Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Continuing Eastwards...

Well... as I expected I have nothing in my head to write just as soon as I get opportunity to write anything. I'm in Serbia for a couple of days now, and then I head into the flats of Romanian Danube territory, a place in which (unless a lot has changed) I will find dogs chasing after me (unceasingly unnerving, no matter how much you know its going to happen), lots of gypsies, mosquitoes, food not entirely to my liking, and no internet... so I'm taking advantage of the facilities of Subotica.

The whole journeying thing continues to progress healthily... I'm on target, not that a target means much at such an early stage, but still, it's better than being behind target. Entered Serbia this morning, and the roads got slightly worse, but I was prepared for as much, and they are not that bad... it's really a bit of a western misconception that every other society in the world makes do with bumbling up and down dirt tracks as a means of linking the nation.. I generally avoid country lanes out here, but the main highways are pretty good, and the courtesy of Hungarian truckers throughout yesterday was absolutely mesmerising... Gents the lot of them.

I've done pretty well on company of late also, met a couple of guys from Kent, 60years old going-on 25... they were cycling the length of Austria to Budapest, had me on the ragged edge all day in spite of their seniority, and very much attest to the idiocy of the school of thought that cycling distance is something to fear rather than relish. Also bumped into Luis, a Peruvian who has been riding all over the Balkans and Southern Europe, headed for France, an amazing guy and an excellent companion for a multiple-hour breakfast of coffee, nutella, jam, more coffee, more nutella, more jam, and an armful of baked goods. Less pleasant company was the carcass of a snake in the road.. I know that there are snakes out this way, and have seen them before, but prefer not to be reminded of the fact... it would have been nicer, furthermore, had the snake been a touch smaller... ideally it would have just been a hedgehog, but I suppose I cant have everything my way.

The other day, I was riding into Vienna, and left the flatflatflat Danube path for a climb into the city, and there's nothing like a climb to get the passions all fired up. Anyway, I thought then that I would like, not to renege, but to clarify, something I said a few posts back about Mark Beaumont's record, the record that I aim to beat.

I said that I had great respect for his achievement, and I do, to not do so would be impertinent and foolish on my own part... however, I sounded too diplomatic for my own tastes, and as this is my own blog, and not some BBC apologies page, I'm going to stand by my convictions a little more.

In short, though I respect Beaumont's achievement, I respect very little of that which I know him to have done with it. In my mind, the man represents an awful lot of that which is wrong with the world, i.e. a perfectly decent and likable fellow, cosied-up with people neither decent nor likable, for the perfectly reasonable reason of making one's life that bit more comfortable.... In particular I've thought of his advert for Orange, the one that says that I AM EVERYONE (but I am not the text message the woman was reading as she walked under the bus, the brain tumour in the businessman's brain,etc)...

anyway... the advert... which can be found on YouTube, says that our fellow is the man of the Nullarbor who gave him water when he needed it most... and, as I cycled up over that climb before Vienna, it really made me sick to think that some chap in the Nullarbor gave water, something presumably quite precious out there, to a stranger in need, and that that stranger then went on to sell the sanctity of that act to a bloody telephone company. Moreover, I'm sure that somewhere in the LloydsTSB investment portfolio, that which Mark is proud to be an ambassador of, there is some extraction industry or another blowing craters into the plains that are home to aboriginal communities... It's fine, I don't mind people making their lives a bit easier, earning some money, it's just a bit shit when it's dressed up in some saccharine bollocks that suggests all is lovely... As for my own diplomatic disavowal of my angst, I renege on it in the respect that, if people compromise morals, and nobody even takes them to task for doing so, then eventually we lose the standards by which people should be held to account.

In short, Mark Beaumont completed his excellent achievement, and then he sold it, which means that he received a good wedge of cash, and that was the price he received in return for having his moralities and affiliations questioned. Over and above all that, the next 6months/year will attest to whether I hold any moral highground, and whether or not I am just some embittered fuckwit who couldn't better his accomplishment anyway.

As for the idea that we need 6000calories a day to survive, I have worked out my own, highly scientific, equation, and am simply eating shitloads, and as much of it as I can keep down. As for the use of having tubes stuffed down your throat, I really don't know what use this is in touring distances on a bike, it really sounds quite inconvenient to me, and, having discussed the matter with Luis, John and Karlsen over the past few days, indeed it transpired that none of us had anything inserted into any of our bodily orifices prior to departure. Which can only be a good thing.

