Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Greece Lightening!

My gateway to Greece was via the port of Patra after a fifteen hour overnight boat ride from Brindisi, Italy. I shared my sleeping quarters - the open deck, with Rod and Oscar, two young Aussıe musicians on their way back home after a successful tour of the States. Barracked in our sleeping bags we lay down on wooden deck chairs and let the boat act like a giant cradle gently rocking us to sleep as our lungs lapped up the soothing salty sea breeze. The next morning we were awoken by a steward shaking us motioning that we should move - the boat had already docked whilst we were still lying on ours!

Once ashore we bolted down some breakfast. I couldn't resist a couple cups of strong Greek coffee gulped down between mouthfuls of chocolate and banana crepe. We said our goodbyes, with the boys heading off on the bus to Athens whilst I pedalled around the coast towards Korinthos relieved that the roads were calm and clear after having been bullied all the way to Brindisi by the impatient Italian drivers.

I dallied along the thirty five miles to Diakopto savouring the renewed sense of adventure which a new country brings. I camped on a rough piece of roadside land sharing my food, company and conversation with a German 'spiritualist'. He had been through some tough times and spent the next four hours telling me about them. He was diagnosed as a schizophrenic when forcefully admitted into a psychiatric hospital by his parents ten years ago. However, he put his altered mental state - which included constant commands via voices down to a spiritual experience he had in India many years before. It was fascinating listening to his perspective of events but without enough knowledge on schizophrenia or spiritualism I was not in any position to comment either way. I did detect that he was very lonely but was unable to spend time with people due to his mental condition. He had bought a bike and a few belongings and was just cycling until his money ran out. He now disowned his family, had no friends and did not seem to be in a position to make any new ones. Although he was more withdrawn in the morning we stıll shared a fine breakfast of coffee, biscuits, rice wrapped in vine leaves, bread and the ubiquitous chocolate spread but he spent more time talking to himself than with me, so I packed up my panniers and wished him good luck. He said that luck had nothing to do with it and that it was fated that he should follow his constant flow of words!

After a short cycle I stopped at a quiet beach to recalibrate with caffeine and bumped into a Dutch ballet dancer who ran her own school in Amsterdam. Tina was full of fun and vitality and although she was almost sixty, energy pulsed out of every pore! She invited me back to her house to share some yogurt, nuts and honey whilst we discussed her dilemma. Her husband, who had some health issues, was keen to retire to Greece to their cosy condominium on the coast. Where as, she seemed reluctant to give up her ballet business and big house in the city. As I was leaving, her husband arrived home just in time to wave me off - I wonder who won? The short time with Tina was the perfect antidote for the subtle sadness I had allowed to seep into me after my sojourn with the 'spiritualist' - sometimes I can empathise too much!

After further fuel stops and fifty five miles I eventually came upon an all-night internet cafe in Korinthos. I attended to my emails, familiarised myself with the blog Ale had set up for me and nursed a dram until dawn. I then accelerated off to Athens flying along for another fifty five miles - the last fifteen involving the usual mayhem and madness associated with inner city roads. I actually asked a female driver if there was an alternative route into Athens but she said no. 'But it's a motorway,' I said, whilst pointing to my bike. 'This is Greece,' she growled, in a tone which suggested I should just get on with it. So I did!

I cycled to the centre and sat people watching whilst devouring a giant dough ring. Trying to track down the local Tourist Information Office I collared a copper for help. He said that Athens did not have one - this was highly unlikely! I then asked where the nearest Youth Hostel was. According to him Athens did not have Youth Hostels either, as there were plenty of cheap hotels - I knew this was complete nonsense! Third time lucky! Now a little exasperated I asked him to direct me to the nearest internet cafe - at least he knew this! Within ten minutes of Googlıng 'Youth Hostel Athens,' I was booked into a dorm only five minutes from his beat. People are always making up stories rather than just simply admitting that they do not know!

I was sharing the clean, mixed en suite dorm with five other folk for twelve and a half euros per night. As there was no where to dry my clothes I had to pay an additional six euros to have them laundered. Normally I am quite content hand washing my clothes finding the chore cathartic and also preferring to spend the money drınking a beer whilst sitting in a bar reading a book. I bought two veggie wraps at the corner cafe before crashing into bed at eleven for a twelve hour stint in the land of nod, not even hearing the rowdies roll into the room at three thirty.

When I met Tijs from Belgium he was well stoned! He had spent three days roving around Athens ancient relics and said he could not face any more piles of boulders. As I am always on the move with the bike I am not so bothered about sightseeing within cities Besides, usually by the time I reach them I am shattered and quite happy to sit about. However, when Tijs suggested a little stroll up Lycabettus Hill to the Agious Gorgiouskapel Church where you get a perfect panoramic view of the city, I readily agreed. He was a lovely sensitive, open guy and we had a nice natter as we sauntered up the steep slope arriving just in time to see the sun set, then watch Athens come alive with lights. It was well worth the effort and the expense of the profiteering priced bottle of beer that we sipped during the show.

Later, when sitting at the corner cafe close to the hostel enjoying the delicious veggie wraps, a fight broke out nearby. It seems that when some Greeks drink they do not say 'Cheers', but 'Chairs', as one man started clouting and clattering a heavy set chair over another guys head. People started running from all corners to ensure that the contest continued, with the louts lashing their limbs at anything and everything. Just as the trouble began to edge closer to our table a convoy of cops arrived in six cars and six motorbikes screeching along the road to break up the brawl. One man was marched past our table with his blood and nose spread all over his face! Once things had settled down a man approached Tijs wanting to shake his hand whilst showing off with a mobile phone. Two nights earlier someone had bumped into Tijs as he was heading for the hostel. When he arrived he realised the person had stolen his phone. He immediately went back out into the street and searched for twenty minutes before finding the thief in a mobile phone shop about to swap sim cards. He retrieved his phone with force then left the man alone - apparently this was the same man now laughing with his latest loot!

After another rest day hovering about the hostel I headed out of Athens on the National Road 1. Sitting on the slip road watching the stream of traffic streak by there was a certain reluctance to move onto the motorway. However, I knew that within five minutes I would be acclimatised to the accelerated speed, so İ puffed out my cheeks, pushed the bike into position and pedalled off. Fifteen miles later I found the old route that ran parallel, so thankfully I moved onto the less congested carriage-way. However, I spent most of the next week and hundreds of miles on the motorway as the old route appeared and disappeared at will. On a couple of occasions I was turfed off at the tolls or moved on by maintenance men but on the whole I left alone to career along in my own carriage-way only veering off to cool down with cold coffees at the roadside vans.

That evening I stopped at Shimatari camping behind some obscure large cement structure in the middle of a field - the place gave me the creeps! Whilst I was lying in the tent it was lit up with intermittent flashing lights. However, each time I crept out to look I was greeted with a sheet of darkness. Later, as I was sitting in the tent there was a deafening din whilst the ground started shaking violently, knocking me over. 'What the bloody hell was that?' I heard myself say. Again I unzipped the tent but nothing - the only thing still shaking was me!

Arriving late at Lamia I landed up at a BP twenty four hour truck stop. It had a restaurant, a shop and a shower so shoddy that I felt inclined to limit my lathering! The car park was crammed with cargo trucks, bustling with buses and overrun with rats, foraging for the scraps of waste food at the rear of the restaurant. However, cowering in the corner was a grubby triangle of grass just large enough to host my hoose. I lifted the litter and toed away the used tissues but could not bring myself to remove the fat rat that lay, 'legs up,' only a few feet from my own. It was a low energy place but once I was cocooned inside my canvass I was convinced I would feel better - I didn't! I didn't get much sleep either as the refrigerated lorry right next to me roared all night, ensuring its contents remained cool whilst I was anything but! The next morning when inhaling a lung full of diesel fumes I realised I felt flatter than road kill. I struggled on for seven miles to Stilida where my legs went on strike and I was seduced by an enormous orange sofa in Cafe Goa. It had recently opened and was fresh, spacious and stylish. In between snacking and snoozing I was joined by Joanne, the young owner, whose ambition was to visit Goa. She was a bonny bundle of nervous energy and could not sit still for more than a few moments. Although the place was spotlessly clean, she was contınually dashing off with a damp cloth to either wipe something, adjust the position of a plant pot, smoke a fag or slice up more salad - even though the cafe had few customers! She persistently presented me with portions of cake and extra drinks which I never ordered. Even her mother got in on the act, arriving with a toasted sandwich. When I refused, she was adamant that I should eat it, insinuating that I was too thin! Although it was difficult, after all I had eaten, I eventually had to make a move. It was late and I was in danger of exploding! As I was hugging Joanne, thanking her and saying goodbye, her face became furrowed with a serious frown. Looking at me she blurted out, 'Please watch out for the men with the knıves'. I assured her that I would! I felt lıke replying wıth, 'Please watch out for the profit margin, or you will never get to Goa'.

Struggling to find my way out of Stalida after taking a wrong turn, I stopped at a petrol station barely a mile from the cafe to check that I was going the right way. It was now dark and the road ahead seemed too narrow to be the main route. Nadia and Agglless immediately offered me a coffee - even before I had opened my mouth! They were in the wrong vocation. Instead of a petrol station they should have owned a pet station. They had three dogs and seven cats camped in the house with another six dogs barking and growling in the garden! They also had a monster sıze metal bowl in the forecourt to feed all the stray animals they could not house! They simply loved animals and could not bare to see any go hungry - it was costing them a fortune on food each week! We spent the evening dıscussing pets, politics, petrol prices, previous partners and parents. This obviously took some time so it was just before two when I snuggled down under the forecourt table to watch the procession of paws pad past the petrol pumps to feast on the free food. As one cat purred past, it almost lost one of its nine lives with the fright it gave itself upon spotting me - such special moments!

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Pampered In Pescara!

