The reason I’m not writing to you until now is that I’ve spent the day hammering through the zillions of pettifogging tasks that cram the hours before a lengthy departure from home.
Tasks like these:
As you may or may not have gathered, on Monday I leave for Glasgow, for four days’ final preparation before meeting the first cohort of
sadists cyclists taking on the first week of our two-month, 5,400km bike ride to Athens.
I should be back home sometime in September or October.
It’s not a vanishingly long time, but it is certainly something of a disappearance.
And so this morning began with me randomly chucking things into what I like to think of as my ‘packing room’.
I think every adventurer needs a packing room: a place to dump the first practical stirrings of an adventure before it either (a) fizzles out and is forgotten or (b) slams you in the oh-fuck face of last minute dread.
(I also think that every human being is an adventurer in a choose-their-own domain.)
Here’s what my packing room currently looks like:
And I thought it could be a nice idea to take you through five items that wouldn’t make it onto most touring cyclists’ packing lists (let alone into their blessed packing room).
1. A Flag
This flag was hand-stitched many years ago — 2018, I think — for the third edition of Thighs of Steel, which rode from London to Athens, through Slovenia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria.
Ljubljana to Sofia — 1,400km riding, 14,000m climbing and 78 hours of saddle bum — was my first thighs ride and I was mightily proud that they entrusted me with the carrying of the flag.
I still am.
2. Seven Debit Cards & 500 Albanian Leke
This photo represents the stomach-popping logistical and administrative rough and tumble that we all go through, both before and during the ride, to grease the wheels of summer so that they spin as smoothly as could reasonably be demanded.
I mean: have you ever tried to acquire seven debit cards that are free to use in Europe for a non-profit that isn’t a charity and doesn’t have money to burn?
Thank goodness for Equals Money.
This entry could just as easily have been a photo of our Public Liability certificate, representing the last two months of nerve-clenching horror as ‘a costly claim in the events industry’ totally ham-slapped our ‘risk profile’.
The good news is that I’m spending my final Friday evening at home writing these words to you, so we must be more or less ready to ride.
SHUDDUP DON’T JINX IT, DAVE!
3. A Very Specific Book
I wrote about this excellent book a few weeks ago, so I won’t say any more.
The purpose of Thighs of Steel is to raise funds in solidarity with refugees, migrants, asylum seekers and people on the move across Europe.
We help grassroots organisations keep doing everything they do.
We share a dream of a borderless world once again, with free movement for all.
4. Defence For The Defenceless
It’s summer and we’re cycling through Scotland.
After my experiences a month ago in Northumberland, it’s time to up my anti-midge game.
Smidge is a classic, but now I’ve added a citronella candle and a frankly awesome midge head net to my battlements — both bought from Totally Herbie of Scotland.
Their website might be from the nineties, but they mean business. And so now do I.
5. Dougal The Bugle
I bought Dougal from a Hastings junk shop on the first leg of my second ride around Britain back in 2020 so that I could have a part to play (literally) in the mock-funeral of a friend of a friend.
(It was something he’d always wanted to do: my friend played his spirit guide, a badger.)
Tragically, I recently found out that this friend of a friend has now passed away for real, which adds an appropriate sense of gravitas to the sounding of my most unusual touring accessory.
Some love it, some hate it (especially when it wakes them up at 5am for another expletive-sodden ride up a mountain), and none can ignore it.
Mercifully, every once in a while, someone comes on the ride who can actually play the blasted thing.
At those moments, atop a ravaging hill climb in Wales or at a sundown lakeside in the Italian Alps, Dougal the Bugle will sing a sweet tune that I like to imagine wefts its way into outer space, into the resonating space between atoms where the stardust lives.
This one’s for you, Jimi.