Category Archives: Peak to Peak 2014

Why do we have Monsoons in Asia?

For the first 21 years of my life I lived in New Zealand, where the most common question to ask someone up on meeting is “what do you think of the weather?”.  In New Zealand the weather seems to dictate our daily lives, our actions, our moods and our conversations. Maybe one of the reasons for weather being such a ‘hot’ topic in New Zealand is the fact it is extreme, it changes fast and can be very difficult to predict.

When I moved to Singapore at the age of 22, I found it strange that people thought I was strange when I asked them about the weather!  Here the topic of conversation on everyone’s lips revolves around food – “Have you taken your breakfast yet?”.  I soon realised that the weather in Singapore is generally very predictable, and can be described in two ways:

  • hot and muggy

or

  • VERY hot and muggy

After living here for 19 years I also learned there were two main wind patterns that affected Singapore and the south-east-asian region.

  • The north east monsoon: December through to March
  • The south west monsoon: June through to September.

As the names suggest for each monsoon seasons the winds blow predictably in these directions during these periods.

The times in between these monsoons are typically called ‘inter-monsoon periods’.  These are characterized by light and variable winds and are often the times of the most intense thunder and electrical storms.  Singapore has over 180 ‘lightning days’ per year (days when lightning is recorded somewhere in the country).  Every year a handful of people die from lightning strikes in Singapore such as this poor chap here, making it one of the lightning capitals of the world. Indeed being caught out, especially in a small boat in a major electrical storm (as I have on occasions) is an unnerving experience.

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About to be overtaken by an angry sky – paddling with my wife Stephanie in the Divorce Machine through our first tropical storm off Sentosa Island, Singapore.

After 19 years of living in Singapore and whilst researching the Rowing from Home to Home expedition – I finally learnt the reason why we have monsoon winds in Singapore.  The answer is very straightforward and can be explained in three steps:

Step One – pressure differences

All of the weather on the earth is fundamentally caused – believe it or not, by the sun.  The sun warms certain part of the earth, while other parts in the shadow or further from the sun are cooled.  When the earth is heated, warmer air rises causing lower air pressure close to the earths surface.

Consequently where land or sea is cooler – the air sinks and stays lower.  This means more air, more dense and more pressure, making high pressure areas close to the earths surface.  Air always tries to travel from areas of high pressure to areas of low pressure.  It tries to even out the air pressure all over the world.  This movement causes winds.

 

Step Two – The asian continent cools

During winter in the northern hemisphere, the enormous land mass of Asia cools. This is from November  through to March.  As it cools, (as described above) the air is heavier and more dense close to the surface making area of HIGH pressure.  Over the equator where Singapore is located – it is hot and there is LOW pressure.  Hence the air travels from the HIGH pressure to the LOW pressure – down from the Asian continent towards and over the equator.  Initially it travels as a north-easterly wind (remember when describing winds the direction is where the wind comes from NOT where the wind is going – so a north-easterly wind is in fact heading in the opposite direction i.e. south-west) direction until it hits the equator, then it turns to a north-westerly wind down towards Australia.

Click this LINK to see an animation of north-east monsoon winds on the 19 January 2015.

I was often confused when people talked about the monsoons as they used the terms ‘north-east’ or ‘north-west’ monsoon and I wondered which is which? Until I finally understood that they are the same phenomenon, it just depends whether you stand north of the equator where you would call it the north-east monsoon, or south of the equator where it would be the north-west monsoon.

Step Three – The asian continent warms

During summer in the northern hemisphere, the asian land mass warms and the opposite occurs.  The air rises and creates a LOW pressure region over the Asian continent, lower in pressure even than the air at the equator and further south.  Consequently the air travels towards the low pressure region in Asia making the winds south-easterly (below the equator) and south-westerly above the equator.

Click this LINK here to see an animation of winds during the south-east monsoon  on 19 June 2015.

monsoons

Why is this important to Rowing from Home to Home?

Wind strength and direction is extremely important to sailors and mariners for obvious reasons. Now we are travelling by human power so will NOT be using sails of my kind, however the wind still influences our vessel enormously, either aiding our progress or restricting it. It can even push us backwards or worse still into dangerous areas/objects where we do not want to be.  We cannot really make headway against wind speed more than 15 knots and the higher the wind speed the rougher the sea state becomes, to a point when we cannot row safely.

So judging the best time of the year to make this expedition is something that I have been studying for a very long time.  As know one has even tried to travel from Singapore to Australia by human power in a rowing boat – I need to research and make the decisions without the benefit of others experience.  Based on the information given above it would seem the north-east monsoon is the logical time to attempt the expedition?

But wait! There is one more factor to consider.

CYCLONE SEASON

A tropical cyclone is a rapidly rotating storm system characterized by a low-pressure center, strong winds, and a spiral arrangement of thunderstorms that produce heavy rain. Depending on its location and strength, a tropical cyclone is referred to by names such as hurricane , typhoon, tropical storm, cyclonic storm, tropical depression, and simply cyclone.[4] (source Wikipedia)

Global_tropical_cyclone_tracks-edit2

Unfortunately the period of the north-east monsoon is also cyclone season.  As you can see from the image above of cyclone tracks recorded over time, our rowing route from Indonesian across to Darwin in Australia passes right through ‘cyclone alley’.  Being caught in a cyclone is something we will need to be very careful to try to avoid.  These are massive storms, with very rough sea states and bad enough for large vessels let alone small little rowing boats. But as with most things in life of value, you have to make compromises and take risks to achieve them.  We need the north-easterly/westerly winds therefore the risk of cyclones is something we will have to manage.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Peak to Peak 2014 – the movie is here!

Enjoy the movie of Peak to Peak 2014 – travel from the summit of Ben Nevis, over 2000km by human power all the way to the summit of France – Mt Blanc at 4800m, all from the comfort of your computer!

Peak to Peak 2014 – Ben Nevis to Mt Blanc – Trip report with images

Ben Nevis to Mt Blanc – by human power

From the summit of the highest point in the UK, to the summit of the highest point in France. That was the plan that Alan Silva and I had and we attempted this mission in a similar style as the previous years highly successful Peak to Peak 2013 trip from the summit of the North Island of New Zealand to the summit of the South Island. With as little support as practically possible. on a shoe string budget (less than S$2000 each) and fitting into our annual leave.

This is a consolidated report of the entire expedition, complete with photos and a summary of the top highlights, lowlights, and the lessons learnt from the journey.  I have tried to keep it shorter rather than longer for readability and have included lots of photo’s!

We always knew that the realistic chances of completing this journey would be very slim. I get 20 days annual leave per year and I used 18 of these days for this trip. Combined with the three weekends, meant I had 24 days in total. This included flying time from Singapore to Europe (and return) to complete the 2000km journey. This constraint on time meant that not only would we have to keep moving every day, but also we had almost no time to wait out bad weather. Something that any outdoors person knows is not the ideal situation to be in when you are attempting to climb large icy things or paddle wide, swift watery things. Cycling in the rain though was not too much of a problem – it’s just miserable, cold, mind numbing and at times a little dangerous.

We left Aberdeen on a cloudy overcast day, and were privileged to be driven the 5 hour car journey to Fort William by the legendary Bill ‘the Bonnie Scotsman but still part of England’ Stuart. I had been monitoring the weather forecasts and it was very apparent that our original ‘window’ for climbing Ben Nevis over the Saturday and Sunday 16/17 August was not looking good. High winds and lots of rain, were being swept through in a series of low pressure weather systems (I later found out this is considered normal weather for Scotland). So we made an executive decision to rip up to the summit that very Friday afternoon, rather than risk the chance of being stuck for two days waiting out bad weather over the weekend and getting behind schedule right from the word go.

After we ‘touched down’ in Fort William (i.e. Bill let us out of his car) we pulled on our walking shoes, bought a cheap paper map and headed off up the tourist trail with hundreds of other daring adventurers. Dogs, cats, small children, large children, fit people, unfit people, people in sensible clothing and people in ridiculous clothing more suited to a hot yoga class than a stroll up a mountain where the weather can turn quickly enough that it catches people out and kills almost every year.

With Alan Silva at the tourist information centre at the base of Ben Nevis, fresh faced and full of beans as we are about to start the wander up Ben Nevis.

With Alan Silva at the tourist information centre at the base of Ben Nevis, fresh faced and full of beans as we are about to start the wander up Ben Nevis.

Alan had I did not want to follow the tourist route however – we had our eyes and our plans set on the Tower Ridge which ascends the North Face of Ben Nevis. This is a full-on rock climbing route and we had bought harnesses, rope and the necessary climbing kit – however owing to our late start in the afternoon we decided that we probably did not have enough time to complete the route before darkness and opted for a variation known as the CMD arete. (Thanks to a friendly and helpful chap named Rob who suggested this).  This route follows a large curving ridge around the North side of Ben Nevis – far away from the crowds. It is considered a scramble, rather than a rock climb, and turned out to be a really enjoyable walk, however we both looked up with considerable disappointment at the beautiful Tower Ridge as we passed underneath it. I tucked it away firmly into my ‘things to do in the future’ list (don’t forget Rob and hopefully you will join!).

