Thoughts and tales from the saddle - on my own in Europe.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

The Waiting Game

I continue to spend money in alarmingly large quantities, which is a very satisfying thing to do. The fact that it is all 'within budget' takes away some of the guilt normally associated with such frivolity, but it still makes me feel a bit dangerous.

Recent purchases include a multi-fuel stove, assorted camping accessories (including a very cool bit of kit that transforms my Thermarest into a surprisingly comfortable chair)and a sleeping bag.

That's not true - I haven't bought the sleeping bag yet - I decided on the one I want, after lengthy interrogation from the man at Snow and Rock, but they didn't have it in stock. I am going for a down sleeping bag (much lighter, less bulky and more expensive than synthetic) despite my apparent allergy to feathers. I have been assured by 'the man' that sleeping bags are made from entirely different quality feathers than those found in conventional duvets/pillows, which normally cause an allergic reaction. Seems like a bit of a gamble to me, but seeing as it only weighs 650g I'm prepared to take it.

The sleeping bag buying experience faced me with another 'I could talk all about my trip and try and get free stuff and more interest' situation that I ducked out of, partly due to my aforementioned shyness with such things, and partly, it has to be said, due to the state I was in from the night before. It also reminded me of just how diverse a trip this promises to be. I shall demonstrate:

The Man - "Can I help?"
Me - "Yeah. I'm looking for a new sleeping bag. Needs to be light and pack down small."
The Man - "Ok. What temperature does it need to go down to?"
Me - "Errr. I dunno."
The Man - "Where are you going?"
Me - "Well, Europe. I'll be in Greece in the winter - is it still hot then?"
The Man - "Dunno. Never been to Greece in the Winter."
Me - "I've heard they get snow in Athens."
The Man - "Right. How about we look at bags that go down to minus 2 degrees."
Me - "Ok. If you think so. I'll also be going to Norway - to the Arctic Circle."
The Man - "Right."
Me - "So I need a sleeping bag that can cope with Spain in the Autumn, Greece in the Winter and the Arctic Circle."
The Man - "Get out."

He didn't actually say that - he was very helpful, and I have, if you are at all interested, gone for a bag with a comfort rating down to minus five.

I also looked at GPS systems and have pretty much decided that I'm not going to get one. After another lengthy discussion with 'the man' it was fairly clear that they don't do anything. Well, they obviously do something, but nothing of any real use to me, I don't think. You can set points and plot a map so you can find your way back to wherever it is you want to go back to (the car, for example. Or a pub.), and it can give you a latitude and longitude of wherever you are in the World. Fair enough, but in reality not something which is going to be of any consequence to me. I think I will just stick with a map or two.

Finally, a bike update. Completion date was guessed at 'early May' when I ordered it and I have heard nothing since. I can only assume they are still waiting for the frame to be built. Either that or they've pocketed my deposit and are sitting on a beach in the Bahamas living the life of very well off criminals. It was only £250, though, so I doubt it.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Moving on

That last post turned into a bit of a rant, which wasn't my intention.

There are, in fact, positive things happening in avoidingeurope world (that sounds weird).

The bike is on order (as you know), I now have all my luggage to go on the bike and will be picking up the last of the 'bits' from the Post Office on Saturday. So basically, once the bike arrives, I'm ready to go! In theory.

I also got my 'business cards' in the post yesterday, which are cool. They don't say much - just the website really - but it saves me writing it down on a post-it every time I mention it to someone. Plus they use the same design as the website (thanks to Mr Emery AGAIN!) so I have a sort of running theme identity thing going on. Which is nice.

What else? I'm finalising the details for the Summer France training adventure. I've now got detailed maps so can properly plan a route down there. The main problem I'm encountering is the ferries. A return ticket for one, with bike, to St Malo is going to cost me £186! That's what I thought. I'm sure they do £30 each way for a car with four people, or something. Maybe I should just pretend I'm a car. If the people who answer the phones at the ticket booking place are anything to go by no one will notice.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

You can't take it with you

Having gotten well and truly fed up of researching, comparing equipment, speculating and seeking opinions I have now started buying things, much to the dismay of my bank manager and the delight of Southampton's cycling shop managers.

That's actually a bit misleading - I don't imagine my bank manager really knows or cares that I bought some padded shorts at the weekend, but you get the point.

I have also discovered that 'equipment for the trip' has it's own monetary denomination - £100. I'm spending £100 chunks of cash (well - virtual cash - thank you Mastercard) at quite an alarming rate. A few examples:

Lights and pump for bike = £100
Assorted cycling clothing = £100
Panniers and shoes = £200
Sleeping bag = £100
Multi-fuel stove = £100

In fact, those last two are things I haven't bought yet, which brings me rather unconvincingly to the next major development:

Despite sending out about 40 letters and just as many emails offering various companies the chance to donate to my cause I have received a nice round number of positive replies - none. I even wrote to ferry companies suggesting they might like to 'donate' a ferry ticket to get me to France, but no. Not interested.

