Guest Post – ‘Lessons from the London Triathlon’ By Oli Davy

I was going to title this post “The Day I Ate a Whole Chicken On The Side of a Mexican Highway” and then I realised that whilst this was no doubt a seminal moment in my life and journey, it’s not a tale my followers would cherish, and perhaps I should ask a guest blogger to post. I’m short on stories – it’s not Mexico’s fault, it’s mine. I’m racing through the cunningly disguised Goliath of a country (one in which I will ride further than in the whole of the continental US, unbelievably) and I’ve crunched more miles this month than in any of the preceding thirty eight. Roast chicken helps.

So a guest post – a way to shine light on some talented soul in the blogosphere. This is the first Guest Blogger featured on Cycling The Six. I get loads of request for guest posts, though most go something like:

Dear Mr Fabes, I am offering some content for your health / sport / travel blog. I make home made placenta cakes from genuine human placenta and would like to share the recipe with your online audience. I charge 1000 US dollars, please deposit into my Nigerian bank account before you publish my award winning blog entry.

Bloggers who unwittingly obey all my rules for writing a GREAT travel blog are not welcome here. So I will headhunt my guest bloggers, and the most affecting, inspiring and mirth inducing collection of yarns I have read of late is I Run Things – the fact that the author is a good friend of mine is beside the point. He fulfils that seemingly simple yet rare ideal – he has a story worth telling and he tells it well. It’s about… well, I’ll let Olly Davy explain.

What I learnt from the London Triathlon

I sit by the edge of the water under a low September sun, squinting into the reflected rays at the swan gliding past between the marker buoys. I reach behind my back to undo my wetsuit and release the tightness of the second skin. Slowly, my breathing returns to normal as my body recovers from the sprint at the end of a 4,000 metre swim. I feel the blood pumping through my veins and the familiar sense of calm descending on my mind. Looking down beyond my dangling feet into the murky pond I see the face of my mother smiling up at me, and my eyes fill with tears.

One year earlier, in August 2011, I was standing at the baggage carousel in Gatwick airport. Fresh from a road trip around the lakes of southern France, I was suntanned and content. The simple pleasures of driving through the mountains, eating great food and camping in the beauty of nature had made for a memorable holiday. My phone rang. It was my sister and I answered in a cheery tone, glad at the chance to share tales of our happy trip.

“Mum has cancer”

Some weeks after the initial shock of that announcement, cancer had become part of our everyday lives. My mother fought bravely against the disease and endured wave after wave of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. In the end, the cancer was too advanced and too strong and there was nothing anyone could do. The final reality was clear on the day, in June 2012, when the doctor advised her that now would be a good time to move into the hospice. Everybody knows that hospice is just another word for death. After only a week under the amazing care of the Marie Curie nurses my mother succumbed to the disease and my sister and I held her hand as she died. She was just one of the one hundred people who die each day from lung cancer in the UK.

Not long before my mother’s death I decided to sign up to the London Triathlon 2012. I was feeling powerless in the face of her hellish battle and I wanted to do something, anything, to take back some control. Once she died I threw myself into training with the kind of focus I have never known. Having a goal to work towards stopped me being overwhelmed with sadness. The triathlon became much more than a race. It was symbolic as a declaration of life, a victory for vitality over decay. By setting out to overcome a personal challenge I embarked on a remarkable journey. Here are some things I learnt along the way…


London is a great place to train

And even better during an Olympics year. Throughout that memorable month of Great Britain’s glory I was happy in the knowledge that once I got home from a run, a swim or a cycle, I could watch some real life superheroes take on the world and win in my own back yard. London 2012 was a non-stop drama of sporting prowess and my hometown was the stage on which it unfolded.

