The process of boarding the ferry across the Caspian was silky smooth. We, I met a french cyclist in Azerbaijan, were informed the ferry would depart from Alat. The 18th of June we arrived at the ferry around two in the afternoon, and were told the ferry would leave the same evening. Great news. In fact the boat left the next morning, but it could have been worse, we have heard horror stories of people waiting a week to board the ferry (that is not really horror, maybe more a drama). …
Kyrgyzstan maybe was the most beautiful country of the trip. The Pamirs were spectacular, but it was a rather hard environment. No trees nor grass, either hard wind or musquitos, either rain or sunburn. In Kyrgyzstan the landscape turned green again, and from the vilage of Sary Tash the view towards the Pamirs was incredible. …
Past summer holidays were spent in the touristy season, in the touristy places. Resulting in midnight music bonanza’s of the neighbours and, well, pretty much the rest of the campsite. This year my girlfriend and I had the opportunity to go in September, and we were looking for peace and quiet. We found just that in Nevache, a small French village in the Alps, on a road towards a dead end. From there we started walking.
The area of Mont Thabor was choosen to be the scene of our four-day hike, because it is not designated a national park and therefor allows visitors to set up a wild camp (callad a bivouac in French). And because the area falls inbetween the popular Ecrins and Vanoise national parks we figured it wouldn’t attract that many tourists, right?
Wrong! At least, the first day the paths were rather crowded. Never expected to see so many hikers on a tuesday in september. We left on the campervan on the nice little camping in Fontcouverte and headed to the Col de Ricou. The hight gained we had to give up soon in order to get to the path towards Refuge de Drayères. The river La Clarée was stunning, we passed the refuge and put up shelter somewhere between the refuge and Col des Muandes.
According French rules concerning wild camping, a tent shouldn’t be erected before 7 pm and should be unmade before 7 am. We didn’t make that. What we did make was nice breakfast after we slept way past 7 o’clock. I planned our route based on the distance, not based on altitude gained. A rooky mistake. We made it to the summit of Col des Muandes (2828m), Mont Thabor was still pretty far, we ran out of water and I had a bad headache. Time to head down.
We took the quickest way down and passed the beautiful Lac Chardonnet. We slept further down, not far away from Maison des Chamois. Under trees, by the river.
The obstacle of our third day was Col du Vallon. We, wrongfully, believed this would be our final climb and set off in good spirits. The climb was heavy, the scenery heavenly.
I always get sore hip bones from the backpack’s hip straps. So I don’t tighten those hip straps too much. As a concequence I carry too much weight on my shoulders, get a serious neck pain which I mistake for headache, which I mistake for altitude sickness. That is what I found out on day three.
We slept in the Vallon valley and had lunch in Nevache. Following the tarmac road back to the campsite wouldn’t be much fun so we took the track on the south side of the river. Which, ofcourse, climbed more than our morale could handle. But we made it without too much cursing and with our relationship still intact. It was a beautiful hike, never dangerous and easy enough for the beginners we are.
I love drop bars. In a windy country like the Netherlands a drop bar will allow for a much more aerodynamic position. What I also love are big tyres, to devour forest paths and cobble stone roads. Third, I love steel frames. Mostly for the looks, I can hardly say I notice the extra comfort but experts say steel frames provide. So a bike with a steel frame, drop bars and big tyres, that was what I was after. I began with a Trek Multitrack 730 (1997?) I found online. It looked like this:
When I was done it looked like this:
New or second hand components I mounted were:
1 inch quill stem Kalloy AL 231, 25,4 clamp
Old Brooks saddle
Maxxis Overdrive Excel (40-622) tyres
Shimano fc m 730 cranks with one 36 t ring and a bashguard
Kalloy 27,2 seatpost
Tektro RL520 brake levers
Because I installed only one chainring, I only needed one gear shifter, which I mounted on an old bar end on the quill stem. Like this:
From 30 April to 6 May, my girlfriend and I went cycling in Scotland. We planned on going from Inverness to Ullapool offroad, and back on the tarmac. And we succeeded.