I attach a few more photos... my hands after a day of riding in the rain, don't know if the photo fully conveys the shrivel.. Tesco continue their domination into Hungary, this, in fact, is the very store in which I was caught trying to steal a nectarine three years ago... The photo fails it, but Vienna is beautiful, and has such a great feeling of liveliness and space going on.... cities really are so much better when people actually live in them, rather than just working there 9-5 in funeral attire ... photo of me... this is so we can all wait eagerly to see my changing appearance, I've been told through Austria that I'm skinny, which will never be how I see myself.... Also one of the Danube, and the cycle path along it.. leisurely is not the word... a great holiday route for any recreational cyclist; no cars, many camping facilities, beautiful scenery, bars and restaurants.

Anyway... enough... and Ill write again anon.

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Four days in... I think

Well, that was a good start, certainly the best I could have hoped for. I had fretted about the chances of doing 100mile days right from the off, but it all went pretty swimmingly really, and the GPS statistic on the map, calculated using an aggregate, is actually a little way behind the on-the-ground reading of my speedo.

There is no precise way of summarising all that has been going on, in truth, it probably isnt even all that eventful; Im having twinges from my left knee, dealing with that using a combination of sympathy and *you are my knee and will turn painlessly if I want you to* ... the single toughest things to have occured are the typical dilemmas of how to invest my monies at the boulangerie, and also the task of using a squat toilet, in a pair of carbon fibre cycling shoes, whilst trying to read a map and hold my shorts out of the way. Today was comfortably the toughest day as far as terrain is concerned, I passed by the foothills of the Vosges mountains, which is just about as close to gradient as we circumnavigating pussies seem inclined to venture... After 105miles I was well ready to stop, and between then and the 35mile mark I was cursing the bastard whose directions sent me deeper into the hills... Just goes to show that one really can never trust a stranger.

Apart from, that is, the wondrous souls who have taken me in the past couple of nights... My wood shed and hay loft have left me remarkably well-rested, and my hosts have left me stumped, as ever, at how the world can get to seem so wrong when there are so many great people all around... Shall save that sort of ranting for another time... In the meanwhile I attach a few photos to show you all what you are missing out on by not cycling in France this week...

Monday, 1 June 2009

A big thank you to all of my sponsors

I'm writing this partly as something I meant to do anyway, and partly in response to a couple of fair points raised as comments upon my dearly beloved blog.

First of all... a genuine thanks to each and every company that has given me anything. For a long time I received not an iota, for a rather too stressful period I was forced to suggest that things were getting moving when, in reality, they were not, and then - in a rather successful period - I named potential sponsors as confirmed sponsors when approaching new sponsors, which resulted in the actual acquisition of confirmed sponsors, and just goes to show that honesty is not really anything like the best policy where trying to muster up a bit of commitment is concerned. As for my sponsors as they now appear... I give especial thanks to Donald at Adventure Trading Post, an outright great bloke who pledged sponsorship of my GPS before anyone else even seemed close to considering me, and who has since invested his time and efforts in trying to help me get a whole host of logistics off the ground. I'm also delighted to have met Shaun, at the London Copy Centre, who printed my posters for free, who also prints posters for his local church and school, and who chuckled as he told me, with confused frankness "I don't make a lot of money, to be honest".

Over and above those human encounters... None of my supporting businesses are in any way compromising my very high moral principles... I even researched the ones that I suspected might be doing so. Others amongst them are paid-up members of do-gooding, wholesome bohemia, and others amongst them are just straight-down-the-line independent businesses, working hard to make honest livings. I urge you to give patronage to such businesses... and with particular relevance to bike shops, I can only suggest that you deserve the shoddy and half-arsed treatment that you'll receive, should you venture, in a non-emergency situation, into one of the soulless warehouses that are becoming too prominent in the cycle trade.

So... this is my self-defence I suppose... I'm aware that sponsors and my pitch might not sit perfectly together, so let me just clarify that I am not at all anti-business, or even anti the free market... accordingly, should any reader of this wish to pay me to stand next to a wind turbine with a big grin then I'll happily do so.. and, beyond that, I reserve the right to feel that I have not sold-out on anything until my website boasts a banner of "Wheels - £50 - Ice Cream 70p - Shorts £20 - Sunset on the Black Sea - Priceless ... for everything else there's Mastercard"

At that point I will deserve all criticism, and encourage people to heap it upon me... In the meantime, I nevertheless welcome all criticism in the name of that delightful thing that is *getting people talking*, and though I would profess a difference between my own sponsors and major investment funds, it is of course the prerogative of individuals to see matters as they wish. To counter any ideas that notforcharity is its own brand of nihilism, I direct people to the websites on my Friends page, and suggest that the values there expressed are those that I seek to represent.

This will probably be my final blog entry before I leave, and so I will end it with a sincere nod of respect to Mark Beaumont. I respect his ambition, his industry, the scale of his achievement, and I respect, most of all, the moment in his documentary in which he states that it's no big deal to ride 100miles a day, just a case of routine.

And now enough of all that.

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