I was able to find everything I needed to train successfully for the triathlon within cycling distance of my flat in East London. Three times a week I swam at London Field’s Lido. This facility possesses all the qualities a great swimming pool should. It is outdoor, heated, Olympic size and glorious. In the entrance hall they posted the winning times of the Olympic athletes on a big board, encouraging users of the pool to put their own times too. For longer sessions, and to acclimatise to conditions closer to that of open water, I went to Hampstead Ponds. The pleasure of swimming through natural waters among the ducks and geese more than made up for becoming an embarrassed spectator on the sidelines of North London’s gay cruising scene. To run without fear of being squashed by a truck I headed to Regents Canal where I could fly along by the water all the way to Limehouse Basin and beyond. And when it was time to clip on my helmet and saddle up, I would ride around and around the outer ring of Regents Park, where I learnt the finer points of peleton etiquette from helpful strangers wearing Team GB jerseys. Or, at other times, I watched the deer grazing as I cycled laps of Richmond Park under a setting sun. And, If I felt the need to do some hill training to build the strength in my legs then I would ride up and down the Muswell Hill, and Swain’s Lane in Highgate. Never have I found London more relevant and useful than while I trained for a triathlon during the Olympics.


I love being in control (and need to learn to let go)

To prepare for the triathlon I followed a strict regime, training seven times a week for three months. My life was governed by the training diary blue-tacked to my wall and I did little else except go to work and train. A disciplined lifestyle was perfect for me at the time as it gave me the distraction I needed and kept me away from more unhealthy ways of dealing with grief.

The training was a useful distraction from my emotions but I tried not to bottle anything up. Thankfully, the physical training helped me to understand and express what I was feeling better than I would have been able to otherwise. The clear-headedness that a long run afforded allowed me to simply be with my grief. Not to fight it or hide from it, but to accept it and allow it to pass over me, like a wave. As a man, and an English one at that, I am embarrassed by public displays of emotion and so to avoid collapsing into a snot-bubbling mess at the supermarket checkout I chose private times when I could cry alone. I scheduled my grief like a training run. But despite my attempts to stay in control, there is no way to know if you will suddenly burst into tears while speeding down a hill at thirty miles per hour. And that can be dangerous.

Exercise helps with sadness

It well known by anyone who enjoys exercise that it makes you feel good. It can put the icing on the cake of an excellent day or take the edge off a crappy one. When we exercise the body recognises this as a time of stress. It thinks we are either fighting an enemy or fleeing from one and so releases endorphins to minimise discomfort, block feelings of pain and even bring on a sense of euphoria.

Humans have been managing their stress levels in this way for as long as they have faced challenges. There is even a Latin motto that sums it up nicely: solvitur ambulando, which means, “It is solved by walking”. Fascinated by the mood lift I experience after exercising, I began to look further into the relationship between the body and the mind and the effects they have on each other and articles discussing Descartes and dualism soon baffled me. I had opened a huge can of worms called the mind-body problem, but the basic fact remains; when I feel bad, I exercise, and although my circumstances will not have changed I am better able to cope with them.

I became a bore

Discovering a new world of triathlon training tips and equipment reviews filled me with a nerdy joy. But I soon learnt that people would begin crossing the road to avoid me if I did not at least try to maintain an air of normality in polite society. You will be amazed to learn that not everybody cares whether the wetsuit you are considering buying will ensure the optimum equilibrium for your swimming position. Or if the cells of foam positioned on the upper forearm sleeve area – to encourage a better arm position in the catch phase of the stroke, will offer increased power and reduced fatigue. Disappointing reactions are best minimised by sharing our pastimes only with fellow enthusiasts. Be sure to make guarded references to your extracurricular pursuit until you are sure that you are in safe company.

“Oh, you like collecting ironing boards too? Brilliant!”

It’s all about the journey

The London Triathlon was my goal but it was the experiences I had along the way that made the journey so worthwhile. I took every opportunity to train in unusual places. I ran on the Black Mountains in Wales, along the beaches of Sharm El Sheikh and North Norfolk, and took icy dips in the River Wye and the North Sea. I took up yoga to undo the tightness in my overworked muscles and spent wonderful Saturday mornings surrounded by beautiful women, stretching my body and soothing my mind. The journey was not only physical but mental and spiritual as well.

