Across Continents

Ken's Blog


February 19th, 2012

The train from Corby was cancelled. Next one in an hour. Engineering works. I’d miss my connection from Kettering south into London. But had been assured my ticket would be valid on the next available service. I made little effort to hide my scepticism. Large sliding doors meant the waiting area was little warmer than the platform. I breathed deeply, hoped the angst would pass and sat down on the icy metal bench.

Short journey to Kettering. One stop. But enough time to scribble in my diary, to remind myself of the issues I’d need to tackle the next day. Window locks. Letters to post. Tickets to collect. A melancholy collection of tasks. But they had to be done.

The London bound service from Kettering was tired. Dated carriages. Most of the passengers looked forlorn. I’d no idea where they might have started from but imagined it must have been a good distance away. The guard made her way along the aisle, dragging a large plastic bag that she slowly filled with abandoned newspapers and discarded snack wrappers. She returned later to put out reservation tickets for the northbound return.

On the Underground a young man sat flicking back and forth through an exam paper. Quantum Physics. Strange mathematical squiggles. An older man – early thirties – was reading Macbeth. No one spoke. No eye contact. I knew I was home. Making the steady transition back to a less transient existence.

I’d chosen to stop overnight in a central London Youth Hostel, tucked away in a small park but well placed for the next day. In the hostel dormitory a middle-aged man lamented the lack of privacy. Muttered away about the lack of space to stow his luggage. Very tattered. Wondered if he might be homeless rather than a bona fide traveller.

A few days earlier I’d sat in a smart cafe in a small market town a little way from Peterborough. Ordinarily I’d never have ventured in, but half-term meant it was quiet, and suddenly quite appealing. There was a decent sized map of the World on the wall. I’d stared at quite intently. Sketching out my own route in my head. You’d have thought me day dreaming. Rather, I was just beginning to grasp what I’d done. And the gentle realisation I’d never quite view people – and places – in quite the same way ever again. Ever.



Fade to black

February 19th, 2012

Trusty steed in China

Found myself wondering what’d take the longest. Riding around the world, or reaching my fund-raising target – at least twenty thousand pounds – for The Outward Bound Trust. The cycling part of the challenge might now be complete, but there’s still a long, long way to go.


In fact, eliciting donations seems far harder than the pedalling – no, not seems – actually it is. You can help of course by making a safe and secure gift to The Trust via my JustGiving page – simply click on the button below. Can’t miss it.

JustGiving - Sponsor me now!
What next then? Forgive me, but it’s only been a week or so since I came off the road. No more refrigerator living. So, plans a little fluid, but beginning to comfortably take shape. Enough for me to be able to share a brief flavour at least.
It’s all about sharing, encouraging others to pursue their own challenges. Getting them to realise they can achieve much more than they think they can. How you may ask? The main-stay will be giving talks about the whole experience – collections of (hopefully) amusing anecdotes rather than dry chronology – if you’d like me to come and provide an evening’s entertainment, do get in touch via my contacts page – click here.
Brown bear - Grizzly - in captivity - near Anchorage, Alaska
I’ve also a small writing commission for a very august charity. Plans to appear at the Royal Geographical Society’s autumn Exploration weekend next to the equally prestigious Royal Albert Hall. Keen to develop the website into a useful resource for fellow long-haul touring cyclists, compiled with an engineer’s eye – as well as my City & Guilds qualification in Bicycle Maintenance, in real life I’m also a Chartered Engineer.

Sleeping under the stars - Gobi desert - China
And a book? Consider me a bit harsh if you must, but I’ve read a good number of travelogues and the sort, and vanishingly few meet the Gold Standard – that of wider public appeal. Beyond family, friends and devoted cycling fans, or whatever else the mode of transport might be the author used. And a book isn’t a blog. A very different beast. A significant undertaking.
Chinese truck stop - Western China
True, I’ve got the notes for a book – almost 1,800 posts for starters – but no illusion about the sheer amount of effort required to even have a chance of producing something I’d be content to put my name to. And it’d have to offer something different to the many passe accounts out there. Fill a gap in the market. And, much to my own surprise, I’ve an inkling of an idea.. something where the precursor is to have ridden around the world. Which narrows the competition just a bit…
Azerbaijan border sign - in Republic of Georgia
Futuristic musings aside, I’m hoping to appear on 10Radio’s Friday morning Community Show on 9 March 2012. Discussing the transition back to a more conventional existence, as well as touching on what I’ve learnt. And I’ve an idea presenter Pauline won’t let me out of the studio without checking out my legs… All in the best possible taste. More details to follow closer to the show.
Sunset at Deadmans Lake, Alaska
Oh yes, and contrary to the advice from the then Employment Secretary Norman Tebbit back in the 1980’s, I’m getting off my bicycle to find work… But for now at least, time to bring the daily blog posts to a close. It’s been great fun, and I’ve certainly enjoyed the writing – do hope the various stories have been as much fun to read!

