Road Trip!

Where do you go when teased with the lure of the white sands and balmy climes of the Bahamas, Cuba or the British Virgin Islands being only a mere hop, skip and a jump of a plane journey away?

Well, you pack up a tent and go on a road trip instead. Err, of course.

America is big. Vast. However, in a week we covered well over 1000 miles and popped into 7 different states. I say popped because at times it was somewhat unintentional what with the Colonel’s driving and perhaps more relevantly, my map reading. We popped in, and with a little oops, popped out again.

In truth, his driving is irritatingly good; I am simply a poor passenger with a habit of yelping and clutching white-knuckled onto the door handle if I think we’re either going too fast or are going to crash. For me, the two go hand-in-hand. So, this being a regular occurrence led at times to a fairly high stress journey (more so when driving in Manhattan where my fears were completely validated looking at the number of dents in the cars. Did you know, they actually have bumpers over their bumpers for protection here?)

However, and back to the road trip … We wiggled our way along the smaller roads, avoiding the pot holes, cracks, lumps and bumps which in the U.K. we appear to have considerably less of and I consequently shall never complain of again. We googled some road signs, delighted to find that sometimes one can actually turn right on a red light. It does leave a rather large margin for error which is perhaps not entirely sensible, but I didn’t make the rules. And rules they like. Oooh they are strict. But it keeps things in order, mostly; and we like order.

And then we drooled.

Fresh, bright white clapboard houses stood proudly, their slatted shutters painted varying shades of greens and blues framing the huge Georgian-style windows; colonial pillars supported the grey roofs covering verandas which themselves were filled with pots of flowers and plants and tables and chairs, offering a peaceful place to sit and watch the world go by. Wide wooden steps led down to the gardens and with no hedges or fences indicating where one plot started and another ended, they seemingly merged into one another allowing for clear uninterrupted views.

The gardens themselves were simple but perfectly neat. Manicured lawns with flowerbeds planted up close to the houses. Hydrangeas with their huge pom pom flower heads, hibiscus, hostas without a slug to be seen, box balls in abundance and lots and lots of trees. Nothing too taxing for the gardeners, but everything colourful and wonderfully healthy. With a hot climate and plenty of rain, everything flourishes there and yet surprisingly very few grow their own vegetables and fruit. Not an apple espalier or raised bed in sight.

There were no overgrown jungles of front gardens there. No black, brown and blue overstuffed bins spilling out their contents onto the weeds on the driveways. It was perfection and it was beautiful. I suspect I would struggle to keep up with the Jones’.

Towns with names like Great Barrington and Lennox offered shops for the wealthy where a cushion would cost well over a hundred pounds, but always the service was impeccable as if that should take the sting out of the tail. We looked, we touched, but rarely bought.

The campsites were clean and quiet and only once were plagued by mosquitoes, but the local pharmacy offered more anti-mozzie sprays and more importantly, soothing anaesthetic creams than you could shake a stick at (at a cost of course).

The beaches were litter-free and the sun shone. What more could we have asked for? So whilst the glamour and glitz of the Bahamas will no doubt beckon again another time, this time we have saved our pennies and enjoyed the beauty of another little world for a short while.

And, as I type and watch my sunburn begin to peel and scratch madly at the line of bites from some little blighter of a bug which starts at my ankle and heads towards my bottom, I do wonder if there are mozzies in the Caribbean …

Katie x

Knickers Again (But of the Cycling Variety …)

white clothes line trousers past
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Now I fear I must discuss, or at least give my view on the slightly taboo and decidedly undignified subject of knickers.

Of all the advice that I was given prior to my cycling trip, and there was a lot, the common denominator from everyone was to invest in a good sturdy pair of cycling shorts.  To this day, I’m not entirely sure if mine were shorts or knickers. Whichever they were, they did the job well.  But Mon Dieu, what an unsightly piece of clothing.