That may sound a little dramatic but the triathlon came at a significant period in my life and as I looked for an answer to the ultimate question, ‘Life, what does it all mean?’ I found myself in a group meditation workshop that took place over twelve nights in a living room in North West London. Guided by an experienced leader, twenty of us went on a reflective journey and bonded through the sharing of personal stories, breathing exercises and meditative visualisation. It was difficult to adjust each evening after work to this new environment but I was rewarded with an experience that was at times deeply moving. There were also moments that stretched my open-mindedness to it’s limits, such as when one member of the group, a gay Irishman, was invited to share messages from the other side and duly began to ‘channel’ an ancient Chinese warrior. I struggled to absorb his useful tips on negotiating the challenges of life because I was preoccupied by the strange accent he was talking in. I did not know what was more amazing, that he was communicating from beyond the grave, or that a Chinese warrior had learnt to speak English in the afterlife.


I need a challenge to feel alive

Sometimes I feel that progress moves too fast. If I had been born during the time of Copernicus I would have been at the front of the angry mob baying for his blood when he announced his blasphemous theory that the Earth revolves around the Sun, and not the other way around. I am not what marketeers call an ‘early adopter’. I enjoy technology and I can see that it brings many benefits but it also scares me. As we play with our smart phones, attack targets with drones and transhumanists discuss the next stages of the human race’s love affair with technology (upload everyone to computers and head off in rockets to explore the universe, anyone?), I cannot escape the obvious fact that we are still animals. We have evolved over millions of years to interact with our physical environment, to run, breathe and be outdoors. Many millions of us now work in offices where much of our interaction is virtual. Our societies have developed quicker than our bodies and minds and we are suffering as a result. I believe we are struggling to cope with the demands that our complex modern societies make of us. I think there is something in the old cliché about people in developing countries living happier, simpler lives. Assuming someone is not trying to dig a mine under their village or recruit them to the local militia. But that’s another cliché.

To maintain my sanity, sometimes I need to shrug off the silly concerns of an urban existence and enjoy a raw elemental experience. It reminds me that I am alive. I find that I am most content when I react to my basic impulses. How fast can I cycle? How far can I swim? Can I run to the top of this mountain without passing out? Spending time outside of my usual metropolitan habitat in a challenging environment is restorative. When I am concerned with finding and cooking food, or sheltering from the elements, things like how many Twitter followers I have matter much less. Of course, I am straight back on the infernal thing when I get home. But I do not have to break a sweat to enjoy being outside. Just to stand on the edge of a mountain, or on the beach, or even in a park, is enough to make me smile. So next time you spot a beaming simpleton gawping at the squirrels, spare a thought; he’s replenishing his soul.

You can’t ignore your injuries

You can, of course, but they won’t go away. I began intensively training for the triathlon with a problem in my left shin muscle (excuse the technical terminology), a trapped muscle in my left shoulder and a right knee rendered dodgy by a car accident. I trained through all these injuries. I did not fall apart and after the triathlon in September 2012, I continued to run, swim and cycle regularly. My shoulder would give me pain occasionally but one day, when I could actually hear the grinding of ball in socket somewhere below my clavicle, I knew it would be a good idea to stop swimming and visit the physiotherapist. So, now I am spending time in the gym and following the physiotherapist’s instructions to strengthen my latisimus dorsi. It is a long time since I went regularly to a gym and I now remember what ludicrous places they are. Side by side, in silence but the for the urgent drawing of breath and the hideous racket of the machines, people run and cycle and operate other awful contraptions with great intensity, while rooted to the spot. Large televisions show muscled maniacs working themselves to the brink of death as the electronic beat pouring out of the speaker system encourages me to go “Harder, faster, better, stronger”. It’s a cardiovascular insane asylum where incarceration is voluntary and paid for.

