Henry Rolls

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Destination

I set out early today as I was going to attempt to cover 200km and a climb of 2700m in two days. The journey was on the N2 through the centre of Ketama and was more or less 100km climb followed by 100km descent. After the Moroccan breakfast of eggs, olive oil, bread and olives I left the hotel and descended out of Al Hociema and upthe steep hill towards the mountains. The climb was relentless and already the sunwas fiercely beating down on me. Even bottom gear was hard work on the thighs as the steep dusty road passed by at walking pace, the lorries roaring past. The support of the locals and their ‘ah! super sportif!’ chants kept me going. The gradient reduced and the road snaked its way up a vast valley, little clusters of houses were scattered about like pastel coloured hundreds and thousands, some were way up the hillsides up remote tracks. In the foreground I saw donkeys and bellshaped hay stacks and yet more men, sitting about and smiling at me. I rested at another tea stop with its french speaking curiosity and continued on. It was pretty obvious that 100 km of uphill was going to be more than today, I planned to do about 60-70km and then 140 tomorrow. But my 10kmh speed in the baking heat was proving to be hard work, and I had developed a pain in my chest. While working out what to do, a coach overtook me and stopped a few metres in front of me to let passangers off. I had no time to ponder upon a decision, my mind was made to go and ask the driver if he was going to Ketama and he would take my bike. A few moments later and 50 dhirams poorer I was in the comfort of a seat, with plenty of time to ponder on whether I was cheating. The coach hurtled along the winding hairpins and I watched the landscape change to rocky ridges and fir trees. We stopped at a few more towns. This is the land of the Rifians, berber people who have fought occupation from Portugal and Spain until last century when their land became part of the Moroccan kingdom. As we budge through a busy market, they trade their animals, friut,vegetables and spices with each other in a way that I’m sure has little changed in a millenium. It is a lush green land which gets a lot of annual rainfall. A passanger gives me an orange and points to two collapsed houses. This winter’s excess of rain has been catastrophic for some. The road jams as the traffic negotiates a hastily repaired section of the road. Many parts of the road have been badly damaged by landslides. After a delicious tagine for lunch we pass Ketama, the summit, and I consider when to get off the coach. It is nearly 3pm, so the remaining downhill is too much to do today. I wait until 4 when there is still 50 or 60km to go, I should get to my destination by dark. I get on the saddle and get going. The way is one of the most amazing but hairy rides I have done. The gradient is very gentle as the road follows the contours of the enormous Rif, up a small section and then down, down down. I am constantly trying to keep myself from being pushed off the tarmac as the Mercedes race past, often waving in support despite nearly killing me. I have little chance to admire the stunning mountains in my peripheral vision as I snake down the valley. I pass Bab Bezoot and level out, pedalling harder and slowing down as the road works its way up to my furthest point away from home, Chefchaoen. As the sun begins to setand my legs begin to ache, I see the lights of this charming peaceful city approach. I go straight up to the old Medina where I find Pension Souika, a beautiful old hotel in the centre catering for backpackers. I unpack and relax, straight away I meet my first friend here Diego. This is the first time I stay at a place full of other travellers in the whole trip. It is a refreshing experience. The next two days were complete relaxation, strolling the blue washed walls, up the hill to the mosque, eating lots of food, hanging out at Oussama’s sandwhich shop,meeting French German US and spanish backpackers and feeling a little bit smug.
On my last night before departing, I am woken at about 1am by the light switched on and some loud Moroccan voices. I eventually open my eyes and am surrounded by four police officers and the Spanish guy in the bed next to me in hand cuffs. Dumbfounded, I watch as they gather his posessions and take him away, leaving us in peace. Naturally the following morning I want to know what had happened, I am relieved to hear that it was a mistake and he was later released. Apparently he shared the same name as a Cuban wanted by interpol for murder, and that his check in to the hotel’s computer had rang alarm bells.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

near the end the adventure begins

In case some of you are confused about the goal of this voyage, Ceuta in Morocco is still the final destination I intend to cycle to. Rather than cross the Costa del Sol to get there, I decided to see a bit more of Morocco, so I will ride the north Moroccan coast from Melilla to Ceuta which is 20km more and five times the climb of the original leg. Just in case you thought I was cheating.