Lycra’d within an inch of their life so that they tightly suck in the wobbly bits like a vacuum packed chicken, and let other parts spill out over the top and underneath; the end result is one ends up looking like a rather badly stuffed Christmas stocking; all lumps and bumps but the only surprise with this stocking is whether one is able to take them off without the huge effort making one either puce in the face, or accidentally breaking wind.

As for the padding within, it is simply a large piece of foam which sits like a small yoga roll-mat between ones legs.  However, the result? unattractive, however not a bruised botty in sight.

But, there is one piece of advice that I was NOT given, and that was to wear them from day one of said cycling adventure. If it is left until day three, you will discover that you can’t sit down without wincing, howling and yelping. Sadly this is really rather a case of locking the stable door once the horse has well and truly bolted and frankly is in another county. This was sadly what I did.

And, whilst trying to be delicate here, it’s not just ones ‘back bottom’ that becomes bruised, it’s the ‘front bottom’ area and for want of a better word, ones ‘fou fou’. This entire region becomes so delicate, that should you be travelling on a romantic holiday with your darling loved one, you can wave goodbye to any woo hoo for your fou fou for at least a week. Or if you do, he’ll find that he got more than he bargained for, with more wincing, howling, yelping and yowling than a night in a brothel with Madame Whiplash and her whippy-stick.

I think that just about covers it.

Katie xx

Any experience of cycling knickers? No? Lucky you … 😳

Camping Anyone?

camp camping environment forest
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Now let’s be clear, camping is not for everyone.

Indeed, it wasn’t for me for the first 45 years of my life until that wretched thing called love got in the way. You know how when you’re truly smitten with someone you’ll do anything just to be with them? Hang gliding, parachute jumping, ironing their pants? Well, camping was in that category for me.

After a month of camping on my own around France (yes, I shall be bringing out that ol’ chestnut for many months to come), I became a bit of a good camper. I can get my tent up and down in a nanosecond without breaking a fingernail, can make fabulous meals on what is effectively a Bunsen Burner but with only a fraction of the gas (particularly after I broke it) and finally, can manage to ensure that standards prevail at all times in terms of cleanliness (the entire range from Clinique was hidden in the base of one pannier – a necessity but somewhat heavy). So yes, I can now proudly say that I am indeed a jolly good camper.

However, yesterday I went one step further and the Colonel and I visited the Caravan and Motor Home Show at the NEC in Birmingham. (For those not living in England, in terms of size, the NEC is like a dozen aircraft hangars all stuck together i.e. VAST).

Now I know, for a middle class lassie like me, this is not really the done thing. It’s certainly a far cry from the twinset and pearl brigade. And I will confess that it is full of sock and sandal wearers with practicality rather than aesthetics at the forefront of their minds. It is akin to being stuck in a giant IKEA with groups of anorak-wearers. And yet here I am, rebelling slightly by wearing a sassy little skirt and my fabulous Gant boots but loving every minute of it.

I have discussed and bonded with complete strangers over storage capacity within caravans, have talked and listened at length about tents, floor mats and cooking implements, and have lain down sniggering beside the Colonel on many a double bed in the Motor Homes, to see if indeed we can both fit in. (For those interested, the answer is yes, but any ‘whoo hoo’ would be fairly limited without serious injury i.e. falling out or knocking oneself out.)

So a wonderful day was had by all, with packed sandwiches in the Colonel’s very practical military backpack at lunchtime and despite having a couple of collisions with two motorised wheelchairs, I came away with perhaps not an upgrade to our current tent, but certainly with even more enthusiasm for spending more time in the great outdoors.

I will never go down the route of socks with sandals, but perhaps I shall find a backpack of my own. Perhaps something in a fantastically zingy colour and fabric other than the dreary black or camo in canvas, and fill it with a more practical, smaller and therefore lighter travel version of the Clinique range. Fabulous! I have found my inner troglodyte, but one with class!

Katie xx

Are you an outside or an inside sort of person? Indeed, have you gone camping?