Unfortunately, my body is not built like Haruki Murakami, the long distance running novelist who has run most days for thirty years and never been injured, or the 101 year old man who began running marathons aged 89 and will be competing for the last time this Sunday. If I want to continue enjoying sport for many years to come then I have to listen to my body and strengthen the weak bits. So, I dutifully perform one-arm rows, wall-squats, and inverted rescindicator crunches (I made that one up) in a bid to get myself ready for whatever the next challenge might be.

Death is an opportunity

When I stood at the doorway to the crematorium and welcomed mourners to my mother’s funeral for the first time in my life I truly felt like a man. Afterwards, at the wake, I spoke for hours with the friends and family who had come to pay their respects. People who I had not seen since I was a small boy were there and eager to catch up. Through my sister and I lay the only remaining access to our dear departed mum, and so we were much in demand. I did not cry that day. Somehow the rigours of hosting, and being so unavoidably on show, held back the wall of sadness that was waiting to crumble on top of me. The next day it hit me. Once we had cleared the empty wine bottles from the empty house I sat down at the kitchen table, surrounded by cards and flowers, and allowed myself to let go.

Losing my mother to cancer made me realise how precious, and brief, life is. It was a galvanising experience. It made me think about how many things there are that I want to do while I am still walking around on this spinning ball of dust. That does not mean that there are not days when I feel like hell and do not want to leave the house and would rather alleviate the sadness with the temporary respite afforded by alcohol, or ice cream. There is no escaping the finality of death; my life changed irreversibly when my mother died but what she left me in passing was an insatiable desire to go on and enjoy the world. If you will forgive me for adopting the tone of a bible-wielding evangelist who has turned up on your doorstep at an inconvenient time on a Tuesday evening, it is as if she has been born again through me.

Human beings are inspiring

Everyday, all over the world, people are doing amazing things. Felix Baumgartner skydived (skydove?) from the edge of space, Stephen Fabes is a medical doctor cycling around the world, Oscar Pistorius overcame his….oh, wait. But you catch my drift. I love hearing about the extraordinary limits that people push themselves to because it inspires me and distracts me from daily life, the huge gas bill or the family crisis.

While training for the triathlon, sharing the experience through my blog became more important than I ever realised it would. It was an opportunity to let people know what I was doing and feeling at a time when I did not want to speak to many people about what I was doing and feeling. The process of writing and posting online encouraged reciprocation from people and I learnt all kinds of interesting and inspiring things from their messages to me. One day, a complete stranger messaged me on Facebook. She had read an article that a local London newspaper had printed about me signing up to the triathlon as way to cope with grief. This is what she wrote:

“I lost my dad suddenly last month and have been finding it extremely difficult to carry on with day to day life and not expect the world to fall down at my feet but I picked up the Ham & High today and read the article about you dealing with your grief by throwing yourself into something that doesn’t give you time to stop and feel sorry for yourself. I just wanted to say thank you for inspiring me to do something I’ve always wanted to do but have been too unmotivated. Today I started my own fashion consultancy business.”

I was very moved by that message. I had previously thought I could only draw inspiration and I did not realise I could engender it in others. So, whatever it is you love doing, keep doing it, because it might just get someone through.


If you enjoyed this post please leave a comment and check out I Run Things, Oli’s excellent blog.

My next post will come from just across the US border and will include an interview with Karl Bushby, a British ex-paratrooper I tracked down in Mexico who has been walking around the world for 15 years. And I might even share some details of that now legendary gastronomic battle with the chicken, you lucky, lucky people.


DH Hell

Some decisions have unwelcome consequences when cycling around the world. The road divides unexpectedly, I opt for the left hand turn, I’m wrong. I spend an hour backtracking. It’s a bummer, I’ll get over it. But when I arranged for a parcel to be sent from the UK to a town in northern Chile the road I took led to a financial mess and almost a month long stay in a small, dusty town, a place I had planned to be for just two days.