So far I can say that I am so glad to have done this. It has taken me no time for my spirits to be lifted no end by the people of Morocco. The french stage was so cold I was pretty much alone every day, and although plenty more people were out and about in Spain, I passed by pretty much unnoticed. Morocco is the complete opposite.

After last writing in Almeria, I went down to the port and bought a ferry ticket. The boat departed at 11.30pm and I tried very hard to assume a comfortable sleeping position across two reclining seats. The crossing was calm and quiet, but the night’s sleep wasn’t particularly good. Like so many of the other Moroccan passengers I caught my best nap on the floor. As the sun rose behind a pretty drab sky we arrived into the Spanish province of Melilla. It was early and I had little inclination to explore the town, so I went and found the frontier. The transition from Europe to Africa occured in 50 meters, orderly queues descend into fighting chaos as cultures filter through the barricades and past serious looking border police. After filling in an immigration form I am issued with my stamp, past the guard and into the land of Morocco. I knew to expect a sensory overload, but it’s always underestimated. The sights, the sounds and above all the smells are overwhelming. I also forgot how much attention I attracted, and being early in the morning after not much sleep I wasn’t yet ready to face this, so I withdrew some Dihrams and got going towards Nidhar. The dusty dual carriageway took me south around the hilly peninsula as I passed countless smiles and greetings of Salaam alikum by the men of the roadside watching the world go by. I went straight through Nidhar still unacclimatised to the overwhelming attention, but I was getting very hungry so I rested up at a little tea stop out of town. I ate six eggs, a baguette and my first of many delicious mint teas while watching a guy dunking a lorry inner tube in an old bath tub to find the puncture. Suitably recharged, I got back on the N16 and rejoined the Mediterranean. The road had been recently rebuilt with EU funding, and the carving through the gentle foothills of the Rif mountains was immense. I wondered what kind of machine could slice through rocky hills so straight and cleanly on such an enormous scale. The earth walls revealed the geological periods of sediment of these ancient hills as I cycled past them relatively effortlessly, for the gradients were fairly easy. On I went, I realised that there were very few built up areas on this coast, just small settlements of farmers and fishermen. The traffic was incredibly light for a national road, possibly one vehicle passed me per minute. Every other vehicle here is an old Mercedes, handed down from from a European owner and cherished and repaired indefinately here. Th is is a land where things get fixed rather than discarded. I stop for another mint tea and am invited to share lunch with another customer: Yet again I am the centre of curiosity; here people want to know what it’s like to be a young Engish guy, what philosphy we have if we don’t worship our god. I carry on, and it dawns upn me I should think about where to stay. There is nowhere particular on the map indicating a guest house is likely, so 90km along I stop at a tea stop, meet the customers and use my judgement whether they seem sound enough to trust if I ask them if there is a place to stay nearby. I do this about three hours later after doubling my arabic vocabulary; learning about each other’s lives, talking about the mad world we live in and the volatile situation with muslims and the west and how they just want to coexist just like most of us. We share the tranquility of this rural beach with the strangest looking cliffs behind us. The customers leave and bid me the warmest of farewells; saying how honoured they are to have met me, and Mohamed the owner of the tea hut lets me stay in the security of his hut behind the shutters, he will wake me at 8 and cook me breakfast. So after another load of eggs and baguette and some cake for lunch, he insist I pay only what everyone else would, about £3 for dinner, breakfast, countless cakes and teas.
I get going and the sky is even more grey than yesterday. An hour in and I take refuge in a marble lined classy cafe as the heavens open. I put my waterproofs on and continue along, playing duel with a tractor full of farm workers. They are highly amused that I’m quicker on the downhills and they overtake me on the uphills. I pass Ajdir and the gradients get fierce. My road goes inland but I decide to cycle 10km further to the big town of Al Hoceima. I realise the amount I withdrew at the start; 100 Dirhams sounded like a lot but was about £8 and I only had 30 Dh left. As the hills of the detour got steeper and steeper I hoped there would be a bank. Sure enough there was, and after a huge steak and chips for lunch I decided to find a hotel and recuperate. It had been 3 days since I stayed anywhere with washing facilities.

