posted on Monday, November 14, 2016

Carmel Mission


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posted on Wednesday, October 19, 2016

New York City


Finally a clean and shaven cyclist was returned to the road. I followed Edward suggested route 41 and in a morning of cycling had the pleasure to cross three state borders, Massachusetts, Connecticut and finally New York. The early morning fog allowed countless photo opportunities and some of the best pictures I have taken on this trip. 
Connecticut was an unexpected surprise with beautiful countryside scattered by tidy little villages and extremely friendly folks. It was a quick dash through the Constitution State but two hours were enough for the polling cyclist to assign Connecticut to Hillary. She was scattered and plastered all over the place while Ronald McDonald was nowhere to be seen!
1053 kilometres later all that remains is a quick train transfer to New York City where Bronte will proudly parade through Central Park and roam freely around some of the best city sights. We would like to thank a couple of apps... Google Maps for keeping us un-lost and Weather for ensuring we stayed mostly dry...
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posted on Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Great Barrington


Blessed by summer like night temperatures it rained during the night. When the tent holds, it is a peaceful sound to hear. Last night the ranger asked me to leave by seven so I was up early and opening my tent I found out the whole national park wrapped in a thick fog. So thick it could be cut with a knife and spread like butter so to say.
You aren't a real bike tourer until the sight of a laundromat makes you emotional and can bring you to the brink of tears. This morning was no exception and as soon as I survived it down the mountain foggy road I was ready to drop quarters and dry my tent in Bennington. A good breakfast restored the spirit with the best muffin ever. The Berkshires, where rich New Yorkers and Bostonian buy their third or fourth country pads, put up quite a show. I can see that I am not far from the big apple, I started to see lots of New York licence plates. From the little I have seen so far, they don't make for fine mountain drivers! Used to straight and right angles driving, they are obviously out of their comfort zone; going around a bend seems a new experience and each time I spot a yellow 'empire state' plate I stay well clear! While I thought the leaves highlights were over, mild climate and little rain meant that the mountains were as spectacular as I had ever seen.
I crossed back into Massachusetts and the search for a new licence plate was on but the result was nothing, zero, zilch! In Stockbridge while taking some pictures I was approached by Allan, whom I found out was a keen cyclist and he had done lots of tours himself. In a minute he offered me to stay at his place but it was not meant as I was so desperate for a shower and fed up with baby wipes that I had booked a hotel room earlier on. Clearly addicted , I tried my luck and did ask him where to get a licence plate. He said I've got one...so up we were cycling this steep hill to get this plate from his house! A little diversion that brought today to 111 km and ever closer to Wassaic where my train to New York will depart.
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posted on Monday, October 17, 2016

Woodford State Park


Still on the frosty side this morning. Having to evacuate the golf course early just in case I got another round of the chills. Being Sunday morning I pondered a quick conversion to the evangelicals, joining prayers at Our Lady of Ephesus. I am sure all the singing and central heating would have done a good job but In a fluorescent green jacket and shorts It would have hardly been appropriate. The Londonderry Inn a quick trip down the road seemed a better idea. As I opened the door on the verge of hypothermia Brian the owner, rather coldly informed me that breakfast was only for guests. As I was about to reconsider mass, lovely Maya came through the reception and declared that I would be made an exception and I was welcomed. As I enjoyed breakfast soaking heat by the chimney the guests trickled slowly to the breakfast room. Three bagels, two cake slices, two fried eggs and two coffees later and I was best friend with them all. I was formally introduced to each one of them as they entered the room. An 87 years old born in Weston Vermont but living in Colorado most of his life was complaining that now more man than cows seemed to be roaming the place, most upsetting. As elderly tend to do he was keen on old time stories, how hard life was, his farmer duties which sounded gruesome and involved things like castrating bulls or the fact that they went to school barefoot. From the sound of things a life I wouldn't endure one morning.
Then Andrew came down and he was talking as if he hadn't met a human being for weeks. A New Yorker, he was a retired correspondent for the New York Times. He lived in London, Brazil, France and sailed all over the Mediterranean. He was part of a group of ex Yale graduate who used to be part of a choir. Once a year they would meet up rehearse and give a little concert somewhere. Of course even though retired he seemed to be on top of his business, news. I was pleased when he confirmed my cycling polls were pretty accurate. Massachusetts to Clinton, New Hampshire to Trumpy, Vermont nobody can tell as they just don't seem to care!
A balmy minimum of 14 degrees tonight means camping again! After all the chatting I was rather late with my cycling but I finally found Woodford State Park although closed. I passed the barrier knocked on the ranger's house, was told the camping season is over but as a cyclist he allowed me to stay! I pitched my tent in almost complete darkness and will have Woodford State Park all for myself tonight.
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posted on Sunday, October 16, 2016

Londonderry


As I emerged from my tent in the morning, it wasn't a pretty sight! The tent was solid frozen into a free standing piece, covered in an icy white layer; same fate for poor Bronte who'd been left shivering out there, all night long.
As far as Michelin man goes he was zippy to start with but packing the icy tent in the freezing cold, that I later found out to be -2 degrees, turned me into an icicle. Wondering if the bike will even be able to be unfolded I thought the best would be to start pedalling in order to warm up. It worked for the leggy bits but despite wearing gloves my hands didn't agree with the plot. Providence is good and I wondered what I would have made of a Ben and Jerry raspberry and cheesecake ice cream this morning... After ten minutes I found some relief in the Swiss Farm Inn and had a hearty breakfast for the first time in my life appreciating a cup of coffee more for its hand warming properties than flavour. I emerged a new man while the sun had also started to work heating up a notch this winter wonderland. Three days cycling in Vermont and I honestly do not know if I will ever be able to poll... The sample is way too small with trumpy on 4 and Clinton on 1. Vermonters, make peace with the fact that Bernie Sanders is gone, you are electing a president after all, show some passion!
The inspector has run out of leaves today and declared a tie between the Green Mountains and Franconia Notch. In the village category the winners were Canterbury, New Hampshire, Warren and Waterbury Vermont. To all those deserving that could not get any leaves, best wishes and sincere apologies. Tonight only a minimum of 6 degrees was forecasted so unfazed by past traumas, I pitched my tent on a well trimmed lawn, in what turned out to be the local 3 holes practice golf course...
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posted on Saturday, October 15, 2016

