A bicycle love affair

When I was in secondary school, my parents drove me to our nearest Decathlon store in France to get a bicycle of my own. I don’t remember how old I was, I don’t remember what I was wearing, and I don’t remember who exactly who was with me, but I do remember the bicycle. It was dark blue with yellow brakes and ‘Decathlon’ written in big letters across the frame. I couldn’t touch the floor of the shop when I tried it on. But I loved it. It was to be my bicycle. Even though I was too short for it, my parents bought it. The idea was I would grow into it and wouldn’t need another bike for a long time. They were right. The next bike that came into my ownership was bought from my own money as a grown-up with a proper job.

Now modified by my uncle for work in the fields of northern France

I did everything and went everywhere with that first steed. I knew nothing of bicycles. I couldn’t fix a puncture or even tighten a screw. So by the time I was 19, the handlebars were loose, the saddle was wobbly, and the brakes near unusable. But it worked. It took me from A to B. It wasn’t particularly safe but I knew the bicycle so intimately that it didn’t matter. I trusted it.

Then I moved to the UK and became an au pair. The family let me use one of their bikes but I hated it. So I remained on foot that year. But then, I got a job and began saving for a new ride. Little by little and with the help of birthday and Christmas money I purchased my first bicycle as an adult. It was a Brompton folding bicycle. It had a black body and white extremities . I couldn’t afford something that didn’t fold. I just didn’t have the room and my living/working situation almost demanded that I ride  folding. I took it everywhere, and like my previous bicycle, I didn’t care if it wasn’t fit for purpose. It took me to work, it took me to the shops, it even took me to Scotland.

I still didn’t know much about bicycles. I couldn’t fix a puncture (but I learned to tighten screws). But that didn’t matter. I could still get from A to B. That is until I got a puncture and spent an entire afternoon learning how to fix it with the help of YouTube.

Life changed again and I fancied a full-sized bicycle. I didn’t have a lot of cash to expand and just wanted something fun to ride. So I walked in a second-hand shop and bought a gorgeous dark blue Dawes Londoner. It only had one speed but that suited me fine. As I gained confidence in the streets of London, I kept the folding bicycle in the cupboard more and more and wheezed around in the capital on this new steed. It even took me to Cambridge once.

By then, the touring bug seriously got hold of me, and while I loved my Brompton, I wanted something more suited to the task. So I began to save, hatched a plan to explore Portugal from my saddle, and eventually bought a sky blue Oxford Bike Works. By this time I knew how to fix a puncture and how to change brake pads (in theory). And these were all the skills I needed to feel confident to set off in the Iberian Peninsula for four months. This bike has truly taken me places. It has taken me from A to B, but mostly it has enabled to be get lost and travel with no destination in mind. I trust this bike so intimately, it’s like an extension of my body when I get on it. And while it’s a delight to ride, it’s also very heavy. And today I fancy something lighter to nip into work, something easier to carry for day rides and week-ends microadventures. None of my bikes can give me that, so it was time to get a new one.

My single speed put up for sale, and with money from my birthday, Christmas, and job, I started to look around and found a red, white, and yellow old school Graham Weigh bicycle at a local second-hand shop. I hopped on it for a test ride and fell in love. My feet couldn’t touch the ground and my body was falling forward but I knew it was the bike I was after. I tweaked the saddle and stem, and it was perfect. I swapped saddle, I got new bar tape, I changed pedals, and there it is. A new bicycle. One that will stay with me for years to come. And this time I know how to fix a puncture, I know how to change the brakes (in practice), I know how to tighten bolts, and I even know about pedals, bottom brackets, chain, brake levers, bar tape, saddle, panniers, racks, tyres, inner tubes, and more. I still don’t know much about gears other than they can make you life easy or hard. But then, it doesn’t matter. I’ve lived this long without knowing about it, I can spend a few more years blissfully ignorant.

I haven’t ridden many miles on it yet and I don’t have the luggage I want for light touring, but that will come in time. The days are getting longer and I’m hatching plans. There’s a whole lot of Somerset I haven’t explored, most of Wales and a huge chunk of the Cotswolds I’ve never seen. But that will soon be rectified.


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.

#30DaysWild – Week 04 and a bit

Make room for nature!