Alan Silva on the way up the tourist track.  We turned off this half way up and snuck around the North side of the mountain to follow the CMD arete.

Alan Silva on the way up the tourist track. We turned off this half way up and snuck around the North side of the mountain to follow the CMD arete.

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The Tower Ridge on Ben Nevis – centre of photos, leading to the summit in the clouds

Alan Silva wandering around the CMD Arete

Alan Silva wandering around the CMD Arete

Pulling a headstand on the summit in the cloud.

Pulling a headstand on the summit in the cloud.

Video from the summit of Ben Nevis:

After an enjoyable few hours we reached the top of the Ben at 5:00PM’ish. It was cloudy and cold on the summit, we took photo’s and video and I began to shiver after just a few minutes. There was very little to see due to the cloud so we soon set-off down, this time we followed the tourist trail. Two hour later we were back down in the carpark and met Bill wandering up the path to us. We spent an enjoyable night as the rain came in, celebrating with a cheeky beer or two and a relaxing dinner at the pub.

The next morning was wet. That rain the forecasters were talking about came rolling in. We were spoiled rotten by Bill once again. He cooked, cleaned and looking after us in royal fashion. Several cups of tea and a plate of delicious bacon and eggs later, we forced ourselves out into the rain and loaded up our bikes for the ride south. Here me made another executive decision. We had initially decided to carry all our climbing gear for the Mt Blanc climb on our cycles. Crampons, plastic mountaineering boots, snow stakes, ice screws, ropes etc. Bill kindly offered (and we readily accepted) to put this gear into a box for us and post it to Rye Harbour on the South Coast of England where we could pick it up as we paddled over the channel.

Back down after our successful oxygen-less, unsupported ascent of the CMD arete on the Ben Nevis with this lovely man - Bill Stuart

Back down safely after our successful oxygen-less, unsupported ascent of the CMD arete on Ben Nevis with this lovely man – Bill Stuart, a great ambassador for Scottish people.

Off we set in the rain. I got 15 metres only before realising my front wheel was back to front and we had to stop and refit it. Back on the bikes we followed the shore of Loch Eil southwest for two hours until we reached the Glencoe valley. I was excited to ride through this amazing valley – having walked through it many years previously on the West Highland Way.  However the rain and cloud obliterated much of the view. Some other factors also made it very interesting. It was a longgggg uphill for around 20km, the holiday traffic was intense, the rain was bucketing it down and there was no road shoulder to cycle along the single carriageway road. Concentration was required for hour after hour as we slowly ground our way up and over the Scottish Highlands, peddling along with traffic passing us continually in waves of vehicles.  It was with considerable relief when we reached the top and started to cruise down the other side. The rain, cold and traffic was a shock to the system for the first days cycling, and we managed a meagre yet hard won 75 km before stopping, completely wet through at the small village of Tyndrum. I was carrying a tent, however in the pouring rain, it never is a nice option to have to consider so we dived into the pub and took one of their rooms for the evening. This set the standard for the entire trip and we never used my tent once, opting to sleep in cheap hotels or B & B’s at the end of the day. Especially when wet, it’s very nice to have somewhere to dry your gear at the end of the day and warm-up after you have been out in the elements for hours on end. And, even when it was not wet I used the possibility of rain as a convenient excuse to skip the camping option.

Alan cycles carefully along the non-existent road shoulder in heavy holiday traffic through the Glencoe valley

Alan cycles carefully along the almost non-existent road shoulder in heavy holiday traffic through the Glencoe valley

Over the next two days we rode down past Loch Lomond and right into the heart of Glasgow. Glasgow surprised me with its beautiful city centre and pedestrian mall full of colorful sights and sounds. I had expected a more industrial town, but it was exciting and energetic. We stayed in the Youth Hostel here and enjoyed an Indian meal followed by a slow wander back with Alan intrigued by every drain pipe, balcony and construction method he came across. He was in engineers heaven and I thought we would never make it back to our beds.

A short video from Loch Lomond below:

Alan at Loch Lomond - still raining.

Alan Silva, happy to be down at Loch Lomond in more beautiful Scottish weather

Alan Silva in downtown Glasgow

Alan Silva in downtown Glasgow

The next day we made it to Moffat – a beautiful little village close to the border of England.  Here I got my back sprocket fixed as my gears were slipping and jumping all over the place.  Alan was still hit with the flu so was feeling wiped out by this stage.  The next day we had a lunch break in Gretna Green (famous as a place for English to elope to marry in) before crossing the border and entering England. We stopped in Carlisle that evening at the home of Sally and Tim Sarginson. They were perfect hosts showing us around Hadrian’s Wall (it’s not very big so I don’t know how it kept anyone out), the Carlise international airport(I think they were having us on) and we also visited the pub which was becoming a common theme on the trip.

Checking out the Carlisle International Airport

Checking out the Carlisle International Airport

The following day we had a tough ride but my FAVORITE day of the entire trip – we cycled through the Yorkshire Dales and the Pennine ranges which are known as the ‘backbone of England’. The riding was up and down numerous hills with our highest elevation reached a paltry 600m, however continuous rolling hills made my legs start to burn and I was feeling relieved when we finally reached the village of Leyburn.  Alan struggled his way in – the flu really taking its toll on his energy levels – but as usual not a word of complaint.

Villages in England we noticed seemed to be built on top of hills, whilst in France they were at the bottom of valleys. I am not sure why, as both places have their strengths and weaknesses (e.g. water/defence), however if anyone knows do leave a comment here to explain! It was a beautiful days riding though. If anyone ever wants to ride through a nice part of the UK – go to Yorkshire! Nice quiet roads, quaint villages and picturesque farmland scenery. The Tour de France had recently been through this part also so all the way along yellow bicycles were tied onto trees and hay bales, and the road was in great condition to cycle on. We happily dived into the pub in Leyburn for the night and enjoyed a good nights rest.

Traffic jams in Yorkshire are mainly from farm machinery

Traffic jams in Yorkshire are mainly from farm machinery

More Yorkshire scenery

More Yorkshire scenery

Cycling through Yorkshire - my favorite part of the trip!

Cycling through Yorkshire – my favorite part of the trip!

A nice sunny day as peddle through Yorkshire

A nice sunny day as we peddle south from Carlisle

A short video of Yorskhire

An overcast day welcomed us as we sped south the following day and we enjoyed lunch in Harrogate – a town popular with tourists for its natural ‘spa’ and also its proximity as a gateway to the Yorkshire Dales.  That evening we made it to the industrial town of Doncaster. Doncaster reminds me of a terrible joke that David Brent made in the TV series ‘The Office’. ‘A nuclear bomb was dropped on XXX and there was 15 pounds of damage’. You may substitute ‘XXX’ for ‘Doncaster’. As I found a place to stay, Alan was chatted up on the street by the bride of a wedding party. He was then later chatted up in the bar by a barmaid who ‘just loved his Australian accent’. He therefore probably has fonder memories of the place than I do.  It reminded me of being in a third world state.

With relief we left the next day and had a very productive day cycling over 120km to Boston almost on the east coast of the UK. Boston is a pleasant city and very welcome after the horrors of Doncaster. We had been very well behaved up until this stage of the trip – early nights and long day riding and I should have known something was about to happen. And happen it did as the next day we cycled further south to the horse racing capital of the UK, Newmarket. It was hot and sunny as we cycled into Newmarket, so we followed instincts and took shelter in the first pub we could find. Suitably refreshed with a cleansing ale – it started to rain and I was soon freezing cold. With burning legs we made our way  a few km more to the beautiful home of Mr Tony who kindly put us up for the night and we were invited to his daughter Kate’s – husbands surprise birthday. It was definitely a surprise for him seeing us turn up. Lets just say we had a great night and I almost had to cycle south alone the next day as Alan was falling for the local Newmarket ladies.

We were very lucky to stay with Tony here in his beautiful house in Newmarket.

We were very lucky to stay with Tony here in his beautiful house in Newmarket.

Passing some canals

Passing by some canals

Feeling decidedly sorry for ourselves the next morning – it was a slow day. But just when we needed some inspiration, it arrived in the form of a red haired, good natured, 100 kg, one-man, english entertainment system. AKA Ian Slack. Ian and his son Ben accompanied us all day on their bicycles, guiding us, feeding us, telling us stories, helping little old ladies across the road and passing me sweets as I grovelled my poor hungover, broken down carcass up hill after hill until we reached another town the UK will never be famous for: Brentwood. “Why the hell do you want to stay in Brentwood?” asked Barclay Morison, ex-rugby mate who came out with his bike to join us that evening. “Because I am tired, hungover and feel like a pathetic wimp who just wants to go to sleep” was the reason, however I fabricated another story about wanting to experience more off-the-beaten-track areas along our journey. The next morning it was raining – hard and as I ate my breakfast and looked up into the heavens above I noticed that it not only rains water from the skies in Brentwood but also used condoms. We informed the waiter and he dutifully sent someone up onto the roof to retrieve the offending item from the skylight where it was happily resting.

