"The West Surrey Cyclist" - October - December 1996
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Autumn leaves look nice but take care, there will be slippery patches on the roads. Also with the nights drawing in it is wise to sort out lights. Having driven in the dark to only just see cyclists wearing dark clothes, often with fading or non-existent lighting makes you appreciate the necessity to "BE BRIGHT AT NIGHT". If possible have two sets of lights in case of failure or carry spare bulbs and batteries, remember dynamos do fail and most dim without pedal power.
On the 27th of October Malcolm Clarke will be leading the Woking Wayfarers shortly before heading back to NZ.
Congratulations to Heidi Powell who has done a solo 500 mile journey recently in 8 days without support. This is an excellent achievement.
Thanks to all our contributors.
Happy Cycling Ed
Letter 29/05/96 Kajiado, Kenya, East Africa
Dear My man in Woking and the Wayfarers,
From your man in Africa. Well Habari Gani, hope this letter finds you all well and enjoying life and recovering from Chriss's whirlwind stopover from Nairobi via London to back down under.
As she would have said, in good old tour leader fashion I'm carrying on to map the way for many wayfarers to follow in my tyre tracks.
After a week in Nairobi deciding to
A. Catch a bus back to Arusha and start off where we stopped.
B. Catch an overland truck going back to same place but not cost anything or
C. The Overland driver gets on the booze, forgets to go so you team up with a Dutch cyclist who is going in same direction but has ridden all the way from Rotterdam, Netherlands heading to Cape Town with the purpose to collect money for a children's home in Ethiopia and calls 135kms a day an easy ride.
Well of course in true Wayfarer style and not one to let the side down I'm presently pedalling faster and further than I thought was possible over the same roads. I said to Chrissy a couple of weeks ago I'm glad I won't have to ever ride them again, Wrong!
So now I'm teamed up with Edward Van den Heuvel on the Nairobi to Dar-Es-Salam section of his 20,000 kilometre cycle ride, so have included his donation brochure on his ride plus also informs you on what reasons he is doing it for. He started out with his girlfriend who had never cycled before and she decided to return to the Netherlands in Ethiopia, a remarkable achievement for a non-cyclist who covered 19000 gruelling kilometres.
So from Nairobi we have retraced Chrissy's and Malcolm's route much to the amusement of people like the 3 policemen who stopped us at a roadblock today and said 'aren't you the Mzungu we saw a month ago with your wife', now they really think I'm nuts riding over the road, the first time they think crazy Mzungu but the second time its pretty much unprintable.
So far we have eased in 2 light days cycling by Edward's standard, but by Woking standards watch out Hardriders! I have to turn my legs as fast as helicopter blades as Edward's on 622 metric tyres whilst my tyres are 559's so guess who has to do lots more hard work.
In 2 days' time we are in for a real tough section which last time took us 2 days, we hope to do in one go. Then it's 2 days R&R in Arusha before pushing on. One good thing is that travelling together is more secure for us both especially when you come across guys everyday carrying knives, spears, bows and arrows, I kid you not it, can make the bowels go a little loose out in the middle of nowhere.
Add to that wild animals, matatu drivers on a death wish, tsetse flies, malaria ridden mozzies, just the ingredients to spice up a quiet ride in the countryside. It will be interesting to see what the next 1,000 kilometres have in store for us as people (other travellers) have been telling a few scary stories.
However I'm sure the passengers on Lake Victoria a week ago thought things were all rosy until their boat turned upside down. The word 'overloaded' don't mean anything but 'squeeze another few dozen more on' in this part of the world.
All going well I intend to unwind a little in Zanzibar if there is time then late June watch out there's a Kiwi about. I don't remember if I mentioned it but whilst in Arusha last time we also met a German cyclist Ralf Farrelmann who had cycled from Berlin heading towards Namibia for no apparent reason except he likes cycling and adventure, and by the way Ralf tells a story he certainly plenty of both.
Back again are now once again on the Kenyan / Tanzanian border camped on the same lawn of the same Hotel along with Edward, a Japanese motorcylist and 12 people from the Netherlands travelling in a Mini-bus.
Today we travelled from Keajado to Namanga a distance of 55 miles, it took us 4 hrs 7min at an average speed of 13.3 miles per hour. It was very clear and hot today but we still had that headwind, however we each did our bit pushing in front so the other had a rest when needed in the slipstream.
