Pedalling Portugal – I’m back

It has been over a month since I’ve come back home and ever since I have been trying to write a ‘I’m back’ blog post but I’ve always failed.

I couldn’t write about my journey. I couldn’t even talk about it. When friends asked me how it was, I could only answer ‘Great. I loved it,’ before hastening to add ‘What about you? What have you been up to?’. People wouldn’t pry much after that. They were as little interested as I was and it suited me fine.

In some regards, I felt a similar way than I did when I came back from cycle touring in Scotland and the Orkney Islands back in September 2014. There was something too personal about the experience that held me back from finding words to share it. So I preferred not to speak to avoid uttering bland generalities that would ring untrue.

I remained quiet and went about my life. I updated my CV, caught up with friends, wrote job applications, visited Bristol, and little by little I transitioned to a new life off the bike. It was different from what I expected. I thought I would hate living in London with it noise and pollution but I have not felt any resentment against the city. I thought I would find it difficult to be still but I relished being home surrounded by my stuff. It all seemed very normal. But it wasn’t and I knew it. My eyes would fill up with tears every time I tried to talk about the future. I didn’t want to admit it, but I was standing on shifting sands. By quitting my job to go cycling in Spain and Portugal I had forsaken my old life. By stopping my wandering life on the bike, I had closed another chapter. But I didn’t want to admit this so I fought and pretended all was fine.

Last week, I was standing on the terrace of a Warm Showers host in Bristol, watching the light of the city dissolve into the countryside. Everything was quiet but for the murmur of a television program and the dull whistle of a distant road. I felt still and happy, part of a city but not trapped by it. And as I rested my glass of wine on the table, I let myself be swallowed whole by the sand. I have no grip on what’s to come and that is okay. The past is gone and I don’t have to hold on to it. I’ll fall onto steady ground soon enough.


The inaugural Outdoor Bloggers week-end

On the 29th of May, the first Outdoor Bloggers week-end took place. I’d signed up for it eager to do more walking and spend time with like-minded people. I am too often surrounded by people who think I must be mad hiking the Vanguard Way and wild camping on my own, so I was looking forward chatting with people who also love the outdoors and wouldn’t think it odd that I like this sort of things.

Train ticket booked, I departed from London early that Friday, hoping that the weather would hold. But as I stepped out of the train in Edale, the grey clouds were suspiciously low in the sky. It wasn’t raining though and I hoped I would get lucky and stay dry until I reached the campsite – my rain gear is old and although effective, it isn’t the most practical. It wasn’t to be as heavy rain began to fall when I made my way out of the village. I waited for it to stop under the broad leaves of a tree. It did after a few minutes and I moved away to join a deserted country lane to the campsite. The rain kept coming and going in drizzle and didn’t bother me much.

I set up camp in an interval of sun before retreating under the tent to read for a while. I had brought with me H is for Hawk by Helen McDonald and was eager to pick up where I’d left off in the train. Time passed as I lost myself in Helen’s and T.H. White’s struggle to train goshawks and come to term with grief.

Eventually, as the rain clouds moved away over the hills, I stepped out to scout for anyone that was to take part in the Outdoor Bloggers week-end. As luck would have it, Zoe and Jenni had both arrived and pitched their tents. We introduced ourselves and quickly decided to go for a walk as nobody else was expected to turn up that day. We strolled along the bottom of  hills, crossed brooks, shared fields with sheep and found a National Trust bothy type refuge and two adorable puppies.

The walk was gentle but opened our appetite and we opted for the warmth of The Nags Head – the official start/end of the Pennine Way – rather than the grey sky of the campsite. We chatted some more about this and that, ate good food, and finally trod back to our tents for the night. I found sleep easily as silence fell around me and only emerged once into semi-wakefulness as rain lapped on my tent.

After a hearty breakfast I met up with Zoe and Jenni who were by then ready. Mark had arrived and was setting up camp. We got introduced and as soon as he was pitched up we headed towards Edale to begin our hiking route.

The walk began pleasantly along a paved trail in a field. It felt like we were in a well-maintained country park until we reached the rocky climb to the moorland. It had been a long time since I had to ascent anything other than a stile or a fence, and at first I could feel my old fear of falling surge into me. It didn’t help that my boots were fairly new and untested in this kind of terrain, but I remembered my bouldering lessons and applied the same rules as I scrambled up the rocks and began to thoroughly enjoy the trek. Our effort were rewarded by a wide view of Edale, its valley and the peaks beyond.