As I geared up to ride into and through the east part of London in the cold and the rain, Barclay took one look at my thermal layers, rain shell jacket and fluorescent vest before breaking into a long story about how soft I was. I think it was an attempt at payback for me telling the true story the previous evening of how he was once stretchered off the rugby pitch and whisked away by ambulance to hospital, only to miraculously recover 2 hours later and join us in the pub that evening. However his ribbing made me start to think I was maybe being a bit soft. Until we had cycled about 15 minutes when Barclays teeth started chattering and he started mumbling something about that was enough for the day and it was time for him to go home to catch up on some important admin jobs. Unfortunately the poor guy could not, as first Alan got a puncture then my entire back wheel blew out – ripping my tyre to shreds. In the pouring rain, Alan ‘McGyver’ Silva sewed my tyre together with needle and thread, good enough for me to ride to a bike store where I could buy a new tyre.

Barclay accompanied us to the Woolwhich pedestrian underpath, which allowed us to pass under the Thames river before we finally allowed him to leave us. As with Ian Slack, he was great value to ride with for the day and it was awesome to see familiar faces on the opposite side of the world when you are out and about.  I did feel a slight pang of envy knowing he would be home in one hour in the warmth and drying off, whilst we still had over 100km of up and down, through Kent, in the pouring rain that day to get to Rye Harbour.

Barclay getting cold as Alan fixes his puncture in the outskirts of London

Barclay getting cold as Alan fixes his puncture in the outskirts of London

The next few hours sucked. It rained, and it rained and it rained. My chain started playing up, it turned out to be the plastic chain guard which thankfully Alan fixed by cutting off and throwing away. The steep short rolling hills were non-stop. We followed tiny backcountry lanes which I had to use my GPS to route find – but in many places the reception was not good enough to use the GPS and we had to guess the way.  At 7PM that evening in the dark and the wet we rolled into Rye Harbour, after a really crappy day in the saddles, but happy to have finished the UK cycling leg.

Or so we thought -as the next day we realised we were starting our paddle from Dungeness beach – still 25km away. It rained again as we cycled out to Dungeness, and returned to Rye Harbour – our rest day in Rye Harbour turned into a 55km ride in the pouring rain, wet-through once again.  Dungeness beach is a wind-swept barren place, with two huge nuclear power stations standing stoically as great square fortresses, visible from miles.

The shot 50 second video below gives an idea of the area.

Now using support boats or vehicles was not something that Alan and I wanted to do for this trip, however kayaking the English Channel is something that is actually very difficult.  Not due to mother nature, but more due to the restrictions imposed by the French Coastguard who do not allow ‘unorthodox crossings’ of the English channel, by non-powered vessels like kayaks.  Swimming is ok though.  Yep, thats right. As crazy as it sounds.  I had approached many organisations for permissions to cross the channel starting with the French Coastguard who said ‘NO’.  And one-by-one the rest of them said ‘sorry the French control it so we cant help either’.  So we reluctantly settled for second best.  Using   a support boat, and paddling most of the way across, but exiting the kayaks and getting into the support boat to motor across the 5 – 6 nautical miles of the French Shipping Lanes.  In my view. if we had to take non-human powered transport for 2 metres of our journey it spoiled the spirit of the trip, so 5 – 6 nautical miles was just sickening and it still makes me froth at the mouth as I write this.

We departed in the kayaks along with our friendly support boat from FULL THROTTLE at 11:30AM to time the tides so that there was enough water in the Rye Harbour for the support boat to get out.  The tidal range is over 6m in this area and the currents subsequently very strong.  The English Channel is like a river, with the current flowing one direction with the tide, then turning in the opposite direction every 4 – 6 hours.  The day was overcast with visibility of less than 2 -3 miles when we started and we soon last sight of the mother England after only 45 minutes paddling.

Having a support boat for this crossing took 99% of the adventure out of the paddle for me.  There was no need to navigate as we simply followed the boat – about 100m in front of us.  The knowledge that if we fell out or had a problem then safety was so close in the form of a RIB with over 200 HP waiting to gun us back to safety, completely ruined the fun.  I resigned myself to sitting in the boat and padding for 60 minutes then stopping for a 5 min rest on the hour – with nothing of much interest to see at all, no land, very few ships and dirty muddy water without any sign of fish.  We repeated this cycle for three and a half hours until we hit the middle of the channel.  We made good time at 3.5 – 4 knots, then exited the kayak and motored over the French shipping lane. re-entered the kayaks about 7 nautical miles from Boulogne in France and paddled the last three hours into Boulogne harbour, fighting some current this time and pulling into the beach in the harbour after 6 hours of paddling.  I was not in very good kayaking fitness and I was happy enough to stop paddling by now.  I calculated we paddled around 20 nautical miles, and motored the rest.  We saw a few large ships far out into the distance but the channel really is quite wide and we never got very close to any at all. The sea state  was choppy and it felt more like being in a small pond than out at sea. No rolling swells coming through like we felt the previous year in the Cook Strait.  Some parts we paddled over were only 3 – 4 m deep – whilst the average depth seemed to be 20 – 40m.

Alan Silva somewhere in the English Channel

Alan Silva somewhere in the English Channel

Grant Rawlinson, somewhere in the English Channel

Grant Rawlinson, somewhere in the English Channel

The closest any big ship came to us as we paddled.

The closest any big ship came to us as we paddled.

Getting closer to Boulogne Harbor in France

Getting closer to Boulogne Harbor in France

Rounding the breakwater into Boulogne Harbor

Rounding the breakwater into Boulogne Harbor

Touching the sandy shores of France after just over 6 hours paddling.

Touching the sandy shores of France after just over 6 hours paddling.

In terms of luck, I had to remind myself that we were indeed very lucky to get to paddle what we did of the channel at all.  As the rest of the week, the days before and after our paddle, were not possible to cross due to the high winds.  And we had turned up with no days to spare to wait and been able to set-off immediately.  I guess padding most of the channel was better than not paddling any of it.  However knowing what I know now, I would  seriously consider next time quietly taking a kayak and paddling across with no support craft. Ignoring this ridiculous ruling by the fruitcakes sitting upstairs in the French coastguard.  To add insult to injury – the day we paddled it, an Australian chap swam the entire channel.  I hope any other kayakers reading this will ignore the French and set-off and ‘just do it’ (to borrow the words from NIKE) in a united show of protest against brainless rules.

Our first night in France involved a fantastic sleep for myself but Alan having elected to consume a sports drink full of caffeine and sugar before bed, hardly slept a wink.  I woke to a wet miserable day.  We boxed up our climbing gear and posted it off to Chamonix, before setting off on our bikes.  In the UK, I had planned our route where we would stop every night. However in France, we went purely from day to day, working out the route and where we would sleep as we went along.  Our daily routine normally had us waking at 6 – 7AM, having breakfast then setting off around 8 – 8:30AM.  We would cycle till 11:30 – 12:00 then have lunch, then keep cycling until 4 – 5 PM when we would being to look for a place to stay.  I used the website http://www.booking.com to book a few places which worked very well, and sometime we just found somewhere when we turned up.  After we arrived we would wash our clothes and attempt to dry them, then wander down and find some cheap dinner and a cheeky beer before normally hitting the sack very early – around 9PM’ish.

For 8 days we cycled south-east through France, taking the shortest possible route we could.  In France you are not allowed to cycle on the main motorways, and any road with maximum speed limits of 110km , so we tried to stick to the ‘D” and the ‘N’ roads as much as possible.  We generally found the French drivers to be considerate – giving us a wide clearance as they passed.  However like any country they have their bicycle haters and we got our share of angry horns as well.  Unfortunately we were interested in making miles on the way south so were not taking the scenic or tourist route or stopping to take in much of the historic or cultural sights.  The highlight of the ride was chancing across a festival in the village of Provins.  The accomodation was completely booked out and we were lucky enough to be given  the garden of a friendly chap named Max to camp in for the evening.  We enjoyed the festival and a few beers with Max and his family that night and it was really nice to get a glimpse into the local life.

Checking out the 'Harvest Festival' in the town of Provins

Checking out the ‘Harvest Festival’ in the town of Provins complete with Vespa and Tractor Parades.

Aland and I with Maxc - the friendly Frenchman who allowed us to sleep in a tent in his garden when all accomodation was booked out.

Aland and I with Max and his balls – the friendly Frenchman who allowed us to sleep in a tent in his garden when all accommodation was booked out.

The castle in Provins as seen from Max's garden.

The castle in Provins as seen from Max’s garden.

Attached is two short video clips of cycling through the SOMME and the second of cycling to Dijon.

Whilst the riding was through quite pretty area’s, much of it was through farmland, and the novelty of ploughed fields and fields of hay soon wore off for me.  I did enjoy the Seine region, and the last 3 days when we crossed the Alps, over the Col De La Faucille into Geneva, Switzerland, and onwards up into Chamonix valley were the nicest and most interesting cycling, if not hard work on the legs.

