Across Continents

Ken's Blog

Brief respite

February 7th, 2012

"Have more than thou showest, speak less than thou knowest, lend less than thou owest" King Lear Act I Scene 4

Back out in the courtyard it was bitter. Much colder than when I’d wandered into the pub an hour or so earlier. There’d been clues. Most of the clientele in the back bar had kept their woolly hats on. And the publican had lit the open fire in the Saloon. Shakespeare Inn in Harbury. I’d gone in for two reasons. I liked the name. And it was open. Suppose the weather was a third.

Inside was simple. Unfussy but welcoming. A few Shakespearian quotations neatly painted on the walls and some of the exposed wooden beams. I liked the one from Twelfth Night about Greatness but couldn’t bring myself to jot it down in my pocket book. Too pretentious. Coffee and a sandwich. They had ham or cheese but I wanted both together. How much I’d asked. Same price had been the word from the kitchen.

Finding myself a seat by the window I’d stared at the simple comings and goings in the main street outside. I’d missed England. I liked the ordinariness. Comforting familiarity. Old ladies with their little wheeled shopping trolleys. I’d scribbled carts in my notebook before realising it wasn’t an English expression. Struggling a bit to expunge overly familiar foreign terms. Cell. Gas Station. There was also a radiator.

It was, said the BBC, going to be the coldest night in Britain. Since the last time they’d said it. At least the roads were clear. Nothing to freeze. More worrying was the forecast for the latter part of the week. Snow. Hoping that by sticking to main roads I’d be able to reach Taunton on Friday without too much difficulty. But Saturday’s final few miles along the lanes out to Fitzhead. Could be tricky.

A short run from Harbury in the afternoon – ten miles at the most – and I’d finally made it to Stratford-upon-Avon Youth Hostel. It was actually in nearby Alverston. Short day in any case, no more than thirty miles in total, but it put me in a good position for the morning. I liked the place immediately. Imposing country house. Friendly staff. Breakfast cooked to order and irresistible bar snacks. Cumberland Ale. Tempting.

Few other guests. A young woman enquiring as to whether there’d be any annoying young children staying. I’d chipped in to say I’d be gone in the morning. Nia. She’d spelt it. Visiting from Malaysia but originally from China. I’d guessed the name she offered was a fictitious English one. She seemed pleasantly surprised I knew of such things. Small group of friends in the games room whose vocabulary sounded as limited as my Mandarin. Dominated by a tom-boy with a very masculine haircut. Her assertiveness, I thought, masking some deep insecurities.

West of the previous night’s stop in Daventry the fog had eventually lifted. Steady riding into Southam. There was a cafe in the town centre. Flashing neon sign close up against the steamed up windows. But nowhere I could leave my trusty steed safely in view. A woman had suggested I try a place next to the Balti house. Blue sign she said. It didn’t sound promising so I’d left. Decided to try my luck in one of the villages ahead. Harbury it turned out.

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Upwardly Mobile

January 23rd, 2012

Three options scribbled in my pocket book. Run north, back over the exposed causeway from Dauphin Island, through the city of Mobile and around Alabama Bay to Pensacola. Or wait for the winds to drop and the ferry across the mouth to start running once more. Reaching Pensacola the same day, or stopping short at Gulf Shores. Dependant on daylight.

Quick check with the ferry company ruled out the last two options. They’d not be running today. And the forecast didn’t bode well for the next day. Safer option was to head for Mobile. Night there, then on to Pensacola the following morning. Little shy of one hundred miles.

I’d pondered riding for Pensacola in a single day but decided against it. I’d struggle to complete in daylight, even if conditions were good. Which wasn’t the case. Winds of around twenty five miles per hour, compounded by being from West-South-West – perfect crosswinds on the causeway. If I needed to walk in places, so be it.

So I settled on two days around Alabama Bay and on to Pensacola. Forty miles or so to Mobile, then a further sixty the next day. A relatively short run north to Mobile had the advantage of a delayed departure from Dauphin Island and the chance to exploit the predicted afternoon drop in wind strength. It might not be much, but it could be just enough.

I reflected a while on the plan. It’d work of course. And it was the only realistic option. Kicking myself a little for not having headed for Mobile in the first place, rather than dropping down to Dauphin Island. But it’d seemed a sensible move at the time. Spilt milk. Costing me two days and consuming much of my margin for reaching Miami and a flight back to the UK. Felt comfortable I could stick to the schedule, but I’d need to be pretty slick with packing up my trusty steed and all the kit. Lots of strong coffee.

