Prices have been cut and there's 15% off 6th-11th May 2023
I've also been experimenting with Microsoft's AI Design tool to produce designs that compliment the channel but don't just use the logo. After typing in phrases such as "sketch of bicycle wheel" and "hand drawn bicycle" these are what the Design tool produced (along with a lot of rubbish!).
Messing around in Canva, and finding a phrase that fit the notion of 'always thinking about the next adventure', I came up with the following design. I've ordered a t-shirt from Canva bearing this design to get a feel for how it looks.
The point of this story is to emphasise that I knew how to do none of this a few weeks ago! It's fascinating to see how much one can learn and create in a limited time.
Whether the results are any good - well, that's a matter of opinion. Sales figures won't lie!
The links below are mostly affiliate links which means I receive a small commission if you use them when buying, for which I thank you. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. My compliance information regarding review equipment is linked from my website
The links below are mostly affiliate links which means I receive a small
commission if you use them when buying, for which I thank you. As an
Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. My compliance
information regarding review equipment is linked from my website
This is a superb book. No wonder Amazon has it as a ‘Best Seller’ already.
To assume it’s just a book for cyclists is to miss the point.
Although if you are a cyclist, you need to read it and re-calibrate your understanding of the word ‘tough’. You’ll also learn a lot, even if it’s only “F*ck me I wouldn’t do that!”.
But to think only cyclists would be interested in reading Jenny Graham’s account of her record breaking pedal around the world would be like assuming only polar explorers would read Aspley Cherry-Gerrard.
‘Coffee First, then the World’ is a true adventure story, in the company of someone who is prepared to push themselves much further than most human beings.
It was 2018 when Jenny took almost three weeks off the 144 day record, clocking 124 days. The Guinness World Records team draws a distinction between a male and female record, but not between supported and unsupported. So at one extreme you have Mark Beaumont’s fully supported record (78 days, 14 hours and 40 minutes) for which he had a support team with motorhomes and bikes waiting for him when he stepped off each aircraft.
At the other you have Jenny, solo, unsupported and determinedly alone. She only used facilities (bike shops, hotels etc) that were available to any other cyclist. No special treatment was allowed under her ethic. Even to the extent of not permitting her friend Lee, who’d come out to visit, to translate a Spanish menu for her. As a result she ended up with a platter of raw fish.
Jenny’s public persona is bubbly and smiley. So when she stands up in public to recount the brutal physical attrition of trying to ride her bike for fifteen hours a day to clock up over two hundred miles, I get the impression she naturally makes light of it. She seems to turn it into a laugh, instinctively minimising her suffering.
In her book she’s shockingly forthright. She bravely chronicles, not only her forward progress, but her downward physical and mental decline. Of course, this being Jenny, she even manages to turn this into a laugh; passages involving kangaroos and grizzly bears (obviously not at the same time!) are as hilarious as they are scary.
We are sitting like vagrants under the road bridge at Scissors Crossing.
Three of us are avoiding the blistering heat of a desert day before a long climb into the San Felipe Hills.
One of our small band of hikers, who rejoices in the trail name Pathfinder and who had already walked the Pacific Crest Trail in sections, makes a prediction;
“Right now in 2002 and for the next couple of years will be considered, in future decades, to be the classic time on the Pacific Crest Trail”.
It didn’t feel particularly classic, just hot and humid. Sweat oozed from everywhere on my body. It stung my eyes and the multiple blisters I’d patched with duct tape, the moleskin having ran out days ago. Perhaps it was not the best time to fully appreciate his prophecy.
It was April 2002 and I had traveled from Scotland to thru-hike the PCT with my girlfriend (now wife) Liz. We later learnt that Pathfinder knew a lot more than us about long-distance hiking. His real name is Ron Strickland, and he was well into the process of creating The Pacific Northwest Trail (PNT). It’s now an established trail and it turns out his planning is as good as his predictions.
Start monument with Mexico border fence behind
Not that I appreciated it at the time. We still had more than two thousand miles and six months of hiking ahead of us. Fortunately, I was carrying a small audio recorder to capture our experiences and conversations like this with Ron. Unfortunately, once we completed the trail and returned to Scotland, I lost the recordings.
Until last December when, during a big gear clear-out, I unearthed a US Zip-lok bag (UK ones are different) stuffed with 11 mini-discs. Remember them? Possibly not, but once I borrowed an ancient player from my local high school, the voices from that classic PCT year transported me two decades into the past.