The hight point of the cycle -Col-De-La-Faucille at over 1300m

The hight point of the cycle -Col-De-La-Faucille at over 1300m

Its trials of cycling through France - red wine for lunch is non-optional!

The trials of cycling through France – red wine for lunch!

Alan Silva riding the final 90km, up, up and up to Chamonix valley.

Alan Silva riding the final 90km, up, up and up to Chamonix valley.

Hanging out in Geneva, beautiful Lake but very expensive place.

Hanging out in Geneva, beautiful Lake but a very expensive place.

Finally after 1900km we arrive in Chamonix

Finally after 1900km we arrive in Chamonix

When we arrived in Mt Blanc  – we had been non-stop for 18 days – it would have been great for a rest day – but one look at the weather and I knew we had to push on.  Alan initially had planned a very long route up the Mer-de-Glace glacier then a traverse of the entire mountain.  This was over 20km in horizontal distance with a massive height gain of over 4000m and then we had the descent.  Hard work on tired legs.  We looked into the possibility of a more direct route. Climbing up the Frendo Spur, a mixed rock and ice route which after my research sounded very long with most parties having a bivvy on the steep exposed ridge – something I was not all together confident on, with tired legs.  We discussed some more and settled back on the long traverse route, so loaded up with 4 days food and gear and set-off the next morning, trudging up from the town, following a walking path for the first 2.5 hours all the way to the massive Mer-de-Glace Glacier.

It was immediately apparent when we saw how dry and broken the glacier was was, that further up that there would be considerable route finding to work our way through the mass of crevassed and broken ice.  I felt tired today, getting used to walking again with a heavy pack after 18 days cycling, and Alan lead out the front.  Soon we left the crowds of day trippers who take the train up to the glacier and we were on our own.  It then decided to start raining, really bucketing it down.  It felt like real New Zealand weather, cold and wet – the hardest environment to keep warm in.  Our aim for the day was to get to the Rufuge Requin, an unmanned mountain hut (unmanned because the warden had left the hut two weeks earlier as access was getting too difficult).  This proved to be a very challenging afternoon as we zigged and zagged around the increasingly larger and deeper slots in the ice, getting wet through and colder by the hour.  It was dejavu in a sense – reminding us both of a nightmare trip we had in New Zealand up the Hooker Glacer two years earlier in similar conditions, one which we had to spend the night in an emergency snowcave, made from a crevasse.  We could see the Refuge Requin high up on a rock buttress – but getting to it was the problem.  The glacier was so cut up and then trying to get off the ice onto the rock, over a yawning bottomless gap.  Once on the rock our challenge was greasy slabs with torrents of water running down, which we attempted to climb with our heavy packs, not daring to make a mistake as a fall here would see us down in the icy tombs far below.

Alan walking up towards the Mer-de-Glace

Alan walking up towards the Mer-de-Glace

Looking down on the Mer-de-Glace

Looking down on the Mer-de-Glace – our route dropped down onto the Glacier and followed it up for another few km

Alan works his way up the moraine

Alan works his way up the moraine

And now onto the dry ice

And now onto the dry ice

And then a few hours battling through this mess to reach the hut - just visible on the buttress about 150m above the glacier

And then a few hours battling through this mess to reach the hut – just visible on centre top of the buttress, about 150m above the glacier

Alan searching for a route in the cold and wet up to Rufuge Requin

Alan searching for a route in the cold and wet up to Rufuge Requin

Wet but finally there! A delicious dinner of pasta in the hut

Wet but finally there! A delicious dinner of pasta in the hut

Most of my gear had got wet so I dried as much as I could by wearing it and sleeping in it or on it through the night.  The next day dawned bright and clear and we had a hard slog all the way up and through the Vallee Blanche to Refuge Cosmiques at 3700m. It was so hot we got baked.  Carrying reasonable loads, roped together, with tired legs we plodded along hour after hour.  First we had to work our way through the messy icefall, past a SAR team searching for the body of a Belgium snowboarder who had fallen into a crevasse and died two years earlier.  His body had moved a few hundred metres  in two years and they found him later that day.  May his soul RIP and his family now have closure.

SAR Team dropped off by chopper doing a body recovery

SAR Team dropped off by chopper doing a body recovery

Walking up the Valley Blance - a microwave oven of reflected sun off the snow and heat... The Refuge Cosmiques is on the left rock pinnacle while Aguille du Midi cable station is on top right side - 3800m

Walking up the Vallee Blanche – a microwave oven of reflected sun off the snow and heat… The Refuge Cosmiques (3700m) is centre left on the rock buttress while Aguille du Midi cable station is just visible top right side – 3800m

We arrived at 5PM, pretty tired to a full hut.  Huts in the Alps are a completely different experience to NZ huts.  In the Alps they are run like hostels, with bunk rooms and assigned beds, and a resturant facililty where you buy dinner and breakfast.  The popular huts like Refuge Cosmiques are often fully booked and I had booked by phone three days earlier to secure a spot.  That night we prepared our gear, had dinner in the packed dining room and I was fairly miserable.  I felt claustrophobic, with so many people in a small space, was dehydrated and it was noisy and hot I yearned for space and quiet.  That night was awful, we had breakfast planned for 3AM but hardly slept as people groaned, snored and farted their way through the night.  We were both tired when we rose at 2:30AM, had a quick breakfast of coffee and bread and set-off in the dark for our hopefully final day of Peak to Peak.  We had to complete a traverse of Mt Blanc’s three peaks, Mt Blanc du Tacul, Mt Maudit followed by the main summit of Mt Blanc at 4800m.

Feeling tired and claustrophobic in the noisy dining area of Refuge Cosmiques

Feeling tired and claustrophobic in the noisy dining area of Refuge Cosmiques

Alan straps on crampons at 3AM for our final push for the summit.

Alan straps on crampons at 3AM for our final push for the summit.

As the sun comes up - two climbers visible on the ridge of Mt Maudit

As the sun comes up – two climbers visible on the ridge of Mt Maudit

Climbing the steepest part of the route - the final pitch to the col on Mt Maudit

Climbing the steepest part of the route – the final pitch to the col on Mt Maudit

Alan Silva - the  52 year old hard man from Australia - on the summit of Mt Blanc.

Alan Silva – the 52 year old hard man from Australia – on the summit of Mt Blanc.

Yours truly very happy to be on top - and even happier that the wind died down as we sumited!

Yours truly very happy to be on top – and even happier that the wind died down as we summited!

Summit shot - still friends after 22 days of each others company - another epic Peak to Peak trip!

Summit shot – still friends after 23 days of each others company – another epic Peak to Peak trip!

It was a tough morning, and took us over 8 hours to reach the summit.  It got very windy and a number of teams turned back due to various reasons, mainly the weather/confidence or feeling sick.  But we plodded on and reached the summit about 11:20AM just as the wind died down.  It was a very powerful and emotional feeling to stand up there, knowing how far we had come and how hard we had worked to get there.  It had taken us 23 days and 10 hours to make it all the way from the summit of Ben Nevis.  It was great view and we could see far into the distance in every direction.  We stayed for 10 minutes before heading down the opposite side and following the standard route down.  I was very surprised to find how exposed the ridge is on the Goutier side and took careful steps as we followed the ridgeline down the rest of the afternoon.

The ridge following the standard route down which thousands of people with little experience climb every year. No wonder there are accidents here as it is very exposed in places.

The ridge following the standard route down which thousands of people with little experience climb every year. No wonder there are accidents here as it is very exposed in places.

Alan coming down from the summit, two climber apparent on the summit behind him.

Alan coming down from the summit, two climbers apparent on the summit behind him.

We reached the Goutier hut around 5PM, and our original plan was to make it all the way down and back to Chamonix that night.  Alan’s knee said ‘no way’ to this and we stopped here and managed to get one bunk to share for the night, which was needles to say not the best sleep we both had ever had.  We made our way down the next morning all the way to the train station, where we took train, cable car and taxi back to Chamonix village.  We were both tired and instead of going wild and hitting the town, had one beer and a burger and went to bed.  The next day we took a shuttle bus down to Geneva airport, packed our bikes into cardboard boxes and flew via London back to Singapore and Sydney where I and Alan live respectively.

It had been a great experience, Alan was a reliable, super solid and good company as ever and we had seen a new and different part of the world.  However I still ached at the disappointment of those 5 – 6 miles of the English Channel, no matter what I told myself about how well we had done.

Back at the train station after the climb and the first time in 22 days we could take non-human power!

Back at the train station after the climb and the first time in 22 days we could take non-human power!

Top highlights from Peak to Peak 2014 (in no particular order)

1.  French mountain guides – I heard so much about how rude and grumpy they are.  All the ones we met – in the huts mainly, were super friendly and we talked for hours, I really enjoyed their company.
2.  Staying with local people – at Carlisle, Newmarket and Provins in France.  These always seem to be the richest experiences when travelling
3.  Completing the journey without any injuries or deaths – the cycling was a little bit hairy at times, we were happy to come back unscathed.
4.  Completing the journey on a very reasonable budget – I was aiming at S$2000 all-up, and eventually probably spent about S$2,500 (my airfares were not part of this as I was in Scotland on a working trip).  Over half this cost was for the support vessel, so if we did away with this (as maybe we should have) then we would be well under the 2K mark.