It's funny because the thing that gets to me the most isn't the fact that they don't want to give me any money/equipment/donations - I started this thing not expecting anything and I will still go on to do it whether I get anything or not - it's more the fact that no-one is interested. That sounds really sad now I've written it, and again it's not because I'm doing this for recognition or anything like that, it just starts to wear me down after a while. Let me give you a few examples:

I wrote to a well know cycle luggage manufacturer, whos products I have actually ended up buying. It was a good letter - I even printed a colour route map on the back for them and said please and thank you. I didn't get a reply. I have just learnt that a guy who is doing a cycle tour of America (North, Central and South)got free luggage from them. Free! Me? Not even a reply.

Not that replies are worth getting. Example two:

Enclosed in a reply from another company was my original letter. Scribbled on the top right hand corner of the page were two words : 'Standard reply?'. Standard bloody reply?! You don't seem to have read my letter properly - THIRTY countries! ONE YEAR! ON MY OWN! Standard reply?! Jesus.

Anyway - where was I? Oh yes, the point of all this is as follows:

Despite sending out letters and generating a bit of publicity, I tend to shy away from banging on about my trip in order to generate any form of sponsorship/donation etc. People often say to me 'Have you asked so and so to sponsor you? Have you asked them for equipment?' to which I often reply 'No'. They must hear about thousands of trips, probably much more exciting/adventurous than mine. Besides, I don't really feel that comfotable just saying to people 'fancy giving me some free stuff?'.

I have, however, relented, and decided to work on the old theory of 'don't ask don't get'. My soon to be updated web page will now contain a detailed 'Equipment' section and a 'Sponsorship' page. The equipment section - here's the clever part - will give details of things I still need, and in the sonsorship I am asking directly for people to buy them for me!

Ok, so maybe not that clever, but like I said - if you don't ask you don't get.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Decisions Decisions

Who said buying a bike would be easy?

Well, maybe no one did, but I never thought it would be this much hassle! Hassle is possibly the wrong word, and it was only complicated because I made it so, but I think it was all worth it.

You may remember from my last post that I had whittled the competition down to three candidates and that I was visiting two of them during my week off. The first visit was to Hewitt cycles which is 'up North'. Leyland, if you want to be precise. Anyway, I went there, got measured up (see the photos section) and had a chat with Mr Hewitt about the bike. He priced one up for me and that was it. I must admit that I was very impressed with his approach to it and the overall feel of the place. I was pretty much sold, and even considered flexing my flexible friend right there and then, but I knew I should look at all the options.

So, via a wet week in Wales, I ended up on the doorstep of the infamous St John Street Cycles (SJS), home of Thorn. You would be forgiven for thinking, when entering their shop, that you were in the wrong place. Hewitt cycles is a small shop crammed with frames, wheels and tools, and smelt of rubber, oil and grease. It was a bike shop. SJS was more like a travel agents. A large room, with clean carpet, had a long desk on the right, a water cooler, waiting area and people behind the desk on phones. Had it not been for the four bikes on a display rack to my left I would have turned around and walked out. After a chat with one of the 'agents' a man from out back was sent for who lead me through spacious workshops, parts stores, more workshops, a courtyard, more parts, then up a ramp to a showroom. The place is massive!

Anyway - I feel like I'm going on a bit more than I should really. Basically SJS recommended a bike with different size wheels than those ojn the bike Hewitt recommended. The prices were about the same, although the Hewitt bike was made with higher specification components, but basically that was the choice. Do I buy the Thorn with 26" wheels or the Hewitt with 700c wheels?

I appreciate that this may mean absolutely nothing to you and, to be honest, I would try and keep it that way. I would have liked to, but I had to find out which bike I should go for, so I left SJS with a choice to make. Incidentally, I also left SJS with a full set of panniers, a bar bag and a pair of cycling shoes. My first proper purchases for the trip!

Research into the wheel size issue was a confusing and sometimes frustrating affair. Whoever you talk to and whatever you read you will always find some arguments for and against each size, as with anything, I suppose. 26" are stronger, 700c roll better and are better for distance, 26" are better for rough tracks and off road, if you're spending most of your time on road 700c is best - they can handle some rough stuff, there's more choice of tyre for 26" and they're available all over the world, people have toured with 700c for years all over the world etcetera etcetera.

In the end I took two pieces of advice:

1. Don't choose your bike by it's wheel size
2. Go with what your instincts tell you.

I've gone with the Hewitt, with the 700c wheels and I don't want to hear another word on bloody wheel sizes!