s edge. How he got there and still looked so pristine afterwards I have no idea, as behind him was a steep rocky slope covered in thick forest. The boat pulled in to let him on, just as though he were waiting at a bus stop. This happened about ten times over the course of the voyage, each time with villagers appearing in increasingly obscure places. At one point a lady who must have been around eighty years old got off in her long black dress and afterwards could be seen scrambling up the unforgiving mountainside to her remote house at the top. Every time somebody new got on, they’d do a lap of the boat, shaking hands and kissing the people from the other villages. Hands down the most entertaining boat trip I’ve ever taken.

Spot the villagers waiting for the boat...

Spot the villagers waiting for the boat…

Unfortunately, litter is a big problem- not just here but in all of the countries mentioned in this entry. It’s sad to see so many lakes, rivers, forests and beaches stained by huge piles of rubbish, and looks as though the respective authorities still have a long way to go before finding an adequate solution. One of our new Albanian friends was eager to explain to me how all of the rubbish “floated down the river from Montenegro,” which would have been only slightly less unbelievable had his friend not chosen that exact moment to hurl his cigarette into the river…

Miraculously, the bikes managed to survive the ride west from Koman (Let’s just say we’ve learned to appreciate asphalt) and we treated ourselves to a couple of days relaxing by the sea and wild camping in a coastal pine forest before heading back east again. Campsites in Albania were virtually non existent, so we had to start being brave and asking people whether we could put our tent up on their land. More often than not, this was met with absolute warmth and we felt welcomed by so many wonderful people who wanted to help us as much as they could. (Sometimes this included insisting on helping us to put up our tent, which is a one man job and can be done effectively in five minutes, but takes three times as long when you have four people all trying to put poles in random places and peg anything in sight! We developed a technique of looking extremely grateful and delighted to have help, whilst discreetly correcting everything)!

Obviously this beautiful country has a number of social issues that still have a way to go before being sorted out, but we were particularly arrested by finding, on two separate occasions, caged brown bears outside cafés to attract/entertain customers. We took photographs to send to animal rights organisations in the country who are working all the time on this particular issue. Hopefully this will be a practise that dies out as awareness spreads.

image

By no means did the cafe owners seem like bad people; on the contrary they were just as warm and genuine as anybody else we’d met in the country- it just seems to be a case of animal rights awareness that hasn’t made enough of an impact yet. However I can’t help finding it interesting how this practise seems to us barbaric, and many people in our society will be horrified by this photograph whilst turning around to gaze adoringly at their caged rabbits, hamsters, birds etc. What a strange world we live in.

Bears aside, Albania had a really positive and unique feeling to it and I could write for hours about all the people we stumbled across who made us smile and told us their stories. Needless to say by the time we entered Macedonia we were completely exhausted!

 

In other news, the UK government has agreed to match any donations made to WaterAid as part of their ‘To Be A Girl’ campaign before the 1st September (well isn’t that nice of them!). As part of our trip we’re trying to raise money for this amazing charity to help with the work they’re doing to bring safe, clean water to people with otherwise no access, so if you want to sponsor us for all those hard kilometres pedalled, you can do so via this link: http://www.justgiving.com/londontomalaysiabybike (The trip is self-funded so all of the money raised will go straight to the charity).

 

Advertisements

Austria, Slovenia

Saying goodbye to the money-spinning face of Mozart in Salzburg, we decided it was time to face the fear that had been looming over us for over a week- the Alps. The first two days of Austrian cycling were actually easy enough, following cycle paths through valleys, usually along the riverside. (Austria is like the red carpet for cyclists- well signed cycle paths that make it pretty impossible to get lost, as we frequently did in Germany, and mountain passes on minor roads, meaning we hardly came face to face with cars the whole time we were in the country). I fell in love with the alpine houses, with their wooden exteriors and triangular roofs with wooden icicles built into the guttering (I always wondered how the icicles shaped so perfectly and evenly off the roofs in the snow- I didn’t realise they cheated)!

Image

We spent our second evening with a fellow pair of cycle tourers in the town of Schladming- Christian and Andrea. They own a really lovely cafe there called Artisan, and invited us into their home for a delicious meal and evening of good company. I had fun playing with their baby girl, Antonia, but unfortunately she was too scared of Joe’s new beard to go anywhere near him.

It was good to have a bed to sleep in so we could gather our strength for the tough section of the Alps, beginning with the Solkpass- 1788m high, 1000m climb over a 20k distance. Sounds easy really- just persistence, until you take into consideration the steep switchbacks at the end (my ‘mountain’ playlist on the iPod really helped to keep my legs going). It really was awe inspiring to see the snow capped mountains getting closer and closer, until there were actually patches of snow around us as we cycled. The scenery became more and more surreal- so quiet, with icy streams in all directions and walls of rock and ice everywhere. Eventually our road was lined with walls of snow as we began the switchback climb. It was definitely worth the pain, although the twenty minute descent made a mockery of the three and a half hour climb.