This is a cry from The Wildlife Trusts, urging us to remember nature and pay attention to it during our everyday life. Nature isn’t something to be enjoyed during our time off and lose sight of when we fall back into our daily routine. It is a home that needs to be nurtured and taken care of constantly. But this, is too easy to forget.

So this month, I, and hundreds of people across the British isles have pledged to be a little more wild. Here is what I chose to do during the second week. Catch up with week 01 here, week 02 here, and week 03 here. For daily update on what I’m up to and spotting around me, follow me on Instagram or Twitter.

Day 22

The day before I had pedalled away from home with no destination in mind. It didn’t matter that I would have no bed for the night, I was sure to be able to find a spot of grass somewhere in Somerset to lay down in. And sure enough I did, ending and beginning days in my favourite way: outside. Breakfast over, I cycled on, home a vague destination to reach before sundown. I found small roads and dirt roads, a long beach and plenty of head wind, long grass and insects against my bare legs, and birds happily flying and singing in this season of plenty.

Day 23

I was cycling once more but this time to commute along the Avon New Cut. As I’ve written before everything is green along its bank, a monochrome world only broken by the brown flow of the river. So when this spot of purple appeared, I immediately pulled the brakes to inspect what they were. My botanical knowledge being quite poor, I turned to the Internet and was told those are common mallow (malva sylvestris). I’m okay with identifying trees, but get completely lost when flowers and other plants are involved. I want to be able to name the world around me, know it and make it mine, but I’m so often frustrated by the difficulty of browsing through endless Google pictures. Do you have resources you find particularly helpful?

Day 24

I had a date with the library before I had to rush to the post office and then work. It was all a bit of a blur until the yellow of this label caught my eye. ‘Be happy, and smile‘, it said. So I did. I raised my eyes, looked at the trees and the breeze swinging their leaves left and right. And I smiled. And I was happy, my perception that little more acute again.

Day 25

Since returning from my mini cycle tour in Somerset, everything had been frantic. I found myself having to cram so much outside of work, I was running like a headless chicken most of the time, only stopping for sleep. So that evening, I decided to drop my plans of video and sound editing and sat in the garden with a cup of tea. The sun had set but there was still some light. I listened to the children next door playing quietly, the birds singing the last of their songs, and the traffic dying down on the road nearby. And gradually, the stillness that had escaped me for the past few days began to return.

Day 26

The clouds had settled in, turning the world grey once more. But it’s near impossible to find a monochrome dullness in summer. Instead there were yellows and purples glowing bright in the grass lay-bys, and pinks and blues of flowers in the cracks of the pavement and buildings. I was reminded that it’s not the blue skies that make summer.

Day 27

Work over, my partner picked me up and we headed to mid-Wales. We drove out of Bristol without a problem, A roads soon replaced by B roads and the familiar sights of Gloucestershire by the Shropsire Hills. Mounds of earth rose and we slowed often to watch them undulate in the landscape. We crossed the border between England and Wales several times, a squiggly lines that doesn’t care for roads. But soon the signs were in Welsh, and we swapped B roads for small lanes, finding our way to the yurt we had booked. We lit the fire, settled in, and watched the world grow dark with a glass of wine in hand.

Day 28

The forecast was for rain and clouds all day. And it was correct, mostly. We didn’t see the sun that day and we got damp but it didn’t stop us enjoying a walk in the countryside. I had hoped for right of ways through fields and meadows but we were advised against it if we didn’t fancy sinking into mud and muck. We didn’t and took to the lanes instead. Tarmac under our feet didn’t mean nature wasn’t all around. Sheep grazed and called one another, snails make their slow way to where they wanted, and the vegetation glistened under the rain drops. Four hours went before we reached the yurt again.

Day 29

The day began with an outdoors breakfast before we had to pack our stuff and head away from the yurts. Eager to see more of the Shrophire hills, we drove in their direction, selecting a different route than the one we came through. We slowed often, stopping the car for a good look at the views and a walk in a forest. I breathed in the smell of wet rotting earth and for a moment all was still and quiet in me.

Day 30

30 days have passed and it ends as it began, in my garden. I’m no longer suffering from the flu, the spittle bugs have gone, and the flowers have transformed. And I’m a little different too. I’ve gained new knowledge, I’ve tried new things, and I’m a little richer in life.

Bonus video

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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.