I have done nothing of note since my time in Spain last August, that being the last time I rode my bike too. So, I've had nothing to write home about!
Over the last 12 months I have visited Australia, Hawaii, Nepal, Wales, Spain and my home country, England. So, no complaints there. I was hoping to knuckle down and re-start my career in F1, but I am finding it difficult to commit myself to a long-term position, short-term positions are difficult to come by. I thought the remedy for that would be one more bucket-list trip, then that was it, I would re-start my career after that! You know, the diet starts tomorrow sort of thing!
Returning to my short-term contract at Haas F1 team after the August shutdown, I had decided to stop camping and mountain biking at weekends, as I had been falling asleep at my desk when I was doing that! So, I kind of went into a lock-down, from August to March I did nothing, and it was a self-perpetuating situation, the less I did the less I wanted to do. But I didn't want to do anything as I wanted to take the time to save as much money as I could, to take one more bucket list trip.
I have many places on my list, the Rift Valley in Africa, the Iguaçu Falls in South America, touring the Canyons of Utah, Hiking in Central and South America among the volcanoes, Mountain climbing in Alaska.....the list goes on. But these all cost a lot of money, and that is something I haven't got so I started looking at alternatives, such as house-sitting, backpacking and bikepacking.
Bikepacking, it's a thing! It's a bit like backpacking but travelling by bike across non-surfaced roads and camping along the way. It can be an overnighter or a many-year globetrotting adventure. My interest in bikepacking grew, I watched and read hours and hours of reviews, rides and advice on the subject. In the meantime, I had started collecting the necessary luggage for my bike. Buying a proper touring bike was out of the question, so I was going to have to use my Specialized Camber full suspension mountain bike, named Bay. Not ideal, he's heavy, but it is Bay or nothing. I wouldn't have minded backpacking but knew on long straight trails and roads I'd be longing for my bike!
My first thoughts were that I could fly to Anchorage, then to the Yukon and ride down the Yukon then through the Denali national park. So that would be Alaska done. Then fly to Arizona and ride the Arizona trail, 800+ miles from the Mexico border, through the mountains and desert of Arizona, down and up the Grand Canyon, to the Utah border. Which would mean I have nailed two bucket list items in one trip. Alas, I was dreaming, I priced it up and was looking at around £10K, so out of the question. Even if I could afford it, there are only specific weather windows where one can 'easily' ride the Yukon, the same for the Arizona trail. An to be honest it was way over ambitious for someone that hadn't bikepacked before!! Plus, the 90 days of the cheap visa wouldn't have been enough time.
So that trip was out of the question, I compromised and decided to research the Arizona trail a little more. I watched and read as much as I could on it, I downloaded the GPS data, joined the necessary forums, groups and clubs. I even found myself a very kind Warmshowers host, Neil in Sierra Vista, that would help me find my feet once in Arizona, and ride with me on and off.
If you didn't know, Warmshowers is a network of people that will host bike travellers, give them lifts, a bed for the night etc.
At the same time, I was researching many other trails, these included ones in South America, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Australia and Spain.
I worked out a route from Melbourne airport, through the mountains to ride to my daughter's in Lavington, Australia. Again, the cheap visa is only for 90 days, so I would have to fly out and back in to be there for Christmas 2019. Too expensive, and the cheapest flights from the UK are in May, with Qantas. I needed to leave in March, not wanting to overstay my welcome at a friend’s house, as well as having cabin fever! So that was a no go too. I even mapped out flying to Perth and riding across the Nulabor to my daughters, but Perth flights are really expensive!
Kyrgyzstan and Mongolia, these would be fabulous, not too expensive but I didn't have the balls to do it alone. I appealed for a riding partner on many forums, but it's hard to find someone with the same plans as you, at the same time, with the same ethos. My ethos is, it takes a long as it takes and it's to be enjoyed not endured!
I'd feel safe in Spain; a partner wouldn't be necessary. On checking out what was available on the peninsula, I found a route named the Altravesur, which runs, off road mainly, 820 miles, from Cadiz in the south west to Valencia in the East. A coast to coast, Atlantic to Med. This looked interesting, so I spent many hours researching this.