A Polish couple helped pitch my tent. I was fed and furnished by two French cyclists in their sixties - the husband being hounded into acting as a sniffer dog to inspect my newly acquired single mattress from the nearby bins! My table was an upturned cardboard box, whilst my moulded plastic chairs had more cracks than my collar bone. A duo of Dutch dames provided some discourse continually commenting on the people parading by with their pooches in prams and pushchairs! During the first few days my time was taken up with entering and exiting my wee tent - averaging out at fifteen minutes each manoeuvre.

I got a lift into Livorno on the local bendy bus which didn't bend around any of the bumps on the road.. I paused at a street side cafe for a pizza and a pint and with my mind preoccupied with possibilities I inadvertently walked off without paying - I felt like a one armed bandit!

Whilst I was more than willing to settle in and sit it out in the campsite until my bones bonded a proposal came from Pescara that I should go and recuperate with my brothers colleague Alessandro. I wasn't sure! Accepting hospitality in someone's hoose for a couple of nights is one thing but foisting yourself on folks for a month is quite another. However with each email Ale relayed I realised his offer was very genuine and generous so my reservations receded and I accepted.

The round trip from Pescara was over seven hundred miles and took Ale thirteen and a half hours of continual driving - an incredible effort which did not include one bad gear change! However, after arriving late in Pescara and piling into a pizza, Ale proudly announced, 'we did it Eric!' then slapped me on my sore shoulder - the laughter levelled out the pain.

Although I found the northern Italians cold and distant, the further south I travelled the weather and the people warmed up considerably with the reception in Pescara positively roasting. Ale and his partner Michela couldn't do enough for me. Michela, who had just discovered she was pregnant gave up her beachside flat and moved in with Ale providing me with a place, peace (apart from the fighting felines) and privacy to enable me to rest and recuperate. Although they were both very busy they continually invited me round to their flat for delicious homemade meals - with Michela's terrific tiramisu tantalising my taste buds. They also included me in the company of their friends with Maurizio and Tanya being especially hospitable - Tanya never allowing me to leave without taking a doggy bag of her tasty treats. In fact I was completely embraced by all their circle of friends - sometimes too tightly by one friend, Felicia who gave such a bear hug that it was often too hard to bare!

During the first few weeks ın Pescara I was still feeling a little fragile. After the experience wıth my tooth trauma I decided not to partake in the all powerful and pervading prescriptıon drugs but to go with the grape and the grain. Ten days later I realised that my self prescribed dose may have been a tad too hıgh so I reduced the prescription to a more lucid level. However, one side effect had been that I put on more weight than a sumo wrestler. My shoulder support should have been adjusted weekly but with me piling on the pounds I just fattened out to fit it! I was supposed to keep it on for one month but it had been impossible to wash myself properly and there was a pong parading around with me. Ale had gone way beyond the call of duty and had already pacified my pits once so I was unwilling to inflict that upon him again. Mıchela's bathroom contained a tiny tub which was desıgned for only sitting in but I was determined to submerge my armpits before they submerged me! So I removed the brace discovering that ıt had collected more skin than a callous. I then gingerly squeezed my torso into the tub whilst my legs languıshed upwards agaınst the wall. The wonder of getting fully washed was was delightful. However, not surprisingly during the meal at Maurizio's and Tanya's that evening the cusine and company did little to dilute the discomfort in my shoulder. That evening the discusion became rather morbid and flowed onto funerals. Apparently, in Italy you can hire people to cry at your funeral - the better the performance bringing a bıgger regard for the deceased!

Passing the tıme dıd not prove to be much of a problem. I dıd yoga exercıses three tımes a day and devoted at least ninety minutes to visualısation sending as much energy and healing as I could muster to my shoulder. I also slept for hours on end, regardless of the time of day. I read 'The Ragged Trousered Phılanthropists' by Robert Tressell - all sıx hundred and forty pages of ıt! It was not exactly uplifting but saved me lifting it up another hill. I had a couple of days when the fun of the fracture wore off and fatıgue filled the void. My mood and energy had more swings than a childrens playpark. I tried just to let things be and wait until it passed. After all, worrying does not reduce tomorrow of sorrow, only today of strength. Besides, I had Italian tv to lift my spirits. Whether it is game shows, political debates, talkshows, sports programmes, shopping channels or soaps, cleavage ıs Kıng with bossoms blazoned all over the box! There was one late nıght show where woman writhed about to the instructions of the male callers, who judging by the tone of their voices were expressıng themselves both verbally and physıcally! Most of the films I saw were dubbed - they even dubbed Dinero! I often managed to catch the late afternoon showing of Lassıe, where thankfully the dog was not dubbed. Another day whilst twıddlıng my thumbs I decıded to put them to some use and repair my puncture. I managed to repair the puncture using one arm and one foot. However, afterwards I began to pespire and pant like a pensıoner - it ıs a thin line between stubborness and stupıdıty!

Nothing seemed too much bother for Ale and Michela. Ale arranged and took me for an x-ray to check that the fracture was fine. I couldn't help thinking that perhaps he should have an x-ray too, to assess the massıve cavıty that must be housing such a huge heart. Michela, who is a Physiotherapist, got me an appointment at her practıce so that her boss could look at my x-ray. With Ale acting as interpreter we entered his office. The Doctor who was busy reading his broadsheet barely managed to prise his pupils away from the paper. When Doctor Dısmissive eventually examined the x-ray he threw it across the table as if to say, 'do not bother me with such a simple fracture'. Apparently he has a habit of haranguıng elderly patients and sayıng, 'what is your problem, you will be gone soon anyway?' He stood up and ordered me to stand to attention against the wall, just lıke a soldier, then he thrust his thumb firmly against my bone and scoffed. Ale asked when I could expect to get back on my bike. Dr Dismissive said that Valentino Rossi takes painkilling injections and gets on with it but he gets paid. He then said that if I was crazy I could cycle off tomorrow but he would wait for four weeks. By this stage Ale was ın fits of laughter whilst just managing to blurt out, 'waıt and I will explain all' After we left Ale said that I deserved a drambuie. I did not disagree! I have decided that drambuie really is the, 'spirit of adventure!'

After a couple of weeks I started going for long walks along the beach. As it was now end of season there were few people about but the beach was still banked up with all the residue from the mass of holidaymakers. There were deflated paddling pools, flippers, suncanopies and umbrellas and balls. There were lilos, pedalos, plastic toys and swept ashore buoys. Then wet suıts, tıny plastıc tractors, spades, pales and prams. As the days past the sand slowly regained the shore as the clutter was cleared away.

Another day whist trying to clear the clutter off my face I was determined to shave the right side with my left hand but it was just not happening. Breathing, vısualisation and stupidity had all failed to get my arm across. Just then a Nıck Kershaw song came on the radio. It was 'I've got two strong arms'. I started must be a sign! It ıs funny the things that motivate you...or should I say, me! I turned the radio up, returned to the mirror and shaved my right sıde.

Three weeks after breaking my shoulder I climbed back on my bike. I had worked hard to heal it and it felt right. The support I had received had also helped immensely. Of course I was as wobbly as a newly set jelly and my confidence was as low as the Italian ladies tops. I spent the next two weeks pedalling along the prom buildıng up muscle and mood whilst glowering at anyone who came near me.

My last Sunday was spent dining out with Ale, Michela, Maurizıo, Tanya and their kids. It was a nice relaxing way to wave goodbye and to thank them for all their support. I do belıeve that 'Living is Giving' and that was certainly the case ın Pescara where I do not think it was possible for Ale, Michela and their friends to give any more! Things do happen for a reason and for me to break my shoulder gave me the opportunity to retest my own healing skills whilst also enjoying the company and support of some lovely people. I feel very lucky indeed!

Tuesday, 25 November 2008


Twenty kilometres past Pisa lay Livorno and a campsite on the coast and although it was dark, the weather was fine, road straight and I felt fabulous. So when I came to a slight slope I sped down it so quickly it was as if I was flying - then suddenly I was as my bike ricocheted to the right hitting the hard shoulder and my not so hard shoulder tangled with the tarmac connecting with such a sickening smack that it took me a few moments to realise what had actually happened. When I stood up I saw my bike spread-eagled with the panniers planted all over the road. Fortunately there were no vehicles behind me. The cars on the other side carried on by apart from an off duty policeman and his friend who came and picked up the bike and panniers. I tried to help but each time I moved I was paralysed with pain. With broken english they kept repeating the words 'ambulance' and 'hospıtal' but I said no preferring to get them to hold the bike up and spin the front wheel to see if it was buckled. The discomfort was beyond description but I thought it would wear off so I asked them to place the panniers back on the bike. However, it was hopeless so reluctantly I relented and along came the ambulance.

I asked for the bike to be taken aboard as well but it was banned. The ambulance man, who spoke English, stressed that I was more important than the bike. The policeman said he would leave it in the nearby McDonalds - I was not too content about this but there was no other option. Besides, I wasn't going to let it spoil my first experience in an ambulance! I was not strapped in, there were no flashing lights or siren and we did not dash through any red lights so I was a little disappointed but as if to compensate the ambulance man was a real comedian. Askıng me about the trıp he saıd that ıt was unfortunate that I crashed ın Lıvorno as I would probably receıve better care ın Calcutta.