My mum packed a box of gear I needed for the next stage of the trip and posted it with DHL in Oxford. The box contained two bike tyres, a camera lens and a few small items such as a reading book and a bottle of mosquito repellent. The staff at DHL assured my mum the package would be with me in five days, making the member of staff concerned The World’s Greatest Optimist. Over the next few weeks DHL would break several other world records.

  • I arrived in San Pedro, checked the tracking number and noted a huge string of “clearance delays” meaning there was some hold up getting it through customs. I wondered if DHL had done anything to resolve this other than type “clearance delay” into a computer. I would soon learn that typing constitutes an ambitious task for DHL.
  • I called them up to be told they had emailed me and that they required more information before it could clear customs. I received no such email. There was nothing in my spam filter and I checked DHL had the right email address. There are three possibilities – either this was an oversight (one of around a thousand over the next month), or a lie, or DHL has not trained it’s staff how to send emails. Perhaps they wrote the email but didn’t know they had to hit the send button afterwards. Perhaps the computer wouldn’t function because of trouble locating the ‘on’ switch. Perhaps the staff couldn’t access the computer room because they spent half an hour pushing a door with a pull sign above it and then gave up.
  • DHL informed me they didn’t have all the information they required to clear it through customs. So I re-sent the information that my mum had already provided when she sent the parcel. I then sent an email to NASA informing them that black holes do actually exist on earth. One resides in DHL’s main office in Santiago, just behind the water filter. It sucks in email addresses, phone numbers, staff motivation, respect for customers and any sense of corporate responsibility.
  • I called day after day to be told that my parcel is being processed but that DHL were powerless to speed it up. They refused to contact customs to move it through.
  • Long, boring days passed by with no progress. I checked the tracking number – to my surprise the computer screen told me the box had been delivered. Strange, I had no box. Another oversight or another red and yellow lie? Perhaps it’s en route. I called DHL – the information on the computer was wrong they told me. The box remains in customs. Probably safer there than anywhere near the black hole though.
  • A week later DHL sent me an email explaining that if I wanted to receive the box I would have to cover the costs. The bill was totalled up and came to a mind boggling 480 US dollars. I freaked out. This was more than the value of the items in the box and around twice the amount my mum had paid to post it!
  • After another two days of pestering I finally got a breakdown. DHL and customs were charging me for – 
    • Duties and taxes – not much I can do about that
    • A sanitary authorisation and certificate. This was required for the one bottle of mosquito repellent my mum had packed, they were asking for over 100 US dollars for this procedure. My mum had unwittingly posted The Most Expensive Bottle Of Mosquito Repellent On Earth. It had better be good. I asked if they or customs could simply remove the item, thereby forfeiting the need for the sanitary inspection and certificate.
      “That’s not possible” I was told “But we can get an outside agency to do that”.
      “Great” I said. “Let’s do that”
      “But it will cost 250 US dollars.”
      Amazingly The Most Expensive Bottle Of Mosquito Repellent On Earth was getting more expensive.
    • Storage charges. Seeing as though I was desperate to get it posted and they were fucking around for days it seemed slightly unjust, to put it mildly, that I now had to pay them rent for refusing to deliver what I needed. I wondered what it cost them to keep a box in a corner whilst staff occasionally stared at it and shrugged. Perhaps they provided a nice chill out area for my package, made sure the room was well heated and played some ambient music so that my box didn’t stress out too much whilst it was waiting to meet me.
    • The icing on the cake – A DHL service charge was the final expense expected of me. Wow. If I had received good service would they be charging even more?
  • So I debated, reasoned, argued and eventually a supervisor agreed to remove the service charge and bill me 313 US dollars. Still extortionate but they had me over a barrel. Refuse and I’m not going to get anything and I couldn’t bring myself to walk away. I had already been waiting now for two weeks in San Pedro and my box had been listening to a Best of the Eighties compilation for three. I asked them to bill me immediately.
  • Three days later the bill had still not been emailed despite my frequent phone calls to the DHL office in Santiago. When it did arrive they had upped the cost again to 398 US dollars citing extra storage charges since our agreement about the bill, an agreement in which they had assured me the bill would be the final amount I would have to pay. Apparently my box wasn’t comfortable with eighties music and they had to buy in some trip-hop CDs.
  • By this stage the DHL staff in Santiago had begun avoiding my calls and they were going straight to voice mail. Was I being paranoid? Perhaps. But when I called through the main line and asked to speak to a specific member of staff, amazingly they were suddenly free. They would often leave me on hold for long periods. The on hold message, translated from Spanish, boasted about how choosing DHL is the right choice because they are fast and easy. FAST AND EASY! At this stage I felt like Michel Douglas’ character in the film Falling Down. Perhaps I should stroll into a branch of DHL with a rocket launcher?
  • I made complaints through the UK DHL website. They haven’t contacted me since I lodged those complaints despite assuring that they deal with all such matters promptly. But, as I have learnt, DHL live in an alternative reality in which time as we know it does not constitute the fourth dimension of the universe, it has been replaced by money. 
  • At this stage I considered praying to Fed Ex instead “please Fed Ex, deliver me from evil…”
  • I am still waiting for my package

