Inspiring the next generation of cycle tourists – a mini tour to the sea

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I enjoyed a lot of time outdoors as a child, but my wildest camping spot was within feet of my parents caravan and longest bike ride was 10 miles with a break in the middle. I joined the Scouts at 13 and a whole new world opened up to me. So now with my own boy, I am hoping to whet his appetite to the simple pleasures of walking, cycling, canoeing, wild-camping and the like rather earlier in life. I want to prove there is (a better) life beyond the X-Box.

With half term coming up, I muted an idea to Junior (now five) – would he like to cycle to the seaside and take a tent for our accommodation? He was pleasingly enthusiastic about the prospect, so the idea was born. The primary goal of the trip was for it to be fun throughout and to be something he would want to repeat. Thus I planned a route of just 20-23 miles / day which would mean we it would take us a day and a half to get to Knott-End-on-Sea via one of the flattest routes possible in this hilly area.

By taking the same route out and back (which to avoid big hills was itself unavoidable) this meant we could leave all the camping gear in place at the end of day one and travel light on day two. The first day took us from East Lancashire to Garstang and a friendly basic campsite. To keep the weight down we left the stove at home and opted for a pubs for our evening meals, no great hardship. Heading West from here takes you through Chipping if you stick close to the river/s and this proved a great lunch spot with the seats they have outside the church. Mid afternoon saw us arriving in Garstang in time to set up the tent and have a hour in a local playground before seeking out our dinner.

On day two it was just 10 miles of flat riding over the Fylde Plain to Knott End. I chose this as our initial destination because it meant we could catch the passenger ferry over the River Wyre to the better beach and playground at Fleetwood. The ferry only had us and one other passenger, and the pilot volunteered to show Junior the controls and let him rev the engine and sound the horn. Someone was in seventh heaven, a useful reminder to see the pleasure in the simple things of life.

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Once at the coast the drizzle started, but whilst this disappointed me it seemed not to dampen Junior’s spirits. He loves trains and trams so we took the tram for a few stops South and then back again before seeking out the playground which again he loved. The last ferry back was at 1445, and fuelled from a huge hot chocolate mid morning we were happy to wait until we were back in Knott End to get our lunch out of the supermarket. A short ride took us to a steam engine we had seen on the way out. A great lunch spot if you are five.

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Day three saw us pack everything up and trace our route back home. By chance we crossed the river Wyre several times on the route, with it being smaller each time as we headed back closer to it’s source. This fascinated Junior. On our return journey he commented that the bottom of his feet hurt – this I can only assume was because he was pushing so hard on the peddles – certainly I could feel his welcome input on the short steep climbs when I shouted back ‘push hard please.’ He had done just that.   Stopping every 6 miles rather than my normal 10-12 miles worked really well, as did the provision of pressed fruit bars at each break.

This was the first long journey we’d done with his new tag-along and I can say we were both impressed with it. My primary reason for choosing the Burley Piccolo was that it is the lightest tag-along on the market (apart from it’s sister model the Kazoo). Also, uniquely, it has gears which Junior soon got the hang of; meaning he could contribute more and do so more easily on the climbs. In typical American style it warns you to go no faster than 15 mph for fear of anything up to and including death! It’s not limited to this speed in truth, but the gearing does not allow him to pedal above 15 mph. However if the road means I’m able to go at 15 mph with a 26 kg load behind me then at that point I guess I don’t need help! As Newton would remind us, you only need to put in major effort when you are accelerating (or fighting the acceleration due to gravity when going up a hill).

Junior said he wants to go again – on that basis alone the trip was a success. I enjoyed his joy at simple things too and some father and son time with pie, chips and a pint in the pub. (Just a half for Junior of course…)

Junior’s new wheels

Well, in truth it’s just one wheel on a tag-along.  He’s gone from a seat to a saddle and lost 4 kg in weight at the same time.  Also, to aid with those Lancashire hills, he’s now got gears!  The Weehoo was great, especially for when we rode across France but now he’s bigger the Piccolo should be a lot easier.  He can get on and off without help for example.

