Why I still haven’t written about my four months cycle tour

On this day, two years ago, I woke up in a forest by the seaside in Andalucia. It was the end of a chapter and in a sense, the true beginning of the journey I had set to undertake.
If you have been following this blog for a few years, you will undoubtedly know which journey I’m referring to. If not, let me explain.

In March 2015 I went on holiday in Portugal for a week and fell in love with the country. By the time I had flown home, I knew I wanted to go back and see more of the country. So I set a plan in motion. I would quit my job and go cycle in Portugal for a few months. And I did. But my trip actually began in Spain. I pedalled from Irún in the north, to Huelva in the south. And that led me to the forest by the sea in Andalucia.

It was the first wild camp of the journey, the first step into the unknown. Up to that point, I had mostly kept to the fellowship of the Camino (de Santiago). But this was over. There were no more pilgrim’s hostels and no more waymarks. And it was fine. I was ready. But I digress. This is not what I want to write about.

I have mostly not written anything about this journey, and I’m not about to. I probably never will. Not unlike my first cycle tour to the Orkney Islands, I find myself unable and unwilling to share my experiences.

The deeply personal nature of those journeys lock them within myself. I can’t find the right words to express them. Sure, I could write what I saw, who I met, and what I experienced. But this feels too superficial for those trips. I would lie by omission because both of those adventures changed me. They didn’t make me into another person, unrecognisable to my friends and family, but they shifted something. I could tell you what but what would be the point? It would be nothing you haven’t heard of before. Which doesn’t make sense, because I tell you about most other adventure I go on. I have no problem sharing those words.

The truth is, not sharing my time in the Orkney Islands and in Portugal is also a choice. If I let the words out, those journeys would not completely be mine any longer. Part of them would be yours too. I would fix a version of their stories with you. And I don’t want that. They are my journeys, my memories, and I unapologetically, selfishly want to keep them to myself.

But this does not mean that I don’t want to share anything. When I came back from Scotland, I shared my photos, and I did the same coming back from Portugal. I even made an album relating that second journey. And soon there will be a zine or a book of some kind. No words about the journey, but unpublished (and some published too) photos and sounds. I may not want to tell you about the stories and memories that live within me, but I do want to tell you about my love for those special places.

So I remove myself from the equation as much as I can, and bring you moments of my journey. All of the photos and sounds have memories attached to them, but you won’t see that. Because those are mine. What you’ll see is a reflection of beautiful places. A reflection curated by my eyes and ears, chosen by me with all that this excludes, and this is the most of my experiences I am willing to let go of.

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Album – Passage – A cycle journey through Spain and Portugal

In March 2016 I left my home in the UK to cycle in Portugal. My panniers were full of camping gear, road essentials, and microphones. From the beginning of the trip I knew I was going to record a lot of sounds. I had no idea what I would produce out of those sounds. I imagined simply sharing the files, creating a sound map, maybe integrating them in a story in words. But never did I think, I would create an album.

When I came back home in July 2016, I was at a loss of what to do with all of my material. I wanted to share my story but I didn’t know how. Writing about it felt trivial. There was (and still is) nothing exceptional about what I did. I pedalled a lot of miles, slowly, and with a lot of breaks, in Spain and Portugal. I am one among hundreds of others.

Sharing the sounds as they were felt not enough. There was so much material, so many stories behind each sound. I wanted to give them more meaning, a way back into the world that was more than a dump of files on SoundCloud.

I struggled and beat myself up for not doing anything. Times was ticking on. I’d been on my journey, it was now time to share. But a friend reminded me that no, I didn’t need to share my story immediately. In a world that seemed dominated by the speed of social media and instant gratification, I forgot, I didn’t need to share straight away. I was allowed time to digest, time to forget and move on, time to come back to my memories. So I did.

I went on living life, creating a new home for myself, exploring new areas, building new friendships and stories. Until July 2017.

Out of the blue, Thaniel from Humanhood Recordings got in touch. His first message had nothing to do with creating an album but soon the conversation veered that way and I saw an opportunity, the possibility to find a home for my field recordings.

So I got to work. Evenings and commute time often taken by thoughts and questions about the album, days off spent staring at the audio editing software, moving files here and there, altering them, deleting everything, and starting all over again. Until late November. The album took shape, became as ready as I could get it, and it was time to release it into the world.

