Monthly Archives: January 2013

An Indoor January

January in Fukushima is cold. Snow falls, and becomes ice. Cycling is dangerous. As a result, January has been an indoor month for us. We’ve been flexing our online shopping muscles, ordering and taking delivery of gear for touring. This has been a month of reading, planning and wrapping up warm.

The most difficult shopping decision was choosing a tent. We want something for two people, with porch space for cooking. We need a discreet colour for wild camping, and to keep the weight down as much as our budget allows. Armed with these criteria, Laura began to search. And continued to search. And continued. It’s fair to say that Laura got a little bit obsessed with tents. There’s a lot of information available for almost every model – the manufacturer, the retailer and the end user all have something to say. She scoured forums and blogs for feedback, and watched countless videos. In the end, she opted for the Robens Goshawk. It’s roomy, while not excessively large, in a modest green, light-ish at 3.6kg, and within our price range. We took delivery of it mid-way through the month, and we’ll publish a review once we’ve been out in it a few times.

Our journey Overland from Japan is how we’re getting home in 2014, so this year we’re doing several shorter tours around Japan to prepare. This month we’ve been busy planning. During the Spring we’ll combine trying out our new gear with a series of short weekend overnights in the local area. Our first longer trip of the year will be a coast to coast ride across Tohoku at the start of May. The route is around 200km from Soma on the Pacific Ocean to Murakami on the Sea of Japan, through the hills, mountains and lakesides of four different prefectures. Our main tour for the year is around Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost main island. We’ll meet up with some friends, and spend two or three weeks exploring during the summer. As for now, the thaw is still a little way off, so we have to content ourselves with researching, dipping into some tour journals, and watching inspiring videos online.

Lastly, with the icy wind blowing outside, it’s nice to cosy down in front of the fire with a good book. Of the cycling journals we read this month, the best by far was “Good Vibrations, Crossing Europe on a Bike called Reggie,” by Andrew P. Sykes (review). Andrew’s book is especially relevant to us because his route follows one of the Eurovelo routes, just like our plan for Europe. I was fascinated to read how he navigated a route that more or less wasn’t signposted. This summer Andrew is riding Eurovelo 8 from Athens to Cadiz, and we’re looking forward to following his exploits on his website. Maybe you will too.

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Good Vibrations: Crossing Europe on a Bike Called Reggie, by Andrew P. Sykes – review

This book tells the tale of the author Andrew’s bicycle expedition from Berkshire to Brindisi, in southern Italy. He broadly follows the Eurovelo route 5 along the old Via Francesiga pilgrims’ path. Broadly, because there isn’t actually a defined route mapped out as Eurovelo 5. As Andrew and his faithful steed Reggie experience good and bad on their travels, the book reflects their emotional journey as much as it describes the kilometres covered.

The book is deliciously readable. Its style is unpretentious and relaxed, and is not cursed with the excessive use of figurative speech that afflicts some travel writers. The gentle informality of its tone is welcoming, especially to those who are not particularly familiar with cycle touring jargon. You’ll enjoy this book, even if you can’t tell the difference between a rear sprocket and a bottom bracket. Indeed, if you’re looking for a technical review of how various components perform on a long tour, this isn’t really the book for you. Instead, the story is human, the pace is sharp, and the commentary lively. It’s a such a pleasant and easy read that, if this book was a bike ride, it’d be a long, gradual downhill on a sunny spring afternoon with a decent pub at the end.

And what about for those who are more saddle-savvy? It offers an excellent example of the kind of emotions that the solo cyclist can face on a typical tour, so it’s instructive in that respect. It isn’t a guidebook for Eurovelo 5, but then again, it doesn’t claim to be. And anyway, there isn’t a guidebook for Eurovelo 5 – as demonstrated when Andrew explains that he cobbled together his own guidebook by butchering three different Lonely Planets. It also offers a balanced appraisal of his experience of contemporary cycling resources like the hospitality exchange network Warm Showers, or asking blog followers for advice in a tight spot.

I would have enjoyed a fuller conclusion to the story. Some of the crazyguyonabike blogs that I’ve read recently end with the final leg of the journey, and don’t look back and reflect on the trip as a whole. Part of what’s great about cycle touring – and about travelling in general – is enjoying the memories that you’ve made. For me, a short epilogue describing the post-tour afterglow would have made the book even better.

This book is a delight. It’s effortlessly funny on one line, and emotionally direct on the next, whilst never ceasing to be entertaining. It’s easy to read, and has something to offer everybody, whether a hardened touring veteran or a total bicycle beginner. Highly recommended.

Crossing Europe on a Bike Called Reggie is available as an ebook and a paperback. Check the author’s website or Twitter for more details.

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