Category Archives: Solutions

The Africa coast to coast adventure so far…

It seems like a lifetime ago, yet was actually only 4 weeks ago, that I rocked up in Yeovil to Tri UK to collect the Focus bicycle that we were kindly donated by Tri UK for the Africa coast to coast trip.

Shiny, very bright red and complete with upgraded tyres, the bike was quickly dismantled and packed up like precious jewels, ready for the long trip out to South Africa and then Namibia. Upon unpacking it in Windhoek, howver, I was horrified to find the rear derailleur hanger looking somewhat less splendid than it should have been:

These parts are made to break easily in the event of a fall, to protect your whole gear mechanism from being broken. Sadly, though, they are often riveted onto the bike, so cannot be removed for transit. Cue Awesome Joe, the magical mechanic at Mannie’s Bike Mecca in Windhoek, who saved the day and possibly trip, by custom making me a new hanger. Several hours of hanging out waiting for the mechanical hero to do his thing was far preferable to the other option we’d been suggested by other bike shops – getting a part sent out from Europe and waiting 5 – 7 days for it to arrive. And so it seemed only fair that Awesome Joe be the name of the bike. A fine name and a fine tale.

With Awesome Joe all good as new, Steve and I made our way over to the skeleton coast to join Brendan and the others who had all met in Malawi and driven over together. One short ride / run to loosen up the legs, and then we were off into the unknown…

Our morning run and cycle sessions have started anywhere between 5am and 7.30am, depending on how many wild animals might be out hunting locally at that hour! (I have been known to cycle clutching the pepper spray pretty tightly, although in reality if we were being actually attacked by a leopard or lion, I think pepper spray might only anger a determined predator!) Morning temperatures have plummeted to as low as 2 degrees C and have been a challenge when trying to prise oneself from a toasty sleeping bag into the saddle.

We have mostly wild camped on the sides of the road where we stop running and cycling and we have been lucky enough to see stunning sunsets, sunrises and starry nights nearly every day.

One night we were treated to staying at a mission orphanage school, complete with a dinner date with Brother Gabriel, who was a very kind host and a delightful addition to the team, if only for a night.

Our food has, somewhat predictably, been very carb-heavy with some protein and vegetables interpersed; consisting of huge bowls of porridge at the end of our morning 20 mile / 30km session and huge bowls of pasta, xima or rice and vegetables for a late lunch and dinner, after an evening run of 5 – 8 miles / 8 – 14km.

Brendan seems strong and determined every day, although his blisters and my sore seatbones tell a slightly different story (I will spare you any photos). The sometimes very deep sand and rutted, bumpy roads take a toll on both our legs, my bottom and occasionally our spirits…

We have also been treated to some amazing animal sightings. Most of these I have not managed to capture, as I have been concentrating on not falling off the bike on the bumpy roads.

We even saw a rogue hippo and a black rhino:

OK, OK, those two photos aren’t real. The ‘black rhino’ is actually a brown donkey grazing, but I did manage to convince some of the team that I’d seen a black rhino using that photo!

We have seen, amongst other animals, numerous warthogs, giraffes, regal oryx antelopes, jackals and even Africa’s most venomous snake, the puff adder. It was a tiny one curled up at one of our campsite spots. Needless to say, everyone stayed away from that corner and took great care to zip up the tent properly that night.

And so, after a few days of resting due to Brendan being sick, we are ready to get back to the wilderness. Batteries, both actual and human, have been recharged and we are ready to get back to the matter in hand.

Next time I will introduce you to the team, but for now, I wish you a splendid morning / afternoon / evening and hope you will stay tuned for more as we cross Africa coast to coast on foot and wheels, raising money to build a new boys’ hostel at a wonderful orphanage in Malawi.

Please, pretty please, do donate; help us achieve something flipping amazing!

Post trip blues come and go

I’ve had post trip blues before. Not recently, I admit, because usually I am so excited to be back, see family and friends, I am making plans for the next chapter, trying to find work, or I am simply amazed by having full time electricity, access to a fridge and the ability to drink clean, fresh water directly from the tap. Those things all distract me from sadness that the sun has set on that particular chapter. I can process it all without sobbing like a self-pitying, weeping mess.

This time turned out to be different and, rather embarassingly, I did indeed end up a self-pitying, weeping mess in a public place. With every high comes a low and it was inevitable, I suppose, that after 5 months of extreme high, the low might strike with force.

I received a wordless welcome home in the form of a mechanically opening gate at the sterile Immigration e-passport machine. By the time I arrived in the baggage area my bike box was waiting for me, totally unscathed (relief that possibly only a bike-toting, or maybe a surfboard-toting traveller can truly appreciate). I bought a SIM card (yes, yet another new phone number, sorry friends, just save this one as 2018a, there will be another one later in the year when I get back from Africa). Logistically everything was going to plan.

And then it hit me like some sort of flying ninja kick to the soul. I melted into a row of seats next to the tourist information booth and dribbly tears appeared from nowhere. Before I’d even left the airport terminal. Grey clouds and determined rain, outside and inside. Nobody to meet me at the airport. I felt cold and exhausted. I couldn’t think straight. I can rarely think straight at the end of a 38 hour journey, but usually I don’t have to; I just throw my bag on my back and hop on the undergroud.