I was not allowed to walk from the ambulance but was whızzed ın on wheelchaır. Everyone was warm and frıendly and although the waıtıng room was packed wıth people someone came and questıoned me almost ımedıately, pokıng and proddıng varıous parts. My gestıculatıon skılls were now severely subdued but I managed to motıon that I was fıne apart from my shoulder. I now had to sıt for some tıme before seeıng another Doctor so I started some breathıng and vısualısatıon exercıses and some sımple lower arm movements whılst also peekıng at the processıon of patıents comıng and goıng. Two female teenagers appeared tearful and upset after a moped accıdent, theır knees were all pıtted as ıf mashed by a meat mallet. An elderly gent was rolled ın barely concıous and thınner than a toothpıck. The poor bugger had no teeth ın and wore ıncontınent pants. He lay there, left ın the corrıdor half covered wıth no pıllow, prıvacy or dıgnıty - I really felt for hım and ıt took all my wıllpower not to get up and go and hold hıs hand but I guess that would have been more about my needs rather than hıs! Another teenager taken ın was covered ın tattoos, dısplayıng more paıntwork than an art gallery. She was very sloppy to the staff and just as petulant wıth her parents. I do not know what was wrong wıth her - perhaps sufferıng from a severe defıcıency ın dıscıplıne!

When ıt was my turn my Doctor spent most of the tıme tellıng me about hıs exploıts as a lad playıng the oboe at the Edınburgh Festıval, also that ıt was fate that I should crash and that I would fınd love ın Lıvorno - ıt seemed half of the staff were amateur comedıans. When he eventually got around to examınıng me I ınvoluntarıly pushed hıs hands away. He saıd that perhaps an xray would be best - at last we were ın agreement. A cracked clavıcle was dıagnosed, I was ıssued wıth a support brace and banned from the bıke, wherever ıt was, for a month. It was now two am and as I had to make an appoıntment at eıght for another xray a week later I collapsed ınto the comfıest seat I could fınd - a wheelchaır and sat and sıpped coffee for sıx hours! I had no where to go, dıd not know where my bıke was and each tıme I moved I felt lıke a pın cushıon but I was smılıng and chucklıng. I wanted adventure and thıs was ıt so I was dammed sure I was goıng to enjoy ıt!

After bookıng my appoıntment I arranged for a taxı to take me back to where I crashed. I wrapped on the door of McDonalds - ın fact I wrapped on all the doors as ıt was stıll closed but I was determıned to fınd the bıke. Eventually someone arrıved and poınted to the hotel a hundred yards away. Apparently McDonalds refused to take the bıke - they must have known I was a vegetarıan! I eventually stumbled upon ıt ın the storeroom of the hotel - ıt looked so forlorn wıth ıts buckled wheel, flat tyre, torn handlebar tape and wıth the pannıers dısplayıng more holes than a dartboard. I needed a lıttle tıme to thınk and consıder my optıons so explaınıng my sıtuatıon, I asked the hotel manager ıf he had a very cheap room I could have for one nıght. He reacted as ıf I had asked to sleep wıth hıs wıfe, then tossed a scrumpled scrap pıece of paper over the counter wıth one hundred wrıtten on ıt! Even the taxı drıver took exceptıon to thıs and argued my case. Once I had calmed the drıver down we managed to squeeze the bıke ınto hıs cab and I got hım to take me to the nearest campsıte on the coast where I was fortunate enough to barter a better deal!

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Propositioned On Road To Pise

Entering Italy induced an instant change in driving style. In France drivers gave respect and right of way where as the Italians just wanted me to get out of the bloody way! The rugged coastline was stunning as the road crept around every crag but I was too busy hugging the kerb as the vehicles hugged me, passing so close that I was almost tattooed by the trucks sign writing. Cycling through the first wee town I was absolutely amazed at the mayhem as cars, trucks, motorbikes and buses battled it out for supremacy with road markings, traffic lights and signs seeming superficial.

Arriving late at San Bartolommeo al Mare I was happy to come upon camping but not with the price, twenty five euro's - the manager politely suggested that the site six hundred yards away may be better for my budget - nine euro's. I didn't pitch my tent but positioned myself under a tree partaking in a pastis from my pannier before lights out. I awoke a few hours later to find the campsites K9 standing staring at me, his peering pupils shining in the half light.

That day I continued along the coast passing through San Remo stopping only to check my emails and to escape from the searing sun. The rest of the day I dipped down to the waters edge as much as possible finding a beauty bounty in each bay. It was a long lazy day with plenty of pit stops so when night fall drew near I was keen to continue. Approaching Genoa in the early hours it started to shower so I sheltered in the forecourt of a filling station. With the smooth, flat concrete floor proving too temping I lay down for forty winks. I woke up with a start, saturated, as the shower had matured into a monsoon flooding the forecourt. I changed my clothes, put on my waterproofs - better late than never, then promptly fell back to sleep propped up against a petrol pump. I resurfaced at seven to find the station fully functional - the only exception being my bunk for the night! I nodded to the attendant, moved my bike, bought a coffee then cycled the twenty miles south of Genoa to Bogliasco. Booking into the campsite I met a German couple on honeymoon - the guy seemed more impressed with the BMW wedding gift from his grandfather than his new partner. As they were just packing up, I waited then placed my hoose on the honeymoon suite, figuring it would still be nice and warm. I nodded off for nine hours only bothering to open my eyes and my mouth long enough to bolt down some bread and cheese before slipping back into another twelve hour slumber - I love sleeping!

It was a rest day but there is always something to do. I shaved, stood in the shower for ever, washed my clothes then cooked a massive pan of porridge, raisins, nuts, bananas and honey. Full of beans and porridge I then bounced down to the bay and lay on the beach until the sun stopped smiling! It was a long slog back up to the site and as I was catching my breath I bumped into Kathy from Switzerland. We ended up sharing a couple of relaxing days, pizzas and picnics whilst watching the waves. During one picnic Kathy took a bunch of grapes to the waters edge to wash them in the salt water - I thought this was some secret Swiss solution to rid them of their chemical content -apparently not. It was hardly surprising that they then tasted of salt so had to be washed again with the bottle of water that we had bought. This left us both in stitches which reminded me that was exactly what my mangled shorts required. Kathy then managed to regain some lost pride by using her veterinary surgical skills to patch up my pants.

Pressing on to Pisa I was approached by a good looking guy who was obviously a serious cyclist - he had a great bike, all the gear and looked as fit as a butchers dog. He spoke perfect English, was well educated and keen to discuss anything about cycling and fitness. When he discovered my job was massage and relaxation techniques he offered to share his knowledge on such matters and suggested we cycle a few hundred yards along the beach to a public area where other people exercised. I readily agreed thinking I may learn something. After a few hundrded yards we took a left away from the beach front, then a right and a few other turns until we started to leave the houses behind. As the lanes began to narrow and the thatch became thicker my mind suddenly became broader as I realised what his relaxation technique was. When I suggested that perhaps there may have been a wee misunderstanding he stressed that his technique was very simple and that it required he use only one hand - that comment clarrified everything! I stopped, about turned and started to cycle back. We chatted amiably along the way and he said he was a decent person, I am sure he was but it wasn't his decency that he wanted to share with me! I cycled off along the beach front chuckling and smiling wondering what his success rate was. I started to look for a quiet place to sit and make my sandwiches but it was all bars and bistro's which require that you buy something before sitting on their section of sand. However, I spotted a sign saying, 'free beach' so I parked my bike and my bum, which was a little uncomfortable after many miles but of course it could have been a lot worse!

The sexual theme continued when about twelve miles from Pisa the roadside prostitutes reappeared beckoning me with their bared bosoms each time I stopped for a pee - one lady came marching towards me with such zest that I almost caught my manhood in my zipper in my haste to hurry things along! I stopped at a roadside cafe to write up my diary and reflect on the day. There was a constant stream of beautiful 'ladies' coming and going from the cafe but with voices as deep as the ocean. Paying the bill the owner informed me that it was a transsexual tavern. I pedalled the few remaining miles into Pisa and as the tourists were trickling away and the souvenir shops closing up I sat eating my sandwiches whilst taking in the tower. I thought it fitting that I should end my day by staring at a massive phallic symbol!

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Third Email

Dear all,

As the space between each communication is increasing, this email arrives along with thoughts that perhaps I should approach "Gap" for some sponsorship!

My last mail found me moving on from Montpellier but not before attending my final dental date. I was all packed up and ready to go as I rolled my bike into the root treatment reception. During my various visits to the dentist there had been much laughter at each others expense (the biggest being the bill!) that I decided to ask her out for a drink. However, that night I found myself dining with three dentists as she brought along two female friends. During the course(s) of the evening it transpired that they were all 'dentists by default' having marginally missed out on medical marks and not having the 'gumption' to doctor them, which would have enabled them to become one. Mind you, my dentist had already acquired some surgical skills by inexplicably breaking the long root cleaning tool in my tooth thus sending me off with a souvenir and stressing that it shouldn't cause me any bother - it hasn't so far!

It was after midnight when I moseyed on out of Montpellier hardly pushing the pedals. With the warm air on my face and not a care in the world, I was ready to face whatever lay ahead. I cherish such simple moments never knowing when they will reappear. I cycled till after three and although I still had heaps of energy - due to an excellent healing from Michel earlier the previous day, I decided to grab some slumber at a campsite. I padlocked the bike, unrolled my therm-a-rest then clambered fully clothed into my sleeping bag. I was awakened a few hours later by a small man trimming a large tree with a chain saw to enable a massive mobile home to squeeze into the space next to me -yet another example of a campsite where peace was at a premium, the only peace being my caramel coated chocolate biscuit that I ate for breakfast. After a couple cups of coffee from my flask I popped in by the office to pay. However, due to the shortness of my stay, the owner figured five euoro's was fine, rather than the formal fifteen.