Ps Apologies to all sock and sandal wearers …

Solitude … Necessary or Not?

autumn calm creepy dried leaves
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Without meaning to harp on about it too much, whilst cycling for the best part of a month in France, I had only myself for company.

I talked to myself, sang to myself, told myself funny little stories (and laughed at them – yes I am suitably strange) and cried to myself. I regularly bored myself stupid and craved company. The only people, until almost the end of the trip, that I encountered were of course French, and despite a fairly healthy ‘O Level’ result in the subject over 30 years ago, conversation was understandably a little limited. Of course, over time it improved considerably and particularly when I became less self conscious and more confident.

On one occasion, when lost again, I asked a family for help in the navigation department in my very best french.

“Ooh!” they grinned, realising immediately that I was a foreigner, “Are you English?”

“Oh thank God!” says I with great enthusiasm, “You’re the first Brits I’ve spoken to in fourteen days!” I wanted to hug them, kiss them, sit them down with a cup of tea and listen to their life story.

“Nah! We’re not English, we’re from Birmingham,” came the strong accent in response.

Right… Frankly I couldn’t care where they came from, as long as they could understand me and I could listen and understand them. It was a short lived conversation … I think my overly enthused neediness was perhaps a bit off-putting. Similar to when I try to chatter to the postman when he comes to the door, his eyes start to glaze over as he backs down the path. Perhaps I truly am just a needy individual.

However in the last few days I met someone who had been doing almost a parallel trip to me. A South African by birth, he said what he thought, without any filter, and with gusto. He called a spade a spade and swore like a trooper. A rather high powered physicist with a photographic memory, I did question the swearing, but he merely threw his head back, laughed like a drain and replied, “Frankly Katie, I don’t give a fuck!” I liked him enormously. But he too had been devoid of all conversation and despite being fluent in five languages, French was not one of them, so had even less of an opportunity for chatter. It hadn’t however stopped him from having an absolute ball. We then talked incessantly for three days and marvelled at the delights of having company, giggled over the best way to get in, out, and dressed in 6ft x 2ft x 2ft tent, and spoke endlessly about our ridiculous adventures. Laughter is truly good for the soul.

I am now back in the real world and find myself a slightly different creature. Having craved company, whilst I enjoy it, I enjoy it in moderation. No, that word that has never been a part of my life before and I welcome it and wonder if perhaps it might overflow into other areas of my life. There is always hope. I find that I now need a certain amount of solitude in which to block out the noise, the people, the endless nonsense which I find invades my mind and colours my mood. I can now control my own mood completely by myself which is new to me and very much welcomed, but external influences still can alter it. So partly for self preservation and partly because I simply enjoy it, I now ensure that I have time every day and every evening for a little solitude. Call it self care, call it indulgence, call it selfishness, as my South African friend says, “Frankly, I don’t give a f…k!”

Katie xx

What about you? Do you need solitude or do you loathe it? Do you control your own mood?

It’s Over …

woman stands on mountain over field under cloudy sky at sunrise
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I’ve done it.

I’ve bicycled 1000kms through France, taking the long and winding route of La Velodysee through towns and villages, along canals and rivers, on cycle tracks, roads, through fields, around fields, lost in fields …. I’ve been frightened, I’ve cried, I’ve hurt myself, I’ve hated myself and bored myself. And yet, I’ve also laughed until tears have streamed down my face. I’ve been humbled and I’ve been moved to yet more tears by the kindness of others. That’s quite a lot of tears actually …. odd really for someone who doesn’t tend to cry much.

I’m utterly exhausted, both physically and mentally. I want to speak, I have so much to say and yet the words won’t come. I want to sleep, but my mind is preventing it. And I honestly don’t think anyone really understands at all. I’m not looking for praise so please don’t give it. I’m not wanting congratulations in the least. But I do want to thank each and every one of you for all your encouragement and support throughout this. But at the end of the day, all I have done is very simply to have tested both my mind and body to their absolute limits.

Having never wanted to see another canal, river or pine tree in my life, I am strangely missing them. Having bored myself stupid by my own thoughts for days, weeks, and having longed for conversation (preferably in English), I now crave solitude and peace.