Day 1: Groningen – Amsterdam – Inverness
I don’t like airports. I always have the feeling everybody knowns their way except for me. Luckily Suzanne, my girlfriend, is a good guide in these situations. Getting the bikes and boxes to the airport by train was difficult. And we had a lot of stress before we had everyting checked-in. In Inverness we asked a cab driver to bring the bikeboxes to the adres where we would spend our last night of the holiday, for cycing while carrying them would be dangerous. The host of our first night’s b&b was not very sure we could go from Inverness to Ullapool offroad, and now I began to doubt too.
Day 2: Inverness – Schoolhouse bothy
We had a nice breakfast and were only just in time to catch the train to Garve. We disembarked the train and headed north via the A835. The white mountains we saw from the plane dominated the landscape and we knew we had to find a way through them the coming days. We went right when our Garmin told us so, and headed to Loch Vaich. While we took a moment to enjoy the view over the valley after our first ascent, we met a Frenchmen who looked much more professional than we did. With next to nothing in terms of gear, he flew down the hill like a butterfly. I followed more akin an elephant, hauling 44 lbs of gear on my touring bike with skinny tyres (42-622 schwalbe mondials).
Down by the lake we had a lunch and we discussed our options, fearing our plan maybe was a bit too ambitious. We went on though, and managed to climb out the valley. The views were much more beautiful then we had imagined and even the light hail coming down didn’t bother us.
We followed the Glean Mor upstream towards a place called Croick, and found refuge in the Church. Here Suzanne found a working radiator and we made some tea.
By then we knew our plans to reach the Schoolhouse bothy of Duag Bridge were feasible, but we soon discovered we were not going to get there with dry feet. We reached the bothy at seven, and found the Frenchman again. Only the smallest room was available to us, which turned out for the better for the small room warmed by our body heat and our camp stove. We spend a comfortable night.
Day 3: Schoolhouse to Loch an Daimh
We had enough food with us to do another bothy and the plan was to take it easy this day. We followed the advise I was given months before when discussing the route with a guy from Inverness. We took the Corriemulzie track, which was beautiful.
We then took a foot path north. On this path, cycling was impossible and pushing the bike became dangerous when on the left hand a ravine emerged. With the bike on my right and the ravine on my left I feared the bike might fall on me, dragging my in dephts below. Suzanne wanted to go back and by her voice I could tell she would not accept a no from me. Afterwards I was very happy Suzanne dragged my out my irrational reluctance to take the same way back.
We went back the same way, had lunch in the Schoolhouse again and set off to Knockdamph bothy via another path. The dreaded watercrossing of the Abbhain Poiblidh turned out to be easy and we soon reached a moist and cold both called Knockdamph; where even the newspapers wouldn’t catch fire. The night was cold, and the place was haunted.
Day 4: Knockdamph to Ullapool
We left the bothy with little love lost. A backwind blew us west, and when we had to break going uphill wel knew: this is a strong wind. In Ullapool we soon found warmth and wifi in a hotel lobby. We called home to let people know we were ok, and we made a reservation at the youth hostel. There we found an employee visibly sorry to tell us we could not have a warm shower untill four o’clock. We killed time in Ullapool by eating fish n chips, checking out tourist shops and having a whisky.
Day 5: Ullapool – Dingwall
We took the A835 back to the east coast. First part was difficult with wind, rain and gradient against us. After some 8 miles the climbing was over and we entered the highland again. The landscape was wonderfull and the wind again in our backs. We had a nice lunch near Garve and became over-confident. We left the tarmac and went offroad again. The hill appeared to have not end. We reached a B&B with a superb view. I left Suzanne and cycled all the way down to get wine and beer. I was not going to enjoy the view with a glass of water!
Day 6: Dingwall – Inverness
We felt exhausted, spend a long morning in the B&B and took the train to Inverness. We didn’t like Inverness in the rain and soon cycled a wet and nasty route via the A96 to our last B&B. Our room was great had a stunning view over the bay.
