Across Continents

Ken's Blog

Cycling Full Circle

June 17th, 2012

“The world is a beautiful place and the people therein. That’s not to say there is no dissatisfaction, frustration, helplessness, ugliness, sadness, sorrow. It is that, despite these, the instinctive desire of most people to demonstrate kindness to one another flows as living water and their underlying goodness shines as a light in the world” Astrid Domingo Molyneux

Sensual brutality of Bombay. I’d not been there, but it was how I imagined it might be. Vaguely aware of the occasional jolt of the bus as I grasped the imagery of a country I’d not known. Demeaning, desperate squalor. Vibrant colours of women’s saris. Honest writing, the odd rough edge lending Astrid’s story of her two year ride around the world conviction often lacking in more anodyne accounts. It felt personal. I looked up. Few more pages I hoped before I’d need to alight.

I’d read in haste because I wanted as much to get a measure of the author as of the places she’d passed through, the people she’d encountered. Drawing in part on the sections of her journey we’d shared, albeit a few years apart, and an all too brief conversation a few days earlier. Intrigued by a narrative in the present tense, as if riding with her, an unusual, but effective, literary device. As individualistic, and engaging, as her insistence at sailing between continents rather than succumbing to the swift brutality of air travel. A rather graceful solution and one I was quite envious of. Shades of the old Empire.

Descriptions of her departure towards France, coming to terms with the sheer enormity of the journey, held a strong resonance. Romantic. Meandering along the Kennet & Avon canal towpath, pedalling towards Poole. Partaking of perfect scrambled eggs, porridge oozing with darkly-melting muscovado sugar, richly-brewed coffee. The rationale for her choice of route, its elegant simplicity, discarding entire continents for what might, to some, seem superficial reasons, nevertheless making absolute sense to me. Greater rigour would do little to contain the journey within the bounds of the possible. I’d have done the same. And did.

Shared uncertainties on her first foreign shore. A reflective first night, contemplating the scale of the task before her. Both of us choosing to stroll along a quiet beach. Coming to terms with uncertainty, of where one might sleep each night, soon discovering the reassuring network of French municipal campsites, of patisseries and bakeries. Smiling in affirmation at the difficulties she’d faced getting her mobile to work in France. Inevitable teething troubles.

Brief glimpse out of the window. Raining now. Few minutes remaining, hurriedly leaping ahead to North America. Passing through familiar settlements in Alaska and the Canadian Yukon; Glenallen, Tok, Northway Junction, Buckshot Betty’s, the only place to eat in Beaver Creek. She’d even camped at Deadman’s Lake. Early morning arrival into Prince Rupert. And now my stop. Time to disembark.

Astrid’s account of her travels – Cycling Full Circle – is published by Quicksilver Publications and can be purchased securely online through her own website www.cyclingfullcircle.com

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Asking after Astrid

January 10th, 2012

I’d interrupted Carol. She’d mentioned a few cyclists that’d stayed with her. Including an English rider. Astrid. Quickly painting a picture of her, I’d proffered a few distinguishing details. Yes, it was her. Definitely. Explaining I’d corresponded with Astrid but never met her. Not yet at least. She lived perhaps fifty miles from my Somerset cottage.

Shouldn’t have been surprised. Route I was following across the southern States a very logical choice. And a stop at Carol’s bunkhouse equally sensible. Simply forgetting Astrid had chosen to come this way. Also cycling around the world.

[Visit Astrid at www.cyclingfullcircle.com]

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Introducing Dan

November 16th, 2011

Introducing fellow long-haul cyclist Dan…

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On the bus – introducing Mike

September 26th, 2011

On the bus – introducing Mike from Ken Roberts on Vimeo.

Introducing fellow cyclist Mike. Bit foggy – no special effects, but heating comes courtesy of Calor Gas, one of the burn products being water vapour.. Just in case you were wondering..