Major disappointments:

1.  Having to exit the kayaks to cross 5 – 6 miles of the French shipping channel – this defeating our 100% by human power attempt
2.  Not being able to climb the infamous TOWER RIDGE on Ben Nevis
3.  Breakfasts in Switzerland – a greasy please of flaky pastry called a croissant, and a coffee.  When I asked for one more croissant – they looked at me like I had requested for a sexual favor with a goat and said no.  Breakfasts in France are slightly better than Switzerland – you get the same but also a small piece of French loaf if you ask nicely.  The french loaf is delicious.  Sometimes in France they would give you two pieces.  Still not enough for two hungry cyclists.   They both need to work on their breakfasts.
4.  Where are all the cyclists in France? We hardly saw any. I thought everyone was cycling around with a beret and a french loaf poking out of their cycle baskets but this is a myth, at least in the parts we rode through.

Top 3 lessons learnt or reinforced by our trip:

1.  If you wake up every day, get out of bed at a reasonable hour, stay focussed and keep pushing on towards your goal, you will be amazed what progress you can make

2.  When travelling together in a small team – with no one else around to rely on or to break up the social dynamic, the first rule is to always, always focus on being positive to one another.  Travelling with just one other person can be tough work for long periods but I am pleased to say we came through the experience positively.

3.   You don’t need lots of money, lots of leave or lots of special equipment to go on an amazing and unique adventure – just motivation and creativity!

Thanks for reading my ranting and raving my friends. May your lives also be filled with challenging, exciting and fulfilling adventure.

VIDEO of the trip coming SOON!

You can see an interactive map of our route from our GPS SPOT tracker by clicking the image below:

Map

Peak to Peak 2014 – Ben Nevis to Mount Blanc by human power is complete!

Together with Alan Silva we took the final steps to the summit of Mt Blanc at 1130hrs, Monday 9 September, 2014 to finish Peak to Peak in 21 days, 19 hours after departing from the summit of Ben Nevis in Scotland.
We travelled over 1900km, completely under our own human power (apart from that frustrating 6miles of the French shipping lane), by foot, bicycle and kayak, ‎through four countries, in rain, wind and sunshine, with no rest days and with as little support as practically possible.
I will write-up a more in-depth trip account when I get back to the comforts of home and have a computer however attached here is a brief overview of what happened these last few days as we had a hugely challenging yet very fitting climax to our adventure with the climb of Mt Blanc – France and Western Europe’s highest peak.
Days 19, 20 and 21 saw us cycle the remainder of the way to Chamonix at the base of Mt Blanc. Day 19 was 115km as we rode from Dijon to Champangole in the French Alps, which involved a leg burning steep 500m ascent.  My legs were screaming as my wife Stephanie’s bike (which I am borrowing for this trip) does not have low enough gearing for steep hills.‎
Day 20 involved more climbing, as we crossed right over the alps, over the Col de la Faucille at 1300m elevation and the highest point on the entire cycle. This was a three hour climb, followed by a glorious 16km downhill run into Switzerland and the beautiful city of Geneva with pleasant views of Lake Geneva.‎
Alan Silva cycling up through the Chamonix Valley on the final 90km ride.

Alan Silva cycling up through the Chamonix Valley on the final 90km ride.

We overnighted here, resting our legs for the final 90km push uphill all the way to Chamonix village in the French Alps at 1000m elevation. We cycled along in lovely sunshine and slowly ground our way up until over 1900km from Ben Nevis and with less than 2km to go BOOM! My backtyre blew out again inside a tunnel and I swore and cursed at my luck as I fixed it beside the road.
Reaching Chamonix was a magic experience, it almost felt like the trip was a success by making it this far. I love Chamonix having visited twice before many years earlier to climb. Nestled in a valley surrounded by huge mountain peaks, the skies littered with paragliders, cable cars and stunning alpine views, it is a place I would love to spend some time resting but unfortunately we did not have much time t‎o sit and enjoy the relaxed village atmosphere as our weather window to climb Mt Blanc looked open for the next three days only.
 It was a quick rush to pack the bikes away, buy supplies and get the mountain gear ready before setting off the next morning for our assault on the world’s deadliest mountain(if you are into statistics!). We decided to attempt to finish our adventure with a truly classic climb of Mt Blanc, a complete traverse of the entire Massif, starting all the way in Chamonix village and walking/climbing all the way up and over the two subsidiary summits (Mt Blanc du Tacal and Maudit) to the very summit at 4820m, then down the other side for the descent via the normal route. Yes a classic route, the problem being, a very long one, in only three days, with tired legs from 19 days on the go already! (most people will use cable car’s to cut-off at least the bottom 1200 – 2200m) of the climb.‎ The total vertical gain we would need to ascend was 3800m in three days, which is a huge amount of vertical gain, equivalent to summiting Mt Everest from basecamp.
We set-off with heavy packs with four days of food and all our gear on day 20 and made our way up the Mer-de-Glace glacier. Hour after hour we worked our way higher, leaving the crowds of people on the lower slopes who take the train up for a day trip, until we were alone on a river of fractured, broken blue and gray ice, littered with massive crevasses. And then the rain came. All afternoon and into the evening it poured on us as we shivered away, struggling to find a path through the crevasse fields, through huge cracks in the ice with no bottom in sight we carefully tiptoed past in our crampons. Our objective was a mountain hut at 2200m elevation, perched high on a rock buttress , 200m above the glacier. Trying to reach the hut was very challenging, as getting off the ice of the glacier and onto the steep rock buttress with water pouring down in floods was very dicey. Our combined experience climbing in poor conditions in the southern alps in NZ over the likes of the Hooker, Tasman and Linda Glaciers proved invaluable and  we eventually worked our way off the glacier and up a series of ledges on the steep rock buttress, climbing very carefully unroped in the rain and arrived tired and bedraggled at 6pm. A huge bowl of pasta and some warm tea later, I crawled onto a bunk with my wet clothes on, in an attempt to dry them with my body heat during the night.
Working our way up through the messy Mer de Glace

Working our way up through the messy Mer de Glace

Alan Silva searching for a route up the rock buttress in the rain on day one of the climb

Alan Silva searching for a route up the rock buttress in the rain on day one of the climb

We woke on day 21 to sunshine and had the opposite problem of the previous day as we got absolutely roasted. It felt like being in a microwave oven as we made our way higher up the glacier, route finding through the crevasse fields, past a search team dropped off by chopper looking for the body of a person who had met their fate in one of these icy tombs.
We plodded along on our tired legs all day, up, up and up until we stumbled into the Refuge Cosmiques (mountain hut) at 3600m around 5pm, pretty well spent. From here we now had a further 1600m of vertical climbing to reach the summit of Mt Blanc at 4820m. On the way we had to traverse over Mt Blanc two subsidiary peaks (du Tacal and Muadit) and we had to carry all our gear as we were descending the opposite side.  We really were knackered by now after after‎ 21 days continuously on the go. I was sunburnt and dehydrated as I drank two litres of water and prepared for the summit attempt at 3am the next morning. Sleep in the dorm rooms in the hut was basically impossible, with people farting, burping, moaning and rustling all night. We rose at 2:30am on day 22 and as Alan put it “felt more exhausted than when I went to bed”. After a quick breakfast and a water bottle filled with hot tea, we donned our packs, crampons and ropes and set-off under the moonlight for our climb to the summit of France.
I lead the way, following the tracks of previous climbers by my head torch and trying to set a pace that I could keep up hour after hour, would keep me warm but would not make me‎ sweat. Sweating is my curse in the mountains, it makes me uncontrollably cold when I stop, and dehydrates me badly.
Up, up and up we went, roped together we wor‎ked our way up and over‎ Mt Blanc du Tacul’s shoulder, arriving around 6:30am, then descended down into the col (saddle) between du Tacul and Maudit. Mt Maudit was the steepest and most technical section of the route, and we climbed 300m vertically up through crevasses to a final steep 50m pitch which lead to the summit ridge. I slowly kicked steps and fought for every metre as my axe bounced off rock hard ice covered by a layer of snow. I felt like vomiting I was so exhausted when I reached the top with considerable relief. This was not a place where we could have afforded to slip.
Ascending Mt Maudit

Ascending Mt Maudit

From here it was another 500m of ascent but very easy, just a mind numbing snow plod, with howling winds blowing airy tails of clouds over the summit and freezing our bodies and our fingers. ‎ The altitude and lower oxygens made it tough work and it was very cold.  Other parties had been turning back all morning due to various reasons including the wind, one climber kept collapsing on the snow in the prayer position, but when I enquired if he was ok and needed help, he said he was ok and they headed back down past us. Our way down was up and over though the summit and after working so hard to get here, there was no way we were turning back. I got into a rhythm for the last two hours and my strength returned as I got higher, reaching the top at 1130am, magically as the wind dropped.
What a glorious feeling it was to stand on the summit, officially 21 days and 19 hours after leaving the summit of Ben Nevis. I shed some tears on the final few metres to the top as I thought my grandmother who passed away a few days earlier. It was a beautiful spot to remember a beautiful person and part of me wished I was able to be back in NZ to say my final goodbye to hear. Instead I said it from the summit.
Summit! 1130hrs, 7 September 2014

