One week left, Raven packed – and ready to star in The Standard

MB and Raven loaded up a week before departure

So, Raven is readied, panniers, tent and bags test-mounted and photographs taken for an article on the pending adventure scheduled for next Thursday’s local Standard newspaper in the Cotswolds. Fame at last…

Below right is how my study looked with everything piled up in one great heap before being packed. (Note that Myshkin, aka Wussum the cat, is not coming with me – he’s trying here to find his way to his food bowl near the French windows, and miffed.)

Left, what it all looked like a few hours later. A lovely experience again to feel Raven loaded beneath me, with her low-low centre of gravity and so solid on the road.

Wussum seeking his bowl, buried behind the pile

Twenty-five kilos of bike, and the same again in luggage. That’s not light at all, so progress from next Wednesday will be slow and plodding.

If you’re curious about what I’ve packed into those bags, feel free to browse through my Take on Big Bike Trip list, compiled over the last decade of distance solo cycling (especially Budapest retour four years ago) and of tandeming with Sue. It’s posted here knowing how useful I have found similar lists compiled by other long-distancers in the past.

Solar Charger at the Ready

I haven’t grouped them together, and don’t tell anyone in Russia in case they take a proprietory interest, but if you do check the list you’ll notice that there are a rather striking five computers in all. Good grief.

But these days easily accumulated – a small laptop, an Android mobile phone, a Kindle (brilliant for biking – light and full of words), a Garmin GPS, and an ordinary, almost old-fashioned small bike computer, not to speak of the solar charger mounted at the rear today on a most disturbingly warm late March afternoon.

(More about climate change as I progress – but given the desperate drought into which we’re now entering in the UK, and so much evidence of extreme weather around the world, I wonder if you find it as odd as I do how news reports and weather forecasts continue blithely to enthuse about this wonderful March sunshine and tumbling temperature records as if we’re just observers of some amusing external phenomenon with nothing to do with our own future.)

As I contemplate the ride ahead, I’m humbled by the experience of several (rather younger) long distance cycling colleagues of whose exploits I’ve been reading in recent weeks, in two gloriously nerdish books – Rob Lilwall’s Cycling Home from Siberia, and Mike Carter’s hilarious One Man and his Bike about pedalling anti-clockwise round the coast of the UK in 2008.

Fellow hack Mike achieves what I always thought would be impossible, being as funny as Tim Moore’s French Revolutions account of cycling the route of the Tour de France. Rob Lilwall in contrast leaves me awestruck, and determined never to try anything similar, with an account of cycling through a Siberian winter at temperatures of minus 40.

I’ll acknowledge my own nervousness about thermometer readings that might get to 40 plus when I’m in Russia or coastal China in the early summer. But 40 below? I’m amazed that Rob’s bike and its bits (and perhaps his bits too) didn’t freeze solid and fragment.

Talking (briefly, I promise) of nerves, I might note just cautiously that my own biggest concern as I prepare to set off is far less about the distance or the weight or the heat, but to do with that very territory of nerves.

Evil stuff - sadly

Most of you won’t have been reading my blog at the time about how, approaching two years ago now in August 2010, I managed a zero mph car crash by sleeping awkwardly on a church choir trip to Dublin after a eveningful of  Guinness, which is, as I discovered, a powerful anaesthetic and damper-down of warning signals.

It’s an injury to a normally and averagely-at-this-age arthritic neck which I would emphatically not recommend, and which despite my earlier optimism is proving reluctant to heal fully. And it’s been, shall we say, interesting these past few weeks to discover how wounded nerves down into back, hands and feet seem to be fired up by particular inoculations, notably I suspect for Japanese encephalitis.  

My lovely doctor and physiotherapist in Cirencester, and now also (many, many thanks for answering a stranger’s email well beyond the call of duty) a leading NHS neck specialist in Bristol have all said “Go For It”, but I know that if I do at some point have to slink home with my panniers between my legs, if will be the continued aftermath of That Night in Dublin wot dunnit.

The moral remains simple. Don’t mix Guinness (two of the offending Dublin pints above right) with choir trips.

The Nave at St John the Baptist, Cirencester

However, talking more cheerfully of that very Cirencester church choir, there was harmony and much good voice this past Sunday as light streamed into St John the Baptist Church, incense still hanging in the air from the morning, for a last-but-one-before-I-go choral evensong, and rousing rendition of Stanford’s rumbustuous Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis in B flat.

At 16 strong, including our organist and conductor Anthony Hammond, the choir was two souls bigger than the entire congregation. Never mind – worth every moment, as singing (with church choir and with Cantores) is one thing (of course, alongside Sue) I will really miss these next six months.

A final thought, coming back to the hardware I’ll be carrying.

If you’re one who likes clicking around websites, do help me resolve an urgent dilemma by voting at the bottom of this post on whether you think I should set my computers’ distance measuring to miles or kilometres.

OK, a bit of a joke, this one, but I was curious to test how this Polldaddy option works in WordPress, as I really can’t make up my mind… I’ll be fascinated to see how many of you actually click this thing.

6 thoughts on “One week left, Raven packed – and ready to star in The Standard

  1. Hi Mark

    We’d just like to wish you all the very best before you set off. I’m sure it will be a fantastic adventure – as I said when we met up in Tewkesbury, I particularly envy you the ride across the Baltic States and Russia – and the well-earned rest on the Trans-Mongolian.

    Keep us posted!

    Chris and Linda

    • Will indeed keep you posted Chris and Linda. Stay well and thanks for following my strange adventures. Urals now added for brief stopover. Warmest.

  2. yessss….the miles win!
    You are so brave and adventurous and spirited and I love it that you are doing this trip dear Mark……I feel sure that the panniers will stay where they should be and NOT between your legs, and that you will have the time of your life. At least this is my strong wish, and that you will meet many who will assist you, cheer you on, and comfort you on the way.
    Lots of love to you, and also to Sue joining you in some months.
    Tree xxx

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