I am partly to blame. In hindsight I should have had the parcel posted to a capital city. I should also have had it sent to any country other than Chile which has notoriously strict customs controls. I also know that DHL don’t have jurisdiction over Chile’s Health Authority or Customs but they did virtually nothing to speed up the process, they made mistake after mistake, they never apologised, they were incompetent, unsympathetic, neglectful, slow and expensive.

I live on less than ten dollars a day. Financially this was a minor catastrophe for me. The camera lens and tyres were the only expensive items in the box and if I walked away without them that would cost me dearly as well. Add in the cost of staying for three weeks in an expensive tourist town and all the phone calls to DHL. I felt like I had been viciously mugged and was helpless to act. 

I’d like  refund, though my optimism has not just been dented, it’s been fed into one of those gigantic car crushing machines and is now the size of a matchbox. Thanks very much DHL, which I have decided actually stands for Disastrous and Harrowing Logistics or Deeply Heinous Lame-asses. If you can think of an appropriate translation of the DHL acronym in relation to my recent trauma please leave in the comments section below.

Sorry about the rant, but it was cathartic. If you actually got to the end then here’s a present to cheer you up… the funniest complaint letter in the world which made headlines a few years back and was actually written by a friend of a friend of mine. Enjoy.

 

Statistics

I recorded various bits of useful and useless information as I traveled, mostly out of boredom but also because I thought that someone planning a similar trip to mine could benefit from some numbers. I made a note of the finances to remind myself how much I’m spending or rather to remind myself how much I need to stop spending, and I noted down where I slept each night. Here you go….

The bare facts
London to the Cape Town

23,215 km / 14,425 miles
27 Countries in 3 continents
1 year and 4 months on the road
Route and distances

Route: UK, France, Switzerland, Monaco, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Albania, Greece, Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa.

Europe (London to Istanbul)
5010 km over 4 months

The Middle East (Istanbul to Cairo)
3236 km over 2 and a half months

Africa (Cairo to Cape Town)
14,969 km over 9 months

Paved roads – 20,933 km
Unpaved – 2282 km (mostly in Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Namibia)

Top altitude – 3050 metres – north of Addis Abeba, Ethiopia

Top speed – 75 km/hr (coming into Iskenderun, Turkey)

Biggest climb
The shores of the Dead Sea to the King’s highway, Jordan.
From 400 below sea level to 1300 metres above
Continuous ascent for 55 km and 1700 vertical metres
(although this is nothing compared to what’s coming up in South America)