Summit! 1130hrs, 7 September 2014

After the summit photo and video, we spent the afternoon ascending the normal route, Alan’s knee became very painful and he could hardly walk by the time we reached Goutier refuge at 3800m at 5pm.  The hut was full‎ but around 9pm one bunk became available so we flopped into this top and tail style and slept a few hours. Still feeling tired the next morning, we descended down through the nasty rock and snow coiloirs on the Goutier route which have killed 74 people alone in the last 20 years from rockfall. Safely through at 2200m, we took a mountain tram and cable car back to chamonix. The ‘normal route’ on Mt Blanc is an amazingly asthetic route, I see why so many people like to climb this way every season.
Descending the beautiful Goutier route

Descending the beautiful Goutier route

A huge thanks to Stephanie my wife for her support, to UFIT and SWORKE, to Bill Stuart, Barclay Morrison, Ian Slack and family, Tim and Sally Sarginson, Tony Ebsworth,Jacqui and Kate, ‎to the people like Max and Harry in France who we met along the way and helped us out.  Thank you to Therese and Ada, friends of Alan’s for the nice messages of support. And finally a huge thank you to Alan, my partner in this crazy quest. A more solid, dependable and long suffering man I am yet to meet.
I have had an amazing trip, – I feel honoured that France, England, Switzerland and Scotland gave me the opportunity to push myself beyond my known limits, to experience their cultures, spectacular landscapes and amazingly diverse range of people. Almost everywhere people have been warm, genuine, helpful and friendly, especially when they see the NZ badge sewn to my jacket. So to my NZ friends reading this, you can also be proud of the great reputation our little country has, far away even on the opposite side of the world.
So Peak to Peak 2014 is complete, I rush this blog out before heading for the Geneva and the long flight home with my gear. The final piece of the logistical puzzle to solve! And that is what probably gives me the most satisfaction out of this entire journey. Putting a plan together which is influenced by so many variables outside our control. The realistic possibility of successfully completing this trip, much like our Peak to Peak 2013 in NZ was very small. Having the mental and physical strength to work our way through each challenge until we finally solved the puzzle is the reward and at least for a few days will allow me to relax and saviour the feeling that comes only after very hard work.  Before the pain from the cold in my fingers and my sore legs subsides and my mind begins to wander, as it started to do this morning…. hmmmm, crossing an ocean by human power…..
Au revoir from France and Bon voyage!
Axe

PS: for those of you who read the last blog, I am pleased to say that Max finally murdered the rooster!

Day 18 – Four days to Chamonix!

Hello from France,

We are now in day 18 of Peak to Peak 2014 and have travelled over 1500km all the way from the summit of Ben Nevis completely(apart from that small part of the french shipping channel) under our own steam.  

After 17 days non-stop with no rest days, I am very happy we are both strong and fit as fiddles and heading hard for Chamonix and Mt Blanc.‎

We hope to reach Chamonix in four days time, it is 400km more fro‎m this point, but has some large hills as we cross the alps into Switzerland so we are expecting some slow and harder riding.  

A recap of the last four days:

Day 14 saw us wake after our first night sleep in France. Well my first nights sleep. Alan drunk Lucozade before he went to bed and was bouncing off the walls all night never sleeping a wink. He woke me at 4am to enquire how my sleep was. When I finally rose, it was to a crappy wet day, and put me in an immediate bad mood. In fact it was the hardest day of the whole trip for me as mentally the realisation of the next 800 – 900km more of cycling sunk in, and in the bloody rain.‎ I was determined to pump out at least 100km though to keep things moving, but all day we battled hill after hill on rough roads with headwinds and Alan called it a day at 80km in the small town of Abbyville. Alan was tired from the paddle the day before and the lack of decent distance did not make me much happier that evening so I was pumped to make up for it the next day.

Day 15 after a good sleep and breakfast saw us back in the‎ saddles and heading south. And today an amazing thing happened, the sun came out! We hadn’t seen the sun for five days and I can tell you that cycling for hour after hourin the rain is a demoralising experience. What a difference the sun made though as we blasted along, stopping in the city of Amiens for a look and then in a small village for lunch. Dealing with the French involves me trying to communicate with my very limited grammar recalled from two years studying French in high school 27 years ago (why did’nt I pay more attention?). Somehow Alan has decided I am the official translator for the trip and I generally make up huge amounts of lies  when I ‘translate’ to him what the French are saying. I order food by closing my eyes and pointing anywhere on the menu my finger lands. It’s worked ok so far and we had fish casserole with pasta for lunch even though I thought I ordered a sandwich and a coke. We knocked out a whopping 146km all the way to Senlis on day 15 and had our first experience riding over cobbled streets which almost shook my teeth out. (Before you Lycra wearing, thin tyred road cyclists start smirking at 146km not being very far, do remember we are riding mountain bikes carrying all our gear in pannier bags and ruck sacks including full camping kit). We celebrated that night with a glass of beer and I washed my socks. 

Day 16 saw us a wee bit stiff from the previous day and we cruised slowly south in more sunshine arriving after 105km at a small town called Provins. I had tried to book a cheap hotel in Provins but everything was booked out.  I did not know why. We decided to just turn up and find accomodation. The first hotel we tried was full so we popped over to the tourist info centre and I asked there (fortunately they spoke english otherwise I would probably have got another plate of fish casserole with pasta). They informed me that this weekend was harvest festival celebration, that’s why everything was sold out. 

There were only about two hotel rooms left in the whole city. I called and enquired at the cost and was asked first ‘what country do you come from?’. The hotelier then proceeded to tell me over the phone how the room was decorated and how much I would love it, before informing me it would cost hundreds of euro for the night. At which point I told him in no uncertain terms “look mate, I am from nz, we fought for your freedom in two world wars so if it wasn’t for us you could be speaking bloody German, now give me the normal price you charge French people – not some overinflated tourist price”. 

I just made that last part up‎ actually.  I am not that brave, or that rude. But I felt like saying it. After declining his offer, Alan and I gave our best “lost puppy, tail between the legs, tired, lost cyclists in a strange land look” and a chap named Max took pity and offered us his garden to camp in for the evening. Max turned out to be a champ, his brother had worked as a fly fishing guide in NZ, and we spent all evening in the village square drinking the weakest beer ever invented and watching parades of tractors and dancing bands and drinking more weak beer until I realised there was no hope of ever getting drunk on beer this weak, and gave up and went to sleep in the tent in Max’s garden. Only to be woken at 1am by Max’s friends coming home for an after festival party. They were very well behaved though and I finally drifted off only to be woken at 6am by Max’s bloody rooster. According to Max it is an english rooster because it likes to talk alot. I think he meant crow alot. It did crow alot. Max told us he was planning to murder it next week as it talked too much. I wish he would have murdered it earlier so I could have slept more.‎ What a wonderful time it was though to be welcomed by local people and spend time with Max and his brother, mother and father and friends. Truly the times when travelling which are the richest experiences when you are invited in by local people and get a glimpse of their world.

Day 17 – after bidding goodbye to Max we cycled to a Boulangerie and I tried to order a croissant and a coffee.  Owing to my lack of language I ended up with a  ham sandwhich instead which I was still happy with, and I ended up having two.  We set-off at 9am on an overcast dan and I felt stronger than I had the entire trip.  We also had lovely flat roads all day, and a tail wind so we whipped along, stopping for lunch in Troyes (I had an ice cream, vanilla ice cream translates in french to ‘vanilla ice cream’‎ so it’s easy to order). We reached our destination after 110km – a small village called Bar-Sur-Mer and I celebrated by washing my socks and cycling pants and having a shower.   

Day 18‎ – today we head for the city of Dijon, a further 120km, leaving three days of climbing up over the alps and into Chamonix.

More Photo’s to come later!

Au revoir!‎

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The ANZACS have landed!

Alan and I touched the sandy beach at Boulogne Harbour this evening at 5:30pm, almost exactly six hours after leaving Dungeness beach in England at 11:30 am.

We paddled for 3.5 hours to the centre of the channel and through the english shipping lanes, then much to our dissapointment had to exit the kayaks and enter the support boat and cross the french shipping lanes under motor. This is due to some ridiculous French laws which prohibit kayakers passing through their shipping lanes. Some of you may know that I have spent months trying to get permission to paddle the channel, but due to the French changing the laws last year it now appears impossible currently to paddle all the way across. I also wrote to the French coast guard personally who denied me access to paddle across their shipping lanes.