After an uneventful day of purely putting miles on the meter I must have slipped into autopilot as I found myself on the autoroute (motorway). Dawn was beginning to settle down but I certainly wasn't as vehicles roared past at an alarming rate. For the first time in France, cars continually hooted and tooted with flailing fists telling me to get off - I couldn't! The nearest exit was eight miles away. Rather frustratingly I could actually see the road I was supposed to be on, as it ran directly parallel to the autoroute but out of reach beyond the crash barriers and cars. An autoroute maintenance vehicle stopped to inform me what I already knew - I should not be on the road, it is very dangerous and that I should leave at the next exit! I put my head down, my pedal power up and tried to ignore the uneasy sensation that was sweeping over me. After another two miles where I encountered more horns then on a safari, a four wheel drive 'Gendarmerie' vehicle came to my rescue and rode behind me with all lights illuminated as I sprinted along the remainder of the route. They were so understanding and courteous that they even escorted me across the flyover to the right road. Incredibly, upon departing they complimented me on the fact that I had lights on my bike, not mentioning that it hadn't helped me to see where I was going! I soon came upon a sign for camping but as it was now late everything was locked up so I had to squeeze my bike under the entrance barrier. However, I saw some life in the lodge so I wrapped on the door to enquire about a pitch. As it was peak season there was no guarantee of a place but the owner must have taken pity on my parched appearance as she presented me with a large bottle of mineral water then escorted me to a wee corner where I could place my tent. I was already being mauled by mossies but couldn't be bothered slapping on insect repellent just for the few minutes it would take to throw up the tent. I bitterly regretted this the following morning when I woke up with more bites than a computer!

I left the site late in the day after resetting my alarm and tending to my bites with tiger balm. Although I was covering the miles the mercury was moving just as quick, hitting the high thirties, so I began to take my time stopping frequently to rest, recuperate and rehydrate. Nurturing my nocturnal needs I again cycled late into the night finally stopping at a bus shelter in a wee village called Rians where I managed to grab four and a half hours semi sleep despite constant meowing from my curious feline friend. Then just when I managed to eventually drop off, the local council rubbish trucks decided to start their shift - their depot being directly along the dirt track road next to where I lay. There was no more sleep to be had so I climbed out of my sleeping bag liner, packed away the clothes I was using as a pillow, put on my shoes, bit into a banana and wolfed down some water before stepping out of the shelter to be surprised by a soldier rigged out in full regalia - pressumably waiting for a lift but obviously not from me!

Thirty early morning miles saw me to Salernes where I sat for hours in the square simply snacking, dozing and reading my book letting life go by. I chatted for a bit with the boss of the local tourist office who was actually an artist but was having a period of creative doubt and drought. Drought was not the problem of the two drunks who started a fist fight, clumsily trying to clout each other but both failing miserably. With the entertainment at an end I decided to replenish my provisions then push off. Stepping out of the supermarket I spotted a couple of young English students sitting slumped against the fence. Although they had two brand new bikes and were bristling with brawn the exertion of three hundred miles in the previous three days had evidently taken its toll. As I cycled across the car park waving goodbye, they were both busy gobbling chocolate gateau to fuel the final hurdle of their nine day dash across France! I trundled on for another twenty two miles to Le Muy where I was fortunate to find free camping for the night. The owner, who had English friends staying kindly invited me to dine with them. Mind you, I had to sing for supper giving the English couples son a massage.

Twenty miles took me back to the coast and to St Raphael where I enquired at the local tourist office regarding internet access. I was in luck - they had a computer you could use 'gratis' for ten minutes. As I needed more time to tidy up my last tome I asked if it was okay to use it longer and I would vacate it each time a tourist ventured in. As you can imagine this took an eternity but is how I met Ian from Stoke who had not met his bike off the plane. Intending to cycle around the coast for ten days he had spent the first two in the tourist office trying to locate his mode of locomotion. We guzzled some grub (Cheers Ian) followed by a beer at the Loch Ness Bar. Then in the wee small hours I continued on to Cannes. It was only twenty miles but I spent the whole night cycling and sitting in secluded beaches enjoying the peace and tranquillity eventually seeing the sunrise as I cantered into Cannes. I did check out a few places to grab forty winks but there were already people either in, on or up them - I complemented them on finding such fine places to park.

That day I continued along the coast finally stopping near Nice to dine on a tin of lentils, brown bread, a brace of bananas and a pair of pears very happy to have found a quieter spot - sardines in a tin are positively open plan compared to all the bodies on the beach where there is no sand to 'sea'. Later as the sun was slipping away I showered on the beach managing to wash my cycling shorts whilst still wearing them. I then pushed my bike through Nice finding the wealth basking in the bay simply mindboggling and wondering why people feel they need so much. A few miles further on I found my accommodation for the night behind a twenty four hour roadside cafe van, waking up the next morning to find three men smiling down on me as they played cards. I was offered the use of a portaloo situated behind the van, which despite its name looked like it had not moved for some time, neither had the filth inside, so I discretely slipped down to the shore for an alfresco experience! Although I was close to Italy I still had the madness of Monaco and Monte Carlo to meander through where obscene wealth calls out from every crag. Monaco is built up more than the English national football team with the buildings so close together that privacy has gone right out of the window. I found it a little claustrophobic and ignoring for a moment the wee issue of money, I would certainly not choose to live there!

With the Italian border in sight I sat down in the middle of a grassy roundabout under a palm tree (the only shaded area) to eat my Roquefort cheese and bread and to bid farewell to France. Serious cyclists apart, whose faces were as hard as the road when they powered past all lycra and longing for a better speed, I found the French very friendly and helpful always greeting you with a beaming smile and a bonjour.

As my Italian itinerary is still in note form it shall follow soon but the heading refers to my poor navigational skills as I failed to negotiate one of the many pot holes in the Italian roads and bit the bitumen breaking my collar bone. However, healing with haste and I am now in Korinthos, eighty km's from Athens after taking a ferry from Brindisi (Italy) to Patras (Greece) and gingerly creeping around the coast.

My supply of thanks is rapidly running dry due to the immense help I am continually receiving, both emotionally and physically, so if anyone is aware of a source where I can bulk buy, then please give me a shout.

As always with much love...Eric x

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Second email

Hello all,

At last I have managed to finish my second communal email – with which I send my apologies for the delay. It felt that every time I sat down to write, my creativity stood up and left. Although I am keeping a diary, it is not so detailed and most of the inspiration and ideas I put in the email come to me whilst I am cycling. I am forever stopping to scribble down a phrase or a few words on scrap pieces of paper which I then try to work into a wee story.

The last email found me in Fecamp, where I was able to rest myself and repair my bike. For many miles the bike had developed a constant creaking sound which increased as you cranked up the speed. After tightening everything that could be tightened and other things that probably shouldn’t have been I decided to seek out a second opinion. I wandered into the local Intersport bike shop and pointed to my pedal whilst making lots of creaking noises. The guy looked at me with a wee smile on his face and said “what’s the problem mate?” Gary from London very kindly replaced my pedals, repaired the pannier rack then tossed me a few tubes and a cycling top saying it was his contribution to the trip.

Before leaving Fecamp I was fortunate enough to have an opportunity to be able to face my fear of heights by trying tree walking. Although I am glad that I did, this was not an enjoyable experience. My brother Steve and his friend Francois were very patient and respectful, choosing to hide their hilarity at my expletive strewn performance as my leaden legs refused to move at the same pace as my mouth.

Although the previous weekend had consisted of good company, cuisine and cognac, sleep had been at a premium and the first few days back on the bike I was a little leg weary and tired and had quite a few protein pit stops to refuel with porridge and prunes. I was simply flat. However, the road was anything but with the constant crisscrossing of toll roads eventually taking its toll. The view was beautiful which is just as well because the speed was sedentary. I passed a sign for St Vigour thinking, yes please, but it was no use so I stopped for a wee seat and siesta against a tree. My pedals then plodded onto Brecy where I found a nice quiet campsite, read my book, watched the sunset and had a wee dram from my half empty half bottle of whiskey!

The next day I slept so late that I decided to have brunch at Brecy. Without realizing it, I had ordered the standard lunch menu and a plate appeared with more meat on it than at an abattoir. After a wee tète-à-tète with the waitress it was replaced with a sumptuous salad, a big basket of bread and two men who had decided to take up the spare seats at my table. They also decided to take up the spare bread in my basket – well, obviously it must be for sharing? When the same thing happened with my wine, I thought, some things are not for sharing! I wasn’t sure what the etiquette was but when their large plate of cheese and bread arrived I helped myself to that – it seemed like a free for all and I had no idea how they worked out the bill but for once I didn’t care, this was great fun! Looking for the loo I found the toilet cowering in a wee cupboard at the top of some narrow stairs. As I entered I bashed my head with the result that I almost passed out whilst passing water. Searching for the sink to wash my hands I bumped into a bowl so small you had to wash each finger individually. Dizzy with wine and my wound I wobbled back down the stairs, paid the bill and pedaled off. I still have no idea how much it was!

Next it was on to Le Mont St Michel, an ancient abbey perched on top of a rock which also houses a monastic community which provides a permanent spiritual presence. However, the entrance which consists of houses, shops and restaurants (which offer a different kind of spirit) was jam packed with Japanese, crammed with Koreans and bursting at the seams with British schools kids. As beautiful as it was I made a sharp exit to a few km’s along the road where I spotted a crepery. I gobbled a goat’s cheese galette with rocket salad and washed it down with a bottle of Breton cider served in a clay pot.

St Malo was the next port of call where I moored for a rest day spending it walking along the wall which surrounded the town. Again though, it was brimming with Brits ferried across from Jersey who after having bought cheap booze on the boat plied themselves with expensive pints in the pub.

A few days later and almost two hundred miles further south I found a deserted fully functional municipal campsite in St Urbain, which lived up to its name by being so courteous that no one wanted to take my payment.

As I was leaving another campsite in Les Sables D’Olonne I borrowed the proprietor’s foot pump and promptly broke it. The pressure I needed in my tyres was just too much for his primitive pump. He said he left a high powered job to run a campsite because he couldn’t stand the pressure – his pump nodded knowingly.