Stockebridge


Fantastic day that started well, with a double raspberries and cheesecake Ben and Jerry ice cream at the factory! This is where it all started and about twenty people joined the half an hour tour. You go through the usual history of how Ben and Jerry started it all in a van kind of thing but like the protesters at Harvard all that we wanted was ice cream and we wanted it now! A Vermont registration plate and a few drops of oil on the old chain and Bronte was in top notch form, speeding effortlessly down scenic route 100. Ben and Jerry is popular all over the world and it needs lots of black and white Holstein cows in a good mood, to produce the goodies. They were definitely in good form this morning enjoying the sun and the grazing. I entered Green Mountain National Park and was again treated by a spectacle of colours. Peak time was a week ago here it seems but it has also been one of the best years according to locals and I wouldn't know it if I hadn't heard it! The inspector after awarding Stowe and Warren with two leaves each, had to drop three more for the National Park too and is now running out of awards.
I cycled down Mad River Valley along a river that seemed to have overcome his quirky side and made a lot of sense to me. Quiet roads too, I wonder if the weekend will change things...
It's going to be zero degrees tonight but dry therefore it's been decided that camping is on. Looking for a place to pitch my tent I found a little pearl in Heather who runs this most interesting cafe along the road and has live music tonight! Mostly she allows me to put my tent on her grounds so that I can make the most of her dinner and music. What more can one ask?
After the music the plan is to cross the road and hide in my tent wearing my entire mobile wardrobe. The earplugs for once will not be for the noise but to stop the cold draft passing through my head, a kind of plump Michelin tyre man.
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posted on Friday, October 14, 2016

Stowe


The dog missed his chance and in the early hours of the morning I quietly packed up and flew down Olde Farm Road. 
For a couple of hours while looking to buy some water or a sweet pastry and coffee, all I could find along the road, were places selling maple syrup, selling it by the gallon. Surely the state is proud about its Maple syrup production and I would admit it tastes nice on a morning pancake yet nobody can survive on the stuff! To sustain one existence much more than maple syrup is needed and I am sure that a few bakeries, a cafe and a few restaurants along the road would go a long way enhancing the quality of life.
Six hundred kilometres cycled so far both bike and cyclist are chirpy and in good form.
Days of searching registration plates in vain gave me the idea to walk into a car garage asking for one. The guy asked me if Vermont was fine and in a minute cheerfully produced a green mountain state plate, registration FRM 274! Bronte was overwhelmed by the gift and now all legal and registered we are ready to head south, looking for more leaves, direction the big Apple.
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posted on Thursday, October 13, 2016

St Johnsbury


Hectic night as you can imagine. Earplugs failed to cope with large trucks snoring up the hill. I woke up at dawn quickly packed my tent and shame and traced my way back to a campsite I had passed, determined to start the day on a high, with a nice hot shower. The sun was rising above Franconia Notch State Park and in the morning I could finally see what I could only get a glimpse of the previous evening. Mountains completely painted in all shadesof red, oranges, yellows and green. The inspector, stingy so far, dropped on his knees sang an hallelujah and awarded three Michelin leaves to Franconia, a hard act to follow.
The sadness of running out of Eggnog was overcome in Littleton where the local laundromat was put to good use and returned a chirpy and clean cyclist to the road. Following a local recommendation I ended up having the best burrito I have ever had.
Life was beautiful and birds singing loud.
Past More dam the excitement of a border crossing into Vermont loomed close, my third state so far. New Hampshire treated me and Bronte with great respect, we lived free therefore didn't die.
Cycling presidential polls, sadly in the end gave the state to trumpy by a small margin.
At 15:13 on a sunny afternoon we crossed into Vermont and its rather gentler moto 'Green mountains State'. Here of course life stopped at Bernie and all the signs are out as if he was still running for president. St Johnsbury welcomed me with a well meaning 'where rivers and people come together'. After last night shameful disaster I changed camping tactics. I found an ideal spot in a farm first and then asked permission to Anne, the owner who gently allowed me to set my tent with a warning; there is dog around that is large but kind and that if he finds me he'll jump on me but only out of affection and with the best of meanings... I quietly set up camp, ducking behind a bush so far successfully avoiding being spotted by the friendly beast. Good night.
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posted on Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Franconia Notch


Common sense lost in Conway. I imagined it a nice big town with all kind of restaurants where I could enjoy plenty of delicious junk food and buy supplies but it turned up to be nothing like that. The place was just residential while the real large town called Conway North was 8 km north and out of my planned route. Now couldn't we all agree that North Conway should be really Conway while the real Conway should be Conway South? Buying some groceries in the only little store there was I found a mysterious drink with a very cute name, Pumpkin Eggnog. I like pumpkins, I like Eggs, the only iffy part was the nog bit. I asked the store owner, a lovely lady of Indian origin, what it was and she tried to waffle her way around it before admitting that although she was selling it, she did not have the slightest clue. Intrigued, I bought and made it part of my dinner while camping. It immediately seemed to be pretty sweet and concentrated to be drank plain but still I had all the justifications to get lots of calories and it tasted pretty good. At night though my stomach started wondering what was going on and I woke up with a slight burning, I blamed it on the nog. Whatever the concoction was in the morning the big climb up the top of White Mountains went swiftly. Legs were spinning, the old lungs had enough for a whistle too and there was certainly some extra umphhh. The only thing slowing me down we're the countless beautiful views that demanded I stop, look, take one more picture or one more video. On top of Kancagamus Pass a crew with large cameras were shooting a commercial and so I had the pleasure to ask for their expertise in shooting a video of me and Bronte proudly reaching the top.
It went all downhill from there, literally! The multitude of stops chatting to people and taking the views meant that I was far behind my planned schedule and it was getting late. Eagerness to catch up with lost time and the light starting to get dimmer and dimmer the rebel in me took over, I pretended to have lost track of the winding bike route and off I was on Freeway 93, ignoring all warning signs that bikes, mopeds, pedestrians were not allowed to enter. Traffic was light but it was getting seriously dark and admitting defeat I just went off in a grassy ditch, pitched up my tent and put to good use those earplugs meant for youth hostels.
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posted on Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Conway