We then headed in the wrong direction for a short period of time and it took our conjugated effort at looking at maps and phones before we got back on the right path. For a while we went on, chatting away and getting to know one another a little better until the trail disappeared. In front of us, the moors expanded onto the horizon. We paused and assessed the land. It didn’t look too bad and we knew the path we needed to take couldn’t be far off. So we decided to chance it, cross the moorland to rejoin our circuit rather than take the long route around.

We walked on for a few minutes confident in our decision before it became clear that we had gotten lost, again. Mark took his phone out boosting my confidence that we really weren’t far away and that soon we would leave the wet moors for firmer grounds and we wouldn’t have to think so much about where to place our feet. Besides there were other people in the distance that appeared to be on the path we were on the look out for. We pushed on. The terrain was getting worse and worse and what started as a jolly adventure was turning into a tricky situation. I sank knee-deep into the bog twice and was increasingly worried that we would be in it for a while. The group we had seen across the moors now seemed lost as they hiked in our direction. But there was no other options than to go on. A path had to be there, somewhere, – I had abandoned hope of finding our original one – and we would eventually stumble upon it.

The group that had built up my belief in the short-cut met up with us, confirming our suspicion that they weren’t any better off than us. We muddled on together until we reached a seemingly uncrossable stream. Some were brave enough to jump it, other balanced along a thin strip of metal that acted as a dam and I remained behind. I had sank twice in the bog and didn’t fancy my chances a third time. I was relieved when I saw that Jenni had made the same decision, preferring to look for an alternative crossing. We went on carefully, trying not to lose sight of Zoe and Mark who were dipping below hills too often to my liking, and we eventually found logs to cross on. I took a breath as we reached the other side but didn’t dare relax fully just yet. I still couldn’t see a path. We headed towards Mark and Zoe who to my greatest relief had found a path. Our struggle was over. I felt my body loosened and as Jenni asked if we fancied lunch, I readily agreed.

Replenished and on solid ground, we departed for the second half of the day. From here on the terrain stayed hard under our boots and it was a pleasure to meander along the stream that was leading us to Kinder Downfall. There the water plunged into the void to the valley below, and far away in front of us lay the city of Manchester. I had heard all sort of things about Manchester since arriving in the UK five years ago but I had never laid eyes upon it. Seen from this distance it looked small and uninviting. I was better off on the rocks of Kinder Downfall. I sat down, tilted my head back, closed my eyes and enjoyed the sun and wind on my face.

After some sweets, we took to the trail once more. Our loop wasn’t over yet but I was confident that the moors were behind us as we joined the Pennine Way and more and more people appeared. It was strange to be in the company of so many other walkers. I am still unused to how much British people enjoy a good stroll. I cannot remember paths being so populated in France – or maybe I have always explored out-of-the-way regions. It was nice to be able to relax and chat with fellow bloggers about our lives, our blogs and everything else in between but I missed the solitude of the moors that for a fleeting moment had made me believe this land was ours to explore.

We reached Jacobs Ladder and made our descent along the paved steep hill. We stopped at the bottom by a bridge, resisting the temptation to dip our feet in the water. We still had some way to go. So we got up and went on, but were soon stopped by the appeal of cake and tea. We settled in the front garden of a makeshift tea shop and ate a delicious ginger cake before the last few miles to Edale where we settled in the pub for a pint of cider. It took some effort to get off the seats and back to the campsite but we eventually made it and promptly settled around a warm fire for some food and a mug of wine before retiring for the night.

Sleep was easy in spite of the growing wind and rain. The following morning we said our goodbye to Mark who had to leave early and briefly considered another hike but decided against it as the wind was reaching gale force. Instead we packed our tents, helped by three reindeer, and headed for the pub one last time. We enjoyed a warm meal and said our final goodbyes as Zoe and Jenni drove away while I took the train to Manchester for a connection to London.