I do however feel that this is normal. This is a normal reaction, behaviour and feelings and as with everything else, my favourite Persian saying comes into play … This too shall pass

But it’s done. This dizzy, ditzy blonde and (slightly) unhinged woman has done what she set out to achieve. And now, in truth all I want is to sleep.

Katie xxx

God bless you all and thank you for your support.

Not Far Now …

Well, I’m nearing the end of what can only be described as an extraordinary 26 days.

I have 7 left and short of Claude (my bicycle) and I completely running out of steam or getting squashed by a truck, we’re almost there. Being the eternal pessimist however, yet always full of hope (and no I don’t know how that works), I’m never one to count my chickens and it certainly ain’t over till the fat lady sings as they say.

Most of what has happened will be in ‘the book’, but suffice to say I have enough material to write a trilogy.

I have laughed until I tears have streamed from my eyes, I have cried, wailed, howled in pain and in fear, and screamed at myself to dig deep, not just once, but almost daily.

And the outcome? I have found a strength not just physically but mentally that I never knew existed. I have been alone and sometimes desperately lonely … and sometimes just simply desperate. I have lain in a tiny tent being battered by storms for 48 hours, convinced that at any moment in the darkest of nights it was all over.

And yet, I have found kindness and generosity, laughter and warmth. I have been propositioned by men both younger and about forty years older than me and have also discovered that camping au naturiste doesn’t mean a beautifully natural site in the pine forests, at all … I have been given a standing ovation, snarled at, snapped at and had to deal with handfuls of drunkards. And that’s only scratching the surface.

And for what you might well ask? Why would any sane person put them self through this? A personal challenge? A midlife crisis? Or perhaps simply a woman looking to find where the girl in her had gone. The girl who was once fearless and strong but somewhere through that inevitable process called life, became lost, became frightened of everything but most of all, became frightened of the negative voices in her head, the unutterably foul, burdensome and oppressive voice of a demon called Betty.

Katie xx

Has your past restricted your future? And how do you intend to remedy this?

Ps. If any of you have got this far with my drivel, you mightn’t believe me if I told you that I’m in a bar and La Vie en Rose is playing … I’m in heaven.

LIVING IN THE MOMENT …

As I embark on week two of my adventures travelling through France on a (now rather squeaky) bicycle called Claude, I have come to realise that everything here changes within moments.

The weather, the terrain, the incline of a track and energy levels and of course this all impacts upon ones mood.

One minute all is well and the weather is good, the sun is shining and there’s a light breeze. This can change before I have time to say, “Which pannier is my darn fleece in?” and before I know it, it’s not a fleece that’s needed, it’s an umbrella, Wellington boots and an oilskin waterproof all-in-one, complete with hat. Although I do sometimes smile to myself as I remember the Colonel telling me how many moons ago in training, they were all barked at with a, “Skin’s waterproof Sir!” Very true and sometimes quite a useful reminder.

The track is peaceful, cycling through the pine forests but lose focus and you lose your way. Within moments the track turns to a road with cars racing past and lorries roaring within a couple of feet and the confidence can be knocked within seconds.

As for getting injured, I’ve got more bruises and scrapes on my legs than when I used to muck about with horses!

And yet, it passes, and it passes quickly. Yes I know I harp on rather irritatingly about the old Persian saying This Too Shall Pass but it’s very true. It does pass, one solves the problem and moves on. No harm done and a little more wisdom gained. Character building one could say.

And as for the good times, the happy moments? Well they are held onto, treasured and clutched close to the heart. Nothing can take them away. Anything from a peach being given as un cadeau from a small French boy to three men saying, “Madame, we commend you” and solemnly and sincerely giving me a round of applause. Frankly I found myself ridiculously moved by both of these moments, and there have been many many more. It’s not really a big deal this cycling trip, (I’m no explorer or great adventurer!) unless perhaps you’re like me, slightly unhinged with a point to prove to nobody else but yourself and a desire to dig deep and find that wonderful quality that for me, was lost for a long time, courage.