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Weehoo Turbo (now for sale)

Piccolo Tag-along first ride

Burley Piccolo – first test ride

We hope to go for our first micro-tour, complete with tent, in October when Mrs W is away visiting a friend.  To make it more fun I’ve fitted a cycle computer with a rear wheel sensor so Junior can know how fast he’s going and how far he’s gone.   The hope is that this has the same motivating effect that his step counter does on a family walk.  Let’s hope too that I can maintain the fitness I built for, and on, my Welsh C2C – I think I’ll need it!

Crazy Bars Review

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In my last post I outlined why I wanted to try moving from conventional drop bars to a pair of alt bars on my touring bike.  Two rides in and I’m really pleased.  They have fulfilled their brief which was to:

  • Give me a slightly more upright position to reduce / eliminate neck pain at the end of a long ride.
  • Allow multiple hand positions despite being more upright (std straight bars would not offer this.
  • Offer a good position for putting power into steep climbs using the strength of both arms and legs.

Tick, tick tick. And as a bonus the new stem needed has given an ideal place to mount my GPS, which used to be mounted on top of my bar bag in a very ad hoc and unsatisfactory manner. In the unlikely event of Velo Orange (the makers) reading this there are just two changes I’d make.  I’d add 25 mm in length to the forward facing bars to be able to get a whole hand onto these bars rather than part onto the bar end shifters and I’d cut 25 mm off the end of the raked back bars (though I guess I could do this myself without much bother.

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It took ca. 30 miles to get used to them.  Perhaps the oddest thing is that, for me, my most frequent hand position is not one close to the brakes.   Whilst this was to be expected, it takes some adapting too.  I am used to riding on the hoods with the brakes within reach.  Now for steep descents and in town I move my hands to the raked position, in town this is fine, but its a bit odd to be so ‘non aero’ on steep descents.  A surprise was my favoured position for honking it up hills and that is to have my hands out on the aero position, if I’m spinning I have my hands right to the top of the bars (which is when I think a little extra length of the tilted section would be ideal)  but when I’m up out of the saddle I just more my hands back a little to the level section of the aero bars.  I thought I’d be right out on the wide swept section for this, but it feels really powerful to be in the former position.  Resting my hands on the intersection seems to take the place of when I’d normally hold the flats.  I’ve got flats exactly as before but the intersection just feels better.  I use this position to recover after a long climb before I start applying the power again.  Overall I spend the greatest proportion of my time at the ends of the aero bars.  It feels like a really good position to put in lots of power.  My average speed was up, but whether this was the position or just the excitement of new equipment it is hard to say.

I cannot sign off without giving a mention to the cafe above, where I had lunch.  This is just off the A65 in Hellifield – Hazy Dayz  This was a pivotal part of today’s route and I was delighted to find they offer a free pot of tea to any cyclist the orders food.  Great all day breakfast too.

Hellifield 44 mile route map

Junior goes solo #proud-daddy

Frame Grab of Nathan's first bike rideHe first rode this bike with help on Thursday evening and by Saturday morning Junior was riding solo / unaided. He’s done so well, it looks like having the Balance Bike really did do what it was supposed to.  Junior had the lightest one on the market, which was not only good for him, but also for me when he lost interest and I had to carry it home! Go for a Strider!   I cannot upload a video onto the blog without upgraded, but you can see the video here.

Training ride…

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Preparation for our family cycle tour across France on the Canal des Deux Mers route is now in full swing with the arrival of Junior’s new accessory.  He can now contribute to progress with his own set of pedals.  He may only be 3 1/2 but I could feel his input.  I’d say it was around 10-20% easier than pulling him in his trailer and on this point I’d agree with Tesco’s…

…every little helps!