We also were treated to beautiful views of Mt Kilimanjaro and had that for almost 3.5 hours which was exceptional as a lot of the time during April/May it is hidden in cloud.
Have enclosed one of Edward's sponsorship forms, could you please keep it for me as I am going to sponsor him on my return, should any Wayfarers wish to also just get them to quote the Bank transfer number on the back section.
Well need must sign off now as I need plenty of shut eye for tomorrow - whoops before I forget, whilst taking lunch in the bush today we were sitting down eating lunch when 50 metres away 2 Maasai Men in traditional red clothes came trampling through the bush armed with spears, sword, sticks, singing away, it's hard to believe at times that it is 1996, somehow I think these people have missed the 20th century.
Anyway must go, next update from Tanzania and after Arusha new territory.
Habari Gani from Tanga, Tanzania. Well here I sit waiting on the dockside for a boat which should have left one and a half hours ago. Edward's and my bikes are in the cargo hold along with 100 people loading the boat and hope not too much is missing from panniers and bikes, this is always the problem when not travelling on them.
Well we've just spent 5.5 days cycling from Arusha to Moshi to Lemberi to Same to Mombo to Muheza then Tanga, about 300 miles all up and into a ferocious headwind. Most of the time could probably done it in 5 days as I was so ill we only cycled 23 miles one day as I thought I had Malaria again.
Luckily a blood test proved negative but it's hard to trust a blood
test done in a garden shed.
Crossing to Pemba, bland now then Zanziba then Dar then watch out I'm about.
|Dates:||First and third Thursdays of each month, weather permitting: (Oct 17, Nov 7 & 21, Dec 5 & 19, Jan 2).|
|Meet:||27 York Road, Woking, between 8 and 8.15 pm for 8.15 start.|
|Destination pub:||to be decided on the night. If you would prefer to cycle direct to the pub, phone 01483-755434 between 7 and 8.15 pm on the night to find out where we're going, or to talk us into going to your favourite hostelry.|
We were at 11,000 ft and it was two o'clock in the morning. There were six in our little group - well, seven, counting Maikin. The six of us, all backpackers, had met the previous morning at the Park Headquarters in the foothills of Kinabalu. There were the two Helens, English girls in their twenties, both from London and both incredibly fit. They were en route from Bali to Vietnam, in the middle of a six month tour of Asia. Then there was Stefan and his girlfriend Emma. They'd been in Australia, and soon would be heading home again to Sweden. They looked alike. Both were tall, blond and dressed the same. Like attracts like, I suppose.
Next was Sam. Tall, thin and bearded, Sam taught physics and astronomy at the Sanoma State University near San Francisco. In his sixties, Sam was even older than me, but he was an experienced walker whose habit was to go off somewhere different every long vacation. And finally there was me, from Woking (and a newcomer to the cycling club). I'd been working earlier in the week in Hong Kong, and had slipped down to Sabah, the Malaysian state at the northern end of Borneo, for a few days' break before flying back to England.
Stepping off the plane from Hong Kong at mid morning, I'd gone straight to the Park Office in the town of Kota Kinabalu to reserve accommodation on the climb. Minutes later I was aboard a bus which would take me the two-and-a-half hour drive to the Park HQ, 90 kms to the north. It's a pretty place, a set of low buildings surrounded by well-tended gardens. Well organised too if you can forgive the bureaucracy. It was there that I bumped into the others in the group, simply because we were allocated to the same dormitory.
I also learned something at the Park HQ about the national park and the mountain it surrounds. Covering 700 square kilometers of mainly rainforest, the park is there to protect the abundant wildlife (it's the home of the Rufflesia, for instance, the world's largest flower at an incredible three feet across), and to control the flow of visitors. The mountain itself is a popular draw. The tallest in South East Asia, it reaches 13,455 ft at the summit. The reason it's a draw is simple: it's a walk up which you can do in a couple of days, and the views from the top are spectacular.
The next morning we sorted out a few light-weight things from our rucksacks and checked them in the store room, booked onto the climb, and met Maikin, our Malaysian guide. Guides are mandatory on the mountain for any party up to eight. They're there for safety reasons and as a source of revenue for the Park - something you can't really complain about, given the very small charge for access to the mountain.