So, thank-you for all your love and support

Yours appreciatively

Ken, and his trusty two-wheeled steed Emma



Almost forgot…

February 18th, 2012

And almost 1,800 blog posts, 2,000 photos and 700 videos…



Final flurry of statistics

February 18th, 2012

Miles ridden Almost 20,000 (about 30,000 kilometres) – so, by any measure, quite a long way…!

Revolutions (of the wheels) Sixteen million

Continents Four – Europe, Asia, Australia, North America

Countries 17

Border crossings 31

Visas 10

US States 12 (including night in Hawaii – no time to surf!)

Coldest -15 oC in New Mexico

Hottest Forties in Kazakhstan and China’s Gobi desert

Cyclones One – Yasi – Northern Australia

Highest point Over 8,000 feet – Emory Pass – New Mexico

Lowest point Turpan – pronounced Turvan – Basin, Western China – below sea level

Favourite nations New Zealand, North America, Serbia, Georgia (also the friendliest)

Most expensive country Australia (cost of living about 2-3 times that of the UK)

Cheapest countries China and the Republic of Georgia

Most corrupt nation – Azerbaijan – if you don’t pay a bribe you’d never leave. Ever.

Detentions by border guards 2 – Kazakhstan (shorter of the two!) and Australia

Uprisings (just missed) Bishkek, Capital of Central Asian Republic of Kyrgyzstan, and sporadic (unreported) ethnic civil unrest in Western China

Toughest challenges Loneliness – especially in China – and tropical humidity in Northern Australia

Lowest point Few hours after drinking kumus – fermented mare’s milk

Most bizarre moment Tearing around Republic of Georgia in a police car (sightseeing courtesy of a local Mayor!)

Most used words Nee-how – Hello! – and Sh-e, Sh-e, nee – Thank-you – in Mandarin

Least heard expressions Have a nice day! (in US – rarely said) and It’s free! (in (expensive) Australia – rarely heard)

Favourite foods Stack of pancakes with maple syrup – US – and stuffed dumplings – China

Favourite places Camping amongst wild bears in Alaska and the Canadian Yukon, and nights spent in Chinese truck stops – for less than 20 yuan – about two pounds

Bikes Just one – my trusty Somerset built two-wheeled steed

Punctures 10 – with just one in whole of North America

Spokes broken or loosened – not a single one, and wheels still look pretty true

Most elusive wildlife Wild bears in North America – saw just one cub – and deadly snakes in Australia – two in the wild

Most common wildlife Wallabies – like a kangaroo but smaller – in Australia

[With especial thanks to Tim for the encouragement to compile these…]



Brave New World

February 18th, 2012

Peanut butter rolls and black coffee. Feeling quite famished, quickly digging in. I’d gone for a walk on the hills above nearby Wiveliscombe with Jon. Cool February afternoon, but not the chill of the previous few days. Thick red loam binding to our boots. We chatted a good deal about what lay ahead. Our progress frequently interrupted by my stops simply to observe, to grasp what it was to be back in Somerset.

I’d slept well. The previous day – the return home – had been intense. But it did seem to have gone remarkable well. I was quietly pleased but quite exhausted by the evening. In the morning I’d pottered about. Tidying up some loose ends. Reassuring my generous hosts I was doing only what needed to be done. Copy deadlines, that sort of thing. Nothing more. Not today.

Found myself reflecting on what exactly I’d learnt over the last few years. Much harder than I’d imagined. So many levels. Simple observations. Deep self-analysis. The perils of a logical mind. Complex. Some lessons presenting themselves with absolute clarity. And simplicity. 99.99% of people I’d met were just good, honest, hard-working individuals who wanted to get on with life, put food on the table. Invariably very generous.

Dig deeper. More intangible lessons but no less important. Individual freedoms. Of expression, to peaceful protest, to follow your chosen religion or political beliefs. Boundaries of course, as must befit a tolerant, inclusive society. But absent, or at least severely constrained, in many countries. China for example. Immensely hospitable people, yet a de facto police state. Which, ironically, usually makes it a very safe place for foreigners to visit.

Deeper still. A very personal level. Trite it might sound. But true. The world does indeed seem a much smaller place. Finding myself viewing a map of the world as others might the one for the London Underground. I’d only met one person on my travels who’d shared this perspective. Neil, who’d previously ridden from New Zealand back to his native Ireland.

Pauline was keen to have me appear on her Friday morning Community Show on 10Radio in a month or so. Chat about what I’d learnt, observed. The transition back to more conventional living. A few mental notes. The dilemma of choice. Illogicality. Corruption. Languages. Migration. There’d be more. Lots more I was sure.

Wiveliscombe was now once again close by. Jon and I lamented the ending of our monthly chats on local community radio station 10Radio. They’d been great fun. A new experience for both of us. With less than an hour of daylight left, we strolled back into the small town. Bit gloomy I thought. Not quite dark enough for the warming, reassuring glow of lights shining out from within people’s homes. The centre seemed familiar enough. Small supermarket. Community library. Newsagents. We headed for the car park.

