The 9 sections of our route in eastern Canada (see below) all packed into one neat little photo.
Average milage is 1,100m per week – which may be ambitious going from past experience…. but the past experience has always included problems that I hope we won’t have on this journey!
Newfoundland will be place where we make up time as the plan is to stay no longer than 3 weeks, giving us extra time else where to do some back country roads.
Thankfully wild camping is common in most areas, however, it’s mostly done with RVs so we may have an interesting time finding locations suitable for a tent!
An interesting fact: Nova Scotia is a major blueberry exporter and from middle to late august various towns will be holding a blueberry festival which we hope to hook into for Sofia’s birthday on the 18th.
We are riding to raise awareness for autism please make a donation (Virgin Money Giving or Paypal links in the left column under menu)
I’m not shy to push the envelope with Sofia to help her move forward in life, to learn through actual experiences and to gain confidence for more. One of the aspects of this is related to physical activity.
Getting Sofia to be physically active has been extremely difficult. In Africa it was wonderful to see her come out of her shell a little in this regard. When we were preparing to leave she started trying to tie her own shoe laces, by the time we were in Greece she started using a knife and fork correctly, and by the time we were in Sudan, she was starting to take little risks related to climbing which continued to expand for the rest of the trip.
In Europe too, a little of this returned when confronted with bunk bed ladders, where out right refusal didn’t happen (as is normally the case) but this time a brave ‘I’m going to try, please help me’. Try she did and succeeded much to her delight and she had tried enough times that she by the end of the trip she was starting to feel confident.
So when she started home schooling I decided I would try to make walking more of thing for her. Short walks in nature when the weather approved so that she would not feel any resistance. She enjoyed this, or rather she wasn’t objecting to go out for one, so I started thinking bigger and wondering if it wouldn’t be a good idea to do a proper hike with wild camping, the works.
Long story short this came to fruition this last week. Inspired by a group of Facebook of women who are getting out there climbing, cycling, hiking, biking, or what ever adventure big or small (Adventure Queens), I finally put a plan together.
39km around the Wiltshire country side, with the sell factor being the crop circles. Sofia loved this idea!
To be fair, I was pretty sure, considering our state of fitness, that we would likely not manage the full trip, and that some pain may be experienced and that Sofia may at some point, fall out of love with the idea completely. But as with all the travel we have done, the whole point is being out there and having no choice but to deal with her issues be they internal or external and she will never learn how to deal with them if not presented with them experientially.
And so we set off on a lovely sunny Thursday afternoon in middle England. Our first stop and where we would leave the car, Martinsell Hill. This hill directly overlooking a crop circle that only appeared last week. Sadly, however, the farmer had cut the pattern out, but rather than dampen our spirits it gave us momentum to see the others at Hackpen Hill about 15km away and the site of the White Horse.
It wasn’t long we were off the country lane and into fields and small woodlands. Now it is worth mentioning at this point that in Sofia’s recent assessments dyspraxia and hyper mobility were flagged, and in part I would not have done this hike if I didn’t have these as a source on knowledge for monitoring Sofia. But likewise, it made this type of challenge more important because in truth I have never challenged her in this way as I wasn’t sure what the situation was and it is through challenge that the mind starts to focus and find out what it is made of. She was also wearing a back pack of about 4 or 5kg to promote this need to focus.
The walking for an average person was very easy, maybe a bit lumpy in places, but generally very good walking. For Sofia on the other hand little lumps and bumps and tufts of grass are a challenge. She had to really concentrate and look where she was going and with some weight on her back it was important. EVERYTHING about this experience was new to her. Yes she has walked down paths and over rocky terrain to get to a place not far and never carrying a weight and always reluctantly so, but never for the sake of the body being primary transport over a long distance. She was doing very well.
There were a number of stiles we had to climb over and she demonstrated well how much her confidence in that area had improved by clambering over them with a degree of alacrity (back pack included) that wasn’t matching her confidence in walking. We also made a number or rest stops in beautiful places drinking our water and enjoying the scenery before moving on again.
Finally after clambering about the country side for several hours, we arrived in a small village walked into the first pub we saw and collapsed with cold drinks and our pork pie and fig role dinner. I’ve never liked Pepsi, but this day a cold pint of it was like liquid gold!
At this point there really wasn’t too much left in us, so I made a target on the map of where we would start looking for a place to put down our bivy bags and we headed off around 6pm hoping that it really wouldn’t be too long before we could rest up. It ended up being a 2 hour slog up hill before we stopped. But we managed it and it was a perfect location. A small piece of lawn behind a hedge next to a single horse race track that wasn’t seeing much use. In fact we were on a big horse racing stable/stud farm. On another day, if we were exploring the world of horses, this would have been fun and interesting, today however, we didn’t care much other than having a decent place to sleep for the night.
Sofia had done really well on her first day. I was really proud of her. Whilst tired, her body seemed to be generally coping, however, she did say her ankles were sore, so I made a note to give her more attention the next day about walking properly.
These camp chairs are perhaps our favourite items in our kit!