The climb from the HQ follows a steep track up through the rainforest. It's habitually cloudy, warm and humid, and it's sensible to take your time so as to help acclimatise to the thinning air as you get higher. The main overnight hut clings to the side of the mountain at a point where the vegetation is down to low brush, just before it gives way entirely to bare rock. But the hut is a good one. Running water, tables, chairs, food and bunk beds are all available. You can even have a cold shower, which goes down well when you're soaked in perspiration.
Most people hit the hay early, to get up around 2.00 am the following morning for the final climb to the summit. That way, you can get to the top by sunrise. We were no exception, particularly when the rain that had poured down earlier suddenly disappeared, leaving a cloudy but faintly moonlit night. We filed out of the hut in silence, a little line of swaying shadows and flickering torches. You climb steeply up a trail through the last of the brush, and then come out onto virgin granite marked by white ropes that you can grab on to - an essential aid at times when the rock is slippery.
It was a bit of a slog, but we all got to the top in good time before 6.00 am. We stood there gazing to the east, a little knot of silhouettes that gradually took on recognisable shapes as the sky changed first from black to grey and then was shot with pink. Soon the whole top of the mountain was lit up, great slabs of ragged rock sticking up from the white clouds far below. And in no time at all, it seemed, it was morning.
Reluctantly we began the long scramble down, back to the over-night hut for breakfast and a brief rest, and then the long trek back down the trail through the thickening rainforest. As it got warmer and more humid I got slower and slower. My knees and quads hurt. My toes were on fire with the pressure of the weight against the fronts of my boots, causing me to walk backwards when the trail was at its steepest. I had to stop for rests and water more and more frequently.
Even talking became an effort, which was a great shame. Sam taught a course on extra-terrestrials, and I badly wanted to know where he stood on the issue. 'What about corn circles?' I remember crying out as soon as I learned he was a non-believer, just to keep him talking so that I could concentrate on something other than my own discomfort.
I could scarcely walk by the time I emerged at the Park HQ, ten hours after setting off from the over-night hut. It's easy to tell yourself that 10,000 vertical feet in ten hours is an achievement, but the illusion is shattered every time a fit Malaysian goes bounding by, carrying provisions in huge bundles for the hut. At the HQ our little group had lunch together, and then we parted company after the inevitable promises to meet sometime again for another adventure.
A bus was waiting. I climbed aboard, and soon fell asleep on the ride back into Kota Kinabalu town. There you've got swimming and diving and plenty to see - and time enough to recover and to look back on the pleasures of the climb.
Roger Woolfe 7/6/96
The hall is booked for 9:30 - 12:30 Sunday 3rd November and the meeting will start at 10:00. Entry is restricted to current CTC members so membership cards should be brought as they may be checked. Nominations for Officers and Committee members for 1996 - 97 should be sent to the DA Secretary by Sunday 27th October. These need to be signed by the proposer, seconder and the nominee, all of whom should be current CTC members. Nominations will only be taken from the floor of the meeting for positions for which no nominations have been received in advance. Motions to be put to the meeting should likewise be sent to the DA Secretary by 27th October and need a proposer and seconder.
We left Farnham at about 9am. The first leg of our journey took us to The Old Station in New Alresford. The first run of the steam engine began as we sat on the platform with our refreshments.
To get to lunch at Nomansland on the north west fringe of the New forest, we cycled via Headbourne Worthy north of Winchester through the village of Sparsholt and down to Standon where we were pleasantly surprised to meet Wendy and Emma waiting in the Piddle support car. We topped up our water bottles and carried on through lovely lanes to Michelmersh. Then we crossed over the River Test at Kimbridge and proceeded south through Kent's Oak, Woodington and Blackhill to the edge of the New Forest. In the forest we went through Furzley to Nomansland. As expected Wendy and Emma were waiting for us at The Lamb Inn. As we ate inside, New Forest ponies loitered out front of the pub obviously waiting to be fed. It was a very nice setting in which to have lunch.
Unfortunately at this stage the drizzle began and as we departed Nomansland the drizzle turned to rain. It rained off and on for the rest of the day except for the last few miles. Despite the damp it was still interesting cycling across the Ocknell Plain and past Linwood to exit the forest at Mockbeggar.
At Ibsley we crossed over the River Avon and went through Alderholt and Cranborne to Wimborne St Giles. The terrain was getting more up and downish now that we were in the East Dorset district. Crossing over the River Allen we cycled through Witchampton then almost directly west to Blandford Forum, passing the Piddle support car just before entering the town centre. We stopped for tea at The Gorge, an interesting setting for refreshments. It was like sitting in a pink cave.