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Meeting Mike

September 26th, 2011

"It’s a bus. Bound to be room for more than one" I’d said. Explaining I’d arranged to spend the night inside, in the yard of Midway Service, close on thirty miles further along the Tok Cut-Off. It was almost half six in the evening. Daylight would likely to be failing as we approached, but the highway was good and the traffic light.

I’d stopped at Posty’s, a small shop and cafe in Chistochina, feeling suddenly tired. Weariness in part brought on contemplating the miles yet to be covered. Been there a little while when I noticed a fellow touring cyclist pull up. He’d seen my bike. Wandered in. His name was Mike. Destined for Minnesota, having set out from Anchorage some days earlier.

Mike

We chatted for a while. Both enjoying a break from our respective saddles. He’d planned to wild camp a little further along the highway. But, like me, he was intrigued by the idea of sleeping in an old bus. Of the sort that’d featured in the film "Into the Wild". Not exactly a Box Office hit in the UK, but one I’d seen. Well told tale of a young man’s break from society, and his eventual sad demise in the relative wilds of Alaska. Suggested Mike might want to join me. He nodded enthusiastically.

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In search of a cyclist

July 11th, 2011

In search of a cyclist from Ken Roberts on Vimeo.

Ken stumbles on a fully laden long-haul touring bicycle. British built Surly. But no sign of its owner…

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Cruel to be kind

November 28th, 2010

Scribbled in the margins of my notebook. Undulating. A glib assessment. But fortuitous. Chances are you’d be faster than Emma, my trusty steed, and I. Over short distances. But over sixty or so miles, few thousand feet of climb, plunging descents? We’ve remarkably low gears for the uphill pulls, and a lot of weight to aid the downhills. But most of all, technique, the psychology of endurance. And quite a bit of practice. Unrelenting riding. For about eight hours at a time.

I’d been joined by a young chap mid-afternoon the previous day. Not sought his company, but, equally, was powerless to prevent him from accompanying me. Pleasant enough, but I knew more Mandarin than he did English. At first I thought he might follow me for a few miles. But he persisted. Into the town of Shangnan. Attempts to shake him off were fruitless.

I didn’t feel in the least bit threatened by his presence. But I was very uneasy about the situation. For one thing, I was uncertain of his age. Late teens perhaps. But who was he? Probably lived with his parents. Did they know where he was? I’d not seen a mobile phone. I feared he might have simply decided to embark on a bit of an adventure, accompanying me east. But I neither wanted a companion, nor did I wish to be party to someone’s impulsive, impetuous behaviour. No matter how well intentioned.

So I kept my distance as best I could. Strictly a fellow cyclist who happened to be going the same way. Which, despite my very best efforts, included the hotel I’d chosen for the night. Deftly selected because I thought it unaffordable for him, albeit well within my own budget. It worked. He disappeared. First assuring me, as far as I could ascertain, that next morning he’d be heading back from where we’d come.

Departure the following day. He was waiting. Followed me back to the main route along the valley. We parted company, heading off in opposite directions. Or so I thought. Twenty minutes later and he’d caught up with me again. I was beginning to feel very uncomfortable. Knew he had a reasonable amount of money on him, ample to stay in the hotel I’d used the previous night. Be he hadn’t. Which made me think that perhaps this wasn’t a regular income, more his savings. Eeking them out. Very troubling.

Friendly he might have been. But I began to wonder about loco parentis. Just exactly who was he, and how old? I’d been unable to find anyone who could translate my concerns, and my phrase book wasn’t any help. Began to toy with finding a Police officer to help resolve the situation. But deterred by the language barrier. And I’d already quite a distance to cover before dark. Delay would be unwelcome.

A difficult situation. But not of my making. I couldn’t stop him riding with me, but if he couldn’t keep up? That was another matter. Force him to go home. Wherever that was. Best for both of us I suspected. So that’s what I did. Suddenly opening up the pace, sustaining it for perhaps twenty miles. Seeking to get an edge over him. Flat, fast riding. He kept up for quite a while, then indicated he was beginning to struggle. I stuck with it, opening up the gap. Unceasing, relentless riding. And then he was gone. Cruel to be kind.

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