Sofia processing her day, it was a lot to take in.
We were up early the next morning, and took it slowly watching the sun rise before packing up and heading off about 8am. We hadn’t seen any horses, and as we walked through the main training area, our hearts sank even lower, as still no horses. So much evidence of them but not a single horse in sight. It was only as we were coming to the end of the gallops that suddenly we heard the sound of cantering hooves!
What a joy! Sofia loved it. We sat for a moment as they turned and started to walk down the track to start the gallop again. We were told to move before they galloped up again as we were a distraction for the horses so we moved higher up and out-of-the-way with a good vantage point.
Sofia may be doing some horse therapy at her new school so it was really lovely to see her showing an interest and asking questions about the different sports and what they were like. I think it is now a case of watching this space and see if she develops this.
We developed more of a rhythm as we went, it was hot, so often I was walking ahead and then waiting for Sofia to catch up. Most of the byways were very over grown, and like the day before, we didn’t see a soul! it was wonderful, but tough going for Sofia who was nervous of pricks and stings and not being able to see the path clearly to place her feet. Progress was slow and by the time we were on the Ridgeway trail that took us up Hackpen Hill, we were both pretty exhausted.
In the end we only walked as far as a clear view of one of the circles (and to be honest it looked like the other had been harvested) where we collapse looking over it finishing our water and hitting the pork pies and oranges to find our strength to make it to Avebury. I was by now starting to feel pain in my shoulder muscles, feet, calves and the tops of my thighs. Thankfully Sofia was only feeling it in her feet. But either way, I decided that we should get to Avebury and call a taxi back to the car. Sofia was really tired, and whilst she was happy to see the circle, it wasn’t the degree of happy she might otherwise have had if she hadn’t been walking for 4 hours already that morning.
By the time we got up and started walking the storm clouds were gathering. It seemed as if the universe wanted to make sure that I didn’t change my mind and heading home. But we still needed to get to Avebury. We were in the middle of nowhere, and Sofia was ready to give up. I tried to teach her how to march as a way to focus her brain to get through to the end, but she didn’t want to listen only argue and complain that I wasn’t listening to her and it seemed better to leave her to it and a walked ahead as showers of rain started to pass over us. Perhaps not the most sensible idea as she slowed down even more which I hadn’t thought possible. We didn’t join forces again until the out skirts of Avebury where I sat waiting for her for about 45mins and I hadn’t been walking fast.
I had stopped to watch her a few times from a distance and to make sure she was ok, and she seemed to be taking 3 steps and then stopping to look at something before taking another 3 steps. The main thing though is that she made it, and she did it on her own for all intense and purposes, something that she is now proud of.
We (more me really) staggered into the first pub we saw. I got some cold drinks and then set to task to find a taxi to come and pick us up in the middle of no where and take us to the middle of nowhere, but being Friday the 13th, it took over 30mins to find one available, and many thanks to the lads behind the bar who helped in this mission. Once the cab booked, the heavens opened in happy agreement, the thunder clapped and the lightning flashed in joy, and the possibility of me ever being braver than my body could handle was washed away with it!
When we got home, Sofia jumped in the shower and came out refreshed and all her ‘pains’ gone. I on the other hand will be hobbling to days as the lactic acid clears from my calf muscles and shoulder muscles!
This is the second time she has had this lesson that she may be overstating her condition. Whilst I appreciate that in her world what she is experiencing is a life and death event, I think it is important that she realises the reality that she isn’t even close and proportionalises her response and I do remind her of Peter and the Wolf when this becomes apparent in the hope that gentle repetition will help her to over come it. I think it is in part about fear and not knowing her own body, I’m not unsympathetic, but she does need to get past it. The last time was when she screamed like her leg was broken when in reality not so much as a bruise had appeared the following day. It is something the school she is going to can work on. I’m so happy she has a placement there!
Travelling through Europe is going to be a different experience to Africa, mostly in terms of the costs involved. When you are looking at camping grounds in peak season charging extortionate prices to pitch a tent, and that is even if they have a pitch in peek season, then other options have to be looked at to bring the costs down. Wild camping is the obvious solution.
I had planned to do wild camping in Africa, but when the chips were down, we only did one night in the wild in Sudan, so I can’t really say that I’m savvy with the experience. And whilst Africa doesn’t necessarily demand that you ask someone where you pitch your tent, one can’t get over the feeling that it may be inappropriate to do it and it is that feeling that I needed over come. I want to be able to feel comfortable, whether the situation required permission or not, to pop up a tent with out paying a penny in return for the space being taken for the night.
So with Sofia on Easter holidays from school, I put together some kit, bought a new tent, and set of in a geneneral direction of Wales via Mick the mechanic to pick up a new battery for the bike, to get some wild camping experience under my belt.
The first night, Mick pointed me in the direction of an old Roman road. We parked up just where the traffic was stopped, at the entrance of a field. It was a beautiful spot if not a bit exposed to the wind. It was about 6pm when we arrived, so thought it would be polite at least to only put up table and chairs and wait to see if anyone would take humbage at our presence. As it was, we had one dog walker pass, a dirt bike rider who stayed and chatted for a bit, and what was likely the farmers wife who rolled up turned around and left with out saying a word – just checking to see what was going on.