Sun Mar 28, 2010 Comments

Sunday, 14 March 2010

the beautiful hills

Marlene and I took the poorly wheel to a motocycle cum bicycle mechanics a few streets away. They took it from me and told me to return at 6pm. After buying some provisions Marlene left me at her flat and went to play Bridge for a few hours. As well as catching up on couch surf requests, I tried learning some spanish, motivated by my need to collect the wheel. The young guy who served us was not there when I returned, Marlene had warned me that the older guy was pretty grumpy and unhelpful. Sure enough my terrible attempt at asking if the wheel had been fixed went over his head, the only think I understood was no comprende. Luckily I saw the repaired wheel, so the international sign language of pointing to it and saying quanto did the trick. 12 euros later and the bike was back on form ready to depart tomorrow. We went to a bar and had some wine, then returned to sleep.

After a hearty breakfast, I said goodbye and got going. It was overcast, and I went inland to traverse the hilly headland, climbing slowly up the N332 to 200m.

The road snaked its way through enormous gorges with a railway line precariously following a contour around the cliffs. Up we went until we reached a plateau with the occasional evidence of civilisation dotted about on the barren landscape. I pressed on through Teulada and Benissa before descending a great long hill down to the high rise landscape of tourist ville. Back on the coast the weather was fine again, but beyond the sprawl of tourist shops, Mc Donalds and small businesses there was little to see. The road undulated past Calpe, Altea and eventually skirted around the famous Benidorm, a metropolis of high rise apartments resembling a hazy salmon and cream coloured Manhatten. There was no desire to explore it, and I went inland to get away from the package holiday madness. The road climbed steeply up the mountain side, the 250m climb was relentless in the heat but it was comforting to enter the tranquil beauty of the vast arid hills. I passed through Finestrat and turned down a closed road for 6 km, weaving its way up and over the hills until I found Rosalind’s little bungalow up a dusty little track. What a place! Rosalind defined a content life of solitude. She had lived here for five years, the last two alone, and she was quite happy to exist alone on the hillside. She had solar electricity, rain water to wash and cook with and spring water to drink. I marvelled at the landscape in the afternoon sun, then she lit a fire and cooked me some pasta and chorizo. I listened intently as she talked about her rich life, her travels around the world, her year in South America discovering her amazonian roots, her four sons of two marriages and the stresses and strains of love and separation and the complicated arrangements of her grandchildren. We talked about Bristol where she lived for many years, about the role of today’s men and women in family, and last but not least, football which she surprisingly loved. Rosalind was a truely inspirational woman.