Self-employed on two wheels

It has been a busy few months, with other activities taking president over blogging, and little cycling to report because of the ceaseless rain. One thing this gestation period has yielded is a subtle change to my employment. Now whilst I remain with my original (and very agreeable) employer I do so just three days a week (a long story, but one with a happy ending). The other two days I now work for myself as a Powder Science Consultant. And like moving to a new school is a great excuse for a new school bag, so is a new job. And what better that one that can move seamlessly from the office to the bike. (With credit to Rob at Darkerside).

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Fjords Tour (SfSS) – 7th (final) day

Day 7: Nr. Nordfjordied to Nr. Maloy – 37 miles (plus 5 miles the following morning)

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Around five years ago I / we stopped going on holidays for a fortnight and went instead for week blocks but more often.  Days like today exemplify why we changed our approach.  After a week, even the most fabulous scenery starts to become routine and you lose the awe and wonder that a place really merits.  When carrying out our research it suggested that the ‘must see’ fjords of the region we were visiting were Sognefiord and Nordfjord.  The former was certainly fabulous as had been the expected gems we had seen since then when we had been further inland.  So I’m sorry but whilst Nordfjord was ‘pleasant’,  today it failed to impress until the very end of the day.

Light rain was falling as we set of from our campsite, but having stayed in a cabin at least we did not have a wet tent to put away.  Also, my front light had dried out enough to start working again.  Five years on the front of my bike in Lancashire was clearly peanuts to a week of standing out on wet nights in Western Norway.  We headed back into Nordfjordeid but took the E39 on the way back in as it was a quiet Saturday morning.  This did afford views of the lovely rapid filled river which was feeding from the fjord down into Hornindalsvatnet.  Once into the town the headwind became obvious and was our constant companion all morning.  Counting our blessings though, this was only second period when it was a case of ‘getting your head down’ (not that in fact you physically actually do this on a recumbent) and getting the miles behind you.  Mrs W benefited from travelling in my wake as we made our way up the Northern shore of the fjord.

Fortunately we found a bus shelter with a very pleasant view for our lunch spot and during lunch the rain decided to stop.  As I said before, never did we suffer a whole day of rain.  Here is our lunchtime view once the sun came out:

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The afternoon was dry but next highlight was the end of the day.  Our campsite was right down on the fjord side.  There was only one other tent on site so we had the freedom to pitch where we liked.  The site looked to have been hewn from rock and then topsoil added back to make flat pitches.  We found a semi-circular cleft in the rock with the fjord lapping at its base.  A nice sheltered place to cook…

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…and a fabulous view of the fjord and passing cargo ships.

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The day may have been mediocre, but the evening made up for this.  The sun came out and we reflected on a tour we had both really enjoyed.  Glorious and massive scenery yet a route (carefully planned I might add) that only saw two big steep climbs in all ca. 300 miles.

The following morning required a very early start as our return transport was on a Hurtigruten ferry back down the coast to Bergen.  There is only one boat a day, so one dare not miss it – the only snag was the 0545 departure time.  Thankfully everything went like clockwork in the morning and we arrived at the port in plenty of time to allow us to hunt around and find which mooring that was used by Hurtigruten.  In the end a single A4 timetable in an office window as the only clue.  Lucky for us that taxi drivers are always around and one pointed us in the right direction.  The best of Nordfjord was to be seen from the water, so we enjoyed that as we made our way out to a coastline dotted with islands.  In reality, once through the islands this was the end of the good views that the boat provided – apparently the speed ferry offers better views as it goes into many more fjord entrances to smaller jetties.  We looked at it this way – we could tie up the bikes without need to pack or wedge them in anywhere and we could look at the view from the warm and between chapters of our respective books.

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Epilogue:  Western Norway offers awesome countryside, massive scenery great campsites (and cabins), smooth roads and is inhabited by warm, generous and wonderful people.  It was a great place to tour by bike is certainly somewhere we’d like to visit again one day…

Fjords Tour (SfSS) – Day 6

Day 6 – Byrkjelo to near Nordfjordeid – 42 miles

Day 6 Route Map

Part 1 – From the start to the ferry

Day 6 - Route Map

Part 2 – From the ferry to the end of the day.