Winepessaukee lake woke up with clear blue skies and a temperature, after the storm, definitely much fresher than it had been so far. Still after yesterday wash out there was a definite change of mood, wolfeboro was upbeat, with plenty of smiles and good mornings. I first thought it might have been the debate where trumpy had shown once again its limits but then I realised this Monday was Columbus Day and a national holiday. Sandwich, one of the nicest villages passed so far had its annual autumn fair which turned out to be far too crowded to visit. The display if trees around was a far better reason to stroll around and as half New Hampshire seemed to be there I enjoyed some really quiet roads with no traffic at all. 2 Michelin stars were awarded to the village, the inspector was really pleased.
Exactly on the 12th October 1492 Columbus first set foot on the eastern coast of America, I am just trying to figure out how excited he must have been by the discovery given that I am still so excited to be here after 500 years...
By Tamworth library where I was desperately searching for some wifi signal I met a man called John who had obviously be sent by providence. As I was approaching the White Mountains, planning to take the Kancagamus Highway, John wouldn't let me and began a thirty minutes informed thesis on why I should take the smaller Passaconaway road instead. His knowledge of these mountains was far to vast to argue with so I followed his advice and started this peaceful scenic road up the mountain. I soon found a pleasant spot in the forest to pitch my tent and get ready for tomorrow where the mountain climb will begin.
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posted on Monday, October 10, 2016

Wolfeboro


The tail end of hurricane Matthews made it to New Hampshire and messed up my day. Nothing dramatic, only my lucky sunny streak came to an abrupt halt and I got drenched! I had to cut my day short and seek cover in a motel in Wolfeboro, proudly boasting to be the first summer resort in the US history. It welcomed me on a rainy autumn day instead. The weather man though is hopeful and says that tomorrow and for the next three days I will be busking in the sun again and be chilled at night and defrosted again the following morning. White Mountains National Park is around the corner and rumours I picked up at cafes, say it is gorgeous and at its peak up there. The lack of vistas due to the weather made me turn to politics again. Sadly Laconia went to Trump with a tally of 8 signs to 5. Wolfeboro is to close to call, will see if I get new sights upon leaving in the morning. The other focus was on trying to find the best reward a cyclist can find on the road, a car registration plate. I would love one of those 'live free or die' but all I could see by the side of the road were mushrooms, basking and happy in the rain...at least it was good for some. I happen to have an expensive view on a beautiful lake tonight and by evening the clouds suddenly parted and I was able to admire a breathtaking sunset and enjoy the presidential debate.
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posted on Sunday, October 09, 2016

Laconia


Central heating and all the kind of comforts I take for granted can only be appreciated once lost. Last night camping in the fields could not have been a starker reminder. As expected It was bitterly cold, freezing my butt after subjecting it to long days on a stiff Brooks saddle. Temperatures are on a rollercoaster, when the sun is out I roast, morning and evenings you mostly find me spinning my legs real fast to keep warm. It is at these times when I wish I was into surfing rather than autumn leaves. Still the colours I see for hours each day make it all so much worth it. New Hampshire trees are on fire, painted all shades of red, orange, yellows and greens.
Passing by the state capital Concord and noticing more extra large sizes I realised what the other big culprit is. If food is to blame a second close place must go to drive ins. You drive in to eat, go to a drive in bank, a drive in cinema I even noticed a sign for a drive in theatre. No need to ever use a pair of legs anymore.
It's election year in the US next month and signs of candidates for presidency, senate, county are littering most houses front yards. When I can't see leaves I add up signs and run a very unofficial cycling poll. If Massachusetts (not again...) seemed to favour Clinton, New Hampshire seems much tighter with a lot of Trumps. In a. A couple more days counting and I'll announce who takes the state.
Today I also figured out a neat trick to find out how long it takes to get somewhere in the US. Ask a man how long it takes to cycle from A to B and you mostly get a blank. Now ask the same man how long it takes him to drive from A to B, multiply by 3.54666 and you get your answer.
As for learning, visiting Canterbury Shaker village was really inspiring, they seemed a very decent lot; all that remains of all those inspired and hard working men and women, are three sisters in a community in Maine.
Canterbury also got the judge to work. Amazing display of foliage, 2 Michelin leaves dispensed and so much deserved!
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posted on Saturday, October 08, 2016

Goffstown


Heading north once reached Ayer, I took the Nashua River Rail Trail. Quite a mouthful, but thanks to David, my host last night, I had a peaceful cycle ride on what used to be a railway track, that took me across an invisible border into New Hampshire.
Happy to leave Massachusetts behind, nothing personal against the state, only the fact I won't have to try spelling it again. It consistently gets me on the second s you see...most annoying.
New Hampshire motto stated on every car registration plate is an uncompromising 'live free or die'. Nashua was the first city I crossed and it became apparent how the motto had seriously backfired. It seemed to have been taken literally by many as be free to eat as much junk food and pies, get seriously fat and die young in the process. After all if you can have both why chose just one? At a red light on Main Street I saw the largest human being I have ever seen. A woman crossing the street slouched on an oversized electric wheelchair filled with meat to the brim, the poor soul obviously unable to carry all that freedom on her own legs! Nashua had definitely a serious obesity problem.
This turned out handy at the large grocery store where they were dishing out pizza samples that looked as large as the real thing and turned into a main course of my lunch!
On a more positive note New Hampshire seemed to put a lot more passion and effort in its leaves. The judge was treated to the first hints of autumn as it should be and awarded 1 Michelin leaf each to New Boston and Goffstown. Stingy to say the least but the trip has just started and was he to be over eager he would soon run out of leaves.
As the sun was setting and the shadows got long it was time to find a field to pitch my tent for a first night under bright shining stars.
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posted on Friday, October 07, 2016