Katie x

Have you ever lost your courage, and did you find it again? How?

It’s Rather Hot ..

 

wood light vacation picnic
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If I had thought it was hot in London, well here in Huelgoat it’s positively steaming. After the typical schoolboy error of bicycling too far on the first day, leaving me utterly exhausted, today I have just gone a few kilometres to this beautiful (although frankly they’re all beautiful) little town. I am camping beside the lake and all is peace and quiet.

Disasters to date? Breaking Claude’s saddle on the ferry. Yes, another minor mistake! When travelling with this much weight, lift by the frame not the saddle. Durr me!Honestly with all these schoolboy errors I should be in shorts, pulled up socks and sensible shoes. Nevertheless, found a repair shop and all sorted for twenty euros with much broken French/English and a lot of arm movements.

Successes to date? The Colonel’s army sleeping bag. Heaven in a rather sickly green colour. Never again will I poo poo his suggestions.

All in all, I am making slow progress in a haphazard sort of way and learning very quickly about the importance of food and fluids and taking advantage of the boulangeries and English style lavatories at every opportunity.

Katie xx

Has anyone any advice for travelling in France par bicyclette?

The Last Post …

architecture art city clouds
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I am finally ready. Tomorrow I leave for the beginning of The Journey.

For those of you who (thankfully for you and your sanity) haven’t endured my endless witterings, I must clarify that this is not an antarctic exploration, nor am I walking unaided through the Gobi Desert, climbing K2 or sailing solo around the world. No. I am, with the aid of maps and hopefully rather a lot of signposts, bicycling my way along the Atlantic Cycle Route from the port of Roscoff to a campsite known as Moliets-et-Maa which is roughly between Bordeaux and the border with Spain.

I suppose the only difference is that I am doing this trip with my old friend Betty. Betty is my little demon, my demon of anxiety and depression who hasn’t been around for a while, but I sense she’s waiting for me, smirking slightly and lying in wait, ready to pounce at any slight moments of stress.

But, in essence I have the real company of Claude (my bicycle), a rather natty little tent which Claude is not invited into, and my husband’s army sleeping bag. I’ve also managed to squeeze in most of the Clinique sun protection range just to ensure that I don’t arrive at my destination looking like a small shrivelled walnut. Claude has his own repair and maintenance kit but the packaging on mine is prettier. I have a tiny cooker thing that looks a bit like a Bunsen Burner and singes the hair on my arms every time I light it, a few other cooking and eating implements, and a stack of maps. First aid kits etc of course and … well, it’s all packed now and I simply can’t remember but am hoping to goodness that I’ve got my passport in there somewhere.

The anxiety levels are pretty much through the roof this morning. The usual symptoms which I’m sure some of you can resonate with … stomach doing a gymnastics performance, palms disgustingly damp, shaking hands and mind and thoughts darting from one corner of my brain, ricocheting off it’s boundary and firing off into another direction. You can understand therefore why I’m rather looking forward to just going in order to end this purgatory. Perhaps purgatory is too strong a word, but it’s been a while since I’ve had it, and had forgotten how awful it is.

But, let’s be very clear here as I’m certainly not looking for any sympathy, I am the one who decided to do this and it certainly hasn’t been forced upon me! In fact most people are appalled. I think they worry about my safety being a woman on her own and all that. But frankly, if it’s as regards the likelihood of being hit by a truck, well, frankly that could happen to a man too, and if it’s about some dodgy bloke trying it on … well woe betide him! They clearly don’t know the volatility and sheer force of a middle-aged, highly strung, hormonal woman when she feels threatened. (See my post Road Rage for further clarification on how I sense I am marginally unhinged).

