Heading off into the unknown

Getting a taste for the open road?

It’s that time of year again. As the nights reach their longest, and I unwrap a pile of presents sadly devoid of any bike goodies, my thoughts turn to the summer, and my hopes for a long distance cycling adventure.

I got the taste for touring early, with a 600 mile trip across France when I was just 14. I had a crummy steel racer, with two working gears, and panniers my mum had sewn to save cash.

My two younger brothers were just 12 and 10, and Oliver, the youngest, could barely steer his bike, which must have weighed almost as much as him.

As our family got off the ferry at Caen to start on our big adventure, one parent protectively pedalling at either end of our wobbly parade, we didn’t know what to expect.

Our training had consisted of a single eight mile ride, with a large pub lunch half way along the route.

That first day, bolstered by some white toast and jam, we covered 45 miles, and a family addiction was born. Almost 20 years later I still have a long list of dream trips to tick off – including the Race Across America.

This autumn just gone, I’d had more modest aspirations, to cycle from Bristol to Land’s End, perhaps covering 250 miles.

But events conspired against me – the tourer I’d ordered especially didn’t arrive in time, one of my pets got ill, and the weather was crap. I wrote off my plans and vowed to try again this year.

Now I’m kicking myself for putting it off. After all, none of those obstacles would have stopped the intrepid Heinz Stucke, who had covered 54,000 kilometres cycling around the world, when I met him last summer, and doubtless has added many thousands more since.

So, if you’re toying with the idea of pencilling out an ambitious trip for 2008, stop putting it off and, if you’ll excuse the pun, get on your bike!

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