Dino's blog for mini adventures and endurance challenges

Golden Cycling

July 17th, 2015 | Posted by Dino in UK - (0 Comments)

Tintern to Mortimers Cross

Distance: 104km

The locals in Peterchurch are very friendly.

Before we’d entered the shop we were approached by a pink, whiskered man in a checked shirt and braces. He’d stopped to ask us where we were going and, sensing kindred spirits, had shared his own adventures of bivvying up Welsh crags with his daughter.

We popped inside the shop to get our drinks and ice cream. It was thirsty work, cycling in the heat. The shop assistant asked us where we were headed. She looked like she might faint from the exhaustion of hearing about cycling 60 miles a day. “I don’t even cycle to work. I only live a mile away,” she said apologetically. Two minutes later she rushed out the shop clutching a postcard of the local area which, bizarre, had a signpost with the miles to and from Lands End and John O’Groats. “It’s only 60p!”

Rose had also popped into the shop at the same time as us and overheard our exploits. “Right,” she said, putting her change back into her purse, “I’m off to the pub then for a pint and a fag.”

She turned down the road towards the Red Lion while up strolled the vicar wearing a summer boating hat and a cream linen jacket over his dog collar. “And you involved in the race?” He began, while leaning over my bike to post a letter.

Hearing we were not local and did not know about the race, he started to explain. “My daughter, Sarah, she knows all the details.” Duly she appeared, marching purposefully across the road, bike race poster in hand. I’ve sip from my can of raspberry lemonade as Sarah explains the various distances, hills that are en route, and the pro riders who are coming for the elite race in the evening.

“Bradley Wiggins, Mark Cavendish and Chris Froome will all be riding. Yep, all of those pros will be here,” she said, holding the poster out in her hands and tucking her chin down into her chest.

Though I love the idea of all these champion riders cycling through Herefordshire in a couple of months time, I can’t quite believe it. Though these local hills are undoubtedly good terrain for a good day’s bike ride, whether you’re a Tour de France winner or a humble cycle tourer

Goldilocks cycling, my Dad called it. Not to steep, not to flat, the road swept through the hills past barley fields, potatoes, orchards and grazing dairy cows. The Black Mountains were visible to our left as we followed the rivers, the Mono, the Dore, and the Wye north along the Welsh border and into the Golden Valley. The descents here are worth the effort of climbing: the Tarmac is smooth enough to go fast and the bends are tight enough to be mildly (but not too) terrifying.

Why is it called the Golden Valley? We wondered whether it might be because of the barley fields. Later we read on Wikipedia that it was because the river, Dore, was mistaken to be the French d’or. But I reckon it’s worth the name a for the golden cycling on offer.





The Last Leg

September 5th, 2013 | Posted by Dino in Canada | Uncategorized - (7 Comments)

When Diana Nyad, the 64 old woman who swam from Cuba to Florida, climbed out the ocean last week she made a breathless speech to the waiting media: “I have three messages: one is we should never ever give up; two is you are never too old to chase your dreams; and three is it looks like a solitary sport but it is a team.”

Now I am back on dry land (and face the prospect of a warm bed in Montreal tonight), I hope you will allow me the indulgence of sharing my three messages:

1 you lack nothing if you have enough determination (and M&Ms)
2 always cycle with the wind
3 this may have looked like a solitary adventure but I could not have made it all to way to Halifax without you.

Let me expand on message 3. The last leg of my journey was in some ways the toughest. I was tired, I ached, I frequently went to bed at 8.30pm, avocado had lost its appeal, it rained more and the hills in Cape Breton were ridiculous. If I have cycled farther it is because I was supported by the legs of others. You got me on the road and you kept me going: thank you.

(I won’t mention names but I did think it would be highly amusing to post photographs of all your legs.)

Thank you to the people who hosted me, gave me food, and helped me launder my pongy socks. Thank you for the stories you shared, the eggs you fried, and the kindness you showed me.

Thank you strangers for coming to help. Thank your for pulling over in your car on the hot days to ask if I had enough water. Thank you for the pizza, for the car keys, for turning up on the roadside with a track pump, for letting me sleep in the hut when I was too tired to pitch my tent. Thank you for the small gestures that made my day.