It was really cold that first night. We slept reasonably though once we employed the sleeping bag hoods, pulling them so tight so that only small holes were left to allow air in. I had not done any shopping, so in the morning, we simply packed up to warm up, and moved on towards Shropshire.
We stopped in Ludlow for a lovely hot drink in the town square, and then I proceeded to get lost trying to leave as the road that took us in the right direction north of Ludlow was closed, so instead we found ourselves heading south down small country lanes. It was at this point that I noticed that the rear tyre was quite flat. One might wonder why I had not noticed it getting soft earlier, but to be honest, despite the many thousands of miles travelled, I’m still not confident enough to say that it is the bike and not my driving!
A very soft tyre in the middle of nowhere, but still going, the best solution was to keep driving finding the shortest route out and to a garage. Hoping we would make it. But no sooner onto a main road, and the tyre finally gave way. Main road was better than a narrow country lane, although, someone did point out that help would be at hand from a local farmer. As it was we waited a couple of hours for help to arrive and changed the wheel as the all the spokes on the rear had come loose.
Deflated whilst waiting for help – elated when back on the road, all was well again and we were moving. I headed towards a really cheap campsite for the night as it was getting late, but on the way, saw a chap cleaning his car and asked if he knew of a nice farmer who would let us camp in a field. He pointed me in the right direction, and before long we found ourselved in another lovely location.
It was another very cold night, and the need for a hot shower to warm up was beckoning. So after a slow start we headed off to Wales and this time in search of a camp site with showers.
The riding had been fantastic since we had left the M5, but as we entered Wales it got even better. The roads are a real joy of twisties. We took a back road and I pulled into a campsite. £24 for the two of us! this was far too much so kept going. The next one was a more reasonable £17 and yet again a wonderful location beside a lake, and the enormous campsite was virtually empty. I made a big meal to sustain us and then went down to the pub for some wifi, hot chocolate and a fire.
The night was less cold and in the morning we were up early eagerly ready to warm up in a lovely hot shower. 6.30am no hot water, 7am not hot water, 7.30 am not hot water, finally at 8am the water wasn’t freezing, but hot would have been a gross exagerattion – we battled on, sorely dissappointed.
I had by this point a message from Rik in New Quay suggesting we come down and meet his local Mencap organisation who are a locally run charity providing much needed services to the community. So through broken data reception, I said we were on our way.
We had another great ride, if not for the rain at the beginning and the wind in the middle, the sun came out and warmed us up at the end. It was lovely meeting Mencap Ceredigion over Honey Icecream, a local speciality and very nice!
Rik then gave us 3 options: camp site; wild camping; sofa bed and a real hot shower.
Of course we jumped (Sofia far more than me!) at the sofa bed and hot shower! It was a fantastic evening meeting his daughter and very talented artist wife, Yats. Warmed up and with full bellies from real home cooked food (camp food never quite makes the mark) we then set off along more winding roades to Devon to meet up with Max (www.traveldriplus.com) and a prearranged stay with his family on their lovely Devon cottage farm in the middle of nowhere.
Max is an avid adventure rider, and always off the far flung parts of the world riding bikes so it was great to sit down and chat about what I had been thinking about and of course the recurring question, first raised at the MCN bike show, did I want to continue on the Ural or was it time to do something different.
We wieghed up the pros and cons, and really it boiled down to two very simple points. First was that Africa became a story about the bike instead of Sofia, and whilst that was perhaps not such a bad thing as Sofia was content to hide behind her helmet, it was likely that it would be a trend going forward, and that really wasn’t what my intention was, I wanted the focus , mine in particular, to be on her not on the bike. The other salient point was that the cost of the bike far out weighed its value in terms of Africa as a whole. We ended up having to curtail our expenses to cover the costs and whilst there were some lovely upsides to that in terms of people we met, that really wasn’t something I wanted to continue going forward. I want more money spent on Sofia seeing the world, and less on surviving another fix to the bike in terms of time and finances.
It is now time to sell the bike.
I had had many of these thoughts, but it was nice to hear them coming from someone else who understood all the ups and downs of adventure travel, a kind of permission slip to move towards and to different experience. An experience that would have a different set of challenges for Sofia and I. It was time to go on a solo.
We talked about kit and organisation for a solo bike and I was glad that Sofia was there listening in and taking on board that she would be taking far more responsibility for her own stuff, and chatted about potential bikes to consider. We ended up staying another night!
Finally we headed off home the following day, invigorated with a new plan and the potential of new experiences, I wanted to start the ball rolling – I actually don’t mind what bike we end up doing Europe on, and with such a tight timeline, it is likely to be the Ural, but still, my head is now on pastures new, exciting possibilities, and it is unlikely I will not rest until they are realised.
What am I excited about? Planning a round the world trip to start next year. Sofia will be the first kid to do it pillion on a motorbike.