There is a lot of preparation needed to embark upon such an endeavour. I had literally spent hundreds of hours researching gear as well as the routes, the etiquette and the unexpected nuances of long-term bike travel.
Weight is key! Basic physics! Having the lightest tent, sleeping bag, sleeping mat etc can be very expensive. I had to go mid-range, so I am heavier than I could be, but paying £600 for a tent just isn't in my price range. During my indecision on my route, I was collecting the necessary gear, as 'cheaply' in the mid-range that I could.
I decided upon Arkel Rollpacker25 luggage for my bike, one front and one rear, definitely not cheap. Plus, two Gorilla cages for my forks. I bought my tent, sleeping quilt, sleeping mat, a solar charging panel and a lightweight rucksack. For clothes, cooking etc I would have to use what I had.
Until less than two weeks before departing on my adventure, I still didn't know where I was going or if I was going at all, as I was quite exasperated by the months of research, and the indecision took its toll! I told myself I must decide by the night of the 10th of March. I had narrowed it down to Arizona or Spain. Swaying my decision was that Arizona was having an unusually heavy snow fall, like several feet in places. I was aware that it is not possible to traverse a small part of the route if it's wet, due to sticky mud. Also, the need to take additional clothing wasn't an option, I was preparing for desert by day and chill by night, I was already too heavy. Then there was the Ethiopia Boeing plan crash, the cheapest flights to Denver were with Norwegian airlines that used the grounded 737 Max 8. So, I thought these were omens that it just wasn't meant to be at this time.
A hurried decision was made that Sunday night, I checked the flights to Jerez with EasyJet, damn it, they don't start until April! But there were flights to Seville, farther away, but the best available, so I booked a flight for me and Bay. On arrival I'd have to buy a local SIM card, some camping gas and food, so booked an Airbnb for two nights to give me time to build my bike and do my shopping. Plus, research how to get from Seville to Cadiz.
I found a great Warmshowers host, Rual, that although wouldn't be hosting me, was there if I needed help.
So that was how and why I am writing this in a hostel, in the seaside town of Barbate! It's the sixth day of travelling, I've spent four nights camping, and one night here at Hostal Barbate, which is so very fabulous! The proprietors don't speak English, so we get by with my little Spanish and Google translate!! They are so friendly and welcoming, I can't recommend it enough.
Anyway, the reason I'm in a hostel is because of the wind! Little did I know that there's a wind named the Levante, which blows from the East through the Straits of Gibraltar, along the Cadiz coast, just where I'm riding, and I'm riding East so head-long into it. The Levante started on the day I started my ride, and is expected to last another week, dammit!! At times it's been impossible to ride, or even push, a lot of the trail has been in deep sand, that and a headwind of even 25kph is tough, but when it's 45kph it's near impossible, with all the weight I'm lugging. I haven't weighed my bike loaded but I reckon all told, with my rucksack I'm shifting myself and 50kg, nearly double my weight.
I quite enjoy being in my tent with the strong winds, but it's the expense and inconvenience I'm worried about, should it get destroyed. So, I have a dilemma, the winds are expected to peak around Wednesday to Saturday, nearing 60kph, so not really doable with my little one-man tent. It is long and thin. Saturday night it was gusting to around 40kph, and my tent was at the limit of collapse I think, so I don't want to destroy it in 50-60kph winds. But it is only Monday now, that means I would have to stay here in the hostel for a week! Which is going to cost a lot. I don't care that I'm not moving on the trail, I'd rather enjoy it in less wind!
Another consideration is that I tripped yesterday and jarred my shoulders on my handlebars, my left shoulder has a long-term injury, I heard the squelching as it jarred so knew I'd aggravated the injury. On waking this morning, my left shoulder is weak and uncomfortable. Fortunately, although I thought I'd aggravated the supraspinatus that is partially detached from the bone, I haven't, it seems OK and would have been devastating for my progress. When I injured the supraspinatus, I also injured the rotator cuff and shoulder blade, and that is what has been aggravated by this jarring. I've slathered it in FisioCreme, I swear by this for injuries, so it isn't giving me pain, but is uncomfortable and weak. A rest may help it, but a week’s rest probably won't restore it back to where it was, it takes months, if not years! Another dammit moment!
So here I am and here is my dilemma, wait and rest. Or push-on and hope for the best. Argh!!