Thank you friends, family and followers for cheery and amusing tweets, emails and blog comments. Thank you for putting up with me talking about nothing else except cycling across Canada for such a long time. (And apologies in advance for the large number of sentences I will now begin with “when I was cycling across Canada…”)

Thank you to all who helped me with my preparation, planning and training. From getting my body (and lumbar spine) in shape to telling me that I could do it when it all felt like too much. Thank you for beautiful practice rides in the Cotswold hills, advice on kit, kit as Christmas presents, encouragement, support and generally getting me to the start.

Thank you employers for giving me 3 months off work.

Thank you fellow trans Canada cyclists for laughter and bemusement on route. Thank you for excellent blog writing, advice and campsite recommendations. For many an excellent moment of s’more toasting, hill climbing and eagle spotting. I will remember you fondly.

Thank you bears for not eating me.

Thank you Cycle with Dino cyclists for logging your trips. For encouraging my legs to keep spinning to follow your own honest miles. Thank you for dusting off your old bike, for cycling to work, from Le to Jog, in time trials, holiday spins, day rides, and early morning wildlife spotting rides. Each mile you pedalled inspired me to keep going. I imagined you pedalling with me and it really, really helped. You cycled 11,724km – that’s all the way across Canada and halfway back.

Thank you web master for creating the coolest blog map and for updating the dinomometer.

Thank you Monty for being a true and trusty steed. Thank you for not developing any mechanic problems that I could not fix. Thank you for spinning in the sunshine and persevering in the rain.

Thank you Canada for an amazing adventure.

Together we cycled from sea to sea.

Oh, and the moment you’ve all been waiting for! What do legs look like after they’ve cycled 7,500km?

The original legs. May 2013.

The original legs. May 2013.

The last legs

The last legs

Last legs from a different angle

Last legs from a different angle

Tan lines!!

Tan lines!!

The Cruellest Day

September 2nd, 2013 | Posted by Dino in Canada | Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Day 71: Linwood to Sherbrooke (93.5 km)

So, that was awful. In fact, that was a strong contender for the hardest, cruellest day of the whole trip. You wonder why you get out of bed sometimes, don’t you?

It rained all night. Loud, battering rain and gusting wind blew my tent around like a skiff in a storm. Despite having my earplugs in I was awaken throughout the night by the combination of frightful dreams and the weather pounding of my little green home.

By breakfast time the tent was sodden and any shuffling inside caused water to seep in. Sipping my coffee in the tent porch, it did not appear to actually be raining but the air was so thick with moisture that it was hard to tell. I will miss Canada when this is all done with, but I won’t miss packing up a wet tent.

I wound out of the campground under a gloomy sky. The wind shook the trees wildly. I stopped to take a photo of the drizzly ocean front but the water fogged up my lens immediately and the camera couldn’t focus. Only a few more pedal strokes down the road and a violent gust of wind blasted Monty a meter into the road. We would need to be careful.

We joined the main highway. The wind, which was supposed to be pushing us south, appeared to have changed direction. A strong, cold crosswind slowed our progress to a miserable crawl. Trucks rumbled by with an engine roar and a spray of cold water.

Turning off the highway onto quieter roads, my mood did not improve much. The wind now should have been at my back but it seemed to twist and turn in the air, punching violently in all directions. The rain, a slow, steady drizzle, continued relentlessly. The sky was a melancholy grey. I tried to remain upbeat by singing to myself. It did not work. I will miss Canada when this is all done with, but I won’t miss cycling in cold, wind and rain.

Cycling weather

Cycling weather

Eventually I pulled into a community playground and hid under a small shelter. I remember my mother’s wise words: “Do whatever you need to do to not be miserable.” I called a B&B. They were full.

I spied the colourful shapes of the playground, knowing that a climbing frame makes an excellent place to hang a tent. It was still raining but the rain is finer than it was when my tent got soaked. I contemplated whether my tent would get drier in thin rain given that it is currently sodden. I then contemplated what my life has become that I am sat in a deserted playground contemplating whether things can dry out in the rain.

My stomach growled. So I ate the usual fare of avocado, crackers and apple. And then quickly polished off the rest of my M&Ms. I was now getting cold. I will miss Canada when this is all done with, but I won’t miss having to wolf down lunch before the hypothermia sets in.

I looked up the distance to the campground. 37km. That’s not too far in sunshine. But it is a mission in the cold, wet and wind. Now there is just the road, the rain, me and my demons. The demons are yelling “give in!” But how? Where? I can’t give in you stupid demons because I’m alone in the middle of nowhere.