As I reached home, I felt like the week-end had gone too soon. I had had a fantastic time with Zoe, Jenni and Mark. I am new to walking as I have only recently gotten off the bike saddle to explore the UK on foot but I was very welcome in our small group. So even if hiking is not particularly your thing and you prefer to enjoy the outdoors in other ways, be sure to check out the Outdoor Bloggers network. It’s a great opportunity to meet like-minded people, discover new places, new activities and make some friends along the way.

For more photos, see my Flickr album.
You can read Jenni’s report here, Zoe’s one here, and Mark’s one here. All reports include additional photos from the week-end.

InCoWriMo – Take 2

Last year I discovered and pledged to take part in InCoWriMo and miserably failed. I got as far as replying to my grand-mother letter and promptly gave up. I could make excuses and say that life got in the way but that would not be the truth. I had made a decision on a nostalgic whim and wasn’t prepared for hand-writing a letter everyday and finding enough addresses for those letters. So I took the easy option and bailed out.

But this year is different. I am not joining on a whim. I really do want to take part, slow down and talk to strangers more.

So once again… I, Allysse, clearly see the benefits of InCoWriMo participation, not only to me personally, but also to those who will receive my correspondence. InCoWriMo is a beneficial endeavor and worthy of my full attention. I hereby pledge to hand-write and mail/deliver one letter, card, note or postcard every day during the month of February.

And this time I’ll stick to it. I have made the effort to collect enough addresses to last me for the month. But there is always room for more. So if you want to receive a hand-written letter over the coming weeks, drop me a line and I’ll add you to my list.

Summer solstice microadventure

My alarm rang at 6.32am as it does every other Saturday and I jumped out of bed. I didn’t need to build up any motivation to go to work that day. It was the 21st of June – the longest day of the year – and come five o’clock I would be riding outside of London in search of a carefully chosen distant hill to sleep on.

I ate my usual breakfast before turning to writing but my mind was not up to the task and soon I abandoned my keyboard to pack my bags. My bike was quickly ready and I set off to work. It was still early and I pedaled slowly, stretching the ride as much as possible and feeling the comfortable weight of my bags pushing me down the hills.

Work passed in a blur of boredom and it was with relief that I locked the doors and engaged the first pedal stroke pushing me away from the library. I had carefully planned directions in my pocket but for this part of the journey I did not need to follow them. I know my borough well enough to navigate out of it. Half an hour later I was out of London, the M25 crossed and left behind to enclose the city away from me. I tried to follow my route, navigating nameless roads with the help of my compass but it was a hopeless effort. I was soon lost. I should have known better than to follow a list of directions. I have so far never been able to stick to a plan unless I was following a river. I tidied the papers away, gripping my compass instead. I simply needed to head north and slightly west towards Luton.

I kept on pedalling, the names on road signs familiar sounds from countless waiting hours on train platforms. I didn’t want to meet them but ended up finding my way into their labyrinth. I had set off with dreams of countryside, sprawling fields and small lanes but was greeted with endless connected cities unsure of where they started and ended. I pedaled harder, trying to escape their claws through their quieter streets. It was only three hours later that I finally reached the countryside I was seeking. It was not the relief I had imagined it would be. The sun was getting low and I still had to bypass Luton before I could contemplate a sight of my hill.

I gulped down a few sweets hoping they would quench my growing hunger and would give me the power I needed to keep going for another hour. In truth I did not know how far I was from Luton, British road signs ever reluctant to announce a distance. But I felt it couldn’t be that far now. It was only when I stumbled upon the cycle route 6 that I finally found out I was close to my goal. Luton was only two and a half miles away. I could finally relax. A new burst of energy rose in me as I left the busy roads and entered the small shaded trail.

My hill and its views felt so very close but not even a mile into the cycle path my bike started to wobble and I had to pedal harder to make any progress. I wanted to ignore the problem, to think that the dirt road was the explanation but I knew deep down that this was not the truth. I got off the saddle and sure enough the back tyre was starting to deflate. I cursed it, my gaze lingering from my watch to the tyre and finally the trail leading off to my hill. The distance between its view and me was suddenly expanding. I wanted to keep going but I was beaten and would have to settle with what I had around me. I took a deep breath and surveyed my surroundings. There was only a slope sheltering the cycle path with its young trees. It appeared a decent wild camping spot that could hide me from curious eyes but there was a fence running alongside it and I did not fancy managing it with my bike. So I decided to walk back to the road that had led me here. I remembered seeing empty fields and I hoped one of them would offer me a bed for the night.