Noticed a small window at the rear of a pub had been made into a pizza and burger outlet. A saloon car with spoiler on the boot was parked next to it. A man in a baseball cap stood next to it. Watching us. Was the place new, I’d asked Jon? Yes, he said. We stared at it briefly. The man stared back. Aldous Huxley has little to worry about.

[With especial thanks to neighbours and good friends Jon and Helen for their immensely generous hospitality]



Poetic welcome

February 17th, 2012

We had a visit ’round this time

From Ken from Outward Bound,

Who’s cycling up and down the World

Raising money as he goes around.

Four years he thinks he’ll pedal on

Through all the types of weather,

Meeting people everywhere

We think he is quite clever!

If I’d had sense I’d have retired to bed several hours before I actually did. But I was too tired for that. Besides I wanted to chat. Even if I found myself frequently loosing the thread of the conversation. Ever decreasing lucidity.

Earlier, interviews finally completed, photos taken and cake cut, I’d joined my Mum and Dad for afternoon tea with friends in the village. Then a hasty rummage in my panniers, extracting things I’d need for the next few days before loading my trusty steed into the back of my parents car. They’d be taking her back to their garage for safe keeping. I’d follow in a few days.

I’d a plan to spend a couple of nights staying with my neighbours, my own cottage still rented out. If I’d felt at all weary after such an intense day, the rush of emotion as I’d stepped inside their home pushed it quickly aside. For a while at least. Tantalising aromas from the kitchen beyond. Soft heat from the woodstove. Tea in the pot.

A few items of post that’d turned up in my own cottage next door. Amongst them a Christmas card from the Shapland family. I’d stayed with them out near Brisbane. Inside a newsletter with a twist. A poem. Twenty eight carefully crafted verses. Wonderful.

[Quotation above courtesy of the Shapland family – Mike, Mandy and Felicity – with whom I’d stayed back in Brisbane, Australia. And especial thanks to neighbours Jon and Helen, and Sue and Roger, for their generous hospitality]


Wanderer returns

February 17th, 2012

Ken finally returns to his home village of Fitzhead, 892 days since setting off around the World.

[With especial thanks to Ken’s Mum for capturing events in the village on camera… Danny Boyle look out…]



Media madness

February 16th, 2012

I’d joked with my escort of young riders that the pull up to the village cricket ground was my very last hill. What I’d been training for. But, in truth, there was one more gradient, a gentle slow curving gracefully along the tall boundary wall of the manor house. A barely perceptible climb now.

Beyond the bend I quickly saw first the finishing tape drawn across the road beneath my own cottage. And then, beyond it, the very sizeable crowd of family and friends, well-wishers who’d taken the trouble to come and welcome me back. Loud cheers. Glimpsing familiar faces.


A lengthy address wouldn’t have been right. Instead a few words of thanks. Simple and heartfelt. Someone pushed a glass of Champagne into my hand. A couple of quick chats with friends, then drawn to the cameras. Interviews to be given. Local TV and radio. Photographs to be taken. I felt confident, buoyed up by the sheer excitement of having made it. And the warm welcome home.

Fortuitously I’d taken the right road from Halse. Eventually passing a familiar turn to nearby Milverton. Relief. This was not the day to be adrift. Soon at the small grassy knoll. On it sat a bench placed under a fairly mature tree. I might ordinarily have been tempted to rest my steed there, but with less than a mile left I didn’t want to risk an unfortunate encounter with a thorn perhaps hidden amongst the grass.

Ten minutes to two. The appointed hour for a triumphal entry back into the village. Quick call to confirm I was in position. Agreeing I’d set off a minute or two before the hour. Better to be a few moments late than risk arriving before everyone else had finished arriving. Not that I was entirely sure who’d be there. Been very focused on simply getting myself there in unexpectedly challenging conditions.

There’d been a piece to camera for ITV South West. But I found myself most absorbed by an interview with Barry from the local community radio station. I liked his questions and felt our dialogue flowed. Slow to notice my Mum trying desperately to attract my attention. There was cake to be cut. I was quietly pleased.

I’d been unsure how much media coverage there might be. Always the risk of a last minute dead donkey diverting them away. But what had really mattered was whether I could deal with it with the same adeptness my brother had shown during a major offshore rescue some years earlier. I’d admired him immensely for that.



Uncertain roads

February 16th, 2012

I’d been a bit unsure leaving Halse. It’d stopped there to join my parents for lunch in the village pub before the final few miles back home to Fitzhead. There’d been a warming coffee, and security for my trusty steed in the indoor skittle alley. Of course, I knew a way to go. Done it enough times. Problem was it’d bring me in from the wrong direction. Wanted to retrace the route I’d taken two and a half years earlier when I’d ridden out.

There was another way. A longer affair. Bringing me to a small grassy knoll at a staggered cross roads above Fitzhead. There I’d wait for the nod to ride down into the village. Fairly confident I’d taken the right road from Halse. But not entirely certain. Not for a while. My fault. Just because I might have been expected to know didn’t mean I actually did. Hoping pride wouldn’t be my downfall at the very end.



Cold snap

February 16th, 2012

Ken returns to BBC Somerset’s Taunton studio, over two years since he popped in before setting off around the World…


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