Littleton


We had the usual adventurous night at the Boston hostel. I was sharing a little dorm room with five other guys and well prepared by past grim experience I had come equipped with a pair of indispensable ear plugs. These proved not up to the task as I still woke up to various snores and groans making their way past them. The real fun part started around 5:15 when the first mobile phone chime sat off on a gentle but loud lullaby. Pleasing at first, the blighted melody lasted good ten minutes and triggered a search for the culprit. From my top bunk position I started noticing people crawling on all fours trying to figure out direction, location and nature of the instrument and ways to silence it. It was all in vain, the carillon went on unperturbed, announcing joyfully that it was time to get up.
The only person sound asleep was Brad from Austin Texas and it was clear that his alarm was not going to wake him up. The general commotion ended when unconscious and half asleep he somehow managed to silence it, bringing sighs of relief. Ten minutes had hardly passed when another chime went off and another one while Brad was gently asleep. On the fourth round there was a sense of doom and despair and even the so far quiet Chinese bloke started cursing loudly in mandarin while I couldn't stop laughing at it all.
Youth hostels consistently deliver good stories to compensate for the lack of sleep.
Boston was bright and sunny and cycling around most of the morning I got a glimpse of its charm.
Bronte and the judge were proudly setting off.
I always wanted to be able to say 'I have gone to Harvard' and as it was on the way, I paid MIT a visit too. Not all was well in Harvard. The leafy college yard bustling with tourists and proud looking students carrying loads of books, was rattled by a protest march with loudspeakers. You know the type that goes along the lines that whatever they wanted they wanted it now sort of thing... no patience whatsoever.
The countryside loomed, with a string of idyllic villages but little to keep the inspector busy. It was interesting to see Walden pond where Thoreau wrote his most famous book and lived for two years testing self sufficiency and peace. Nearby Concord was also worth a stop with its history of battles for independence and literary heritage. Foliage was having a bad day in Massachusetts, maybe feeling a tad shy by his passing. Harsh as it seemed he cycled on unperturbed and awarded none.
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posted on Thursday, October 06, 2016

Boston


I cannot set on a proper title for this new exciting chapter of cycling ramblings. 
If I were to admit it and be completely sincere, I would say that I have come to New England to admire the hues and colours of autumn leaves turning into the most outstanding shades of red, yellow and greens but this would be far too long a title and sound too sentimental and naïve. 
I need something coincise, stronger, inspiring, something that will motivate me to climb even the steepest hills and to face with bravery and courage, thunders, storms and the many nights camping chills.
Let's face it, pretty as it might be, autumn is moody, it sports quite a temper and is well known for not always being the most benevolent and kind to idealistic cyclists like me.
For simplicity's sake I will title it Leaves Spotting Thrills but to further enhance the motivation side of things, I decided to spice things up further. I declared myself to be a the self appointed only inspector and judge for the forthcoming Michelin Good Foliage Guide 2016 and of course dispense leaves not stars, to the most deserving villages and their trees.
Judges should be totally objective and unbiased but far from it, I seriously believe maples to have an edge and that they will decide who should win!
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posted on Friday, February 26, 2016

Colombo


Final report from the Land of Smiles. The stretch from Ratnapura to Colombo was much more than the boring transfer to the capital I had imagined. For at least half of the way, the road was winding through forests, hilly and often following a large river called Kalu Ganga. In the airline world we talk of ditching as a procedure when an aircraft has to do an emergency landing on water. The few times I had to deal with heavy traffic during this holiday, my ditching was much more straight forward and literal. When I would see a large truck coming at me, hear another one behind me and the hooting growing into a crescendo, I would quickly turn and jump into the ditch at the side of the road. Very efficient if a bit humbling. When my ditching practice today started, reaching the outskirts of the capital, I knew it was time to call it a day; I sat by a fruit stall to savour my last sweet watermelon, before folding the bike up, dive for safety into a tuk tuk, letting his experience do the dangerous driving. Reached my guest house and refreshed it was time to explore Colombo. I didn't have high expectations as it is often not part of a Sri Lanka sightseeing tour. I really enjoyed the evening stroll through the Gangaramaya temple and the ocean sunset on the long beach but other than that it seems to be a city desperately trying to win a world chaos competition. I can easily say that my tuk tuk driver taking me back last night was an experience in itself. Everywhere else where traffic is tame and follows some civilised rules, this guy would have long been jailed and banned from driving anything that has wheels. Tonight, in the Colombo evening traffic jam, he was my hero! In the half an our it took to get me back, he was driving as if possessed by the devil, spanning all lanes and winding its way through cars, large trucks and buses like a gifted maniac. I thought we would crash at least five times, had to close my eyes a few but he was always in control, calm and unperturbed. What to say of Sri Lanka. It's been a wonderful setting for this adventure. Perfect it is certainly not. I haven't mentioned the pollution of its cities, the garbage one constantly finds thrown along the roads and the condition of poverty and squalor too many people still live in. Yet what has been imprinted most in my memory are those huge smiles and greet from all the people I crossed path with. Their generosity and good heart together with the island's wonderful tropical landscapes, its forests and mountains that will make it hard to forget.
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posted on Thursday, February 25, 2016