So no, whilst I am anxiously waiting for the hours to pass, and feeling excited but terrified in roughly equal measures, I’ll say au revoir for now and will post again when I’m on the other side of The Channel. Hopefully, by then I shall have half a dozen croissants in my basket, a large grin on my face and my sense of direction intact (surely, as long as I cycle on the right and keep the sea on my right then I’m doing it right and going roughly south …). As for roundabouts, I haven’t yet mastered them in England, so ….. I guess I’ll just have to keep you posted. Adieu.

Katie xx

Wants Versus Needs

forest trees adventure tent
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I could at this point refer to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs which essentially summarises all that I should ramble on about, however I am no intellect and frankly I still don’t understand quite what he means about ‘self-actualisation’… so in my Katie and rather simple way, this is how I translate it.

To need means it is necessary, in order to live safely and healthily, to want however, is about making life even more comfortable and pleasant. Done. Tick. End of post? Not quite …

Last night I had a trial run in my little one-man tent in the garden, (so less than twenty yards from the kettle, a warm, dry bed and a hot bath – therefore not exactly a life or death scenario). But a good exercise in realising that a flimsy nighty and a water bottle with a leaky lid and a propensity for falling over needed some further consideration.

The main problem however was my roll mat which I had bought for my son many moons ago when he was doing a camping expedition on Dartmoor. (Think, bleak, wet and windy). I could pretend that it was so many years ago that therefore material technology was not advanced and back then all mats were three millimetres thick (or thin …). The truth of the matter however is that a) I was utterly clueless as I’d never been camping myself, and b) I was far too mean to buy a decent thick one. He never complained however, and it was returned a little flatter still and somewhat muddier.

Nevertheless, yours truly, still being rather mean, thought that this would be perfectly sufficient for myself and therefore used it last night. I didn’t need a new one despite perhaps wanting one.

Now, our lawn here in London is perfectly level, the grass perhaps a little crunchy from the heatwave but sadly though, through this pretty, pale blue, three millimetre thick length of foam otherwise called a roll mat, I felt every blade of grass, tiny stone and uneven morsel of soil. I felt like the Princess and the Pea if any of you remember reading it … although less of the princess and more of the middle-class, middle-aged woman with clearly rather bony hips.

Eventually of course I managed to get to sleep … inevitably it happens in time and to be honest, there was absolutely not a cats in hells chance I was going to creep into the house and quietly slip into my soft, warm bed with husband dearest … or even onto the sofa and then disappear back outside before anyone awoke (obviously this had been considered).

So no, I endured it, even folded the roll mat it in half so as to make it six millimetres thick, for the top of my body at least, no mean feat doing this when tightly encased in a sleeping bag like a moth pupa and the ceiling of the tent does not enable one to sit upright … yes, a hot, sweaty moth pupa in a flimsy nighty. Nice. The result … foam mattress is now deformed with a small tear along one edge and the flimsy nighty strap has snapped off.

Now of course I could make do and mend, because I don’t need to replace either, but let’s face it, this camping lark is supposed to be enjoyable therefore I want to go and buy myself at least a couple of creature comforts.

I awoke as dawn was just breaking and the birds which normally are muffled by the constant drone of the traffic and aeroplanes were busy and chattering, the air was cool and I was in a complete state of happiness. Fancy waking up with a smile on one’s face! Extraordinary behaviour!

Creeping in to make tea for myself and The Colonel, there was a crashing down the stairs and he appeared in the doorway wearing nothing but a huge grin on his face. “You’re back! Hurray! Come to bed!” he demanded. (Simple sentences for such an early start and he does sometimes forget that I am not a solider to be ordered about, but instead his lovely wife.) I grinned back, and then muttered about the dodgy roll mat. “Oh!” he said, “I’ve got one on order for you. All sorted.” Ahhh my lovely, gorgeous, caring husband.

“Think you might need to rethink the nighty though.” he smiled widely. And with that, he turned and bounded back up the stairs with me trailing behind with two cups of tea, grassy feet, a muddy bottom and a nighty being held up by one thin strap of silk.

Happy? Oh yes!

Katie xx

Do you find that like me you try to persuade yourself that you need something whereas actually you only want it?

What do you want?