I was prising open an audio time capsule from a year when fewer than three hundred people started the northbound thru-hike and barely half of them completed it. While the completion rate remains similar, overall hiker numbers are now in the thousands. The PCTA website allocates 50 northbound permits daily between 2nd March and 31 May, that’s 4,600 hikers hitting the trail in 13 weeks.
As I logged and listened to my recordings I realised their true value. They captured a bygone time on the trail more intimately than video. As a former BBC reporter, I’m familiar with the saying “pictures are better on the radio”, and the pictures I saw were outstanding.
Now I’ve turned those 2002 recordings into a Podcast series called Pacific Crest Trail, Then and Now. I spoke to Flyin’ Brian Robinson, the first man to hike, in one year, the Triple Crown of the PCT, Continental Divide and Appalachian Trail. The recorder was running as the best-known angel on the trail Donna Saufley welcomed us to Hiker Heaven and shared her story.
I recorded close encounters with a rattlesnake, a bear and, scariest of all, a demented grouse that attacked our ankles. I heard from Rick at the Seiad Valley Pancake challenge; from the owner of the fabled Stehekin Bakery; from a trail crew from the California Conservation Corps maintaining the PCT. We swapped campfire trail stories with other hikers in the High Desert and the Cascades.
Hikers at the 'Kick Off' 2002
Liz and I spent a whole day at the long-gone ADZPCTKO, one of the many acronyms unique to this trail. It’s the Annual Day Zero PCT Kick-Off, a loud and friendly get-together at Lake Morena County Park. Previous thru-hikers, trail angels and experts in the new-fangled ultra-light hiking, helped the jittery class of 2002 reach the trailhead, answer their questions and calm their nerves.
Here we met Henry Shires, a PCTA board member who was in the process of transforming his hobby into a business. He had designed an innovative shelter, part tarp part tent. He allowed us to use one of the first of these odd TarpTents on our hike. We met him again in Lee Vining and spoke about theoretical threats to the trail from development and from increasing hiker numbers.
It’s so much more than a hike down memory lane. It’s a snapshot of lost time on a great trail. It left me wondering, what’s the PCT like now? Has the huge increase in hiker numbers ruined the experience, or just changed it? Might it have brought benefits, increasing awareness of this special, fragile ribbon of land?
Finish monument on Canadian border
Although 2002 seems relatively recent to me, in technology terms, it’s the stone age. While hikers now use smartphone apps to navigate and share information about water sources and campsites, we navigated with black-and-white maps alongside a trail description cut from the guidebook. We’d sliced them up in advance and put them in food resupply boxes that our friend Heather mailed to Post Offices along our route.
In towns along the trail, we were considered rare, scruffy oddities whose presence amused the locals and brought in a little extra business. Do the townsfolk now resent the annual invasion that strips small stores of their entire stock of carbohydrates? And what about the really big changes in climate and the consequence of forest fires?
After I tell 2002 our story, in later episodes I attempt to answer some of these questions. I speak to a couple who thru-hiked the PCT in 2022, exactly twenty years after us and only just made it to the border as forest fires closed in around them.
I hear from Mac, who compiles the annual PCT Hiker Survey and who helps me build a mental picture of today’s ‘typical’ PCT hiker. And I reconnect with Henry Shires, to play him those twenty-year-old musings, to discuss what the PCT has become and how the PCTA is helping protect this fragile ribbon of beauty.
As for Ron Strickland, he stands by his prediction of twenty years ago. “If you were to re-hike the PCT now, you would probably find a different experience because of the greater number of annual hikers”, he confirmed, “however, it’s still fabulous.”
Pacific Crest Trail, Then and Now is now live. Search for it where you get your podcasts or go to PCTpodcast.com
I was recently asked "How did you train for the TNR". It's a good question, especially when people in the video say, "you can't train for this!".
My reply emphasised that preparation was as important to me as training, so I'll cover both of those here.
However, I stress - this is just the way I chose to approach the event. Others might just rock-up-and-go.
When I and others said “you can’t train for this”, what I think we really meant was - "no training rides could be like this”.
Clearly you can, and should, train for it. Compare it to someone’s first marathon - one wouldn’t run 26 miles in training, so the ‘event’ is utterly different to the training.
In the past I have hired a coach for specific events and considered doing that before the TNR. It’s a good option because, if you over-train, (as I tend to do) you can mess up badly. But let’s assume you’re going to do it yourself.
Early morning Day 3, Strada Assietta
Firstly, I had a sports doctor look at a recurring knee issue, then had his physiotherapist check me all over, for body imbalances and weaknesses. She gave me exercises to work on that are specific to my 64 years of accumulated wear and tear. I did those exercises regularly.