The next day in St Vincent I cycled for what seemed like ages to find the beach. At 33° in the shade it was hot as hell and I just wanted to find a quiet spot and make my sandwiches. I eventually sheltered behind a shed which was the only piece of shade on the beach. I met a lovely group of Germans who invited me back to their place for a barbeque. I stayed the night and after boiling all day I thought it fitting that I ended up barracked in their boiler room!

Heading for Ile de Re I passed through a wee village which was a maze of narrow one way streets which went round and round – I could not find my way out! I eventually asked a group of kids for directions. A fifteen year old lad shouted, ”Follow” and shot off on his bike with his testosterone powered toes. I struggled to keep up as my panniers began to panic as they were bounced, bashed and bumped all over the place as we clattered through the cobbled chicane like lanes. We came to an incline and he whizzed up it like a whippet. I followed doggedly trying in vain to keep on his tail but it was hopeless. After he had become a speck in the distance he eventually stopped and looked around to find me peching and panting as I pulled my panniers up the hill. To prevent him from powering off again I presented him with a chunk of chocolate then chatted for ten minutes. I love these simple interactions. On this trip I am not so interested in seeing things but quite content just passing the time of day with people.

I cycled over the bridge to Ile de Re, a beautiful island which has been taken over by bikes, trikes and tandems with trailers and turned into a massive cycle path with more lanes than the M25. I checked out some campsites but did not check in as they were too expensive. I stumbled upon a municipal one which was half the price, twice as quiet and with three times as much space. It was basic but more than adequate. I tied my bike to a tree, pitched my tent and got directions from a German couple as to where I could find food. After a late shower at midnight the same couple invited me to their caravan for a can of beer. They had been coming to the same campsite for fourteen years. Before I realized it I blurted out “fourteen!” in a surprised tone. The German lady said, “Yes, isn’t it boring!” For once, I didn’t say a thing. Strangely enough though I wasn’t offered another beer!

With five days to fill in until I was due to meet my brother, Steve at Bordeaux airport my pedaling was pedestrian as I basked under the sun in the broad beaches south of Le Verdon. I cycled through over one hundred miles of fine forests which skirted the coast, occasionally stopping to saturate myself in the silence. I slowed down as I passed numerous naturist campsites, standing on my pedals as I did so, curiosity getting the better of me but the fencing was full proof! I was tempted to book in for a night just for the experience thinking it would also have been an ideal opportunity to catch up with my washing but eventually I decided to continue with the conventional camping. After seventy slow sweaty miles I arrived in Maubuisson. It was late and dark so when I spotted a man at the post box I enquired if there was a campsite. I followed Regis to the one he was staying on with his family. He asked me to join them for a coke after I had put up my tent but before I had the time to tie up my bike he had returned requesting that I stay in his caravan, whilst at the same time apologizing that the bed was very narrow. His wife Mandy scrambled up some egg and mushroom and we sat till after 2.30 am discussing religion and yoga. They were both devout Christians and as my knowledge of the Bible is basic there was a lot of listening on my part but I didn’t mind as the delivery was not dogmatic and it certainly supplemented the Sunday school classes I attended as a kid – from which I still have my leather bound Bible for perfect attendance!

Before reaching Bordeaux I had the privilege of staying in my most expensive campsite to date – twenty four euro’s (£20) and that was with a 10% discount after pleading poverty! This site at Claouey had more stars than the galaxy but unfortunately it didn’t include the female whose voice was booming from the nearby bar - to be fair to her though, she was competing with the din from the disco next door. The site was so large that I couldn’t even find my spot so I just pitched my tent on one with a good view, which wasn’t that easy as the place had everything – open air cinema, shops, pool, lake, tennis, bowls, bikes for rent, barbeque area and more security guards than the Bank of England. Considering the prices they charged they were probably wealthier – they even wanted two euro’s for a wee space in a large communal fridge!

The campsites I have stayed in have ranged from the grand to the gross and invariably the finer ones are to be found slightly away from the coast. In France many campsites require that before you shower you have to buy a ‘jeton’ - a token which allows you anything from three to seven minutes under the water. This is alright for a baldy like me but not for the lassies with long hair. The word ‘jeton’, is a bit of a misnomer implying that the shower will blow you off your feet, the reality being it barely reaches your feet and you have to run about to get wet. Additionally, you have to continually push a button for the water to flow – one shower it was every one and a half seconds! I find now that most of my yoga is done in the shower as I twist and contort my body to either connect with the water, push my backside against the button or bend down to pick up my dove soap, which amidst all the confusion has managed to get itself into a lather without yet actually producing any! A real treat is a shower with adjustable height and heat and which is constantly open and on! As the summer slips on the ground in most campsites is as hard as a hammer, which is really what I need to push my pegs in. The grass has become as sharp as a Mensa member and is usually littered with more ants than in an Italian family. One of my best campsites has been in Girona, in northern Spain. It had a great view of the Pyrenees, a pool, a perfect price and piped classical music whilst having a pee!

The 4th July is the American Day of Independence. However, it is also the day that I lost some of mine, as I met my brother at Bordeaux airport to spend nine days cycling across France from the Atlantic coast to the Mediterranean via the Canal Garonne and Canal Du Midi. I was very much looking forward to our trip but after spending almost two months cycling on my own it did take me a few days to recalibrate for company and to get used to the fact that someone else’s opinion and suggestions could be valid after all! Although I am very gregarious, my previous health problems have meant I have spent a lot of time by myself with the result that I am completely content with my own company - the downside being that I am probably not the easiest person to stay with, as some ex partners would gladly testify to!

Our holiday almost started with a bang. Just as Steve was reassembling his bike, the airport was evacuated due to a bomb scare. We had to hang about to retrieve a part of the bike which had been left behind when we were turfed out of the terminal. So it was a little later than planned that we ate at a wee bistro in the centre of Bordeaux. We then cycled late into the night to find the starting point of the cycle path which fortunately also provided us with a nearby field to flop out in!

The cycle paths along the canals consisted of a mixture of hard pressed gravel, concrete, tarmac and some terrible parts which were really only suitable for mountain bikes. Steve was fine with his suspension sprung speedster but I had to nurse my bike around some bold boulders, rough it with rampant roots and career over dry paths with cracks like canyons. I was not always successful with my navigation and occasionally I came to an abrupt halt but even with my front tyre as naked as a new born bairn the bike and wheels survived - thanks, Andy!

On Steve’s budget it was red from the restaurant, on mine it was pasta from my pans at canal side. The first four night’s accommodation came to a total of 17 euro’s (£14) which included a field, a campsite with no one pressing for payment and two 2 star campsites – I guess for two Scots on holiday this is as good as it gets. The French say that the Scottish keep the thistle in their pocket so that when it comes to paying for something the hand is barely able to reach the money!

By mid week we had reached mid way and completed the Canal Garonne. To celebrate Steve treated me to a long lazy lunch in Toulouse. We sat in a restaurant taking our time and taking in the tourists which for some strange reason included a large number of pregnant women! Mind you, after our fabulous feast we were looking much the same.

The next day we headed for Carcassonne coming off the canal to cycle up into the hills to Labastide Esperbairnenque where we had been offered a bed for the night. Hope, a student at St Andrews University had read about my trip on the net and had kindly offered her parents house as a staging post. Her directions were perfect apart from stating the distance as 13 km's when in fact it was 13 miles. After the flatness of the canals the steady slope seemed mountainous and although we had not even found Hope, as the miles mushroomed, we were slowly losing hope as we continued to climb! Hope and her parents, Rosie and Ken were great company and the evening meal consisted of three courses crowned with convivial conversation. The following morning brought a big breakfast which was followed by a lift to the local lake where we cooled off with a casual swim. Just after midday when we were all packed up and ready to go Rosie had been busy packing too - a lovely lunch for us to eat at canal side! We left nourished and nurtured as we free wheeled all the way back to Carcassonne in a third of the time it took us come up.

We had everything in our week. Almost a falling in (the water), a falling off (the bike) and a falling out! On the whole though, having company wasn’t half as bad as I thought it would be and after four hundred and fifty miles of brotherly bonding, we cycled into Sete to toast our triumph both well pleased with our performance.

In Sete we were met by Steve's sister in law, Jocelyn, who is in the process of moving house from Montpelier to Puylaurens about 250 km's west. I had intended cycling south to Barcelona but instead spent a wonderful weekend in Jocelyn's new home meeting her husband, Michel and her family. I spent the time chopping down trees and bushes including ones that should have stayed up - the fruits of my labour resulting in less fruit for them! Their new house is called 'Miramont', meaning 'mountain view' - which it certainly has and with its panoramic positioning on top of a hill, whether you are looking left, right or centre it has more views than a political debate! On the Monday I met up again with Steve and his wife Claire, who had rented a nearby cottage and we all attended the Bastille Day firework display in Carcassonne. I was then dropped off at one in the morning to continue my journey back down the coast. I cycled for six miles then crashed out in a campsite without even erecting my tent!

I have been through more tunnels than a train and done as much work on bridges as a Dentist. One tunnel just over the Spanish border had air conditioning, very considerate for the cyclists thought I but probably more likely for fanning the fumes. Further on, ladies of the night who had obviously moved to day shift sat on stools at the roadside. As I cycled past they crossed their legs in a Sharon stone like fashion in Basic Instinct, making sure that I saw the goods for sale. In fifteen years of practising yoga, I had never previously managed to turn my head 180 degrees - returning my face to the tarmac just in time to prevent me from veering into the verge! Due to my riding position my left wrist had been giving me a little pain and only wanted to stay in one position, which is normally an affliction predominant with pubescent youths but this was not the time to stop and have a look!

I then cycled the couple of hundred miles down to Santa Maria de Palautordera which is thirty five miles North West of Barcelona to attend a Vipassana Meditation Course – a twelve day retreat which gives you a great grounding in the Vipassana technique. Whilst not trying to explain the technique here, a wee flavour follows.

