It’s that time again when I try to remember where the year has gone and what I’ve been doing. Once again it’s been a rather varied year – with only a couple of lows in between numerous highs.
As the closure of the synthetic rubber factory where I worked for almost three years in the south of England loomed, the first half of the year was rather quiet on the travel front as I tried to save money for the approaching unemployment. While I was never too concerned with how I’d cope with losing my job (other adventures & parts of the world beckoned), it turned out to be very difficult seeing the demise of a plant that had been going for over fifty years and about one hundred and thirty people lose their jobs. The last few months after production ceased were particularly tedious – but I enjoyed throwing myself into my study of the Italian language (which I’d started learning at work at the end of 2013).
The exception to the difficult first seven months of the year with little happening (except riding bikes – I was still doing that, of course; the highlight was finally riding the South Downs Way) was May. Mum visited for almost six weeks and Adele was also over for three weeks of that. There were plenty of little trips here & there, as I tried to show Adele a bit of Europe and a holiday that didn’t include some sort of extreme adventure. Highlights were a long weekend with Mum in Barcelona; five days in Paris with both Mum & Adele; a rushed weekend showing London to Adele; taking Adele up to Scotland to visit a friend and do a little bit of hiking; and finally, a fantastic family wedding in Tuscany – with plenty of enjoyable time with extended family, some sightseeing, great food & wine and some hiking in the Chianti hills.
We came across the Tweed Run in London. It was all rather odd, but looked a lot of fun.
Glasgow – I was pleasantly surprised to be so impressed.
On top of the UK – most of the way up Ben Nevis was really nice, it was only a little bleak at the top.
Back in San Gimignano.
Work finally finished at the end of July – I promptly moved back to (the ever dependable and hospitable) cousin Trish’s in London the following day and took ten days preparing for three months of bikepacking (backpacking on a bike – minimal luggage carried compared to traditional cycle touring to enable more off-road riding) of west-Europe, with two months touring Italy being the main goal. I had hoped to do a big cycle tour of Europe in 2015 before moving back to NZ, but with work being what it was the timing changed.
In the end I only managed three weeks and two-thousand kilometres of touring, as I found the wet August and mud in Belgium was not much fun – after a week of that I was getting tired of solo-touring. Having said that, there were plenty of good times and highlights – including some of the people I met along the way; visiting a huge old ironworks in the Saarland (sad, I know); my birthday spent in Strasbourg; the Jura mountains (in France, near the Swiss border) and best of all: crossing the Alps into Italy over the same pass my grandfather rode over on his Euro cycle tour sixty-five years before me – that was a very special & memorable day.
All ready to leave.
I quite liked what I saw of Antwerp.
Another night, another forest, another wild-camp-site.
On the shores of Lake Geneva.
Pretty happy to be at Great St Bernard Pass – four hours of steady, but rarely difficult, climbing.
I’d organised (about a week beforehand) to stay a week working on a vineyard in the Aosta Valley (the most north-west province of Italy, in the Alps bordering both Monto Bianco & Monto Rosa) – in exchange for my labour, I would get food & board. I enjoyed the food (so much pasta, cheese, wine, grappa & all manner of things from the garden); the work (it was harvest season – so we mostly picked grapes and I learnt to make wine); trying to practice my Italian speaking; mountain scenery & lifestyle; hiking in the Alps; and most of all, the wonderful people I met and got to know. Although I left to see more of Italy, after a day by myself it seemed rather pointless leaving such good friends (& food) to have to worry where I was going to put my tent each night as the autumn weather deteriorated – so I returned to the vineyard. I ended up staying almost four weeks in total.
A day spent looking at Monto Bianco while we hiked.
If I ever got bored of the work in the vines, the scenery was always worth looking at and appreciating.
All of sudden October was free – so I hastily arranged for another visit to East Africa and close friends Adrian & Carmen, as it’s so much easier & cheaper to visit from London than NZ. Biking around Kilimanjaro was fantastic and we went up to Kenya to visit friends – the camping trip was unusual. I’m still not sure what scared me more – camping with ten children under the age of five or the injured lion we had resident in our campsite for much of the weekend.
Our lion friend for the weekend.
Back in England for November, it was a mixture of winter cycle touring saying goodbye to friends & family in the south & south-west and trying to pack my life up to move back to NZ. It was great to see so many people that have been a big part of my life for the last five or so years, sad to say goodbye of course.
As of December, I’m back in NZ – hopefully for good. For now, I’m enjoying the sudden change from northern winter to southern summer (if you think twenty-four hours in a plane counts as sudden), being with family – especially for Christmas, getting plenty of riding in (it’s easily been my biggest year on a bike ever – approaching 7000 km on my mountain-bikes [of which, I now only have one left – the big heavy touring one]), and generally reacquainting myself with life in NZ.
I’ll slowly start looking for a job in the new year, hoping to find one that means I can live in a large town/small city that has easy access to good mountain-biking – I think then there would be a chance I may be able stay still for a while and not spend so much time and money on travelling…
Thanks to all that were along for the ride (literal or figurative) this year – whether providing food, a bed, travel opportunities, quality mountain-bike rides or simply time. Merry Christmas & a great 2015 to all.