We re-entered the kayaks 7nm from Boulogne and paddled into the harbour, covering a total distance of 19nm which is the typical distance of a cross channel swim between the shortest points. However our aim to do the trip completely by human power has been dashed which is disappointing. What is even more frustrating is that their were not many vessels in the shipping lanes. I counted only 3 as we passed through the French side, I regularly paddle through much busier waters every weekend in Singapore, and secondly, a swimmer was swimming the whole channel today. Thats right, you can still swim the channel but you can’t kayak it.
Anyway, we have arrived, are safe and happy, our support boat Will and Hank from Full Throttle did a great job, and we are looking forward to onwards tomorrow on the bikes.

Thanks for your nice messages of support people!

Love Axe

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Axe and Al arriving safe and sound in Boulogne

The ANZACS have landed!

Alan and I touched the sandy beach at Boulogne Harbour this evening at 5:30pm, almost exactly six hours after leaving Dungeness beach in England at 11:30 am.

We paddled for 3.5 hours to the centre of the channel and through the english shipping lanes, then much to our dissapointment had to exit the kayaks and enter the support boat and cross the french shipping lanes under motor. This is due to some ridiculous French laws which prohibit kayakers passing through their shipping lanes. Some of you may know that I have spent months trying to get permission to paddle the channel, but due to the French changing the laws last year it now appears impossible currently to paddle all the way across. I also wrote to the French coast guard personally who denied me access to paddle across their shipping lanes.

We entered the kayaks 7nm from Boulogne and paddled into the harbour, covering a total distance of 19nm which is the typical distance of a cross channel swim between the shortest points. However our aim to do the trip completely by human power has been dashed which is disappointing. What is even more frustrating is that their were not many vessels in the shipping lanes. I counted only 3 as we passed through the French side, I regularly paddle through much busier waters every weekend in Singapore, and secondly, a swimmer was swimming the whole channel today. Thats right, you can still swim the channel but you can’t kayak it.
Anyway, we have arrived, are safe and happy, our support boat Will and Hank from Full Throttle did a great job, and we are looking forward to onwards tomorrow on the bikes.

Thanks for your nice messages of support people!

Love Axe

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Axe and Al arriving safe and sound in Boulogne

Its Channel time

Greetings from very wet and cold south coast of England.  Alan and I arrived yesterday in Rye Harbour and are in position to attempt our kayak across the English channel tomorrow at 11:30AM.  But first a quick wrap up of the last 5 days since the last blog.

Day 6 saw us travel from Carlisle down through the Yorkshire Dales, and across the Pennine range.  The countryside was very pretty farmland and as a kiwi I definitely appreciated the enormous amount of nice looking sheep scattered around the fields.  However the price we paid was the hills. Oh the hills. Hill after hill after hill.  Fortunately we had great weather and an early start so slowly plodded along, up and down, through the numerous tranquil and beautiful small villages which grace Yorkshire.  Eventually with screaming legs after 118 km we reached the small village of Leyburn and stayed there the evening for a well earned rest.

Day 7 we travelled from Leyburn down south to the city of Doncaster.  Again we were confronted with a morning of hill after hill and after topping up on a delicious lunch in Harregate we kept pumping the peddles and the land got flatter as we hit the city of Doncaster where we stayed the night.  My Mum always told me if I had nothing nice to say about something then dont say it, so I have nothing more to say about Doncaster. EXCEPT for the fact is it very industrial.  And when we went to the bar the barmaid told Alan she ‘loves his Australian accent’.  I mean seriously, I like Aussies but who the hell likes their accents?  It was that kind of place.

After a crap sleep due to people getting married in the hotel and by the sounds divorced the same evening, we were happy to leave the next day (day nine) in more fine weather for the cruisiest run of the trip, 128km down to the city of Boston, cruisy because the roads were flat and we had little traffic – all in all very nice.My legs by this point were starting to tell me they needed a rest but we don’t have the luxury of rest days at this point so the next day, back on the bikes and we belted out another 125 km to reach the town of Newmarket, a pretty place and the horse racing capital of the UK.  Here we were fortunate to be put up by my friend Steve’s Dad Tony and were invited around to a party in the village which lets just say saw Alan and  I get home at 3:30 am after a number of beers and birthday cakes and laughs with some very hospitable and friendly people.

Hence the next day (day 10), my sore legs combined with a late night saw us with a very late start of 11AM and we managed only 80km, before we called it quits just north east of London in Brentwood.  We were chaperoned that day by my ex-Singapore rugby mate Mr Ian Slack, who was the picture of perfection in hospitality, riding with us, guiding us through the back roads, his sons cooked us a delicious lunch at home, and we were sad to say goodbye in Brentwood at the end of the day.

Day eleven was to be our last day and we had a big day to get through London, over the Thames and all the way down to Rye Harbour.  And it rained and poured all day.  I was not to concerned because I had invited long time mate Barclay Morrison along, he lives in London and loves cycling so I was sure he would be a good guide.  Alas I as mistaken, and Barclay had no idea where to go, so I was back on my blackberrry trying to navigate through the outskirts in London in the pouring rain.  After 5 minutes of cycling in the wet and cold the novelty had warn off for Barclay and he started to talk about his need to pull out and head home early for some urgent ‘admin’ jobs.  Five mins later Alan had a puncture and he sat on the footpath and fixed it while we got cold and wetter.  Five mins later, BOOM, my entire back wheel blew out, tearing the actual tyre as well as mangling the inner tube completely.  We found a small warm spot in a cafe to sit and Alan set about sewing my inner tube back together with needle and thread, good enough to get us to a cycle repair store, which Barclay finally proved some help by locating with his phone.  So by 12 noon we had only got 15 km and were colder and wetter with 110 km to go for the day.  Barclay left us at the Woolwich under Thames river crossing and we set off in the heavy rain for Rye Harbour.  Hill after hill, wet cold and miserable, my chain soon fell off and we had more repairs to do in the cold and finally at 8pm that evening we pulled into Rye Harbour, 1020km after leaving the summit of Ben Nevis and we had reached the south coast of England.

We were very happy to have a shower and eat some warm food last night.  We slept well and today we have cycled another 50km down to Dungeness beach where we will actually depart from tomorrow morning at 11:30AM to paddle across the channel to Boulougne in France.  My legs are screaming at me for a rest, my quads hurt if the wind blows on them and tomorrow even though we will be paddling around 40km, at least my legs will have a break.

Apart from that all is good, Alan is a great partner to have, he has been getting slow towards the end of the days and has been suffering the flu but as usual never ever complains.  We are excited about our channel crossing tomorrow – you can follow it on live on our realtime GPS tracker at this link or click the map image on top left of screen. Unfortunately I cannot upload many photo’s from the road as there are almost NO internet cafe’s in the UK anymore (where did they all go?) and the one I have found here today has such a slow connection speed that just the couple attached here has taken 30 minutes.

Some small YOUTUBE video updates are attached here – only 30 seconds long each:

 

That’s all from me, hopefully next update from France!

 

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Alan Silva and I on Dungeness beach, 1050 km from Ben Nevis and the spot we will depart in the kayaks tomorrow.

With the Slack family, Barclay and Sally at the end of another day in Brentwood.

With the Slack family, Barclay and Sally at the end of another day in Brentwood.

Cruising along with Al....

Cruising along with Al….

 

Hello England!

We have arrived in England! Day Five of Peak to Peak 2014 is over and we have now travelled over 330 km from the summit of Ben Nevis, south towards Mt Blanc, completely under our own steam.

Continuing from the last blog, day two saw us overnight in the small village of Tyndrum. We are carrying a tent and camping gear however due to the enormous amount of H2o falling from the heavens, we have made a senior management decision ‎that we are far too old and wise to camp in the rain and are taking refuge inside warm dry buildings which preferably sell alcohol.

Day three saw us wake to 50mph gusting winds and rain showers so after fuelling up on haggis, black pudding, sausages, eggs and bacon we braved the elements and reaped the rewards of the previous days hard climbing with a beautiful downhill run for 20km all the way to the mighty Loch Lomond.

We then followed the shores of Loch Lomond with a tail wind, enjoying the views of the misty lake and watching the huge gusts of wind barrel down the lake. The traffic was heavy, being the last Sunday of school holidays and lots of tourists. We stopped in the pretty lakeside village of ‎Luss for lunch before moving on towards Glasgow.

Once we left Loch Lomond, the traffic became intense on the motorway leading into Glasgow and fired up by the adrenalin of cycling along with waves of speeding vehicles ripping past at 60mph half a metre off our handle bars we fair raced along. At one stage we were even lucky enough to get invited to some locals house for dinner! Well, according to Alan they were abusing us but I could not understand the thick Scottish dialect although did pick up something along the lines of ‘cyclists are a pack of f _ _ _ _ n w _ _ _ _ _ s!’ then I am sure he said something like “Mums cooking dinner tonight and feel free to pop over!”.

We cycled right into the heart of Glasgow and were pleasantly surprised to find a beautiful old city, streaming with people, buskers and beautiful old buildings. Bed for the night was the Youth Hostel, and after a very enjoyable Indian meal washed down with a pint of Kingfisher beer were happy to hit the sack with another 90km down for the days ride.