Ratnapura


Today It was time to rip the rewards of climbing up these magnificent mountains. I will head down to the plains and the city of Ratnapura. The landscape shrouded in a fine early morning mist was breath taking. The clouds of yesterday storm still lingering on but breaking up into all kind of weird shapes, uncovering the blue sky behind. I often had to stop to take in those images and try to freeze them in a photo or a clip. At Beragala noticing a bank I thought it was a good chance to quickly change some money to last me the last few days here. I parked Bronte right by the entrance triggering a quick reaction from the security guard that thinking I had come to Sri Lanka to do a pedalling bank robbery job, came out embracing his large rifle and told me I couldn't leave it right at the front. I said I just needed to change money and he turned into a gentleman escorting me right at the front of a crowd queuing. The cashier told me to sit down and while I thought she was just being polite and all, in hindsight she new changing foreign currency at the Beragala People's Bank was quite an event. I was surrounded by a gathering crowd as the cashier stared at my twenty pound notes and then involved half the branch into what I can only imagine was a Google search at the back office, finding out what currency it was and whether it was real or fake. As the intelligence did its work in the office, my cashier started dealing with the rest of the crowd doing transactions while I sat right in front and had people practically sitting on my lap. Next I needed to show my passport and for ten minutes that disappeared too while I was witnessing withdrawals, cheque deposits mortgage payments happening to my left and right. Then it was deemed necessary for me to write down my address on paper. After the Google search the enlightened bunch came out with confidence and submitted my twenties to all kind of visual and tactile tests. The proof was sound they were indeed five notes of twenty British pounds. There was almost a cheer or sigh of relief while I was anxiously checking if the armed officer was doing his job and made sure that nobody was trying to pinch my unlocked bike. The transactions around me suddenly stopped and after a good twenty minutes I was produced a thick bunch of small denominations that everybody including me counted to make sure they were right. I have only met generous and honest people here, more than anywhere else but with half the village knowing that I was setting off with a good monthly wage on a bike I dashed out and sped downhill with increased zest! The road being downhill life today was at 30 miles an hour and I couldn't satisfy the crowds dispensing as many smiles and some english language wisdom today. Uphill I am slow and it pleases people. It takes time to pass them by and they can manage to throw in a good standard series of questions such as "hi", "where you going", "which country?", "where's your wife?", "you have children?", "how Sri Lanka?", "bye". You can tell I am on a flat if it goes like "hi", "which country", "bye". Well today it was "hibye" and I had already zoomed away to a distant horizon! I stopped by another lovely Buddhist temple by the road side today and after being asked to remove silly hat and shoes I could enjoy a guided tour with the resident monk. Half way to my final destination it was time to grab some lunch just before a large downpour, yet another lucky escape. Not that I mind getting moderately soaked here. It has been mostly sunny and very hot and rain is just at the right temperature to be enjoyed, almost a relief I wish I could pay for every now and then. It was still drizzling but I continued to Ratnapura where I found the secluded Deer Park guest house set in lush gardens outside the busy city and had a superb welcome by Mr Gunawardene offering the unmissable cup of Ceylon tea and a grand home cooked dinner by his wife. Tomorrow will be my last cycling day as I plan to arrive in Colombo and spend a couple of nights there too.
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posted on Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Haputale


Adventures sometimes start where plans fall apart. But before that, to the night in the forest chalet. Monkeys were never to be seen or heard of so I blame it on the birds. Nothing against them, I love watching birds and I rejoice when I hear them having a good happy chirpy day. The trouble is that there was no peace to be found in this forest. My bedroom was in the middle of a bird sanctuary. One particular bird I would name the faulty metronome was going on and on with his tik tok out of sync to which he would get a reply by another feathered specie that went chiii chiii or along those lines. They were obviously speaking different languages, misunderstanding each other, so why bother at all. To the adventure bit. Neil, yesterday's Sri Lankan tourism authority, had spent his time recommending me a road from Ella to Haputale that would only take 25 km. The stubborn in me realised that there was Rowena waterfall 7km going down the other way and I thought as the day was so short I would go there, come back and still have an easy relaxing day. Down I went and the road got steeper and steeper and by the time I got to the waterfall I knew there was no way I would want to go back up. I vaguely remembered Neil saying this way was too long but I rather trusted a tuk tuk driver suggesting I should continue on this road as it was not going much more down and then it would gently rise back to Haputale my final destination. Rule number one when you are cycling is never to trust the advice of motorised individuals. Their idea of a road going flat, up or down is completely skewed as all they have to do is push harder on a pedal or a gentle roll of the wrist. We cyclists are a different breed, we are much more sensitive to levels, up is painful down is joyful, flat is ...well, flat. Anyway there aren't many cyclists around here so there I was on an unplanned route at the mercy of drivers, tuk tuk riders, passers by and whoever wanted to join in and mislead me further. Distances and heights of towns seemed an opinion. Haputale height according to their answers varied between a mighty 5000 metres and a mere 1200. Distances were even more fun. I would get say 40 km from a person then ride 10, ask again and find out that Haputale was now 40 km away, meaning it was not only moving but it was doing so at my exact speed. Also on the map it was marked as an A road, meaning a major road but maybe this had been true in a distant past. Now it was a tiny bumpy messed up road waving up and down through a dense forests. The tarmac, when there was any left that is, had the consistency of rubber and at times seemed to be melting under the intense heat. Bronte with its little wheels was pissed off by the holes and bumps and I was only able to go at a walking pace or little more. Neil was right about the road being long but one thing he was wrong was the amazing sceneries. It climbed the ridge of a steep mountain and for hours I could look down as the mountains descended giving glimpses of the ocean two hundred kilometres away. Without even knowing it I stumbled on a fantastic waterfall that I later found out to be the second highest in the country dropping over 250 metres. The short ride turned into another long testing day but full of rewards. With Haputale getting further and further the more people I asked, together with the doubts of not making it in daylight, I took the wise decision to fold up my bike and get a tuk tuk to ride the last 7 or 18 km, depending whom you asked, that seemed to still separate me from my final destination. It turned out to be only 7 km still a few minutes later a mighty thunderstorm struck as I was peaceful speeding up the final stretch, on board my three wheeled saviour.
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posted on Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Ella


