Posts Tagged With: biking

Hard Times

Except for the lives of shipping magnates and Paris Hilton, my life is as close to permanent vacation as they it comes. Still, while I can’t ever really claim to suffer like the downtrodden workers of a Dicken’s novel, there are hard times.  Take the other day for example:

When I left Glasgow it was raining, not an auspicious beginning, but waiting for the rain to stop in Scotland can leave one waiting a rather long time. Things rapidly went from bad to worse, when in less than 30 minutes I heard the whistle of my first flat tire.  I though it was going to be one of those days. As it turns out, I was right.

My goal was to make it 100 miles (160km) to Carlisle where I hoped to couch-surf.  Not the greatest of plans, but my twenty dollar, four day budget didn’t leave a lot of room for five start hotels.  Now I’ve biked 100 miles before, but as I learned that day, biking 100 miles alone with heavy bags in the rain is a different sort of experience.  To top it off, when I arrived 100 miles later, soaked to the bone at 10 o’clock, I found out I was homeless, not just in general, but for that night as well.

2200 Calories for one British pound = Extreme budget traveling

Now, I know that most people would rather not have an experience like I did that day. I don’t blame them either.  There was a time when something as small as a speeding ticket or a missed flight would leave me feeling as upset as the Count of Monte Cristo.  Yet strangely enough I didn’t have a bad day.  Of course I’d rather have been sipping a pina colada served in a baby coconut that was picked by a wild money, but now, rather than feeling overwhelmed by the difficult circumstances, I feet challenged and invigorated.

For those who are looking, beautiful days always come around, but the same is true for the bad days as well.  As it’s still raining after three days, I’m looking forward to better days even now, but in the meantime I’m comforted and strengthened by the satisfaction of pursuing something worth more than money.

Even rainy days present opportunities.

Some months ago when I lost my wallet in Spain, someone said they thought they saw me biking through the rain, but that it couldn’t have been me.  The person they saw was smiling. Strange, perhaps, but for, a me a better way.

“I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

St. Paul

Categories: Biking, Ironman, Journeys, Words | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

The Wonders of Scotland

Most visitors to the United Kingdom never get past London, and if they do it’s usually only for a short tour or day trip to the English countryside.  In my opinion that’s a tragedy.  For I have found few places on Earth I would rather be than Scotland.

The reasons I love Scotland are plentiful: it has a rugged beauty the closely matches my imagined ideal; it is an out of the way place, leaving it largely unspoiled by the flocks of tourists that migrate to countries like France and Italy annually; and, it has cheap and excellent shortbread, my favorite cookie.

That would be plenty of reasons to love anywhere, but the truth is that above all else I love Scotland for the people who live there.  I could give countless examples, but my recent arrival and the day I had yesterday are a perfect example of what one can expect from Scotland…

Proving yet again that I’m less responsible than a fifth grader, I failed to transfer money into my bank account and thus arrived in Edinburgh needing not only a place to stay but without even a way to pay for food.  Fortunately I met some wonderful Scots in Sevilla earlier this summer who not only gave me a roof over my head, but food, drink and entertainment.  Hence, I awoke well rested yesterday to yet another wonderful meal, this time of Scottish porridge.

Not only does it taste good, but it comes in an amazing box!


After I’d eaten my fill I’d decided to head out on bike for Glasgow, where yet another friend from my travels awaited my arrival.  That plan went smoothly for nearly an hour when the bike path I was following turned into a gravely trail that chewed through my tire tube like a rat through cheese. After about three flats, someone stopped to help me and give me patches, which came as a great relief as I was out of my own.  I then spent a lovely half-an-hour chatting about traveling before I continued forgetting all about my irresponsible behavior.

Unfortunately, my bike wasn’t done throwing fits and I soon had another flat, only this time the valve broke so patches were useless.  All I needed was a spare tube, which of course, I didn’t have.  So after this tragic and completely foreseeable event, I was stranded.  Still, having watched Cast Away, I knew that if Tom Hanks can survive for four years alone on an island; I had no reason to panic.  I was right too, rather than having to do an Edgar Alan Poe imitation and sleep in the gutter; I managed to flag down another kind Scot, this one on a bike.  I asked for a bike store; he asked what I needed.  One free tube and assisted flat change later and I was on my way – to the train station.  There, yet another kind stranger helped me find the train and then let me use his cellphone to text my friend that I would be arriving, most unexpectedly, rather a bit later than planned. Naturally I arrived in Glasgow to find only more warm hospitality from friend and stranger alike.  All in all, it was just an average day in Scotland, except perhaps, for my extremely poor planning.