A dry start to the day and also a mostly downhill route along the E39 to the shore of Briemsvetnet which afforded glorious views of the 1000 metre peaks on the opposite shore.

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We enjoyed riding along the lake shore and then dropped still further into Sandane to buy food for lunch.  Then half of the height we lost had to be gained again as we followed a road high above Gloppenfjorden heading for our ferry crossing.  A few miles later we saw blocks of cars coming the other way, followed by periods of empty road – this tells you that you are getting close to a ferry port.  A sign saying 2 km to the Ferry coinciding with a glut of traffic, so we exchanged a few words and decided to up the pace and race to catch the ferry which had clearly just discharged its load.  A slight syncline helped and we raced down to and onto the ferry.  It was lunchtime but the crossing too short to enable us to dine on board.

IMG_6988As we landed some drizzle started and it felt pretty chilly.  We hoped that there would be a waiting room for foot passengers that we could use as a lunch shelter but, probably because it was only a very short crossing, there was none.  However there were some lovely clean toilets with underfloor heating!  The disabled toilet was big enough to get our bikes into, so we moved in to get out of the cold.  Being Norway, it was both warm and spotlessly clean – clean enough to eat your lunch out of you might say, so we did.

After lunch we started with a climb up the fjord wall to our last ‘long’ tunnel of the tour – which would take us from Innvikfjorden across to Nordfjord.  Even though it was raining as we were about to enter the tunnel, the view back across Innvikfjorden was something to behold.

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After exiting the tunnel it was downhill all the way into Nordfjordeid, an attractive town but one without a campsite.  As we were raiding the supermarket the intensity of the rain upped a gear and our final 5 miles out to the campsite at Neajartun was easily the least pleasant part of the day.  We had picked up a weather forecast when in Byrkjelo that suggested that the following day was to have heavy rain from dawn to dust without respite.  We thus hired a cabin at Neajartun with the idea that if the forecast turned out to be accurate that we could sit the day out in comfort and simply watch the rain through the window rather than experience it first-hand.  Our plan had included a contingency day for just such an occurrence so we were relaxed about spending a day reading and playing cards.

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Fjords Tour (SfSS) – Day 5

Day 5 –Forde to Byrkjelo– 30 miles (rain shortened play!)

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Some days on a cycle tour are about getting from A to B, with the ride from B to C what you are really looking forward to. This should have been one of those days but the afternoon turned out to be an unexpected delight. The day started out dry and remained so until our mid-morning break at Vassenden. Here we went into a Spar shop to get some fruit and were invited to sit down in the warm, have some complimentary coffee and use the loo if we needed it. All we bought was two apples and we go this service. This level of courtesy seemed common amongst all the people we met – what a great people the Norwegians are! At very least all those we met. On the way we saw a big waterfall just away from the main road so decided to go and take a look.

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Shortly after that it started to rain and the ride became a real slog. We were cycling along next to a large lake with no variation in view and on an almost straight road. It was a case of watching the miles click by and trying to go as fast as possible so as to get to the next stop as soon as possible It was lunchtime when we arrived in Skei and after a little hunt around we managed to find a café whose prices were only ‘very expensive’ and not ‘eye-watering’. It was warm and dry, something that could not be said for life outside. We stretched out lunch, then mooched around the supermarket buying dinner, hoping that by waiting it out that the rain would slow down. It did so we set off again.

We noticed that we were starting to have a revised perspective about the weather from this point onwards. Light rain was fine, if it was not heavy enough to sting your eyes on a descent then we considered ourselves to be just fine and got on with enjoying the view/ride. In fact because we were fortunate to have good Gore-Tex gear and the weather was a little cooler, being fully clad in waterproofs was in fact totally comfortable. Not too warm, and totally dry. When you look at it like that, what’s not to like? At this point I must give a plug for Vaude ‘short gaiters’, simple waterproof shoe covers that do just want you want, keep your shoes and feet bone dry. Affectionately known by us as our ‘booties’, we love them.