Image

Snow looming ever closer

Image

Finally at at the top

Image

Full-on snow! (First chance to model the beard-warmer- a handy going away present from my friends Emma and James).

Our next day incorporated another pass, but only 1,400m this time, and definitely not as steep, so we managed to make it all the way to Lake Ossiach. We assumed the final day would be easy- the Wurzenpass leading to the Slovenian border crossing was only 1000m altitude…surely our legs were up to the challenge?

It turned out to be the hardest day of the Alps so far. Although not as high, the climb only lasted about 5k. It was hard enough in the blazing sun until we turned a corner and were faced with a sign warning us of an 18% incline. The sight of this in real terms was horrifying. It looked physically impossible. Joe decided on pushing, but I thought pushing was probably harder as my arms are even weaker than my legs, so managed to pedal it by stopping every 10m or so for a long, panting rest. I think we only survived thanks to Joe’s genius idea of soaking our headscarves (or ‘buffs’ if you want to use the official term) in a cold stream so they dripped cool water onto our heads. Austria definitely doesn’t want you to leave. Never have we had to work so hard for a border crossing…

Image

The descent made it all worthwhile. Or first few hours of Slovenia were breathtaking, with Razor (best named Alp so far) looming over us the whole way down. A brilliant cycle path led us all the way along the valley, beside a bright blue alpine stream and through forests. We thought it was too good to be true. Turns out it was- Slovenia is still in the process of building it’s cycle network and the path went as far as Dovie, where we camped that night. The minor roads can be pretty good though, although inconsistent- tarmac one minute and potholed and stony the next. We really noticed the difference the next day in a village where they had decided to dig up the road, presumably to improve it. Rather than digging up half and leaving the other half for use, and then switching, they decided it would be a much better option to dig up the entire road and let people drive across the piles of stones and potholes as they work on it…makes sense…? No surprises that Joe had his first puncture on day two of Slovenia.

We decided we needed a break after our Alpine mission and had an evening and a long morning relaxing by Lake Bled. What better start to a day than swimming in the bright blue water, with the Julian alps looming overhead, out to Bled island and it’s 15th century church with steps leading right down to the lake’s surface? (Unfortunately we were too scantily clad in our swimwear to attempt to go inside). The lake itself seems completely unspoilt, with no motorboats allowed; only rowing boats going to and from the island.

Image

Eventually we forced ourselves to leave and pedalled away into the late afternoon sun and into the rolling hills of Slovenia. Heading south through this country has been, for me, some of the most relaxing cycling yet. Still extremely hilly, although the panoramic views make every climb worthwhile. For example, this was the view that greeted us the next morning after wild camping in a forest on the top of a very long hill:

Image

What could be more relaxing than meandering between quiet villages, each with its own church on a hill, with red carnations decorating every house window?

We’ve developed a new method for cycling now, as it’s finally stopped being rainy and cold and is all of a sudden boiling sun everyday. Now we make sure we rest out of the sun between midday and two pm to avoid the heat as it’s really difficult to cycle in (Joe uses the time to snooze, of course, and I read) and then we cycle later into the evening when it’s cooler. It’s also really easy to wild camp in Slovenia, as there is so much space, so we’ve managed quite a few successive free nights in forests, which is satisfying.

Yesterday we crossed the border into Croatia, after stopping first thing for an iced coffee after our forest camp, to refresh us ready for the day of climbing ahead. What we didn’t realise was the coffee was laced with a strong alcohol, which we discovered only after getting to the end! When we asked the cafe owner, he proudly declared it was a mixture of not only rum but a local schnapps as well! What better drink could you choose at 9.30 in the morning before cycling up a very large hill in the heat? Oops.

It didn’t seem to do us any harm however and we made it to Croatia in one piece, saying goodbye to the Euro as we passed through the (policed) checkpoint. Things are noticeably cheaper here (at least in the north, before we hit the tourist-populated coast) and thanks to a well timed storm at the top of a mountain, we decided to treat ourselves to the first apartment we’ve been able to afford. Works out as the equivalent of £12 between us for basically a whole flat with kitchen, bathroom, living room etc, free internet, free tea(!)..cheaper than most campsites we’ve come across in the other European countries! Feeling a bit giddy with luxury this evening- it really is nice to have shower after three nights of forest camping and washing in icy cold streams!

Now we head for the coast, and summer!