Day 7: Inverness – Amsterdam – Groningen
Our host proposed to take us and the already boxed bikes to the airport. This saved us from a lot troubles. A quarter to nine we were at the airport and five minutes later our bikes and luggage were checked-in. The contrast with Amsterdam airport couldn’t have been bigger. We left the boxes in Amsterdam and had an easy trip to Groningen. The feeling we actually did it, this adventure, without any experience, was a great feeling. It was difficult at times but in the always the beautiful landscape pulled us through.
A fast tourer bike, a real bike, made of steel instead of aluminium. That was wat I was looking for. Gazelle’s top model was the Champion Mondial, made of Reynolds 531 tubing. Most of these bikes are classic road bikes but the, rather rare, G-type frame is a touring frame. Happily I could get my hands on one of those. It’s date of construction is 1976.
Next weeks, or months, I will be building this lovely frame into a bike. I already increased the drop-out spacing from 120mm to 126mm using Sheldon Brown’s method. Some new-old-stock Shimano Exage 500 hubs (126mm) are underway and I will be building wheels around them (first time so fingers crossed). The plan is to use as much modern shimano parts as possible in order to make reparations and replacing parts easy. For now I will begin hunting down some 7 indexed speed bar end shifters.
The old frame had some rust stains. I wanted to make sure these stains did not obscure serious damage so I used sandpaper a lot. When the spray painter is done enjoying his vacation I will ask him to powder coat the frame in RAL 1013, creamy white. The wheels I will build up my self. I bought a second hand wheel stand last week and am waiting for the SunRinglé EQ21L rims to arrive. These are light, affordable, and wider than most other rims. When I am done measuring the rims I can buy spokes start building. I also got my hands on some bar end shifters: friction left and 7 speed indexed right. Super happy to have them for these barcons are rather rare!
I like to go just about anywhere a bike could go. Tarmac, gravel roads, jeep tracks. And to get there, I figured I needed a fast bike to go the distance, and big tyres to cope with bad roads. Hence my creation; the beast
Frame: Cube Aim Pro 29er
Fork: Exotic aluminium rigid
Wheels: shimano lx hub, DT Swiss Alpine iii spokes, rigida sputnik rims
Drivetrain: shimano slx 2×9
Cranks: Shimano FC MT60 with 36 and 24 tooth chainrings
Brakes: Shimano LX V-brakes
Headset: Cane Creek 40
Stem: Xtreme Pro High Rise 40 (80mm)
Bar: Deda RHM01
Brake Lever: Tektro RL520
Gear Lever: Shimano Dura Ace 7700 9 speed (rear derailleur indexed, fron derailleur friction)
Bottom Bracket: square tapered 68mm case, 127,5 axle length
Seat: Specialized Henge
With the Cube frame I found a frame that is both light, cheap and versatile. It can take a rear rack, V-brakes as well as disc brakes. For all other parts, I have chosen tough over light, and simple over complicated. For me it is the perfect adventure bike.
“Give me sweets, give me money, give me cigarettes.” It’s two o’clock in the afternoon and we are three kilometres (10.000 feet) above sea-level. We are met with a not so warm welcome by Lesotho shepherds. Our first experiences of this hike do not meet our expectations. The plateau before us is wet, raw and barren. No tree or shrub, just grass and rock. It is to be the scene of our first night.
For the past two days we have been watching the Drakensberg cliffs. From a safe 1.5 kilometre lower we saw clouds and thunderstorms being dragged over the plateau like a blanket. Beautiful and terrifying. Staying low seems an attractive alternative but we already payed for our guide and he doesn’t mind the weather. “Nie worry nie!” He says the evening before our departure. Beautiful and terrifying, our trip summed-up in two words. The freedom we experience almost make us feel enlightened. But that freedom has a dark side. We are all alone. When I suddenly do not feel well on the second night of our trip, and euphoria becomes panic, I recognize the delicate balance we are in.