I didn’t need to go so far. As I reached the end of the track, the fence disappeared and I could see made up steps of mud leading up to the trees. I did not hesitate for a second and climbed up to investigate. As I had thought the incline offered me with a perfect spot. I carried my gears up and settled into a corner protected by trees and small bushes. My views were completely shadowed by the young trees in bloom but it didn’t matter much any longer. My thoughts drifted to the food and book I had packed with me, conjuring up pictures of the evening to come but I was soon brought back to reality by a long forgotten buzzing. My eyes opened wide in shock a split second before I saw my first glimpse of a mosquito heading straight for my exposed skin. I swished it away and hurriedly covered myself up. Nothing was going according to plan on this microadventure.

Covered from head to toe, I spent my time gesturing the small beasts away from me and stirring my meal, preparing myself for an uncomfortably warm night buried deep into my sleeping bag. Dinner ready I gulped it down before sliding into my bag, any prospects of reading discarded. I closed my eyes and hoped for sleep.

I drifted off for a little while but was soon awakened by renewed attacks from the mosquitoes. I cursed under my breath and pulled the hood of my sleeping bag further down my face hoping it would fool the mosquitoes away. It didn’t and the game continued on for what felt like hours until the flying beasts seemed to grow bored and finally left me alone. My ears cherished the disappearance of the constant buzzing that had assailed them and I started to doze off only to be woken up by the sounds of mice scrounging for a meal and a couple of night birds that had decided to have a domestic scene on the exact night I was here. I closed my eyes, pretending the cries of the birds and the small paws of the mice were a sweet lullaby and eventually fell asleep. When next I open my eyes dawn came as a surprise. I slowly pulled the hood of my sleeping bag away from my head, not quite believing the stillness and silence of the world surrounding me.

My eyes were drowsy, my face puffed out and my body sweaty but in that instant it did not matter. The world was peaceful and mine alone to enjoy. Mist was covering it in a soft acoustic blanket that seemed to have quieten the frenzy of the animal world. I drank in the surrounding sights through the gaps of the trees as I got breakfast ready – a squashed banana and croissant to dip into delicious chestnut spread accompanied by an herbal tea. As I was enjoying my luxurious meal, I heard the first note of a harmonica. It was a beautiful tune that seemed to be emanating from the landscape itself matching its beauty and peacefulness. I listened to it quietly, closing my eyes every now and again to let the music sip into me. When it ended I tried to find the musician but he remained invisible and I could only send him my quiet thanks hoping it would reach his ears.

I tidied my gears, removing any evidence of my stay. Back on the cycle path, I fixed my puncture and rode back to London. I was glad to start the journey along country lanes but too soon I had to manoeuvre the endless cities. They were silent, people still fast asleep and businesses closed, but they still made me pedal harder in eagerness to reach home. I did not understand the excitement rising in me at the idea of entering the M25 but as I crossed its circle and reached Enfield it all made sense. I was greeted by endless fields, bushes and remnants of a forest long since destroyed. The countryside I had yearned for had been there all along, waiting on my doorstep. In my hurry to leave London to find a fantasised world I had forgotten how rural my own London borough can be. Next time, I would not need to try so hard to escape the city. I would only need to glance at my backyard.

Post number 1, done!

I have been lazy with starting this blog.

I created it in November 2013 and kept delaying its launch. I wanted to read more about blogging, to get my first post right, to wait for my sister to have a design ready. In truth, all of those were excuses to delay starting the blog, wait before going on more microadventures.

It is only today, while talking to a friend, that I realised fully what I had been doing. I had been floating in the comfort of preparation where I could have remained forever. It was time to stop the research, stop the planning. Time to start.

So here I am, writing the first post of this blog. I still have a lot to learn about WordPress, this post is not a marvel of words, the design is far from ready, but I am beginning and it is what matters.

In a few words, the goals of Beste Glatisant are to:

  • Collect my microadventures and other meaningful projects.
  • Have a public platform to hold me accountable to my words.
  • Create an online archive to hold my memories and track my progress through the years.

Let it all begin.