Family First

Last weekend, things got a bit busy around here. My older brother was competing in the Cure Kids Adventure Race. This coincided with a weekend featuring both my 3 year old niece’s and my father’s birthdays. Somehow this morphed into a family gathering, and next thing most of my family were descending on St Marys Bay.

Because my brothers, sister, and parents all live in different cities (and countries), it’s not often that we are all in the same place at the same time. Weddings and funerals it seems. Last time was not under the best of circumstances, but this time things were a fair sight better. More laughs this time:

https://goo.gl/photos/xjRx9QsJctuM35w68

With some people staying with Anna and I, and others staying nearby, we ended up with a full house on Saturday night – brothers and sister, with their partners and children, in-laws and out-laws, plus a few hangers-on. Rather good times, eating some good food, having a few drinks, etc. Turns out that having a game involving putting out candles with the palm of your hand is not the best idea, as one contestant can attest. But it was a good time, catching up with family.

The following morning, Anzac Day, we weren’t in the best shape for getting up to go to Dawn Parade. There’s always next year for that. But Nic and Dave put together a nice breakfast, followed by one proper photo of the lot of us:

https://goo.gl/photos/axY1qj3DppyGXtfo7

House felt a bit empty by the time we finally got rid of the last of them…Oh and Nic got us a great present, which I’ll send photos of once we get it mounted and displayed – a destination roll from a 1980’s bus, showing various locations around the upper North Island. Very fashionable it turns out (I had no idea).

Oh and there will be some changes before the next blog post – I need to change to WordPress, will take a bit of mucking around to get things working. Hopefully all links will keep working.

Chilling

I can’t say I’ve been overly stressing myself since I returned to New Zealand. Things have been very low key, no rushing around trying to find work, no running around the country, just taking it easy. The routine last week was something like: Get up, take dog for long leisurely walk, pick up paper on the way back along Ponsonby Rd, have a late breakfast, read the paper in the sunshine, ooh look it’s time for lunch…you get the idea. It does make it easy that I’ve got a fully set up house here, and it’s not like other times between trips, when I would be moving around, sleeping on couches.

It’s been nice to be home. One of the problems of moving around is that no matter where you are, you always seem to be missing somewhere else that you’ve been. But as I said before, this time I feel ready to be in New Zealand. Sunshine for the first week, along with catching up with friends and family certainly helped. Most importantly, I now have a steady supply of Vogels bread and peanut butter, not to mention wide distribution of superb meat pies.

Savings won’t last forever, so I will start actively seeking employment soon. Truly. Really. I will.

Oh and a special mention of Cascade Designs, the makers of Therm-a-Rest sleeping mats. My Prolite 4 had started delaminating, after hundreds of uses. But they have a lifetime warranty, and the local distributor honoured it. Sent it in, and they quickly sent out a replacement. New model too, same size and weight, but 20% warmer. Nice. The only thing that I’m annoyed about is that these are listed as $100USD on the US website, but locally sell for closer to $300NZD. Should be more like half that – dunno if it’s the distributor or the local retailers jacking up the prices.

Swansong

Before setting off on this trip, my father said that he thought this would be my swansong, my last trip of this kind. He was right, in a way. I don’t expect to do any more long solo trips, although that doesn’t mean my travelling days are over.

A couple of years ago, I wondered if I would be able to settle down, and do the house/dog/white picket fence thing. Well, it wasn’t to be – I couldn’t settle down at first.

How things have changed – most of those elements are now in place, and I expect to stay in the same city for at least the next three years. It doesn’t mean that I won’t be doing any more trips like this ever again, it just means they will be shorter trips over the next few years, and probably closer to home. I still want to ride across the USA, but it can wait a while. It will still be there in 3 years, it’s not going anywhere (no matter what the radicals might say). It will be a slightly different place then of course, but that’s neither here nor there.

And you know what? I’m happy about being home. More than that, I’m ready to be home, and settle for a while. If I hadn’t done this last leg, I would have wondered about it, wondered if I was doing the right thing in staying at home. It was probably a good thing that I chose Patagonia for this trip – because to be completely honest, I didn’t really enjoy it. Could have been a different story if I’d been back in China. Would I have wanted to come home from that?

I have thoroughly enjoyed riding around the UK though. It can be an underrated place, but if you’ve got the money, it’s a great place to ride around. Probably just as well I added this onto the end of the Patagonian trip, because it gave me quite a boost. It’s also one of the few places you can spend hours riding every day, and still gain weight, from all the beer and stodgy food.

Jan also pointed out one good thing about having completed my RTW circuit – I can now go anywhere, I’m not constrained by having to complete the loop – instead I can choose destinations on the basis of interest, not geography. We’ll see.

Transit

I have to admit to being a bit negative about stopping off in Singapore on the way back home. I can’t really remember why I decided to stop here, since I find Hong Kong more interesting. For some reason I decided to stop in Singapore for five nights on the way home, although later I changed this to 3 days.

But when I arrived here, I started to recall why I like travelling in Asia, and why I find Asian cities so much more interesting than Chilean or Argentinian ones. As soon as I saw people squatting down to rest, I felt like I was getting back into it. Other classic sights too, like the old Chinese man with skinny arms and legs, but a big belly, which he is trying to pull his pants right up over. You can see him thinking to himself “Yep, that’s just about done it, I reckon one more firm tug and I should be able to get my belt up to my nipples.” He seems to be a security guard of some description, but he’s about as effective as the guards Jeremy Clarkson is referring to here. The humidity hits you like a wall, but it feels like a comforting blanket to me. The food stalls everywhere are one of my favourite parts too – especially here, where there is such a variety.