Then came the delight of the day and one of the most significant highlights of the whole tour. The valley formed by the river Våtedalselva, whose name translates as ‘Wet Valley’. It certainly lived up to it’s name but it was absolutely stunning none the less. For those who know Glen Coe it was very much like this but with the mountainsides stretching another 200 meters higher. For those not familiar it is a rare example of a v-shaped valley where the mountains climb steeply from the very valley floor, the base of which is totally flat. To add to this, Wet Valley was also 9 miles long (much longer than the impressive section of Glen Coe) and running gently downhill in the direction we were heading. Truly an extended pleasure. We placated ourselves with the truth that you can enjoy somewhere without photographing it, but for those who cannot read my memory, what you see below is an image taken by Tore Larson of the Wet Valley and after that a view showing the context looking back from the end of the valley / the start of day 6.

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Campsite on night 5 - looking back towards Wet Valley

Campsite on night 5 – looking back towards Wet Valley

The campsite and warden in Byrkjelo were excellent and the little kitchen just the place to make toast to enjoy with the remainder of yesterdays smoked salmon.

Fjords Tour (SfSS) – Day 4

Day 4 –Ortnevik to Forde– 33 miles

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Packing up was quick and easy after a night in a cabin, and the ride to the Ferry was all downhill. The morning started dry, but seemed very windy. Just how much so became obvious when we reached the shore and saw the white horses out on the Fjord, showing it was blowing at force 6. Thankfully the ferry was a hydrofoil which not only meant it was fast but also meant a totally smooth crossing over to Nordeide on the North shore. We passed a hamlet on other shore which could only be reached by boat.  Fascinating.

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The rain started on the way over and was our companion until our mid morning shopping stop at Vadheim. Mrs W slipstreamed me all the way, which brings me to mention something odd. On a suitably laid back recumbent (even at my modest 33 degrees, rather than the radical 22 degrees of others, of which the Metabike is also capable) headwinds do not seem to make any noticeable difference. But still someone can ride behind me and benefit from my slipstream. Somehow this feels like getting ‘one up’ on nature with both of us winning.

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Vadheim saw us turn onto the busier E39 and start the climb up to Ykslandsvatnet. There were extensive roadworks on the way up, with the road due to be straightened and having a tunnel added, seemingly to allow some dual carriageway. The road alongside the lake was very attractive, those going through the new tunnel will have drawn the short straw. Lunchtime in Sande was chilly but dry. I have no photos of the climb, but the ride was on a easy gradient and graced with very pleasant countryside. We continued to climb to Langelandsvatnet, which is apparently a popular swimming lake the summer. You would have needed a hammer and chisel to break the ice to get in though! Now at ca. 650 m we were exactly on the snow line.

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Langelandsvatnet – A bit chilly for a dip.

The sun was now out and as we whizzed down the long and exhilarating downhill into Forde, our final destination for the day, the temperature started to climb again. Forde sat inside a bowl of hills, so it was clear how tomorrow ride would start.  It was a surprise to be in such a busy town with so much traffic. After failing to find signs to the campsite a little playing with the Garmin allowed us to navigate to the street on which the campsite was located. Once again we were the only tent on the site, so we could pitch where we liked. What I should point out now is that this was my birthday. Being in a large town meant access to a large supermarket – just a very short walk from the campsite which was handy. This meant the luxury of deciding what we wanted for dinner and buying the ingredients rather than seeing what was available and deciding what we could make from it.

Smoked salmon, cheese, broccoli, pasta and milk were obtained and over a starter of green olives dinner was prepared. This was my first time trying this truly one pan recipe and it worked out really well. In short the pasta was cooked in 1/3 milk, 2/3 water and then the liquor used as the basis of the sauce. Fine dining in the sunshine.

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Continue to Day 5