I stick in my headphones to block out the irrational demons and pedal off. I pass a cheese factory, a Christmas tree farm, and a fish hatchery. The rest of the time I just pass mundane tree, ordinary house, and average side road.

I approach a car that is pulled up, indicators flashing. At first it looks like the man is hustling a large tree into the side door. As I cycle past I notice a body: fresh, new trainers and a large denim-clad rear lying on the ground. I wonder if the body is alive for it looks to be in the recovery position. My instinct is to stop but then I remember I am alone. Why wouldn’t you flag down a car if your friend (?) was medically compromised and lying on the ground? Why would you put on your indicator lights if you were hiding a dead body?

I reached the 7,500 kilometre mark on my bicycle odometer. I brake to stop for a celebratory snack, bash into a rock hidden in the earth and tumble from my bike in slow motion, bruising my bum as I fall.

Finally I arrive into the town of Sherbrooke. It looks like a nice town. Monty and I pull up outside the grocery store. Hmm. The door won’t open. I try again. I try a different door. I check the opening hours, I see people inside. Then a woman inside comes to the door: “We’ve only just turned the cash registers on from the power cut. We’ll be open again in 30 minutes.”

I pedal to the campsite. Thankfully it has stopped raining but the wind is kicking up a storm. I am greeted friendlily enough but then directed to what appears to be the windiest spot on the whole campsite. I tie a length of rope to a tree for a washing line and am struggling with my tent when an old gentleman walks over with a strawberry icecream cone and the air of someone with too much time on their hands.

“Where’d you bike from?”

Oh no, not now. My tent is impersonating a wind sock, twisting and flapping as it is caught in the ferocious teeth of the wind.

“Where you from? Oh England. I have an uncle in Manchester.”

The story of his uncle is lost in the wind as the flapping crash of the tent drowns out his words. I want to yell: “I’m cold, I’m hungry, my socks are soaked, my tent is soaked and I just want to dry this thing out so I can go back town and buy my own bodyweight in whisky and chocolate. In short I DON’T WANT TO TALK TO YOU.”

I will miss Canada when this is all done with, but I won’t miss “the conversation” (ie the exact same questions asked about my bike trip multiple times per day).


As I wrote this a woman came to my tent:

“Hello? Are you sleeping? Hello? You there with the bicycle.”

I unzip my tent flap.

“I thought you might be cold so I bought you a hot drink.” Hands over cup. “It’s hot chocolate.”

Faith in life is restored.

Addendum to the addendum:

I drank half the delicious hot chocolate, adding in some Baileys that I had purchased on my return trip to town. But then I go for another sip and the cup slips from my hand, throwing delicious Irish cream flavoured hot chocolate goodness over my shoes and camping mat.

Today is the cruellest day.


“It’s not far”

August 14th, 2013 | Posted by Dino in Canada | Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Day 56: Rivière du Loup to Rimouski

“It’s not far then.”

I glared. Not far for you, buddy.

This man, short, portly built with inset eyes and an annoying accent, had asked me how far it was to the Gaspe. How far? It’s a large peninsula, you idiot. That’s like asking far is it to the south west. I had initially taken him to be American because his manner so smoothly combined ignorance with self importance. I’m sorry to say he was actually from Ontario.

Once I had established that he meant how far is it from here (small picnic bench on rainy roadside 25km north east of Rivière du Loup), all the way around the peninsula along the coastal road and back to here, I told him it was “several hundred kilometres.”

“Where are we?” he asked. He had spread my provincial map across the picnic table and was now leaning over, studying it with purpose.

“We are here,” I said, pointing at the map, “and Rimouski – here – is 80km. So around the Gaspe will be several hundred kilometres.”

“Oh, it’s not far,” he said again.

“It’s several hundred kilometres,” I replied tersely, neglecting to tell him that it would take me the best part of a WEEK of cycling in a freezing headwind to get around.

It had just started raining again so I folded close my panniers while the man continued to pour over my map. He started writing notes on a post it. So far I had cycled 25km. The north easterly wind had picked up force, muffling my ears and struggling my slow progress. It was cold. Too cold. I was wearing my arm warmers and gilet. My buff was wrapped around my head but I was still cold. i had just cycled past a nature reserve famous for its shorebirds. I had been looking forward to stopping and taking out my monocular to enjoy the wildlife but today, punching into a bitter wind, I kept on glumly cycling. If I stopped I would only get too cold. And in this weather the birds are probably hiding.