Initially, during the meditation there were people burping, belching, farting, fidgeting, snorting, sneezing and adjusting limbs but as the week progressed things settled down to a serenity and silence which was almost tangible. For the duration of the course there was a policy of ‘Noble Silence’, which not only included no talking but also involved no eye contact or gesticulations – this suited me fine, as after over six weeks in France with my lack of language skills, I was completely gesticulated out!

A few days into the course you were encouraged to sit for three separate hours each day and apply ‘Strong Determination’, where you were not meant to move even an eyelid. As the sixty minutes moved in a snail like fashion muscles began to moan, tendons started tweaking whilst ligaments longed for locomotion. With a little mantra (which was not allowed) you could ease the pain with a few well chosen phrases such as marvellous muscles, terrific tendons and lovely ligaments which helped to prevent the pulsating pain from puncturing your defence mechanism - your mind! Simply put, the whole idea of the course is to come out of the constant cycle of aversion and craving to bad and good sensations and to follow the middle road of non attachment – you are trying to train the mind to gain awareness of sensations and not to always act instantaneously to each one, whether internally or externally! You are trying to break the stimulus response action. I was given heaps of opportunities to practice!

The Spaniard sharing my bunk bed kept insects at bay by applying lashings of liquid administered whilst on the top bunk, making me feel as if I was in a bay as my bed rocked violently back and forth. The rocking only subsided once he and his pyjamas had clambered under his sheet, duvet and blanket. Meanwhile, although completely naked under a wafer thin sheet, I sweated like a Geordie in a math’s exam! In the morning the rocking resumed as he perfected his bed making skills to produce a surface as smooth as the baize of a snooker table, all the time trapping me in my bunk – just as well I was not allowed to speak!

After eating your food you had to give your dishes a wee rinse and lay them to the side as they were to be put in a dishwasher. Some students scrubbed the dishes as if they had been sitting for a week, with the result that I often felt I had been standing for a week awaiting my turn. My only motivation was to get back to bed in order to lie completely flat as quickly as possible. After sitting for twelve hours each day my need to have my plates gleaming had lost a bit of gloss.

It was a good course, well organized, bloody hard work but so worthwhile. The courses are run by volunteers and you give a donation at the end which then allows another person to attend a course. For those interested then please look at which gives information about the centre in the UK but also of courses worldwide.

Whilst loading up my bike about to leave the course I was still undecided whether to cycle down to Barcelona. A fellow student, Victor, said that he lived in the centre and I was more than welcome to stay with him - so it was decided!

I arrived at the outskirts of Barcelona at 5 pm. After eleven days of inactivity my calf muscles had become as short as my breath but it was the perfect time to pedal in. Being late on the Sunday afternoon the heat had halted a little and the traffic was tamer. I am not a great fan of cities but I felt excited as I plodded along the cycle path, soaking with sweat but sooking up the energy! Looking left, looking right absorbing everything like a sponge, my sightseeing almost came to a shattering end when I marginally missed piling into a plate glass window – it was a bus shelter planted right in the middle of the cycle path! It was almost my first expletive since exiting the meditation course. However, I settled for shaking my head happy that I still had it!

That evening Victor took me on a tour of the city on the back of his Vespa which included a trip to a wee tapas bar. Later on we sat on his balcony drinking a dram watching the late revelers roll by. His flat was on Gran Gracia, which I think loosely translates to, 'many thanks' – it was very appropriate!

During the meditation course the pain in my troublesome tooth had reached titanic proportions and there was only really one sensation I could focus on - I made a decision to get it seen to the minute I left. Victor was kind enough to arrange an appointment and took me there on the back of his bike. After leaving the Dentist I was given a prescription for strong painkillers which I tried to obtain from the nearest pharmacy. However, the young lad behind the counter said that he could only give me the first painkiller because he could not read the second drug. I did not think there was a second drug! I walked fifty yards to the next pharmacy and got my prescription within one minute. I explained to the chap behind the counter what had just happened and he asked if it was the one down the street, whilst shaking his head in disbelief. The supposed second drug was the verb, ‘tomar’, which means, ‘to take’, which I certainly did! They were strong enough to heal a horse and tended to my teeth with the added benefit of allowing me to hare up the hills whilst my legs remained pain free – I thought of asking for a repeat prescription! As I was so drugged up I would probably have got automatic entry into the Tour De France. I was fortunate enough to catch stage twelve of the race in Durban Corbier. The peloton powered past in seconds with the real race happening ninety minutes before as vehicles of all shapes, sizes and colours drove past tooting, hooting and throwing away all sorts of free goodies - even the bags to hold them in! Everyone walked away with happy smiles smothering their faces and bags bulging having completely cleaned up – someone tossed me a sachet of washing powder, perhaps suggesting that I do the same!

After spending a few days in Barcelona I headed north again back up to Girona. With over two and a half thousand miles cycled I had to replace my front tyre as it had more bulges than Santa’s sack. With a new tyre and my wheel trued my bike battered along the bitumen that ran directly parallel to the beach. The temperature was above 35° and I was taking on board more water than a holed ship but managed to cover the sixty miles to Girona relatively trouble free until a puncture ten minutes from the campsite. As it was the back wheel I had to unload the bike but I fixed it in no time at all. I then trundled along to the site happy in the knowledge that a pool awaited me. It was nice to see the owner again. I think the feeling was mutual as after I had paid and chatted for a bit she pressed a cool beer into my palm. Cheers!

The next day I left late as it was only thirty six miles to Lescala, where I met up with Ali and Judi, the couple I visited in Northumberland. They had emailed mentioning they would be in the area should I be passing. It fitted in perfectly, so I popped in by. Ali and Judi’s holiday home, which they were sharing with the immediate family, had numerous bedrooms, bathrooms and more balconies than a hotel and although there were plenty of people there the construction was cavernous and you could easily have found a wee nook to nestle in and remain undisturbed for days. It actually had a cupboard were the sole resident was a massive rock covered with a rug? I only stayed two nights but it was lovely to catch up and spend some simple time together.

I had decided not to go back up the coastal route as it had more ups and downs than the aforementioned Spanish roadside prostitutes knickers – well, those that wore them! So I spent two days and over one hundred and fifty miles cycling through the Pyrenees to Perpignan, Fitou and then back to the coast at Sete where I again showered on the beach and had a wee dram in the same bar where Steve and I had celebrated a month ago – it all felt very surreal!

The next morning I motored my way to Montpellier and spent a few hours chatting to a nice Polish girl I met in the post office. She was working for a few months as an au pair and had a couple of hours off. It was nice listening to her experiences and for a change not talking too much about my own! I then called Jocelyn, my brother's sister in law whom I had stayed with a month ago. Although only intending to stay a couple of nights I ended up staying two weeks and helped then to ferry furniture to their new house, whilst in return they drove me back and forth to my numerous dental appointments. Although I had received root treatment it had not got to the root of the problem and it took a wee while for the tooth to settle down. With two adults, four kids, three cats, two dogs, two rats, two houses and numerous goldfish names became problematic. It didn't help that I continually called one dog Muriel, when she was actually called Moira - mind you she was such a guzzler that as long as you had food in your hand she would answer to anything. The whole family switched effortlessly between english and french often interchanging between sentences. However, Moira, not content with being bilingual, knew the word for food in multiple languages! Things were compounded further because in our numerous trips back and forth between the houses Michel, Jocelyn's husband, tried fill in the void that I have in my education and teach me the names of all the birds, trees and plants. Although genuinely interested I was just too preoccupied with pain and this additional information seemed like system overload! Pain apart though, it was a lovely two weeks with the whole family being very generous and open and it wasn't just the furniture that was being uplifted with various jokes and banter lightening the load. The only mishap being Michel semi dropping Jocelyn's piano on the floor. Strangely enough, in the wee hours of the following morning after a long day of lifting, Jocelyn semi drove Michel's car into a ditch! On the Sunday before I left Michel, his son Duncan and myself, spent a whole day walking in the Pyrenees on GR 10 - it was a lovely way to finish my time in their company and left me recharged and ready for the road ahead. Although keen to get back on my bike, I was genuinely sad at leaving such fine folk!

The bike draws a lot of attention and often people just approach and start talking like an old friend - which is fine by me as this is what my trip is about. Mind you, one day a man walked up, picked up the bike, nodded approvingly then walked off without saying a word! Other people are always asking how much it weighs - I haven't a clue. I am half expecting someone to try and lift up me, so as they can have the combined weight! I have even had to open my panniers to show how they work. One man asked how many teeth I had. I thought it was a strange question especially with the bother I have had. He wanted to know the number of teeth on my front cog - again,when I said I hadn't a clue he bent down and counted them! On the whole it is all good fun and I enjoy it but some days depending on how far I have cycled then it can be a little tiring. At one pit stop someone asked where I had cycled from. When I said Scotland, he replied as quick as a flash, “that is great, where are you heading to, Australia?” - it was very funny! Someone else said that I was living everyone’s dream – I promised to email them the next time I came to a steep hill!

I must finish with a massive thank you to everyone who has contributed money to the Justgiving web page. A special thank you has to be extended to the twenty odd folk (not so odd) who camped and trekked through the Highlands to raise over £2000 for the M.E. Association.

So many people help in many different ways which makes it impossible for me to include everyone but I would like to thank anyone who has helped me in their own small way.

As always, with many thanks and much love

Eric x

First email

Dear All,

At last my much promised communal email.

'Four, five, eight...I feel great!' - my mantra for many months prior to pedalling off. It was my departure date. My way of keeping focused and that regardless of what happened up to then I was determined I would simply cycle off south. After a few months of this my so called friends renamed my mantra...'Four, five, eight, it is beginning to grate' - perhaps they had a point!