I said goodbye and thankyou after porridge, and descended to Villajoyosa to return to my coastal journey. The sun was intense but it wasn’t too hot, the going was cooled by a gentle breeze. I cycled through the hilly arid landscape and on to Alicante. As I passed the cacti and aloe shimmering in the sun, I cast my memory back to the piles of snow I had passed on the hills of Somerset, the icy blizzards of Niort and the strong winds of the Canal du Midi and how these thighs of mine had got me here. They are still going strong, stronger now and I have to admit I am quite amused by their shape. Not quite Belleville Rendezvous legs but not far off.
The traffic in Alicante was frantic, but I followed the route through the centre despite it being barricaded off from traffic. The empty dual carriageway took me to the seafront where enormous yachts were moored up and everybody was out parading the street. There was a cycling event and a load of cyclists out, BMXs, families and children, mountain bikers, glamorous girls on folding bikes, young guys on retro fixed gear bikes and then me, a lonesome lanky grubby guy on a heavily laden vintage steed having ridden 2200km. I chuckled to myself as I cruised past, nobody noticing. The traffic re joined me as I left Alicante and descended onto a great shimmering plain with another high rise resort. I stopped for a pizza and continued on past huge salt flats before climbing gently to La Marina, my destination. I met my hostess, Viviana at the very busy, luxurious and successful campsite she owned, and we walked to her beautiful house where her Spanish husband, Tony, family and friends were. Originally from Belgium, she had lived in Spain since the sixties and spoke five languages. The sheer luxury of the house, swimming pool, many cars, caravans and pool was an indication of the campsite’s success. She showed me her ceramic studio where she created a huge variety of beautiful pieces, and after a conversing with her friends with her as the interpreter we had dinner, I planned a long leg of couch surfing, wrote this and went to bed. The following morning after beakfast, she took me to the campsite shop where she insisted on filling a bag of goodies for lunch. I said goodbye, and as I cycled along I thought about the contrast of my two last hostesses. Both were so kind, yet there was something about the generous hospitality of a person who had made such a successful business out of hosting that gave me goosepimples. I felt very honoured to receive such an exclusive treatment from the Deckx family.
The journey today was another very sunny one, on past more tourist landscape and over a gently undulating terrain. The road was being widened, so I had a lane all to myself as it was closed off but more or less complete. 10km on and the two carriageways became busy with traffic and I was ushered onto a cycle lane. It didn’t take long for the gratitude to turn into frustration as it was about the most stupid cycle lane I had ridden on. Navigating in and out of junctions with sharp corners and street signs in the way, down and up hills to roundabouts instead of straight on the road, and negotiating big kerbs made this path more dangerous than the road. So I got back on the N334 and pressed on to San Javier.
I then left the busy road and took an F road straight past more farmland. It was populated by lettuces and irrigated with black pipes, the occasional hut and run down house. I stopped for a coffee in a very one-horse bar and got the cheapest cafe con leche so far. The big hooped earrings and dubious mullets and dark skin of the clientelle made me suspect that this was a land of immigrant farm workers. I pressed on, and the last 30km was hard going with a steady headwind. Eventually I got into Cartagena where I am now, killing another few hours before my host Pako finishes studying at 8.30.