After tea we rode through Winterbourne Stickland and the delightful village of Milton Abbas. This village of whitewashed thatched cottages was built in the 1770's and replaced a medieval town which was removed to improve the setting of Lord Milton's house. Almost half of the cottages are currently up for sale.
Through Cheselbourne and down into the Piddle valley. Harold Coleman (our president) and the Piddle support team were waiting outside The Poachers Inn for us to arrive. Harold was on holiday down south and had come up to join us for dinner.
After settling into our respective rooms, Geoff, John, Emma and Gill played in the swimming pool while the rest of us just relaxed by the pool side for a bit. We all had an enjoyable dinner together with John Pugh supplying the wine.
On Sunday morning we breakfasted at nine. An earlier breakfast would have been preferred but the inn could not provide it any earlier.
We hit the road at about 10am and headed off under an overcast sky. Back to Cheselbourne then turning north through Melcombe Bingham up and along a ridge above Woolland. From here we should have had an amazing panoramic view towards Blackmoor Vale. Unfortunately the misty conditions prevailed and we did not get the full benefit. Down through Okeford Fitzpaine and Shillingstone, over the River Stour to Child Okeford. Climbed a 17% hill on the way to Ashmore. At 700ft Ashmore is the highest village in Dorset.
Followed B3081 through Tollard Royal, Sixpenny Handley to Cranborne. Turning off back on to narrow lanes through Damerham to Whitsbury for lunch at The Cartwheel Inn. After lunch it was through Breamore, crossing over the River Avon to Woodgreen on the edge of the New Forest. Up to Downton then through Redlynch, Whiteparish, West Dean, West Tytherley, East Tytherley to Mottisfont. We pass Mottisfont Abbey, a National Trust house which was converted from a medieval monastery. It is known for its ornamental plaster work and alcoves as well as its romantic walled rose garden.
For the next three miles we cycled more or less parallel to the River Test although it was mostly hidden from view until we crossed over it at Houghton Drayton to Horsebridge. We went through King's Somborne and onto a lane that led us through 3/4 of a mile of rough stuff. Coming out in Sparsholt we then carried on to end our ride at the station in New Alresford.
All up the mileage came to 187. Where are we off to next year, lads?
I was halfway across a rock and mud slide that snaked away down the side of the mountain into the valley far below. It was dry now, but the precipitous slope and the loose stones meant you had to fight to keep every foothold. I rested a moment where a few gnarled bushes still clung to the slope. They had been saved from the slide by some chance of their position when, a few weeks earlier, the rain had swept rocks and mud crashing down the mountain in a giant swathe a hundred yards across.
Rather than try to push it from behind, this time I pulled the bike from in front, glancing over my shoulder with each step to find a foothold. The track had gone, of course, and probably only a handful of people had been this way since the storm, so there were no marks to follow. Still, it didn't matter - so long as I could find the track again at the far side of the slide. If not, I'd be in trouble.
I'd set off that morning after an early breakfast at the backpacker lodge beneath a huge high hill on the edge of Queenstown. I'd come to Queenstown by bus from Christchurch just a few days previously. It had been a good trip. An easy flight from London out to Auckland in New Zealand's north island, then a short flight south to Christchurch on the east of the south island.
The weather had been good and the scenery spectacular. A long spine of mountains runs the length of the south island's west coast. This is one of the few places in the world where you can stand on a semi-tropical beach, look upwards, and see rain forest and snow capped peaks and glaciers, all in one panoramic view.
From Nelson in the north I'd come down the coastline via Franz Josef in the bus, stopping off now and again to explore. It took several days, but eventually we got to the Karawau river bridge, just a few miles north of Queenstown. It's a fine old bridge built rather more than a hundred years ago across a gorge in the river, to make it easier to access the nearby gold fields (previously, explorers had to ford the river, then climb a long steep trail up the rock face). These days the bridge is closed to traffic, but open and famous for another reason. It's a mecca for the young. It's the place where A J Hackett opened the world's first commercial bungy jump operation, back in 1988.
I wanted to know about A J, so in the nearby, bustling souvenir shop I sought out one of the crew, a pretty, enthusiastic blond. "He's a kiwi action freak with a taste for business", she told me. It was either he or one of his mates who had the idea of leaping off a high platform, legs tied to a long length of elastic. The idea came originally from a Pacific island maturity rite, when youths swooped at the end of vines hung from high trees.