 

Week One- England, France

We’ve finally stopped talking about it and set off on our bikes! Our departure was smoother than expected, although a little nerve wracking- cycling with a fully loaded bike is a completely different experience to normal riding as the weight on the front makes it more difficult to balance. For a minute I didn’t expect to make it down the road without wobbling off. Joe’s parents were around to wave us off, and made this video of our shaky start:

click here to watch

Thankfully we got used to it after a few miles. The first day cycling to Newhaven was surreal- it just felt like one of our normal London to Brighton rides. It felt a bit more real on the ferry to Dieppe the next morning. The first few days in France have unfortunately been accompanied by torrential rain for the most part- not the luckiest of starts. It’s ok though as it meant we could test out our waterproof gear early on and a stop in Amiens meant we could buy anything that we’d overlooked (or lost already, in the case of Joe’s helmet, which he left in the campsite office on the first night in England)! It does mean we haven’t been able to fully appreciate the French countryside though as it’s been so rainy.

The first week has been all about getting used to our new routine- (the bikes, the tent etc) and learning to plan properly. The Somme valley is surprisingly sparse when it comes to handy village shops, so we’ve learnt to stock up on food and never assume that we’ll cycle past a well placed boulangerie around lunch time! I have quickly learnt that Joe needs to eat around three times the amount of a normal person whilst cycling, and failing to keep him sufficiently fed results in him cycling sadly like a snail. Now whenever I look over at him he’s usually devouring a pain aux chocolat.

We’ve already been attracting a lot of curious attention (I suppose as our bikes look so strange). We stopped for lunch one afternoon and when we returned to them we found them surrounded by a gaggle of French pensioners who bombarded us with questions about where we were going and why on earth were we cycling all the way?! I suppose we must look quite odd in all our gear too. (Most of the cycling clothes Joe bought for the trip are bright blue- he peels off one bright blue layer to reveal another. He even bought himself a shiny new bright blue helmet to match). A lot of people seem to want to help us out though when we explain what we’re doing, giving us tips on which roads to take and where to stay etc. A very lovely lady even gave us some delicious free crepes today when we stopped at her creperie to use the wifi and have a snack.

Last night we stayed on a farm just outside of Avesnes sur-Helpe near the Belgian border, using warmshowers.com for the first time (hopefully the first of many- we’ve found camping to be expensive in France, and expect the same thing in the next few countries so will have to wild camp as much as possible and arrange hosts every few days until things get cheaper). It’s a brilliant online community of cycle tourers who basically welcome you into their homes if you’re passing through their area and give you a place to sleep and shower.

We had no idea what to expect, thinking it would most likely be a place to put up the tent in the barn and a shower, but we were completely blown away by the friendliness and generosity of our host Samuel and his family. They chatted to us pretty much all evening, cooked an amazing meal (with everything we were eating grown on their farm and even home made cider to wash it down) and gave us a bed to sleep in (the best sleep I’ve had in a week)! They apparently host travellers all the time like this, despite working tirelessly six days a week on their farm and at the market selling their produce. But it just seems to be a way of life. Poor Joe had to do pretty much all the talking as they only spoke French so he was pretty mentally wiped out by the end of the night. It was great practise for me though, following most of it as best I could and interjecting with very slow questions when I was sure I knew for definite what was being said!

Now we’ve just crossed the Belgian border and it’s already extremely hilly!
Having the best sandwiches of our lives in Chimay and preparing for a few days of adventure into the unknown.

20140512-144242.jpg

Taking one last look at the sea from the north coast of France

20140512-144427.jpg

Our mechanical knowledge is already put to the test.

20140512-144615.jpg

Mr Blue at snack time.

Three weeks to go…

It feels surreal to think that in three weeks time we’ll be having our leaving party, packing up our things and heading out the door to pedal towards the ferry. You’d think that after two years of planning we’d feel completely prepared by now but as the day looms ever closer we keep remembering more and more things we need to do! I keep waking up in the night and adding notes to my ever growing list.

This weekend we plan to have bought absolutely everything we need so we can relax and focus on the much more enjoyable task (in my opinion) of detailed route planning (in between teaching ourselves to become bike mechanics- a task which Joe has taken to much more readily than myself).

Now that it’s imminent, we’re finding more and more unexpected support and interest from people wherever we go. It’s certainly a conversation starter. We’ve even been lucky enough to receive encouragement from Dazer, a company who specialise in ultrasonic devices. They have kindly sent us one of their Dog Dazers free of charge to protect us from nasty wild dogs who might be interested in having us for dinner. We’ve been trying it out on each other and it really does work!:

http://www.dazer.com/dog-deterrent.jsp

WaterAid have been in touch to find out more about the trip and offer their support with fundraising, which I thought was a nice touch from such a big charity.