On 4/5/8 a mixture of family, friends and colleagues gathered to give me a sentimental send off and wave me on my way to my first pit stop, Carnoustie. Stonehaven, Jonstone and Arbroath were the various places where two friends and my brother had cycled to and helped to keep the head wind at bay. However, after a 69 mile canter to Carnoustie by the time my 14 year old nephew, Stuart and I had arrived we were both a little lame. Some family and friends had arranged to camp with me on my first night away so a veritable feast awaited us. There was much love, laughter, merriment and merlot. My friend Neela, who absolutely detests camping, had made a special effort but the thought of being trapped in a tent was too much and she spent the night anaesthetising herself with alcohol to make the occasion more palatable. The rest of us had no such excuse!

After a slow cycle to St andrews I met an American who thought that 80% of the British army consisted of Scots. I suggested that it was highly unlikely as there were only 5 million Scots compared to over 55 million English, Welsh and Irish. He hadn't thought of the figures but neither had the local campsite! I half considered camping in St Andrews until I noticed the price... £15 (75% of my daily budget) - I know it is the home of golf but I thought this price was a little below par! It worked out fine though, as a few miles out of town I knocked on a door requesting to sleep behind a nearby derelict house. However, the neighbours, Ollie and Gordon kindly offered me their garden. This type of warmth and generosity has been repeated on numerous occasions since.

It was then a brisk pedal to Burntisland just north of Edinburgh were I had a bed for the night at my friend Leila's parents house. Johnstone, who was no slouch at 77 suggested that we go for a wee walk. He took me on what can only be described as an assault course - as we clambered over rocks, sand, stairs, steps and slippery slopes whilst he gave me a 'running' commentary on the history of the area. I was knackered afterwards and needed all the nutrition that Jeanette was willing to load upon me. Johnstone introduced me to his 95 year old neighbour who entertained us both with stories about the war. At one stage soldiers were allowed 1 litre of water each day to cover all needs - drinking, washing, cleaning clothes and cooking. I am carrying 4 litres of water just for drinking and cooking!

Approaching the Forth Road Bridge I found myself on the east side which happened to be closed for cyclists due to repair work so I had to go back a couple of miles and up the correct side. Inscribed on the handle bars of the bike are the words 'Devotion to Motion', I can handle this on my bike but not on a bridge. As I cycled over the structure it swayed back and forth (aptly named). At the apex I deliberately stopped and had some grub to face my fear of heights. Needless to say the nutrition did not nullify the effect. I concluded that the bridge had more movement than Aberdeen's midfield.

I cycled through Edinburgh down to Dalkeith pitching my tent in a deserted campsite behind a petrol station. I awoke to birds bantering, rabbits roaming and copious condensation in the tent - I still had to work out the ventilation via the zillions of zips. The only thing that was dry was outside the tent - my brooks saddle, which had been cosy under its all weather cover.

I started cycling to Wooler about 55 miles away but as visabilty was virtually nil it was definately high viz vest on. On the road to Wooler I took a wee detour to look at Soutre Aisle, which was once the location of a medieval hospital from 12th -17th century dedicated to treating poor travellers and pilgrims, the aged, sick and infirm. By the time I had struggled up the sheer slope (1200ft) I was feeling a little infirm myself. I recuperated by scoffing oranges, nuts and raisins and 2 chocolate bars! The panoramic view allows you to see at least 60 Grampian and Highland peaks. As it was misty, my view was minimal but as I had already peaked coming up the hill I was in no mood for more!

As I approached Wooler it was obvious why it was called so, as I was surrounded by sheep in all directions. I booked into the only campsite and the only place that appeared to be a sheep free zone - what it wasn't free of was ducks that followed you about like sheep! They quaked throughout the whole night, tried to steal my food and one even slobbered over my shoes! I still had to get the hang of the tent as it looked like something put up by a jerry builder but it was not going to happen tonight as I continually tripped over the guy ropes whilst trying to avoid all my feathered friends!

Next it was 20 miles along the road to Alnham Norththumberland to say hello to Ali, a yoga teacher I had recently met in Aberdeen. He had warned me that he lived in a converted barn on the top of a hill. He lives 1 mile from the closest neighbour and 1 mile from any road. I had to push my bike up a long path and then across 2 fields with yet more sheep and curious cows who increasingly encroached and encircled me the further up the field I went. I eventually had to stop for a moment and ask them to mooove back - they ignored me! Ali and Judy were lovely people and in such a location it was easy to recharge myself and my equipment. My legs ached but I was content with the calming company!

I cycled through Northumberland National Park following the National Cycle Route but it had you ploughing through ploughed fields, my shoes got covered in shit and at some points I was almost going in reverse so I began to be a little more selective with which parts of the route I would go on. What I couldn't be selective with were the hills. Ali and Judy had giggled a little when they said I faced a few hills on the next section. Bloody hell! - even the hills had hills! Just when you reached the summit of one, the gradient grew, the lactic acid in my legs went berserk and my mind swept through my belongings wondering what, if anything, I could dump. That night I camped in a field right next to a road which had street lamps. I didn't have to use my own lamp which is just as well because I had to get up for the loo 3 times. This is always a bit of a palaver getting dressed, putting on shoes, unzipping and zipping everything back up. I lay awake for ages and just when I was beginning to drop off I heard an animal rummaging and scuffling about beside my tent. I didn't know what it was and I was was not about to find out - always aware that I am sleeping in their house so I turned over and went to sleep. In the morning my high visability vest had vanished. So no doubt there is some poor bloody fox running around with my vest on -God help it the next time the hounds come out to hunt!

The next day with no high viz vest and more mist than in a turkish bath I felt a little vulnerable charging along the A68. I had to make do with a sheet of bright yellow card attached to my panniers given by a lady in a roadside cafe. I stopped in Tow Law for lunch where I was offered a bed for the night and a lot more. Tanya, the girl behind the counter said that the first night would have to be platonic but anything would go on the second night - I decided to go! She didn't charge me for lunch but let me charge my phone! I gave her a big hug and kiss and as I left she picked up 2 large paper hankies and started mock crying and shouting that I should not go. The same cafe had Mick the plasterer, who was plastered, and hobbled in with a bright illuminious green one around his left leg. It had only happened 2 days ago but already he was driving and back at work using stilts to plaster ceilings - if I am honest I have to admit to being a little envious of his high visability!

The A66 peripheral route around Middlesborough is a dual carriageway with aspirations to be a motorway. It is a mad road and as I was resting (recovering) in a lay-by having some coffee and banana sandwiches a fellow cyclist stopped to check that I was okay. He was concerned that I did not have a high viz on and gave me his - which was lovely but what then was he going to use? He wasn't wrong though. I battered down the road for almost 20 miles trying to keep to the alloted (periodic) cycle path and with my high viz vest and day glow strip I wasn't watching my back - I was too busy trying to miss all the debris on the side of the road. Glass, stones, car parts and various other odds and ends littered the 'cycle path' whilst cars and lorries thundered past a few inches from my elbow. Although I still had to cross slip roads I was more concerned about my tyres as I charged along at up to 20 miles an hour. Bang! my first and only puncture so far. I took 30 minutes to fix it and with day-light dipping decided to come off the main drag, as it was exactly that! After 5 miles through housing estates I came upon another main road but by then it was pitch black and I still had to find a bed for the night. I stopped at a house with a large garden and more lights than a flood-lit football pitch and asked the owner, Peter, if I could camp in his garden, he very kindly agreed. After over 6 hours on the bike covering more than 70 miles and with a secure place to sleep, it didn't take long for that to happen!

The next couple of days I cycled across the Yorkshire Moors and down the coast taking in Whitby, Scarborough, Filey and Bridlington. It was warm and sunny and with the sea air nourishing my nostrils I had frequent breaks just simply sitting and watching the waves. As the road to Hull was flat I hurried along to the Humber Bridge and sat for an hour watching the sunset whilst munching on banana and biscuit sandwiches. After the Humber, I then cycled for a further hour on a deserted dual carriageway. It was sunny and mild and the cycling was like a meditation. I left the road at a wee place called Elsham and pedalled along the paths and lanes in a calm and contented mood heading for the chiming church bells. It was 9 pm and as yet I still had to find a field to sleep in. I asked some folk leaving the church if they knew of a nearby campsite - someone suggested I sleep in the church graveyard but I thought it already looked quite full! I eventually found a quiet field and hid in behind a hedgerow. The grass was very long so when I first climbed in the tent it was like sleeping on a waterbed as I flopped about trying to flatten the grass under my ground-sheet but eventually making it into a comfortable cushion. After cycling over 70 sweaty miles and sleeping without a shower I woke up and realised that with the heat and humidity my body had become one homogeneous block. My chin was stuck to my chest, my arms felt like they were tacked to my torso and my legs longed for some lateral movement after feeling glued together in the 30 cm's of space allowed in the mummified sleeping bag. As I moved I heard a synchronised 'schsloooping' sound as my limbs snapped free looking for fresh air! I jumped out of the tent gazed across the green fields then practised 15 minutes of yoga. After, I cycled the 5 minutes to the nearest petrol station to wash my hands and face. I bought a cup and coffee and drank it whilst I decided my route.

Without realising it, in the next 3 days I covered 190 miles. I travelled from south of the Humber via Peterborough down to St Ives. It poured all the way to Peterborough but it gave me a chance to try out my waterproof leggings which came with attached covering for the feet. I was like a wee boy pedalling along delighted that my feet were remaining dry! I pushed through Peterborough only stopping to ask a taxi driver the way. I listened to the drivers diligent directions which must have lasted for at least 5 minutes. I kept nodding knowingly but really I hadn't a clue. I cycled on until I spotted a chip shop. I ordered a veggie burger and a bag of chips but I think they must have taken pity on my sodden state as the burger arrived with a bag full of chips which would have fed a battalion. I saturated them in salt then drowned them with vinegar and sat outside in the dull, driech conditions savouring my supper. The carbohydrate kicked in and I shot off like a bullet along all the b roads picking my way along the counrty route to St Ives. I arrived late, picked my place between the tents, caravans and motorhomes, pitched my tent, had a luke warm shower then toasted my lot with a bottle of cider I had been given 3 days before in Whitby. Thank God tomorrow was a rest day! It was the FA Cup Final day and I was invited by a lovely couple, Paul and Mary into their trailer to enjoy the game, some grub (biggest Yorkshire puddings ever) and their gregarious company.