“Oh, it’s not far,” he declared for the THIRD TIME.

My eyes narrowed into malevolent slits. You said that again and I will swipe you. The man wandered off.

I cycled. It was cold. It was raining. And there was a headwind. I cycled to Rimouski, that 80km-from-here place. It’s not far.

My foul weather mood was punctuated by only two moments of amusement on the road:

1. Celebrating the 6,000km mark on the cold, windy roadside by chomping on 6 squares of Kendal Mintcake that, yes, I have carried in my pannier for the last 6,000km.
2. Discovering what happens to a mini packet of Haribo when it is squished into a hot pannier bag for over 2 months. The single Haribo slug still tastes the delightful same.

I am now in a private hostel room drinking Earl Grey tea (thank you Clayton and Catherine) and a box of chocolate chip cookies.

Congealed Haribo slug

Congealed Haribo slug

The long slog to Pontneuf

August 10th, 2013 | Posted by Dino in Canada | Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Day 52: Louiseville to Pontneuf (111.5km)

I am an encumbered tortoise on a treadmill.

There was a headwind all day to make my life tough. To be fair, it was also extremely flat. I ponder the endless cyclists’ debate of hills versus wind. I vote wind. Yet, be it the wind or my legs, I was feeling tired and sluggish. An early Second Breakfast (after only 12km) did little to increase my speed although it did mean I am now out of homemade muffins. Woe.

I slogged on to Trois Riveres (note: my iPad doesn’t appear to do accents). I was still in need of a boost so stopped for a coffee and donut. Alas even caffeine and sugar did little to increase my energy levels. I plodded on like a harnessed donkey.

I stopped at a grocery store to restock my panniers. Outside I was met by a guy in a large, loose-fitting shirt and a pair of bug-like sunglasses. Michael was friendly and seemed to be a keen cyclist. Yet I also feel a bit nervous when folks (other than mechanics in bike shops) start asking too many questions about Monty.

Michael seemed admiring of Monty yet also apparently didn’t have the foggiest what a fine specimen Monty truly is. ” How much did it cost? About $2000?” He asked.

“Er… Yea about $2,000,” I confirmed. (Monty is worth considerably more than that. And to me he is priceless.)

“Aren’t you worried about strange men?” He asked, without irony. “I mean, I’ve never heard of a cyclist, a woman, like you being attacked in Quebec but you never know.”

Oh, is that he type? I had best pedal off else I’ll be late.

A hard slog of cycling later and I met some friendly bikers at the lunch stop. They have a resectable amount of leather, shiny metal and protruding beer belly between the four of them. One, a large man fully clad in leathers, was so impressed he took a photo of me posing next to Monty. One of his friends boasted he could get to Halifax in 14 hours. 14 hours!! Please don’t say stuff like that. I have 3 weeks of cycling to go. I asked if any of them wanted to swap their Harley for my Monty. They did not. Yet it was nice to chat to the bikers as I get the impression that bikers have a better sense of distance than the average Joe. They seemed to appreciate the joy of watching the world zoom by, the shiny bits of your bike gleaming in the sunshine, as you cruise/slog down the open road.

Despite the headwind I enjoyed the scenery today. The quiet route 138 continued to follow the side of the river. I passed the pastoral scene of ripe corn fields, lowing herds of cows, pick-your-own blueberry fields, colourful boxes of beehives, and butterflies fluttering among the wildflowers.

Ripening cornfields.

Ripening cornfields.

The lowing herd winds slowly o'er the lea. Or not. Or they just sit there.

The lowing herd winds slowly o’er the lea. Or not. Or they just sit there.

Finally made it to campground after a long day on the road.

I am sightly bemused by this place. It is jam packed. But so jam packed that it resembles a car park (translation: parking lot). The campsite is set out in a grid pattern and every small rectangular lot is filled with an RV. Goodness knows why it is so popular as it is not particularly near a lake, river or anything else. It’s also one of those places where people ride round in buggy carts (like the ones they have at golf courses) because clearly it is so far to the toilet, garbage etc.

After 110km of flat today it really does feel like the last 5,000km have caught up with me. If someone could post me a large, squidgy armchair that would be perfect. Or better still a body-enveloping sofa or bed with fresh linen. I hope that I get my energy back as I still have 2,000km to go. It is now 8pm but I will just wash the Kraft dinner remnants from my bowl and head to my tent. Tomorrow I will be in Quebec City. But for now I wish only to be horizontal.