Longest distance cycled in one day – 209 km 
Southern Namibia to the South African border (strong tailwind and lots of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk)

Shortest distance in one full day of cycling – 47 km 
The remote Turkana region of Northern Kenya (lots of sand and lots of pushing)

Highest average speed over a day – 28.5 km/hr, Namibia
Lowest average speed over a day – 7.4 km/hr, Kenya

Longest stay in one place – 23 days – Istanbul

Accommodation



‘Other’ included churches, schools, hospitals, police stations, monasteries, convents, derelict castles, catholic missions, tourist information centres, rough on the beach, in a water storage tank, in the research facility of a crocodile farm and in the shed of a water buffalo (after the tenant was evicted).

Bike bits

Punctures – 113
How did this happen! OK, OK… it deserves an explanation – first of all I was under-inflating my back tyre towards the start of the trip, the pump had no gauge on it, so the tubes ruptured by the valve. It took me a while to figure out the cause. The replacement Chinese made tubes were so bad they often exploded whilst I was pumping them up before I’d got them to the right pressure and they never lasted very long. I got more punctures on the rough roads and some from thorns and the metal wire that comes from shredded truck tyres, both are all over the roads in Africa. I started off using the self-sticking puncture patches that don’t require glue, these all eventually failed and I ended up repairing punctures I’d fixed weeks before.

Tyres – 8
I changed my front Schwalbe whilst I was still in the UK and could still get a replacement when a large nail pieced it after just 20 km in the outskirts of London. It goes to show Schwalbe tyres aren’t invincible. I didn’t get another puncture for over 5000 km. My front Schwalbe Extreme lasted an impressive 15,793 km from London to Tanzania. The back tyres tended to last about half this distance. Occasionally I had to use local tyres whilst I waited for new Schwalbe ones, they didn’t last long.

Chains – 3
1. KMC Gold (titanium – nitride anti-corrosion) :  lasted 14,490 km
2. Sram : lasted 7187 km
3. Cheap local one : lasted 1538 km


Brake pads – 6 sets
Rohloff Hubs – 2
Bike pumps – 6 (thank you China)

Spokes – All intact – No replacements required


Finances

I’m sure people develop a sort of selective memory when it comes to expenses and underestimate how much they spend. I recorded everything except that of my biggest expense – food – as it would have got far too complicated. Clearly I could have been more thrifty but whilst I could happily sleep anywhere, I could never really bring myself to spend less on food. Dinner was too important and I wasn’t going to eat instant noodles every night.
  • The medical expenses relate to the expensive MRI I needed on my knee in Greece. 
  • The card charges and commission I paid for changing money came to a painful £341.50, but what can you do?
  • I spent £956 on accommodation, not too bad over 16 months and I slept for free 60% of the time.
  • I didn’t have a laptop with me so I had to use internet cafes. Wifi is everywhere these days and as you can see, I could have bought a laptop for the amount I spent on the net. A large proportion of this expense was because I uploaded photos onto Flickr which took time and money but which gave me piece of mind.
  • The costs incurred for ‘tourism’ included entrance to national parks, museums, sights of interest, transport around cities, activities and tours.
  • A note on VISAs… All VISAs were obtainable on the border with the exception of VISAs for Syria, Sudan and Ethiopia which had to be obtained in advance. Free entry / free VISAs included all of Europe (except Turkey), Rwanda, Malawi, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa
    Cost of the other VISAs:
    Turkey – £10
    Kenya – £16
    Jordan – £18 (includes departure tax)
    Ethiopia – £19
    Uganda, Tanzania and Zambia – all £31 each
    Syria – £37 (includes departure tax)
    Sudan – £107 (includes letter of intent from British embassy, VISA and registration fee)

    Total on VISAs – £310
Most expensive countries
Obviously France and Italy come out top. Then Namibia and to a slightly lesser degree South Africa. Tourism was especially expensive relative to the cost of living in Jordan and Botswana.