The next 5 days I stayed with my friend Marion's relatives in Chelmsford and Leigh on Sea. I was made to feel most welcome and it was nice to at last meet the people whom Marion is always talking about. Her sister Fiona, hubby Tim and kids, Ellie and Josh were great fun. I enjoyed walking the kids to school, listening to them playing the piano and counting all of Josh's medals from his various sporting interests - at the same wondering how he managed to stand up straight with the weight of them around his neck! Ellie had been good enough to give up her bed for me and I lay awake looking at all the posters and paraphernalia on the walls. They even surprised with a birthday cake and candles - someone had let them in on the secret - I wonder who? I then cycled the 24 miles to Leigh on Sea to stay with Marion's other sister Kathy and to wait for Marion to fly down and say hello. Again, the welcome and warmth was tangible as we spent a lovely few days relaxing, chatting, eating and drinking! I cooked breakfast one morning and they had the decency not to complain when it took over 90 minutes to appear on the plate - I was not used to cooking in a conventional kitchen!

I headed off late on the Sunday afternoon in the direction of the Dartford Bridge where cyclists were driven across on the back of a 4x4. After 45 miles I pushed the boat out and booked into a youth hostel just east of Gillingham. It was a budget buster at £20 for the night but this did include an 'all you can eat breakfast'. I was awake early next morning, showered, then did some breathing exercises but it was no use - I could not get my mind off the muesli that was downstairs in the breakfast bar. It was a fabulous feast and I sampled everything choosing to miss out only the cold meat! A downpour on the road to Dover combined with the head wind made the 45 miles seem a lot more. The roads flooded and I struggled to see anything with my glasses on or off. I stopped off at Canterbury to have a look at the cathederal but I was not in the mood to go in but enjoyed the wee walk around the town. I was sharing the ride with Thieu, a 59 year old Dutchman I had met at the hostel. I could not believe the equipment he was carrying - although he was not on a mountain bike, his bike was like a mountain but he assured me that he needed absolutely everything - I didn't doubt him but I didn't envy him either as each hill we came to, he virtually came to a standstill. He was a nice man though and had already cycled hundreds of miles with a debilitating condition - I admired his spirit! We said goodbye outside the McDonalds, just outside Dover after having stopped for a coffee. I had a bed for the night at my brother-in-laws cousins house and I asked one of the assistants if she knew the address. She certainly did - Frank had fitted her shower! I pedalled down to the street then looked up - another sheer slope! I started to cycle up but even the caffeine I had just consumed was not enough to carry me up it. I looked at my milometer...800 miles I had travelled from Aberdeen - it was enough! I pushed the bike up to number 76, settled in, settled down and enjoyed a lovely night with Ann, Frank, Justin and Chantell - not forgetting Molly the dog who had more toys than a nursery and was very happy to show me them all! Ann cooked a delicious meal which included a jug of gravy you could have bathed in!

After a calm crossing to Calais I was met by rain and completely clueless as to which direction to take. I sat in a cafe next to the tourist office for a couple of hours wondering which way to go. I eventually cycled around a bit and stumbled upon a youth hostel which had a snake like queue of kids waiting to be processed - not for me I thought! It was dull, rainy and cold and I headed south through the town stopping to buy some bread and tomatoes to go with my cheese and soup I already had. I decided to cycle for an hour down the coast but within a few miles I came upon a campsite - 7.5 euros (£6) perfect. I pitched the tent, showered then cooked food. Had a chat with Bob and Jen who had spent 6 weeks travelling in France but still had enough cereal left to provide me with breakfast! Then the storm began. Until then, I had been a wee bit preoccupied with my sore tooth, a filling I had repaired just before leaving and although I had settled up, the tooth had not settled down. The thunder and lightening however, placed my tooth in perspective. The tent prepared to take off as wind whipped beneath the outer layer, lightening illuminated my hoose like flashing xmas lights, then I realised that I was camped beneath the pseudo shelter of the trees. The relentless rain roared against my tent creating deafening decibels which suggested that at 12.50 am sleep was going to be superficial. There was nothing else for it but just to lie back, listen, look and dare I say it, pray as me and my wee tent were completely and utterly pounded and pulverised as the heavens heaved and the ground gyrated. To cap it all, with the constant sound of water my own waterworks had welled up but there was no way I was leaving the tent. After 90 minutes of mayhem the storm abated and I hung my head out and decided it was now safe enough to bleed my bladder, inspect my hoose and have a look at my poor bike which fortunately had had a teflon treatment (weather proofing) only a few hours before. Yet again the only thing dry was the smiling brookes saddle! Settling down again and although a little weary from fending off the fierceness of the storm it just seemed too silent for sleep and anyway my senses were still jumping as if I had drank a drum of coffee. I lay down and let the experience seep in - a little like the water - after my inner and outer tent had been compressed together in a match made from heaven. Having said that, I complimented myself on such a fine purchase - I guess that is tentamount to praise!

The problem with travelling alone is that you are always having to keep an eye on your belongings which after a while can become quite tiresome. Often the easiest solution is to take them wherever you go. The first Aldi I entered in France was great - the young woman behind the till understood my situation and allowed me to park my bike behind the tills. The second Aldi was not so 'open'. I entered the shop pushing my bike under the barriers where the trolleys travel and rested it against a pallet of peeled plum tomatoes. I was just about to approach a member of staff to ask if it was okay when one approached me! He was reacting as if I had brought a bomb into the store, not a bike. There was much gesticulating and frothing at the mouth - him, not me! I was frog marched back to the one way entrance where amidst all the commotion a master key was conjured up and the whole door was opened allowing me to reverse my bike out! Whilst sitting outside regaining my composure I was approached by 2 elderly ladies who were pushing a brand new bike - which they had just purchased from Aldi! With more of the same gesticulation but much less froth they explained that they wanted me to adjust the seat and handlebars. I rummaged through my panniers looking for my multi-tool not bothering to explain that I was no bike mechanic. However, I did manage a wee tweak here and there which seemed to please them no end. The lady wearing the tracksuit and trainers gingerly edged herself onto the bike, then zigzagged her way out of the car park whilst the other one thanked me profusely waving frantically as she drove off. I sat in the sun, ate an apple - which I had obviously bought earlier and smiled.

Campsites. Perhaps images of peace, tranquillity and relaxation come to the fore. Not always so! Electric hedge clippers, strimmers and mowers battle it out with barking dogs, couples arguing, couples making up, cars revving up, kids screaming, tv's roaring, tv aerials whining and campervans coming and going - which they do a lot as they are so bloody big they can hardly get into the allotted spaces which were designed for wee caravans or tents. Even the tents have become like tarduses (sp) with every possible possession crammed into them to make their experience of camping just like they never left home. In Veulettes just south of Dieppe after 50 miles of monsoon like mayhem I squelched upon a campsite which oozed pride and perfection. The toilets were pristine, the grass manicured to exact detail to the extent that when I popped my head out of the tent the following morning I almost lost my eyebrows as I was surprised by an early morning mower! Earlier in the week I camped on another deserted site right on the beach near to Merlimont. Although it was at the beach the ground was as hard as cement. It took 5 attempts trying to pitch my tent and push in the pegs - I still have the bruises on my hands! I ate scrambled eggs, cheese, bread, olives, cake, coffee and banana. I cleaned my pots with a little water and a lot of gravel and grass. Then I took a wee wander down to the shore and sat on the sand. Later, I lay awake for ages due to too many cups of coffee. I had just slipped into a slumber when I was awoken by a loud bleeping noise. I hadn't a clue what it was and felt a little disorientated. It turned out to be my mobile phone informing me that my sim card was out of memory! Once my heart had returned to its normal rate, I heaved a sigh of relief and went back to sleep. The following morning a maintenance man arrived who was obviously still keeping an eye on the place, his other eye was firmly focused on me, my tent and the fact that I was busy cooking my breakfast on one of the picnic benches. He strode across stern faced and started to explain that I should not have been there - he had a fair point! I whipped out the laminated copy of the newspaper article which had appeared in the local press before I left. It has a marvellous map of my route and a picture of me on my bike. He softened, smiled, then patted me on the back whilst suggesting that I should finish my breakfast - I did!

The first 2 weeks or so I was like a speedster dashing doon the dales. Whereas the last few weeks I have just dallied doon to Dieppe and beyond exploring the nooks and crannies of the Normandie coast. I now have heaps of time to fill in before I meet my brother, Steve, to cycle across France from Bordeaux to the Mediterranean coast. I then travel down to Barcelona to attend a 12 day meditation retreat. I guess after that then the real challenges will begin. This first period has given me a wee idea of what the nature of the trip will be like. Now I am in Fecamp about 150 miles down the French coast waiting for Steve, to pop across for the weekend. His friends, Francois and Rosy have very generously allowed me to stay in their house and cocoon myself in their computer room. However, my eyes are now square and I am beginning to babble so it is almost time to sign out.

Over a month has passed with almost 1100 miles pedalled. Already many memories are meshing my mind. Most days I struggle to remember what happened in the previous one without dipping into my diary. Yet this still seems so surreal. I am unsure what tomorrow will bring although it will probably involve more cheese and bread. However, I do feel very fortunate to be doing this so I would like to say thank you to everyone who has helped me to get away and to all who have helped me on my way. With this communal email I send many thanks and much love. Eric x

P.S. Sorry no snaps for the moment but I shall include them with the next email.