Friday, 12 March 2010

slow progress

Valencia is great. Kyle and Ana are great. What was meant to be a day´s rest turned out to be four. The first night I arrived we went to a couch surf party where Kyle did some projections. The theme was supposed to be Indian, though one would never guess. It was the most international gathering I have been to, I met French, German, Spanish, Estonian, Canadian, Romanian, US and Hungarian people, and then gave up meeting any more when the flat filled. It was very confusing knowing which language to try and speak, though I was happy to chat away in French with Julie, a young french girl studying furniture restoration. We drank lots of rum and coke and ate a buffet of food broght along by everybody, then at midnight the crowd was ushered out and we helped clear up. Kyle poured some more drink when we got back, but my 400km in four days made me quite dizzy and incoherent.
So the next few days were spent hanging out, seeing the city and meeting up with Julie and her German friend Anna, watching really budget zombie films and talking VJ. We go and see ( or should I say hear ) the mascleta, a daily explosion of fireworks for five minutes in the main square. It is all part of the Falles, a Valencian celebration of St Joseph in which enormous paper and wood puppets are burnt in the streets. They represent satirical topics of the moment, people unfortunate enough to be chosen are characatured in colossal inflammable structures up to five stories high. It is a pity not to see the main party next week where everybody from children to grandparents are out throwing bangers, processions work their way around the streets and the city is alive with noise. I pity the poor startled animals who must think there is a war going on. I confess that my time here was a major distraction to my mission and made me feel a bit transient, it made me warm to the idea of learning Spanish and spending some time here, but not just yet. First things first, some more pedalling to do.
So on Thursday I get back on the road, legs feeling recuperated. The weather is cool and sunny but there is a headwind. Out of Valencia I realise I must not take the souhwesterly direct route I had made, but detour out to the headland in a southeasterly direction. The GPS chose a route shaped like a question mark, 150km in all, so I predicted if I keep going straight along the coast it´ll be 100km. It’s a steady flat ride past a the Albufera lake where rice is grown, and then on along the coast past the beautiful blue haze of some impressive hills to the right. The foreground of orange crops, mile after mile has now become repetitive like the vineyards of France, it becomes apparent what a massive industry oranges are here. I stop to pick up a stray one on the road and it is perfect. I press on past Gandia, only stopping at a supermarket where I stop for lunch. I’m right about the straight line, my concern was whether or not I would have to negotiate a headland with winding hilly roads or face a massive detour. But 100km and a headwind was still a hard day and the sun was setting as I reached Denia. Built around a castle up on a big rock, Denia appeared to be a classy tourist town, inhabited by many retired English and Germans. My host, Marlene was one, having moved here after devorcing back in North Germany. The children were grown up and she had chosen a new life in a sunny climate, with plenty of likeminded friends to make. She entertains herself walking in the mountains, playing Bridge and learning Spanish. After squeezing the old bike and luggage in the lift and showering, I sit down with some wine and some spaghetti bolognaise and we chat away. It is apparent that the previous evening, Marlene hosted her first couch surfer and did not have a good experience. The guy had made her uncomfortable and when she asked him to leave he had refused to. Only when the police had been mentioned did he leave but he stole her spare sim card, lent to him out of goodwill. It is a shame how much of a dent on one’s confidence of trust one individual can make to hosts, Svetlana had mentioned she thought that Couchsurfing had grown too big for its own good. Still, Marlene was very pragmatic about it, the fact that his profile had existed for 2 years but nobody had witten a good reference is enough to be suspicious for the next time. Hopefully Gerhard will find it very hard to find a host again with his new negative reference.
I woke up today ready to press on with a fairly hilly 73km to Villajoyosa. However, after fixing the puncture I got at the end of yesterday I noticed that the back axle had broken. I knew I should have bought a new wheel in Bordeaux! We went to a scooterbike mechanic who said to return at 6pm, so alas I am stuck here for another day. Slow progress recently.

Mon Mar 15, 2010 Comments







Friday, 5 March 2010

pressing on

The
weather changes quite a bit here. I realised in Barcelona that I had
caught the sun from the previous two days´riding, yet when I woke up it
was deadful outside. I guess most people would consider sampling the
delights of Barcelona’s culture, Picasso or Gaudi for example. But I
had been in Spain for a week and looking at the progress so far made me
want to press on. I’ve got a mission to do. Besides, the force 7 wind
was in the direction I wanted to go, and the waterproof gear I had
bought at great expense had to be put to good use. So, despite not
getting a response from any potential hosts I said my goodbyes and got
going. Getting out of town seemed to take forever as the traffic lights
on each block of the city´s huge grid layout turned red as I
approached. The road eventually got wider as I travelled inland and
around the airport, and to my horror the GPS had guided me towards a
motorway. Reprogramming it sent me all over the suburbs, so I used good
old fashioned compass to work my way south through street after street
of suburbia. The
whole way along the roads were crammed with traffic, but eventually
20km later I was coastal again. I stopped for an early lunch, a 3
course menu to set me going, and got back on the damp saddle feeling
ready. The weather forecast had got the torrential rain bit right but
not the wind direction. The coastal C31 road became hilly and contoured
as it curved around the rocky hills, and the traffic was very heavy
with trucks and cars avoiding the toll of the motorway. I am glad I
brought a high vis waistcoat with the conditions like these, especially
at the speed I was crawling up the gradients at. Every
half hour would see a new bay with the repeated views of 4 or 5 story
apartments and hotels, all of which were still boarded up for winter.
Past cement works, golf courses, marinas and nondescript wastelands I
pressed on, still with the rain pouring down. The water was cascading
down the cliffs and spraying out from behind the many vast trucks
passing me. I was missing the tranquility of the French roads as well
as missing the ability to listen to my mp3 player. Not only was it a
pretty bad idea on these roads, but it’s a 30 euro fine in Spain.