Last night the guest house host, Neil for foreigners but something very much abstruse and long in Sinhalese, was really helpful. A keen cyclist himself he seemed to know all the roads in the country and was so eager to help me plan my remaining days here that after one hour of taking out maps, Internet searches and calling up people to find out accommodation, he was still going strong. Nothing would have stopped him if I had not mentioned that after the slog up the mountain the stomach was rather full of sorrow and needed something to munch on. He was really generous and kept pouring cup after cup of coffee and refusing any money for it. At night it was a little hard to fall asleep and at five am sharp the morning Chanting contest  started. The place up on a hill was very blessed by a nearby mosque and a Buddhist temple and both the Imam and the monks woke up in excellent form. Chants and bells galore for one hour until six, amplified by loudspeakers for the 
hardest of hearing. In the end they must have called a truce, settled on a tie and decided to reconvene tomorrow ensuring that Nuwara Eliya's population doesn't get into bad habits and decide to have a lie in until 7am or something as bad as that! 
Given the tension and conflicts that lasted until 2009 the island now is a wonderful example of Buddhist, Muslim, Christian, and Hindu religion coexisting together. Today while cycling in the countryside I luckily spotted an exquisite temple with two young monks and their master happy to have a chat and later eager to take me into the little shrine. A couple of small rooms with wonderful tiled floor and wall paintings all around and of course at the centre of the altar the usual large golden serene Buddha.
I arrived in Ella in good time and went straight into my routine of a little sightseeing, fruit juices and drinks, writing this diary before enjoying rather large portions of food for dinner. My room tonight is on top of a hill with a private balcony facing the forest. There won't be chants for sure but I have been warned about the presence of monkeys and forgot to ask the all important question...what time do monkeys wake up?
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posted on Monday, February 22, 2016

Nuwara Eliya


Today was my hardest as planned. Kandy to Nuwara Eliya will bring me from 500 to 1900 metres and from rice fields to tea! I left very early as I had to cross the city and I was trying to  breath as little nasty fumes as possible and it took about eight hours of cycling. By now my backward side is fully adjusted to these long days on the saddle and it gets uncomfortable when I get off.
The shsh dog trick in Kandy was a total failure, they just didn't get it. I was chased twice and both times I had to exhaust all my umpf to outrun the little rascals.
I practiced another trick that seems to work but is rather risky. It uses reverse psychology and seems to puzzle the beast, it involves slowing down to walking speed. Somehow they don't find me an enticing prey if I don't look terrified, legs spinning like mad, they give up on me. Just before passing them I also ring my bell a little, I declare all my good intentions and smile at them. It is a little bit like playing Russian roulette, If it fails, I am doomed so I should use it with utmost care...
As I started climbing the first mountains the bright green of rice fields gave way to the darker green of tea plantations. Literally mountains of them. Every plantation had its own grand colonial house, where the British owners were living in grand style I am sure. Ceylon tea is really good and Sinhalese have no doubt it is the best in the world. All the hours cycling up the mountain in the heat meant lots of stops. I must have drank at least ten litres of water and stopped for countless bites of local sweet breads and Milo, a chocolate and milk drink that is everywhere and keeps me cheerful when times are rough. Spotting a lady cooking coconut flat breads I stopped and asked for one. It was hot and tasted really good. My trouble with locals is that everybody I meet seems to have a relative working in Italy and they are keen to call them up and have me  chat to them. Really kind of them but having a mountain to climb the time for hearing strangers life stories is rather short. Despite spending most of my day panting and out of breath I managed to avoid excessive cursing and managed to keep my cool and spread good will to the thousand children supporting my ordeal.
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posted on Sunday, February 21, 2016

Kandy


Life at 15 miles an hour is sweet! Fast enough when you don't want to stay and slow enough when you want to stop. I have also found out that the bike is a big help in limiting touting. If they try to sell me a carpet I tell them I can't carry it, a lift by taxi or tuk tuk, no thanks I have a bike. For other occasions I tell them I have so little money left that I have to cycle. Works a treat. Dogs this morning were in a good mood. Only one started a half hearted chase showing his teeth and it is then that I tried the 'old man yesterday at the temple trick'. Instead of pedalling like a maniac you slow down look the little menace in the eyes and shout 'shsh' or something along those lines and point a finger at them. To my wonder the furry menace suddenly stopped and turned into a poodle!
Today I started to climb the first mountains reaching 600 metres before descending to 500 in Kandy. The landscape is getting ever more interesting and I could see some of the mountains I'll soon try to get over. The last climb before descending to the city was particularly hard also given it was the hottest time of the day. Running out of water and seriously overheating, I went into a little run down shop hoping for anything to drink but soon realised they were selling nothing of use to me so I just plonked myself on their chair in the shadow and refused to move until I cooled down. The two ladies didn't speak anything but Sinhalese still I was trying to convince them on the importance of selling bottled water. They must have been puzzled by this weird cyclist willing to risk an heart attack rather than paying a five dollar tuk tuk fee and get on top the blooming thing like almost everyone else does. Well tomorrow entails going up to 2000 metres so I decided I will ignore all children and save some breath by not dispensing all those hi and bye for free!
Reached Kandy and after sorting out a reservation mess I finally visited the Temple of the Tooth Relic where it is said that a tooth belonging to the Buddha is held. The crowds were overwhelming due to tomorrow's full moon day a special Buddhist and National holiday here.