I had desperately itchy, bloodshot, aching eyes. I didn’t want to pay any of my precious few remaining Great British Pounds for a taxi, but it wasn’t an option to drag my 30kg bike box and overweight hand luggage on several underground trains or coaches or buses… I juggled ideas. I tried to think through finding a quiet corner of the terminal to put my bike together in the airport and then cycle home. But it was 4pm already; pouring rain, a 15 degree drop in temperature and the difficulty of cycling out of Heathrow made this an unappealing option. I had my faithful friend; my allen key multi-tool that I would need to reassemble my bike, but remembered I had left my bike pump back in New Zealand (damn you, checked luggage allowance!). I wondered if I could wheel my luggage trolley the 0.8 miles that Google Maps informed me it was to the nearest petrol station. Then I could use their air machine to blow up my tyres? Could I even push a trolley from the terminal to the petrol station? Would there be a pavement? Would the box dissolve in the way in the rain? Or would I have been better to make the bike up first? But pushing my fully loaded bike on deflated tyres would not be good for the bike. And it would take at least hour or two to get it all set up. In fact, would I even be allowed to dismantle a huge box and build a bike in the terminal? And if I was stopped part way through such a mission, how would I put it all back together and transport it onwards? If I wasn’t stopped, where would I dispose of the box and how would I manage that with a fully loaded bike? Ideas swirled around my very grey matter and confused me even further.

‘What should I do? What should I do? What should I do?’ Problem solving in New Zealand had seemed easier. Rethinking had become my secret weapon to see problems from a different angle; whereupon a favourable solution usually presented itself. The problem here was that a). I was too tired to make any sense in my head and b). I didn’t like the obvious solution that seemed to solve the problem most effectively.

After an indeterminate amount of time of sitting, wiping away tears, shivering and generally behaving like a pathetic mess, I reluctantly downloaded the Uber app, set myself up with an account and requested a car, with my head hanging low in defeat and my wallet wincing as I agreed to spend a week’s worth of cycle touring food budget on a 1 hour ride home.

I am not recalling this for sympathy. On the contrary; I feel like a self-absorbed, white, privileged, self-pitying moron who I would probably want to slap if I was a stranger reading this. But this is the mostly unmentioned side of adventure that sometimes lies behind the facade of Insta-perfect blue sky travel photos. There are lows to go with the highs and it’s how you deal with those that sort the wheat from the chaff. It’s not the low itself (they are inevitable), it’s how you respond. As an almost eternally positive powerhouse, the lows are unexpected and sometimes blindside me. It takes me a little while of introspective pondering and tough self-love to process my emotions before I can click back into happy mode. Sometimes, I am finding out, that means a few minutes of crying, sometimes it might take a few hours of quietly sitting and thinking, sometimes a few days. My point is that it is good to build in time and activities to be gentle and kind to yourself when it happens to you. I find a long think and soak in a hot bath and a good sleep work wonders.

I don’t know if anyone really even reads this. I started this blog to keep friends and family up to date while I was away, but suspect that very few of my friends or family actually read any of my posts. I picked up so much love and support whilst on the road in New Zealand, but I don’t know if that translates into anyone reading this, especially now I am back in the UK, planning my next adventure. I feel like people are more active on Instagram and that is the quick hitting platform that people prefer. Reading takes time and energy. I guess my biggest hope for this blog post would be that it is read by (and is helpful to) someone who finds the lows of travels, or adventures, or even life, sometimes a little overwhelming. And takes some comfort from knowing they are not alone, it is normal and it too shall pass.

Other than that, it is just cathartic rambling as I slip back into the scenery I left behind.

I have been lucky enough to make new wonderful adventure-hungry friends since arriving back in the UK who totally understand and share the feeling that they don’t fit into the regular 9 to 5 society and mentality. That gives me great comfort and hope. Which is a nice note to end on.

Post Script:

A friend asked me to write about what I took with me and how I packed it, which I will write about next. If anyone does read this and wants to know anything else or want me to write about other aspects of anything my journey so far has included, please do leave comments and I will be happy to be as open as possible and share the little snippets I have learned along the way. I am no expert, but am happy to share and point to the experts, from whom I draw knowledge and inspiration.

Wakas, Government and the 1,000 strong haka

The bike ride along stunning coastline to Wellington finished with a big hill, which has become a standard way to finish a big ride here in New Zealand. But that’s ok, because at the top of the huge hill lies my friends’ house, which has a fully-stocked fridge and a bathtub. After raiding the fridge just a little bit (post cycling hungry is a new level of hunger!) and a lovely long soak I made my way down into town for the Waka Odyssey opening to the New Zealand Festival, on the waterfront.

Continue reading Wakas, Government and the 1,000 strong haka

Presenting underwater with my real life heroes

It’s been a whirlwind of a few weeks. I keep thinking this trip can’t get any more wonderful. And then along comes the next adventure to prove me wrong.

Continue reading Presenting underwater with my real life heroes

It’s time, let’s do it!

It really is an exciting and pertinent time to be delving into the world of plastics.  With the incredible Blue Planet 2 series, Sir David Attenborough has once again excelled himself.  In addition to capturing our imagination and interest by bringing the magic of marine animal behaviour into our home, he’s also brought the problem of plastics to our attention.

Continue reading It’s time, let’s do it!