Cheapest countries
Uganda, Ethiopia and rural Kenya and Tanzania were probably the cheapest parts. In Europe it was Albania.

Climate

Lowest temperature – Minus 19°C
2000 metres up, Corps, mid-winter in the Alps, France

Highest temperature – 56.5°C 
I recorded this in sunlight, Omo Valley, Ethiopia
(note that the temperatures used on our weather forecasts are taken in the shade not in direct sunlight, although the shade temperature was still likely to be in the high 40s)

Other


Highest body weight – 80 kg before departure (due to my training regime of pasties and beer)
Lowest body weight – 65 kg Ethiopia (due to all the crazy children and all the crazy mountains)
Books read – 20
Most days without a shower – 8
Largest amount of Dairy Milk Chocolate consumed in one sitting – 450 grams

Crashes – 2
Me verses motorbike in Uganda
Tyre blow out on a downhill in Tanzania

Cycle tourers I met en route – 24
Six were English, four were German, four were Swizz and the rest were a mixed bunch. About half were riding the length of Africa.

Worst book I’ve seen in a hotel book exchange
‘Candida infection: Could a yeast infection be your problem?’ – Turkey

People always ask me ‘what was the best bit?’ Well these are five of my favourite memories… 

1. My 30th birthday in Syria when a large extended family took me in and threw me an impromptu party
2. Free wheeling at over 40 km/hr on the flat for hours and covering 209 km in a day all with the aid of a magnificent tail wind, Namibia
3. Grabbing on to the back of lorries and being pushed uphill by a large group of giggling children, Ethiopia
4. Partying hard on the shores of Lake Malawi
5. Offroading through the Ethiopian wilderness

And in the name of balance – Five terrifying near misses…

1. Band of youths with sticks surround our tent and demand money in the middle of the night, Egypt
2. Accidentally picking up a Black Widow spider, South Africa
3. Collision with a motorbike, Uganda
4. Mob of children throwing stones and stealing our gear, Ethiopia
5. Pack of farm dogs trying to sink their teeth into my legs, Greece

Please vote…

What was your favourite blog piece?
The beginning…Lesson oneReggae rain and a dodgy beardParanoia and pesky poochesHeartbreakThe humble fareRecovery, japery and some summer shenanigansMeltdownDoctor, soldier, vagrant, priestAin’t no valley low enoughThe promise of AfricaLucky, lucky gitsThe Nubian waySuicidal goats and helping handsFrontier passage the Jade SeaThe people of the grey bullThe city of seven hills and le pays de mille collinesThe warm heart of AfricaLets go clubbingWhere the wild things areDeserts and dessertsDay 265 – Guardian of the south
  
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Some of my favourite photos…

Syria
Egypt
Sudan
Rwanda
Namibia
Namibia
France
Croatia
Jordan
Egypt
Ethiopia
Kenya
Zambia
South Africa
And finally – here’s a video of the Milestones. Turn up your computer volume and if you like it then you know what to do.. like it, +1 it, share it and help me get it out there…


Hands up for health workers

Below is a video produced by the Merlin, the charity Cycling The 6 is raising funds for. It highlights the importance of their campaign ‘Hands up for Health Workers’. You’re more likely to die young – and from an entirely treatable and preventable disease – if you live in a country caught up in crisis. Merlin argues that more money should be spent supporting health workers on the ground now and training thousands more.

Once I found out about the campaign I was immediately grabbed by the importance of the problem Merlin were trying to highlight and address. According to the World Health Organisation a massive four million more health workers are needed in the developing world right now. There is clearly huge inequality in health care across the world and the chronic shortage of health care workers is crippling many parts of the developing world.



Money donated to Merlin can be used to help train health workers and this could have a genuinely long term impact. To make a donation please visit my justgiving page and pledge anything you can. Every penny goes directly to Merlin.

To find out more about the campaign visit this page.