One of the main things we’re focussing on now though is the enjoyable task of spending time with all of the people who we might not see for a long time (although we’re managing to convince more and more people to come and visit us along the way) and planning a big leaving party so we can say a proper goodbye.

Now it’s time to stop procrastinating and get a few more things ticked off my list!

 

So how did it start?

So many people ask me this question- “What on earth has made you decide to cycle round the world?”, and the idea has been there for so long now that it’s hard to formulate an answer. But I’ll try:

When we met over two years ago, we were both quite excited to have met another person who wanted to go exploring outside of London at weekends, so we started going on a few cycling trips- Epping Forest, London to Brighton, Norfolk, celebrating our achievements joyously after each one with a well deserved trip to the pub! I was high every time on the freedom a bike could give you to get out of the city, which sometimes feels like it goes on forever, and explore beautiful scenery and new places.

Norfolk was the first trip into which we incorporated camping (the first trip where we’d managed to cycle for more than one day in a row)! I hadn’t camped in about five years previously, getting caught up in busy city life, and I’d forgotten how amazing the night sky is with no light pollution to mask it- I’m not kidding we saw about five shooting stars that night. It made me feel kind of giddy with freedom, very far away from the insignificant stresses of everyday life, and very aware of the tiny scale of our planet. It seemed bizarre that the Earth was so small compared to the vast expanse we were staring at, and yet there’s so much of it that we never even think about exploring. I was suddenly aware that I’d never even been outside of Western Europe.

Naturally, our conversation strayed into the realms of exploration- “Wouldn’t it be amazing to just keep going- put a tent on the back of the bikes, cycle all day, camp and then just…do it all again, and again, and just go wherever you wanted?” It’s a wonderful thought, carrying all that you need with you, watching the landscape gradually evolving from familiar into new and challenging, having the freedom to explore wherever you like, at whatever pace you choose…It’s one of those things you always think “wouldn’t that be amazing,” but your brain gently informs you that it’s not possible, not realistically. My brain dutifully informed me of such a fact, and I went back to London the next day and though no more about it…

… At least for a few weeks, anyway. As it turned out the idea had been subtly planted and was lurking at the back of my mind, waiting for a catalyst to bring it into consciousness. The catalyst, with came about a week later, was a song- “The Lion’s Roar” by First Aid Kit. I remember exactly where I was standing when I heard that song for the first time, and it immediately sparked a crazily strong emotion in me. (I’m sure that’s quite common with music, and for each person it’s different, but for me the ones that really get you on the first listen and make your hairs stand on end are rare, and this was one of them). I played it on repeat all day and by the end of the evening, I knew that I wanted to cycle round the world.

I was so excited there was no way I could sleep. That night I was alone in the house as my housemates were both away. It was late but I was desperate to tell somebody of my amazing plan, so I sent a long e-mail to my parents. They naturally replied the following morning with a carefully constructed list of reasons why it was, in fact, a disastrous idea. (My favourite point was one of my mum’s- “But darling, what if you get sore feet?!”). Whilst taking their valuable cautions on board however, I was too high on the idea to be put off the idea so easily, and marched straight round to Joe’s house the moment he got back from his cycling holiday around Spain.

I told him my idea and held my breath. Of course, not once did I imply that I was asking him to come with me- he had to come to that conclusion on his own and I wasn’t about to put the burden of a decision on him. It was a completely different situation for him- he was older; he’d already spent years of his life living abroad on various continents and had put off his career for longer than he’d planned. He had a good job now, a nice house. He seemed like he could settle this time in London.

His response, as I’d expected (although I’d hoped differently) was, “Wow, that sounds so amazing! I wish I was in a position to come with you”. My heart sank a bit, but I couldn’t have expected anything more. He was quiet for about five minutes, brow furrowed, cogs whirring in his head…Then all of a sudden he leapt up, announcing, “Right then- let’s get the map out- which route shall we take?!” It hadn’t taken long for him to convince himself!

That night we discovered the blogs of other cyclists who’d taken similar journeys, and as soon as we started reading the first one, we were hooked. Almost two years later, it all seems much more real. Originally the plan was to leave the following April, but after about half an hour of budgeting we realised sadly that it was pretty much impossible to do it so soon, so we decided to delay for a year. Now we’re on track- I’ve got a better job that pays more, and am managing to get enough music commissions on the side to bulk up the travel fund from time to time. We’re living frugally (to an extent)- Joe’s had to give up his love affair with fine wine and cheese, and I have banned him from his indulgent trips to Waitrose- it’s Morrisons all the way now.

So now the months seem to be flying by and we’re realising the full scale of planning that needs to be done! I think it’s time to meet up with some seasoned cycle-tourers and get some tips..