Apart from a stretch of land along the coast, much of South Africa is elevated. Where the high plateau begins, mountains have developed. Part of these mountains form the natural border between South Africa and Lesotho, a poor mountain state fully circled by South Africa. A considerable part of the Lesotho population is shepherd. Even before we arrive in Lesotho we encounter some of them. Beautiful people but persistent beggars. Our guide doesn’t like them very much, and this sentiment has a reason. Some time ago, in an attempt to rob him, Lesotho shepherds cut open our guide’s tent in the middle of the night. He tells the story when we shelter from the rain, just when we are about to settle for the night. “But nie worry nie, goodnight.”
We don’t sleep much. We have invested too much in our backpack, sleeping bag, matras and clothes to have it torn apart by a poor shepherd in the first night. Still I wake up in the morning, meaning I slept some. I leave the tent with the sun shining in my face. Our tent is located near the point where the Tugela River throws itself down a 3300 feet cliff. The view is magnificent and when our guide hands me over a cup of coffee I realize these are the moments I would happily defy blisters, annoying shepherds and evening showers for.
On our second day we take it easy. We walk along the edge of the cliff and take our time to enjoy the views. The weather is fine but deteriorates in the evening. I do not feel well, whether it is the altitude or dehydration I do not know. I decide to lay down and take the pills my girlfriend and the guide give me. I don’t know what medicine I took but the headache and nausea disappear quick. To give us some peace of mind, our guide decides to sleep almost on top of our gear, and anyone wishing to do us harm will have to pass our guide first. Good luck with that.
The third day we wake up early. We have to cover a lot of ground and we wish to arrive at the car in time. The couscous and salami I had no appetite for last night is my breakfast this morning. Our camp is near cliffs again, we look east and see the sun come up. What a great spectacle. Soon clouds rise over the edge of the cliff, covering the plateau in a thick mist. The rest of day we walked far but didn’t see much. Sometimes, out of the mist emerges a cairn, erected by shepherds. The herd mistake the cairn for their shepherd and therefor will stay close. This way the shepherd can walk off. Our guide navigates us towards the chainladders, the only way to get off this plateau. He does so by only using map and compass, and he does so flawless.
Much quicker than two days ago we walk the cliff-side path, downwards this time. It remains misty during the day and we are on the parking place almost before we see it. A jeep brings us back to the resort, where we just take enough rest in order to drive our car down safely. The cabin we booked is not far away and gives us just what we need; a shower, a bed and an overwhelming feeling of satisfaction.
Start and finish: Sentinel Peak car park
Date: 2-3-4 February 2016
Traditionally, cycle touring is seen as a relatively cheap way of spending a holiday. However, if one has the ambition of going faster, further, and higher, this will demand more of your gear. Light and strong gear often has a price tag. Often, not always. There are ways of saving some money. Let me give you two tips.
The dry-bag pictured above is an Ortlieb 13 litre, PD 350. It contains a sleeping bag, down jacket, wool longsleeve, a pair of socks and three pairs of underwear. I use a harness I made myself to strap it under the saddle:
To add some rigidness I used a section of a normal household bucket I had laying around. In order to prevent the dry bag from slipping down, I put a screw through the eyelet (pictured on left of both pictures) and into a zefal bottle cage mount. This system is very cheap and works really well. When strapped tight the bag has no tendency to wiggle. After my girlfriend gave me a crash course on how to use the sewing machine, I was able to get it done myself. It ain’t pretty, but if you ride your bike the right way, this piece of equipment will get covered in dirt to hide any cosmetic flaws.
Timontyres Anything Cage
A bottle cage, even an aluminium one, can easily be bended to contain much larger items. In my last trip I used one to carry my pans and stove. Although I needed to add some straps so my stove kit wouldn’t fall out, it worked just fine.
Sometimes I want to make stuff myself because what I need can’t be bought. Sometimes I make stuff myself because what I need is too expensive. Sometimes I do it just for the fun of doing it. But always I learn something new along the way, skills that can be important when something breaks down when I am in the middle of nowhere.