As
the hills moved off inland, the roads became more and more inundated.
Every now and again I would be sprayed by an oncoming car, but not only
was I damp I was also getting tired and the litlle daylight I had was
fading. I started looking out for a place to stay by the time I had
reached Torredembarra, but I realised that beggars couldn’t be
choosers, and what with such poor choice being a ghost town I crossed
my fingers for a good modest hotel. My luck was with me when I found La
Torreta, a two star place with all you can eat evening buffet and
breakfast for 46 euros. Its amazing how revitalising lots of food and a
hot shower can be. I strolled to the village to find the internet
didn’t work, so I phoned a few friends to ask if they could search for
tomorrow’s host online, watched some boring BBC and fell asleep.
The
following day the weather was quite pleasant. After stuffing myself for
breakfast I got going. The progrees was good, though my thighs were
aching. I reached Tarragona quickly and got online to book tomorrow’s
host. My host for tonight had replied, but my destination was a long
one Amposta- 105km to do. With the wind properly behind me and a fairly
flat terrain I was optimistic. I climbed out of the city past a vast
port and even larger industrial plants. The N340 was yet more
unpleasant riding, with as many HGVs as cars, and although I had a 2m
wide hard shoulder it was not very forgiving for cycling. I didn’t stop
until I realised I could do with some sun cream, so stopped at an
expensive resort supermarket to buy some, along with some DIY lunch. The
scenery was pretty repetitive, although now there were more
agricultural plots with oranges and pink blossomed trees. It was
beautiful. The traffic was still relentless, so I took a slightly
rougher little track running parallel for quite a way. I tried my best
to work out routes avoiding the main road but these just proved too
slow and I still had a way to go. Eventually I saw the peninsula of the
Parc Naturel del Delta de l’Ebre. I imagined it to be a good place to
explore, but not now- mission to do. Since being in Spain I have had
some generally much nicer weather and some fantastic hosts, but my lack
of language has made it lonely in the day. Fewer people seem to have
the curiosity the french had, and even if they do ask me something as
one guy on a motobike did, the conversation doesn’t last long. I find
Daniel’s street and get a burger in a cafe beforehand. Daniel is the
first host who I’ve not had a glimpse of on the internet, so I have an
unusual anticipation when he opens the door. He
is in his late fifties though he looks much younger, and despite his
English being good he has an initially cold manner. This soon
disappears after I have had a shower and he finishes on the laptop, we
talk as he cooks boiled vegetables and omelete. He lives with a younger
Pakistani guy ( away ) , having separated from his wife five years
earlier. He tells me of the injustice of the Catalan law, where he no
longer has the right to his house. Whoever has custody of the child,
usually the mother as in his case, keeps the house in order for the
child not to be traumatised by the break up. In some ways there is
sense in this ( certainly for the child ) , but it can be very unjust for
whoever does not have custody. Still,
he doesn’t have long before his son is old enough to leave home and
study when he can have the right back to his house. We talk about
travel, Morocco and living abroad, ties and freedom. He gives me a lot
to think about on my way, and he writes down a sequence of villages to
pass if I want to go inland and avoid the big trucks. It is very
tempting, but is a massive amount of hill climbing and has little couch
surfing opportunities.
I get up early and leave the same time as
Daniel. The good bye is dashed as he is late for school. Yet another
inspiring, kind human. So valuable for me in this alien land! I think
of Ellen MacArthur sailing around the world alone, how mentally strong
she would be to endure months of total solitude, not even a landscape
to look at. Hats off to her. At least I have people like Daniel to help
me along the way.
I get more of a breakfast at a proper trucker’s
stop, well doughnuts at least. It’s back on the saddle for another
100km to Benicasim, but the wind is really on my tail and quite strong.
I keep a steady 20mph and watch the road ease along on the GPS screen. The
N340 leads me inland, past forgotten hotels and cafes, dirty apartments