Day Four saw us navigate our way for 20km out the maze of windy Glasgow streets (I cheated and used the GPS on my blackberry phone), then we headed south, following smaller roads alongside the mighty M74 motorway. Alan unfortunately has picked up the flu, so in between shaking and sneezing and blowing his nose and feeling terrible, did very well to make good pace. We arrived in the small village of Moffat in the District of Dumphreys and Galloway at 2:30pm and 85km from Glasgow. Alan was in need of some horizontal time by now, so we found a small B & B and checked in. My bike gears were having all sorts of problems so I found a repair store and had the back sprocket replaced by a friendly Scotsman named Gordon, who was voting YES in the upcoming referendum on whether Scotland should gain independence over England. I had last been in Moffat 16 years back when I walked the Southern Upland Way route from the west coast to the east coast of Scotland so it was nice to be back in this lovely little village.

Day five today and we headed south again through the villages of Lockerbie (famous for the Pan Am air disaster) wand Gretna Green (famous for a place for english to elope to get married) before leaving bonnie Scotland and entering jolly England. Tonight we are staying in Carlisle, being put up with Sally and Tim Sarginson in their lovely house. They have been great hosts taking us for a tour of the area to see Hadrian’s Wall and the local watering holes. Alan is recovering from the flu so we hope to put in a big day tomorrow, attached us some photos from the road. Ciao!

Start of the trip in Fort William about to head up Ben Nevis

Start of the trip in Fort William about to head up Ben Nevis

Alan Silva checking out Tower Ridge on Ben Nevis

Alan Silva checking out Tower Ridge on Ben Nevis


Alan Silva on the C M D arete heading up to the summit of Ben Nevis

Alan Silva on the C M D arete heading up to the summit of Ben Nevis

Alan Silva getting high

Alan Silva getting high

SUMMIT! Ben Nevis

SUMMIT! Ben Nevis

Alan Silva and Grant Rawlinson on the summit of Ben Nevis

Alan Silva and Grant Rawlinson on the summit of Ben Nevis

Alan Silva cycling through Glen Coe in heavy rain and traffic

Alan Silva cycling through Glen Coe in heavy rain and traffic

Arriving at Loch Lomond

Arriving at Loch Lomond

Alan Silva cycling through central Glasgow

Alan Silva cycling through central Glasgow

Entering England

Entering England

Hadrians Wall

Hadrians Wall

Peak to Peak is off and drowning!

Well we have successfully began Peak to Peak 2014. Yesterday morning we drove 4.5 hours over from Aberdeen to Fort William and owing to a diabolical weather forecast, realised that that very afternoon was the best opportunity of the next few days to climb Ben Nevis. So we set-off at 1230pm over and up the valley under the mighty North Face of Britain’s highest mountain. Tower ridge our original objective looked amazing, a steep rock ridge climbing route which lead up into the clouds. We looked at it with a feeling of disappointment as we knew we did not have time to climb in our limited time frame, so instead headed up via the C M D arete, which is basically a walk, with a couple of scrambly sections. We hit the summit after 4.5 hrs in thick cloud, and surrounded by dogs, children, infants, ladies in singles and men in camouflage gear. It seemed every man and his dog (excuse the pun) were wandering up the tourist track that day, great to see so many people getting out and enjoying the outdoors. It was cold on top, I took the following summit video: http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=N9LDrAYEEjk

After ten minutes we set-off down, and just over two hours later we had hit the bottom, with sore toes and the sole of my boot falling off (time to retire them and saves me carrying them 2000km to France!).

Day two, we woke to an overcast and windy day, but to bolster our enthusiasm for the ride, Bill cooked us a sumptuous breakfast of bacon and eggs. Bill is a friend of mine based in Aberdeen and we were extremely lucky he offered to drive us over to Fort William and see us off on the start of our trip. After the breakfast we offered him the job of joining us on our journey to france and cooking us breakfast every morning but he declined.

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We set off at 930am on the bikes, and very soon exposed to roads with out any shoulders, lots and lots of cars, wind, rain but beautiful views even in the mist of the Loch’s, country side, and beautiful old buildings and small villages we passed through.

Soon we reached Glencoe and the start of the Glencoe valley, this is one of the most beautiful valleys – have ever walked through (I walked it back in 1999 on the West Highland Way), with stunning views of the high craggy peaks on either side with the star of the show being Buchaille-Etive-Mor. Unfortunately we could not see it through the rain and cloud, and had our head down pumping the peddles hard as we had too climb for over 20km as we made our way up through the pass. For 70% of the cycle we had a tail wind, however for some periods we were battling head first into the wind, driving rain and uphill which I must admit had me questioning my sanity as cars full of comfortable, warm and dry people sped past sending sheets of spray our way.

Eventually we reached the small town of Tyndrum, a distance of 75km in total, and a hard won 75km in tough conditions. The tent was NOT looking inviting for the evening especially considering the forecast for heavier rain overnight so we dived into the Tyndrum Inn, what better place to take shelter from a storm than a pub!

I am writing this from my phone so cannot upload any photos from my camera. Attached below is us leaving from Fort William. I will upload more when I get the chance and you can track our progress in real-time on the GPS spot tracker by clicking the link at the top left of this page.

Day three today sees even more rain than yesterday and the winds are stronger but hopefully they are tail winds.

Over and out from wet, cold and windy Scotland. Don’t let the weather put you off coming here though, the scenery is still magic even in the rain and the people are lovely!

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Peak to Peak 2014 – Summit of the UK to the summit of France by our own human power!

I enjoyed Peak to Peak 2013  so much (the first ever human-powered traverse from the summit of Mt Ruapehu to the summit of Mt Cook in New Zealand) that it inspired me to do two things:

1)  Write a book about the trip – this is currently undergoing the last round of editing and will be published shortly.

2)  Repeat the expedition, with a slight twist.  This time, it won’t be in New Zealand, and it won’t be between two islands in the same country, but between the UK and France.

Peak to Peak 2014 will involve Alan Silva and I making the following journey:

–  Climbing the finest alpine route in all of Scotland & the UK – the tower ridge of Ben Nevis (1,344 m elevation)

–  Over 2000 km of road cycling through four countries (Scotland, England, France and Switzerland).

–  a 30+km sea-kayak crossing of the English Channel

–  Ending with a complete traverse of Mt Blanc – the tallest mountain in France and Western Europe (4,810 m elevation)

 

Ben Nevis, the highest point in the UK at 1344m above sea-level and our official starting point for Peak to Peak 2014 (Photo source: http://www.thestylebox.com/2014/05/29/closer-to-home/)

Ben Nevis, the highest point in the UK at 1344m above sea-level and our official starting point for Peak to Peak 2014 (Photo source: http://www.thestylebox.com/2014/05/29/closer-to-home/)

 

As with Peak to Peak 2013, we will be travelling with as little support as practically possible and on a shoe string budget, fitting the entire expedition into our annual leave constraints.

We will be starting our expedition on the 16 August and hopefully ending on September 10.

You can follow our progress in realtime from the comfort of your home on the GPS SPOT TRACKER.  And if anyone would like to join us for an hour or two’s cycling along the way then we would love your company – you can easily track us down by following our position on the GPS SPOT TRACKER.

The map below shows our approximate route, and if anyone lives on the route or close to it, then please do shout out as we are very happy to have a place to stop by for cuppa or even a bed for the night if your hospitality permits.

Our expedition starts officially in the 15 August and will hopefully end by September 10.

We will be posting daily updates and also short video blogs so we hope you will enjoy following along.

I would like to thank UFIT for supporting physical conditioning and SWORKE for supporting the expedition eyewear.

Off belay!

Axe

Peak to Peak 2014 – adventure beckons!

Morning folks!

Based on our success with Peak to Peak 2013 in New Zealand, where we became the first people to ever make a continuous human powered journey from the summit of Mt Ruapehu to the summit of Aoraki Mt Cook, we have decided to  push the ‘Peak to Peak’ concept one step further.  Our ‘Peak to Peak 2013’ New Zealand journey had all the elements of classic adventure.  It was hugely challenging. required serious commitment, had no guarantee of success, and we were attempting something unique which had never been tried before.

Peak to Peak 2014 – will run in the same spirit as Peak to Peak 2013.  With a shoe string budget and as little as support as practically possible, in September of this year  Alan Silva and myself will set-off from the summit of the highest mountain in Western Europe, and travel completely by human power to finish our journey at the highest point in another European country. Our journey will involve climbing these mountains by technical routes, kayaking a very dangerous stretch of water, and cycling.  Unfortunately due to restrictions imposed by some countries, part of what we are attempting to do is not even legal!  So we are forced to keep our intentions low key at this stage as we attempt to obtain the necessary permissions.  This is not a ‘packaged holiday’ adventure, using guides and support and following set itineraries.  We are truly taking a step into the unknown.

In the meantime see my brand new Inspiring Keynote Speaking brochure attached below (click the image to download the PDF version).  My Inspiring Key Note Presentations are proving very popular and I have been giving more and more recently.  So if you are looking for a speaker at your next event to tell an extremely entertaining & inspiring story,  then please contact me!

Bye for now,

Axe

 

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Click on the image above to download the PDF version of my Key Note Speaking brochure

 

 

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