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Fireweed

September 3rd, 2011

P1060005

Fireweed. So called because it’s the first to thrive on fire ravaged lands. But, perhaps more importantly, it provides a useful indication of the imminence of autumn. Once the flowers on the upper part of the plant have bloomed, the onset of the harsh winter is roughly six weeks away. Or, put another way, if you’re bicycling in Alaska, get a move on!

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Storm front

June 25th, 2011

Storm front from Ken Roberts on Vimeo.

Severe weather warning. Wind gusts of up to a hundred kilometres an hour. So Ken decides a day off the road might be good idea. With walls and a roof.

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Trapped!

April 15th, 2011

Trapped! from Ken Roberts on Vimeo.

Trapped by heavy rains- even for the wet season – flooding the highway south, Ken debates whether to remain in his dry hostel room, or push on and sit it out in the tent….

Clue: Like the film "Titanic", you can probably guess how the story ends…

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Perilous precipitation

March 31st, 2011

Falls - web

Difficult to comprehend. Over half a metre – something like twenty inches – of rain in just a few days. Flash floods. Local woman swept to her death. To the south, Cardwell. Devastated recently by Cyclone Yasi. Now submerged by swollen rivers. The Barron reaching a thirty year high. Main highway south closed. Trains disrupted. Far north Queensland cut off. Yet more extreme weather. Another example to add to my ever growing list. Tick.

I’d headed out of Cairns. Up into the Atherton Tablelands. Cooler than the coast. But, being over a thousand feet above sea level, invariably wetter. Frequently lost in cloud. There’d been talk of a storm as I’d left. An emotional departure. Leaving friends behind at the hostel. Assuring them I’d keep in touch. Their concerns about the weather seemed unfounded. Until later. Lightening. Torrential rain. Fortunate to be staying under cover.

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Record breaking

March 31st, 2011

Wet poster - web

They mean it. Wettest wet season in a decade. Mostly, it seems, on my head. Trust me on this one. Even if I’m not a doctor. Rocket scientist actually….

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Bitter winds and driving rain

December 15th, 2010

Tough day. I’d been woken the previous night by rain lashing the window. No abatement the next morning. Icy. Torrential. Struggling to read the road signs through my glasses. Missing a crucial turn. Gradual deterioration of the road surface the only clue I’d veered off the National Road I’d meant to follow. Soon gingerly picking a path through the potholes. My mistake slowly becoming apparent.

Eventually retracing my steps. Imagining myself to be back in the lanes around my small Somerset village. Sharing a similar red loam. Dusty in the summer. Rivulets of red mud in winter. Clinging to everything. Caking my car at home. Now coating the panniers, my boots, every exposed surface.

Back on track. But time had been lost. Progress slowed by the torrential rain. Cautious not to inadvertently strike a pothole. Puncture a tyre. Or worse. Buckle a wheel. The day’s mileage now looking overly optimistic. Finishing in the dark to be avoided at all cost. Far too dangerous. Frustrating. For Hong Kong – Chiang Kang – beckoned. As did Christmas. And the end of my second continent.

Problems were compounded by my mis-judgement of the conditions before I’d set off. Choosing not to don waterproof trousers. Or dig out my winter gloves. Imagining I’d be amply warm once underway. Finding instead water running down my leggings into my boots. Feet soon numb. As were my hands. Realising my mistake too late. Only morale was ebbing. Not the rain.

Inevitably I stopped short. Just forty miles covered. But to continue on, three or so hours of daylight remaining, would have been foolhardy. My intended stop out of reach. Best to dry out and start fresh in the morning. And so I spent the afternoon drying out my kit. Helped by a heater that would work for half an hour. Then inexplicably stop. Washed the red loam, the fine, penetrating grit, off the panniers. And Emma.

Wandering outside later into the bitterly cold night to take a GPS fix to work out exactly where I was. In my sandals. My boots still damp. Hail crunching underfoot. Hoping for an improvement in the weather next day. Or at least dry cold. But not optimistic.

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Abrupt halt

September 4th, 2010

Abrupt halt from Ken Roberts on Vimeo.

Forced by gale force winds to pull up abruptly for the day, Ken describes the experience, and the dubious flea pit he’s forced to spend the night in

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