and massive swathes of orange crops. I am now not far from Valencia. I
make brilliant progress, half way by noon and I celebrate by pigging
out at a huge Carrefour supermarket. This store really sells
everything, though I really only need protein, carbohydrate, a bit of
fat, salt and fruit. I am quite disturbed to see a very vexed looking
puppy for sale in the pet corner, it really does sell everything. I
took Daniel’s advice and took a bit of a detour to see Pentiscola, but
I didn’t really find it that interesting. The
urge to ride was so strong I was in danger of being an anti tourist and
not up for seeing what Spain was selling. So back on to the busy vein
of the N340 and a I had a bit of a mountain to climb. The
gradient was fairly forgiving but the climb seemed to last forever. I
think the sheer weight of the bike is a blessing and a curse on these
hills, the turbulence of the lorries hurtling past being less dangerous
with the heavy load, but the obvious extra effort needed to lift it
wasn’t fun. The road became flat at about 200 meters altitude and took
us through a barren valley with rocky peaks either side. Then after 15
km I was happy to see the bay view ahead and a steady long descent. Now
I had no hard shoulder, so I just prayed no eager trucker would try his
luck overtaking as the road swept downhill. It was another hour along
the flat, whistling along with the strong wind before another
unpleasant climb and a big steep descent into Benicasim. I
cycled block after block in search of an internet place in this ghost
town before realising the locals lived inland a bit. I found the
library and whiled away a couple of hours writing this and then went
and found my hostess, Svetlana when she finished work. From Volgograd,
Russia, Svetlana has been living in Spain for 5 years. Another
divorcee, she
lives alone with her cat in a very pleasant house and works in the
neighboring Castellon as an advocate. She had explained that she was
going to be busy packing for snowboarding, so I offered to cook. It
wasn’t really until eating together that we could talk and unwind, and
I was happy to experience yet another amicable interesting and
interested host. She made a flan for dessert, a kind of thick set
custard and lime caramel, and then after a bit more chatting we said
good night. I woke and made us some coffee, then after a massive plate
of scrambled eggs we went our separate ways.
The
wind was stronger still and in my direction, so I was flying along with
little effort. I took the coastal cycle path past Castillon and into
Burriana where I stopped for coffee. I was invited to sit with two
lycra clad mountain bikers drinking beer at noon. This was truely my
first Spanish conversation, well a mixture of Spanish and English as we
all had about the same rubbish level! Davide and Juan were so animated
and awe inspired that I’d ridden all this way and paid my bill.
I got a great send off from the bar staff and these two guys which
lifted my spirits no end. From Burriana I followed the coast past waves
crashing on the boulders, occasionally splashing over the road. I
cycled past rusty industry and endless holiday developments. Daniel had
told me about the recession halting some of the new developments along
this stretch, and it seemed apparent. I
could not imagine how many EasyJet planes would be needed to fill the
amount of accommodation I passed. On and on I flew, going inland to
Sagunto to avoid a port, with yet more industry sprawling across the
flat landscape. I followed a stretch of coastal road on the gps but it
was so close to the pounding waves that it had been eaten away by
nature and blocked off.
It was fun to go down it anyway. By the afternoon, the built up areas
became more and more joined as I came into Valencia. I found the way to
Kyle and Anna’s flat through a maze of narrow streets in the old
centre. Straight away I got a good impression of this city, stylish but
not too trendy, varied but not too vast and with lots going on but with
a laid back atmosphere. Although a couch surfer, I knew Kyle from the
video jockey community and he had invited me to stay a while ago after
generously donating to my cause. He was so happy to see me finally
arrive all this way and I felt so priveliged to have such a hero’s
welcome. He showed me around his studio and flat, then gave me a chance
to catch up on writing this. Tonight we will go to a couch surf party
and I will tell you all about it in the next entry.