In less than ten years, bungy jumping has become a passion across the world with dozens of operators in the business. A J himself has about ten sites now, in New Zealand, Australia, the USA and beyond, but the Karawau bridge is the original. It's a braced girder affair with a 300 ft span and 140 ft of space beneath it before you get to the river, with sheer rock walls on both sides.
People come from far and wide to have their legs tied together before throwing themselves off the side of the bridge and into the gorge. "It's all in your face", said my blond friend enthusiastically. "You get to 100 kms an hour, and you've got the rock walls all around, and the water's coming up so you can touch it. There's nothing like it." And who was I to disbelieve her?
Queenstown was just a short way further down the road. I'd been warned about it. "A tourist haven." "Very expensive." "You'll want to get straight out again." But experience told me that the doubters would be wrong, and that was how it turned out. It's a little town sitting at the side of Lake Wakatipu, about 30 miles inland from Milford Sound. It nestles in a natural bay in this huge and lovely lake, surrounded by high hills.
There are plenty of tourist shops in Queenstown, along with banks, restaurants, pubs and small hotels. But the place is bright and prosperous, with a good feel to it. There are any number of things to do. Gaily painted steamers ply across the lake. Or you can paddle a kayak if you prefer. On the river you can take a jet boat ride or go rafting. In the air there are scenic flights, sky diving, and paragliding. And that's before the cycling and the hiking.
I'd come to visit Milford Sound, one of the natural wonders of the world, and to hike the legendary Routeburn Track in the Fiordland national park. But first I wanted to cycle in the hills around the town. To the south, just across the lake, lie the Remarkables, a steep and rugged range of peaks that double as a spot for rock climbing in the summer and for skiing in the winter. But I chose to go north between the Richardson and Crown ranges, following the Moonlight trail to Arthur's Point and back again in a wide circle.
"You'll do it easily in a day," said the cheery warden at the lodge when I went to rent a mountain bike ($20 kiwi, about £8). "Take a map and steer by the sun." I packed a light-weight day sack containing food and water, sunglasses, sun block, sweater and compass, and pedalled off.
You head west from the town along the road at the edge of the lake, then turn up a winding track that leads into the hills. As you get higher the scenery becomes more and more beautiful. It reminded me of south Wales on a clear day - the hills are rounded, green and brown, cut through by the occasional stream. After a couple of hours the track is down to a grass path and the scenery is more spectacular: steeper slopes and plunging valleys.
I stopped for lunch and a rest in the shade of a stand of trees, then plunged down to the river and up the far side to a pass through the hills. Beyond the pass the track got stonier, and swung round to the east. That seemed to be right, according to the map. But then we started a steep descent that finished up at a rope bridge across the river. On the far side of the bridge the ground rose sharply and the track was barely visible. It was so steep I had to drag the bike behind me, clinging on to bushes to haul myself up.
At the top of the slope, the track disappeared completely. The place was absolutely empty. Steep mountains all around, bathed in the late afternoon sun. I hadn't seen a soul since leaving the road seven hours earlier.
I was in a dilemma. If I pressed on I might never recover the track: there was absolutely no sign of it. To go back the way I'd come, though, was an admission of defeat. I decided on a compromise. A mile back from the rope bridge and perhaps 500 feet above it, but still on this side of the pass, I'd noticed another track leading off in a direction that looked generally southerly. I'd go for that.
Three quarters of an hour later and I was back at the junction. It was a chance, but I'd take it. After just a few hundred metres, though, the track disappeared where it had been swept away by the rock and mud slide, and it was here that I had to struggle to keep my balance as I dragged the bike across the swathe.
But we made it to the far side, and found the track again. It twisted and turned, climbed and fell, but at least it was a track. At times it was completely unridable, where rushing water in the recent past had cut a groove in it so deep you couldn't turn the pedals. Rough stuff, I thought, but no worse than some of the tracks back home in the Brecon Beacons, and at least the sun was shining.
Another couple of hours and glancing downwards I saw a jet boat far below, pirouetting in the Shotover river, no doubt to the frenzied delight of its passengers, though it was too far away to hear them scream. Civilisation.
And from then on it was all down hill back to Queenstown. It was a piece of cake, after all. The warden was right. Back in the town I found a pleasant pub where the black beer they served was good and cold and the food came in large, steaming portions. New Zealand south island. If you don't know it, you might give it a try. You won't be sorry.
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