Secondly, I went to see the UKs top bike fitter Phil Burt (he literally wrote the book) who is also a physiotherapist. Because of my knee issue, Phil advised shorter cranks - dropping from 172.5 to 165.
Simon & Phil Burt in Manchester
Thirdly, while my local bike shop was working on fitting the cranks, I asked them to find and fit the largest cassette that worked with the derailleur, and drop the chain ring (it’s a 1x bike) from 40 to 34. I had read ‘you can’t gear low enough for the TNR because you’re either grinding up hill or freewheeling down’. It’s good advice. All of this takes time.
For me, distance and elevation are not the challenge with the TNR - it’s saddle time - spending day after day pedalling the bike. You don’t have to ride far or fast - just take longer to complete the route. You don’t have to climb hard - just get lower gears.
But you do have to keep going, day after day.
I designed my training working backwards from what I felt would be my ideal final training week, two weeks before the start (to allow travel and recovery time). That last training week would ideally have six days of riding, two short, two medium and two long rides.
Then I simply worked up towards that duration of cycling, dividing the rides into short (under 2 hours), medium (under 4 hours) and long (over 6 hours). As events transpired, I never did stick to that plan but it acted as a guide.
A couple of months before the TNR I started experimenting with the kit I would use, trying to decide between Bivi bag or tent (for example). These two-day rides fulfilled four functions; they allowed me to test the kit; to check I wasn’t carrying too much; to see how the bike handled; gave me more interesting longer training rides. I played with the bivi bag here and made a video of a two-day ride I’d been wanting to try for ages. That ride also made me think about the kit and make this video.
Drying my tent over a TV in a hotel room
I felt a lot happier about the TNR when I felt I understood the route. That came when I copied the GPS into Komoot, set my ability level low, and tried to equalise the duration I’d spend on the bike between each day. I realise most people go a long way on Day 1. That could start me on a downward spiral, with shorter days to follow. Instead I opted for a shorter first day with a good hotel and food, hopefully to start an upward spiral where I'd improve as the ride progressed.
I hope some of this is helpful. All the very best with your planning and training.
Mostly we are, but every now and again someone has an unpleasant experience like the one alongside, shared on our Torino Nice Rally WhatsApp group.
This reportedly happened in the town of Tende.
I experienced nothing approaching this, but it serves as a reminder that this route passes through a number of towns and villages of different sizes.
So we're bound to be seen by a whole range of people. Those shiny bikes, festooned with bike-packing gear, can look very attractive and easy to sell.
Plus who knows what's inside.
When planning the security side of my ride, I did the usual 'what-if' calculations and ranked them on a likelihood scale.
I considered the larger towns the most like spots for thieves to strike.
So I aimed to pass through the larger places as fast as possible, not stopping in centres except for unavoidable resupply.
On the occasions when I had to visit a supermarket I felt the greatest risk was someone stealing from my bags, and there was little I could do to prevent this.
I chose my Rapha Brevet Lightweight Jersey in part because it has a separate, long zip rear pocket - like a poacher's pocket'. My passport, insurance details and money always stayed zipped in here. No one could unzip it and get a hand in without me feeling the intrusion.
The second order of risk I felt was someone grabbing and wheeling the bike away. I didn't want to carry a big bike lock for rare occasions so I took two Z-locks by HipLock. I could either put one on each wheel or link them to secure the frame to a fixed object (better) and remove the wheel skewers.
The 'riskiest' situation for me was in the town of Briancon, heading into a big supermarket. It was built above a car park and had a long covered ramp up to the entrance, with the bike stands at the bottom. Ignoring these, I pushed it up the ramp and secured it just outside the glass doors in the sight of the security guard who I nodded to on the way in - he got the message.
When staying in towns I always found a room and somewhere to secure the bike (either in the room or a place I felt would be safe) before heading out to eat or resupply.
I understand that some people find camping in wild places a scary prospect. I've done it for so long that I'm possibly a little too blase about it. In my experience, most people are too scared to approach you - a wild person in a tent - than you are of them.
My only hesitation came on my last night. The photos from that bivi spot are lovely, but I was slightly apprehensive. I was at a much lower elevation which usually meant more people. Of particular concern were the four-wheel drive tracks in the rough ground behind my spot, suggesting folk came up here at night and blasted about. I made sure I camped amid a tangle of trees and branches on the ground where such vehicles were unlikely to go. As usual, I slept with most things packed and ready to go... just in case.