As I worked on the sounds, my sister worked on the booklet, and the album was complete. Get the booklet for free here.

There are no words in the album, albeit the ones from passer bys and friends from the road. The sounds are the story. But if you want something less metaphorical, the video below sums up four months in five minutes. All the photos can be found on Flickr. And if you want specific stories, you’ll just have to get in touch and ask.

Listen and buy the album here.*

*If the cost of the album really is a barrier, let me know. But before you get in touch, consider that your money will help a small label and me get more content like this in the future.

Exploring Somerset – A solstice microadventure

‘Do you want any specific days off in June,’ my manager asked as she prepared to write the team rota.
‘If I could have the 21st and 22nd off it’d be brilliant.’
‘No problem.’ She left the shop floor for the quiet of the stock room, leaving me grinning like an idiot at the idea of having the whole solstice off work.

Planning for what to do was a short affair. I had wanted to cycle south from my front door since moving in, following Sustrans cycle route 3 to Glastonbury. After that, I didn’t know or care very much. There were plenty of options. So on the 21st of June, I packed my panniers, pumped my tyres, and pedalled away from home, my skin lathered with sun cream.

My handlebar bag was full of camera and recording gear and my mind breaming with ideas. I had been wanting to film one of my journeys for a while but I didn’t see the point of filming me. There seem nothing extraordinary or worth recording about me, not on film anyway. So for a long time, I did nothing. It was only when attending the Cycle Touring Festival a month earlier that an idea had began to emerge. I had joined the ‘Filming your trip‘ talk and discovered another way to record cycling journeys. Most videos focus on a person, but Geoff Broadway offered another possibility. His film excerpt was about the place he had visited, not about him. It was a simple idea but one that, for some reason, hadn’t occurred to me. I kept thinking about what I could bring to a cycle touring video and this is my answer:

For photos of the trip, visit my Flickr account.

The Cycle Touring Festival – 2017 edition

Two years I ago I attended the inaugural Cycle Touring Festival. It was an experience of wonder and excitement, a realisation that I was not alone. Someone put it much better than me and said it was like finding your tribe. And they were right.

If you look online, you know there are other cycle tourists around, whether round the world cyclists or week-end and holiday cyclists. But when you step out of your front door and start pedalling, you don’t often catch sight of them. More often than not, you meet fast bikes adorned with a lycra-clad person on top. You share a smile, a nod, both happy to be on the bike. But it is not the same thing, not quite. But there, at the festival, people understand. They don’t think you’re brave, they don’t assume you’re fit, and they don’t ask at what speed you’re going. Instead we talk about the other stories like the pure joy of seeing the world from the saddle, the hard times of dealing with your own mind, or the fun moments with strangers and their warmth. We don’t need to dig out for words we never feel are quite right because the other person understand.

And if you’re new to the scene, it’s not a problem. No question is deemed stupid, and there is an eagerness to share knowledge. We’re a small tribe, any new member is welcomed with an embrace and encouraged to find their own way. Because at the end of the day there is no right or wrong way to go cycle touring. The only prerequisite is to have a bicycle and an open mind. The rest is up to you and how you like to ride and see the world.

If you’ve missed this year’s festival, there is always next year. And in the meantime, find a cycle tourist online and ask questions. We’ll all be happy to give you a hand and assuage your fears.

Pedalling Portugal – Photo report

In early March 2016, I found myself in a deserted coach station in Spain. At my feet lay my bike, wrapped in industrial size bin bags. Next to it, my four panniers rested in a line ready to be mounted on the racks. And I stood in front of them, the reality of my journey slowly sinking in. Eventually I hooked the panniers to their rightful place. I got on the bike and off I went. This is what I saw.
For 32 weeks, I will post a batch of photos every Monday morning.
Later words and sounds will come. But for now, I’m going to share what I experienced through the photos I took. If you miss a post, go to this page to find all the links.

I left Santiago on a coach as I needed to get to France quick so I could visit my dad. I got back on the bike in Irun and cycled along the Vélodyssée for a while, met up with my dad, cycled along the Loire à Vélo for a bit, met up with my mom and little sister, ditched the bike in favour of coaches and trains as I got reunited with my partner once more and we set to explore pockets of France. I couldn’t have wished for a better end to my journey.