In New York and many other places in the modern world, we have adopted an every man for himself attitude.  Strangers are met with skepticism, hesitance and even fear.  To be someplace where you’re membership in the human race is enough to entitle you to warmth and kindness makes Scotland someplace truly exceptional and a joy to visit.

This may look like scenic countryside, but it's actually a park within Edinburgh!


Categories: Biking, Journeys, Scotland, Travel, Words | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments


So my time in Madrid had come to an end and it was time to move on.  I decided that for the sake of saving time I’d take a break from torturing myself and ride on the bus.  In the end it turned out to be more of a change in torture techniques.

I rode into Madrid with my friend early in the day and planned on catching the overnight in order to save on lodging.  Everything went according to plan until I arrived at the ticket window.

“Two tickets for Malaga with bikes, please.”

“Are your bikes packed?”


Thus began a very brief and unpleasant explanation of how bikes needed to be boxed. True to Spanish form this did not mean there was a place to box them.

Realizing the situation was bad I called train information, which was kind enough to tell me that the route between Madrid and Malaga doesn’t take bikes – ever.

I was having a bad run in with the dark side of a laid back culture.  Where was German efficiency when I needed it?

I’m sad to admit I almost gave in.  I was prepared to sleep in the station and to try and find a box the next day.  I paced around.  I worried.  I felt anger, frustration and disappointment, but then my muse spoke to me: there are piles of bus companies in Spain, maybe another one would work.

“You take bikes?”

“Yes, if they’re wrapped.” Strike one, off to the next company.

“Do you take bikes?”

“Mmmm…. yeah.”

“I don’t have a box.”

“Well, hmmm….. can you take off the wheels?”

“No problem.  Where do you go south of here?” I wasn’t going to give him time to change his mind.


“Perfect, I’ll take two tickets please.”

Thus tragedy was averted and my day started on the empty streets of Sevilla rather than a dingy bus station floor.  What comes next?  Who knows!

A fine example of traditional Spanish contruction techniques .

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I have reached the end of my 1,000 mile bike trip from London to Madrid.  The end proved harder than the beginning when I realized I’d dropped my wallet at a hostel in Spain.  With no other option I was forced to race back 25km in the rain to the hostel where I’d left it.  Fortunately I recovered my bank card, but unfortunately someone had helped themselves to the cash.  Feeling rather upset I biked the 25km back to where I’d been, only to get a hole in my tire as I biked along the highway.  It’s experiences like these, and not muscular fatigue, that truly test one’s endurance.

These are some lucky bikes....

Still, some lost money and a flat tire is a small price to pay for such an amazing trip.  The views have been spectacular, the people fascinating and the experience truly priceless.  I expect to stay here in Madrid and rest for a few days before continuing to the Balearic Islands and the south of Spain.  It’s time to get off the bike and do some running and swimming!

Photos are a poor substitute for all the amazing views I've seen.

Categories: Biking, France, Ironman, Journeys | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments


Today I crossed the Pyrenees mountains into Spain, thus marking the end of my two week bike trip through France.  I thought I’d take moment to reflect upon on all the pleasures France has lavished on me and all the experiences I’ve had thus far.

The clouds hung low upon the mountains today creating a living scenery like a Japanese painting.

First, France is among the most visited countries in the world and for good reason.  I saw castles, palaces, forests, beaches and mountains.  I ate gourmet  bread, pastries, cheese and meats.  I ran on the beach, swam in the ocean and biked over hills.  All that and I’ve barely begun to scratch the surface as to what France has to offer.

Not everything went perfectly.  The northern forests of France were infested with ticks who stuck to me far too intimately.  Mosquito are always a problem and biking 100km a day can be a bit wearisome.  Flat tires are a pain, and trying to lose weight while working out all day is mentally draining.  Still, I’ve come much closer to being prepared for the Ironman, once again found the Camino de Santiago and had an amazing time in the process.

In all honesty there are days I wake up and wonder “what the hell am I doing?” But most days I wake up stronger, healthier and excited for the day to come, so I I figure I must be doing something right.  Tomorrow I will be arriving in Pamplona and continuing my journey through Spain.  I estimate that I am about half way done with my biking, which gives me plenty more distance to cover, but I’m feeling stronger and more excited than ever, so onward!

Even the rainiest days are full of beauty.

Categories: France, Ironman, Journeys, Spain, Travel | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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