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posted on Saturday, February 20, 2016

Sigiriya


Fact. Sinhalese dogs have a certain umpf in the morning. They waste most of the day laying flat on their side, desperately seeking shadows, panting furiously by the side of the road, ignoring the world.
Early mornings are different; well rested and fresh they can give it a shot and test the stamina of foreign looking cyclists. That made for a quick start of my day, sprinting to get away from four raving mad dogs chasing me. Mind you they were the usual smallish size but the rattle they made, barking behind my spinning legs, made them seem bigger, therefore the increased speed on my part. I don't think they were trying to get me rabies, I was just being tested...
As I saw the first mountains in the distance, the landscape turned lush green, with rice fields, tropical forests, lakes and finally a nice and quiet road, crooked and full of character! It was a glorious cycling day to say the least. On the way I also crossed three majestic working elephant and my first dreaded monitor lizard, thank god not crossing my road but rather still, in a shallow water ditch. I am sure they have all the good reason to be around but to me they just look evil, are far too large a lizard and should simply be banned. It took about five hours to Sigiriya with plenty of stops to chat with locals, drink, eat and of course dispensing 'hellos' to children receiving back lots of smiles and laughter.
After five hours cycling I took a shower before starting an hour climb up to Lion Rock, a UNESCO  world heritage sacred site reached after 1400 steps up the dramatic rock face and watched the last rays of sun bathe the forest planes. A duathlon let's say.
Today I watched a couple of tourists getting off their speeding cars, briefly stop at a road side stall with their guide telling what each fruit or drink for sale was, before returning to the air conditioning  of the car and blasting off to the next sightseeing or photo opportunity. Cycling I have less time for visiting attractions but I know I wouldn't want to miss the chance to spend hours each day breathing and sweating in the forest, hearing sounds I have never heard, smelling new scents or stop at a stall and find out how tasty and sweet a fruit whose name I don't even know,  can be. And the smiles of all those children...priceless! 
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posted on Friday, February 19, 2016

Anuradhapura


I started to head inland, away from the ocean and towards the mountains. Maybe two more days to get fit on the plains before the brutal climb to 2000 metres. If it wasn't for the wonderful people of this island I would say it was an unremarkable cycling days in the tropics. I am starting to grow a particular dislike of endlessly straight stretches of road where you just keep pedalling to the horizon with nothing your eyes can get hold of and say 'when I get there...' Let's not talk about the wind either as I am building up some serious credits here after two days. Although pretty flat today's road was a long alternating of uphills and downhills and the constant heat made it pretty hard at times. This is where the people and why I love cycling come in. I often stopped to drink or eat sweets and breads on tiny stalls by the roadside and each one of them turned into the opportunity to have a chat with the people around, meet the owner family and so on. It's a young country, it strikes a European to see so many children around eager to try a 'hello' as soon as they realise I am a tourist. I find myself waving and answering them always being repaid by smiles larger than their faces. Adults are pretty friendly too only their standard English phrase is a little more grown up and often involves asking 'where you from?' and 'you have wife and children?'
Their English though is soon over if I say that I don't or even worse tell them that the bike is my  bride. Out of pity I have even said yes allowing  them to get on with page two of their conversation book! I reached Anuradhapura, hanging on to life as I cycled through the centre traffic in what seemed hell on a particularly bad day. I arrived early in order to have some time to visit the sacred city. This was possible thanks to Vippalu who whizzed me around the main sites on board of his tuk tuk. The hotel room tonight is really a bargain, just outside town in a very secluded and quiet area. Upali the owner is half Italian too, having lived in Padova for almost twenty years before returning home in very good style! 

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posted on Thursday, February 18, 2016

Puttalam


First full day of cycling and given the pretty constant head wind I am really happy that I managed to do the 90 kilometres that separated my not precisely known location last night to the town of Puttalam. My legs held on decently while my arse had a rough time adjusting to this new routine. Cockerels in Sri Lanka are pretty loud and by four in the morning you get an early wake up call. It is a little early but given the heat at midday, early mornings are the best for cycling. Not too scenic of a road today. I followed busy A3 Road going straight south to north along the western coast. I first experienced the convenience of buying coconut to drink the fresh water, a good and very cheap way to keep hydrated in this heat. Stalls selling them are found everywhere, one hardly needs to carry bottled water. After a few hours of kerosene therapy with heavy traffic the road got a little quieter. I stopped to get some sweet and savoury pastry and some cold Nescafé shake which I can see becoming a staple when I need to raise my sugar level. The savoury fish pastry was interesting to say the least. A few bites and the weird filling produced a syncopated bout of uncontrollable burping. Almost reached my goal I met Brian, my first cycle tourists an English bloke cycling for months here and in India. We cycled together for a little until he announced he would stop there and then to make himself a cup of tea. At first I thought he meant buying one from a nearby stall. Sri Lankan tea is top quality and I can't imagine how cheap a cup is going to be but no! He was brewing his own English stuff sitting in the dust on the side of a busy road, a true gentlemen. It was four o'clock after all...
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posted on Thursday, February 18, 2016

Negombo Beach


It's the turn of Sri Lanka who would have said! Promises of cheap and good food, smooth roads and hot winter temperatures and not too great distances and I was immediately sold! Quite a shock to be so suddenly thrown from a wintery Italian bike ride wrapped up with scarves, gloves and hat, to this sweltering anarchic traffic mess. With all the tiredness from the travel and after assembling the bike under the staring eyes of the  Airport security, I proudly set out from Bandaranaike international airport, heading north and desperately trying to get to the coast. Ways to and from any airport in the world are always bound to be not the best of places for a relaxing cycling ride, this was not an exception. I had to quickly adapt to the wild rules of the road here where the largest of trucks rule the pecking order followed by buses and cars. I seemed to rank pretty low in their consideration probably well below those three wheels tuk tuk and Italian Ape tricycles that abound around here. I must say that the awful disorder was not too frightening after all with most drivers hooting well ahead and slowing down when overtaking and most importantly never doing it too close! I thought negombo beach would be easier to find but I followed the A3 longer than I should in the end finding some kind of coastal civilisation after turning into little country roads often getting to a dead end. Yes I admit it, I found a guest house by the beach, having dinner at a local restaurant yet still joyfully unaware of my exact whereabouts, just a tiny little lost! I am not alone as asking people's direction while cycling they all seemed to not be entirely clear of their location either, including the local traffic police which explain the total mess. Lots of stray dogs all over the place but so far they seem pretty tiny and exhausted, and have not taken the slightest interest in my spinning calves. They do seem to realise I am exotic around here and unlike locals I definitely produce more barking fits...time to rest my jet lag before the first full cycling day tomorrow.
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posted on Monday, July 27, 2015