Singapore does have a couple of unique bits – e.g. people will just do things to be helpful, or because it’s their job, and not expect a tip. At the airport, I needed to get down a couple of levels of travelator to the left-luggage office, to deposit my bike. Due to construction, the lift was very slow and busy, but I was initially told I couldn’t take my bike on the travelator. So the lift attendant pushed my luggage trolley all the way, chatting pleasantly as we went along, but didn’t even hang around to let me tip him, as I was about to do.

There is one thing that causes me problems in Singapore though, and that’s bedbugs. Last time I was here I got bitten, and within minutes of lying on the bed this time I had bites. Must be at least one hundred bites on my back. Little bastards can’t just take one bite and feed – I think they keep moving along, searching for a vein. It was a pretty crappy hotel, so I decided to splash out – Wotif.com had a fantastic deal for a 5-star hotel, for a very reasonable price for Singapore. So, for my very last night in a hotel on this trip, I’m staying in rather nice surroundings. Will have to checkout at 11:59am tomorrow, make the most of my time.

And then it’s home, time to sort out my gear, wrap up the trip, and settle down again. Will do a couple more posts over the next few days.

One more thing – my last residence in England, “Slatters of Downley” was once again superb. I must write it up on TripAdvisor.com. Special mention of the Danish food, and the provision of a bike box, and transport to Heathrow. Saved me a fair bit of hassle there.

Oh and that’s what my back looks like – two main tracks from the nasty little biters

The Last Hurdle

I’ve crossed deserts. I crossed mountain passes. Hell, I’ve crossed continents. I’ve dragged the bike through bush to cross borders. I’ve dealt with wind, snow, rain, temperatures below zero, temperatures above forty. I’ve travelled along lonely isolated roads, sometimes over 200km between towns. I’ve also negotiated some of the busiest roads, in the biggest cities, with the worst drivers.

But yesterday I met my match: The Tay Bridge:

The Tay Road Bridge, in better weather

34,903km of riding around the world, and I was at the end of the line – Dundee. This was the planned end of my trip in the UK, from here I would get a train back to London, and fly home. The weather was shocking when I woke up, high winds, rain, snow, freezing temperatures. The wind was coming directly from the direction I wanted to go in. The only good point was that the snow wasn’t settling, so the roads weren’t icy. Normally I would have gone back to bed, but I needed to reach Dundee that night, to see some friends, and to get on the train I had booked for the next day.

So I struggled along, wearing pretty much the entire sum of my cycling wardrobe, some items coming out for the first time on this leg of the trip. In London I had purchased some new full finger gloves, since my old ones weren’t waterproof. The new ones were supposed to be windproof and waterproof, from a respected brand. Well, whoever put that on the label should be forced to go and do a ride like I did yesterday. A couple of times I had to stop, pull off the gloves, stick my fingers under my arms, try and warm them up, jumping up and down to distract myself from the pain of thawing fingers. Wouldn’t have been so bad if they had stayed numb, it’s when they keep switching between numb and thawing that it hurts.

Some roads were closed, so I had to wind about a bit, to get to the Tay Bridge. Finally I could see Dundee, see my destination. Rolled up to the roundabout just before the bridge, followed the signs for cyclists, around the path, through the carpark, and up to the special footbridge. There was a warning sign up, “Pedestrian and cyclist access will be closed if wind gusts exceed 60mph.” Should be fine then, gusts weren’t over 50 I thought. Rolled around the corner, onto the ramp up to the dedicated pedestrian/cyclist lane down the middle of the bridge…and the gate was shut. Foiled at the last. I could see Dundee, I just couldn’t get there.

Hmmm. What to do? First I went back to the kiosk, for some hot food and a drink. I was just warm enough when riding, but when I stopped, things got cold in a hurry, teeth chattering, near-uncontrollable shivering. Couldn’t stick around there forever. Hung around for a little while, in case there was any sign of the gate opening, or perhaps a friendly truck driver heading over the bridge. Nothing doing. Aha! I could see if I could get hold of Craig, see if he can come and get me.

So went to the nearby village, tried ringing Directory for the number for Bright Solid. No, no listing for that. OK, let’s try Scotland Online, the old name. Ah yes, we have a listing for that, but it’s ex-directory. Eh? But they’re a business that wants people to call them. Try another tack – go to the local Post Office, ask to borrow a phone book. Ah well, this is still Fife, so we only have an old copy of the Dundee phone book. No problem at all – we just need to look up Scotland Online. They had the phone number, it worked, and Craig was able to do me a great favour, and pick me up, and get me over the bridge to Dundee.

Was very nice to be inside a warm car, then inside the office, warming up and chatting to people. Had a nice night out in Dundee, good to catch up with Craig again – it’s been a while since I’ve been up to Dundee. Had changed a bit, they seemed to be building a whole lot of decent-looking student accommodation. Looked far better than what I think is appropriate for students, but I guess they don’t want to live in rat-infested tenements anymore.

A bit of fun with the trains this morning – because of the bad weather, East Coast trains have been cancelled. I thought I was all sorted, with a direct train from Dundee to London Kings Cross, bike reservation made. But my train was cancelled. Shit. The lovely woman at the ticket counter was able to help me though, getting me new tickets, and bike reservation to go across to Glasgow, and come down the West Coast. Will only end up being an hour later into London. Only problem is that Wi-Fi isn’t free on Virgin trains, and to make things worse, it’s not even working at all. Mustn’t complain though, the fact that they normally offer it and have it working is pretty awesome really.

There was a lot of snow on the ground through the Borders, I think I’m very lucky to have got through when I did, it would have been tough riding. It was always a bit of a chance, riding in the UK at this time of the year, but I’ve been very lucky, with really only the one day that was bad. Otherwise it was quite pleasant riding conditions, through the countryside, with spring just starting to peek through.

Random photos taken when I could unfreeze my fingers