Vancouver


Rosy weather forecast for my last day arrival in Vancouver set me off for the last long day of cycling with a large smile on my face. Leaving early I enjoyed the last descent from the mountains, over forty kilometres to the town of Squamish. After a coffee break, with trepidation I looked forward to yet another treat, reaching the Pacific. at first a narrow inlet  turned into wider views, the ocean opened up and the road hugged the coast, displaying some of the views I loved on my Oregon and California coastal rides. Along the way I met a German cyclist taking a ferry to Vancouver Island who gave me new ideas for future rides. After meeting some bikers on shiny Harley's and discussing how resistant my little Schwalbe tyres were I set off on the road and hardly covered hundred metres before a huge nail punctured my wheel! I didn't mind, nothing could stop me from reaching my goal anymore.
I cycled slower and slower, torn between the expectation of finally reaching Vancouver and the sadness of coming to terms with the fact that another adventure was drawing to an end. Reached the steep ramp of Lions Gate Bridge it was time to savour the first views of this beautiful city, welcoming me in glorious sunshine. It was also time to congratulate Brontie, this little wonderful bike with its little wheels that can safely take me so far.

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posted on Sunday, July 26, 2015

Whistler


The Whistler Ironman organiser and me had a bad  planning day! This morning was not meant for any other sports but aquatics...I was lucky enough to pack my tent just in time to keep it dry but from then up to Whistler things got extremely gloomy and damp and proved it is possible to be wetter than wet! It was really cold too and what kept me going was seeing those poor souls competing in tight thin suits in a race where not only the weather was miserable but the distances to be covered too...After all who was I to complain when this  lot had 180 km left of cycling, 5 km swimming in a freezing lake and of course running a marathon to complete the ordeal? Dripping and frozen I didn't present my best self at the information office in Whistler where I had to keep my nerves really steady to swallow further grief on being told the hostel was not in the village but 8 km further ahead! The gentlest remark I could utter was 'you must be joking...' They were certainly not. My luck was to accidentally have planned only a short day cycling to rest and enjoy Whistler before the final descent to Vancouver. Reached the hostel misery levels greatly reduced, I did laundry, dried and warmed myself and in a few hours, with the rain having stopped and a timid sun shining through the thick clouds, I put Brontie back on a bus to the village to finally enjoy the beauty I could hardly appreciate just hours earlier. Although a bit too glamorous and fake it seemed quite an idyllic mountain retreat for those few that can afford it in style. As for me I just had a quick glimpse, then cycled downhill through the Valley bike trail, staying in a not too expensive hostel, really attractive and comfortable as it had been one of the Winter Olympics athletes accommodation in 2010. 
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posted on Saturday, July 25, 2015

Pemberton


The night at Lillooet campsite was a bit troublesome and for once it wasn't Canadian Railways fault! Lots of music in the evening and when it was 4 am the campsite seemed to undergo a major evacuation with noise of dismantling tents and cars engines. A German couple cycling informed me that they were all competitors in a sturgeon fishing tournament that must have started at 5 am as these things do... Duffey Lake road to Pemberton was even worse than I imagined as far as difficulty but stunning landscapes again. It climbed with grades of 13% and as if it wasn't enough a strong headwind most of the way made it a really tough hurdle, It took about four hours of climbing and a few push of  the bike when steepness and winds almost ground me to s halt. I met the Germans on the way too, first time to meet other cyclists going my way. The satisfaction of reaching the top was dampened by a sudden thunderstorm that continued for all the descent and only stopped just before Pemberton. Luckily enough for my soaked self to dry before setting up camp at Nairn Falls provincial Park. Unexpectedly tomorrow is a big day in a Whistler where an Ironman race is on. This means I will have to start early an reach Whistler before they start closing roads!
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posted on Friday, July 24, 2015

Lillooet


For some reasons I ended up doing another monster stage! I beat yesterday record and it wasn't intentional. My first stop was Cache Creek the last place I could get some breakfast and stock up on  food. After about 3 hours I reached Marble Canyon the campsite I had planned to stay in. The spot by the lake was interesting but the gravel pitches for tents not so. With the aim to catch up with my schedule on I went aiming for Lillooet! It was again a little more cycling than I would have wanted but highway 99 was quiet most of the day and often breathtaking with its grand views and the silence of the open spaces. Today the first signposts of Vancouver appeared reminding me that it will be only a few more days before this adventure will be over, still a lot more to look forward to, Whistler , descending for another shirt glimpse of the Pacific Coast before the city itself.
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posted on Thursday, July 23, 2015

Savona


Slept like a log in the train and started the day with three hearty pancakes and maple syrup. The first half of the day started following the Thompson river as it wound down towards Kamloops. I was expecting highway 1 to become rather unpleasant with traffic and this lasted well after the city as I had to cycle in a heavy traffic three lanes motorway where cycling was banned. I had stopped at the sign and not knowing where to continue I thought it best to ask at a bicycle shop. They all shrugged and suggested I should ignore the signpost and pedal on. What seemed to become a rather boring cycling day in traffic was rescued as soon as I veered off the main highway and left behind the Vancouver traffic wagon. I headed north on highway 97 which was pretty quiet and a real treat with the scenery that quickly turned into a dry landscape surrounding the beautiful Kamloops Lake. I would follow the lake to its end in the town of Savona. What was meant to be a short day staying in Kamloops became the longest ride I ever had on Brontie at 118 kilometres. Tired but happy to have left the busy traffic behind and to begin exploring these new and exciting landscapes.

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