Sun Mar 07, 2010 Comments


henryrolls       Down to Barcelona Like I suspected, I did not get up at the crack of dawn and cycle on. I took Kike’s offer of another day as I was enjoying his company and still felt quite exhausted and slightly hung over.
image979
We had a leisurely start to the day and I went and bought some lunch, I was hungry so I went and got lots of tapas style nibbles, remembering not to buy eggs as they were abundant back home. I appreciated another day of doing very little, writing the last blog, reading and hanging out with Kike. I was amused to see him watching his hen coop pensively, and my guess about what he was thinking was right as he watched the cockerel scornfully.
image980
Since getting him he has had no luck with any of his hens incubating their eggs, and the cockerel reciprocates the scornful look at him, attacking him when he goes to feed them. He’s given the rooster an unlimatum, no fertilisation by April and he will be Sunday roast. Time passed swiftly and after another filling pasta I was feeling recharged and ready for another day. We got woken very early by the cockerel’s call and I imagined Kike was thinking what sauce to cook him in. I said my goodbyes and thank yous and got on my bike, with a route planned to go inland and miss out the next 20km of coast as it was very up and down and twisting and turning, though it looked longer on the map the main road inland was less distance and climb.
image981
The weather was glorious with little wind, and I climbed gently up out of St Feliu and cruised downhill to the inland junction, only to find it was a busy dual carriageway and cycles weren’t permitted. With no means of cutting across to the coast I had to trek back to my starting point with ten unnecessary kilometers on my clock. I found the coastal road, and despite crawling up a lengthy hill I began to realise this way was going to be much more worthwhile, with the beautiful coastal views and next to no traffic I was glad to have been made to go this route. The first ten kilometers were uninhabited, the road snaked its way around the contours of the steep wooded hillside, carving a line of red earth in and out of the bays. It was bliss, the smooth tarmac and no traffic meant the downhills could be taken with a wide racing line, and the uphills were taken at walking pace while admiring the stunning scenery. Gradually modular cubes poked out of the vegetation,
image982
little holiday resorts terraced into the bays like honeycomb, all of which were almost empty. The bays got bigger and more developed, and after Tossa de Mar The road became busier, finally mounting one last big hill where the long straight flat beaches of the Brava could be seen vanishing into the blue haze of the horizon. By now the wind had picked up, and to my annoyance it was directly oncoming. I had to pedal to descend the last hill into Lloret de Mar, a considerably sized holiday town and my first experience of proper Spanish seaside tack. Mc Donalds, casinos, full english breakfasts and R&B all day all nite lined the big streets, couples and groups of girls I could tell straight away were English. Still I was hungry so stopped at the most local looking place with the provision of having the bike close by. Ok I failed on this one, I got a kebab.
image983
Back en route and the going was really tough with the headwind. I got off the main road and went coastal again, down past repeated views of high rise hotels and apartments, fancy little plazas and tightly packed caravan parks. I thought to myself how different humans can be, how little this environment appealed to me as a holiday destination.Eventually my tired old legs got me into Calella, I knew my host Yam was at work so I passed the time calling people and reading. He said he finished at 6, but then that became 8pm so I killed some more time and got some food. Yam came and met me, a Cuban chap with a mischievous smile. We went up to his apartment and about five minutes after meeting me he left me
with keys and his little laptop saying he’s off out for a couple of hours. Throughout the trip I’ve been awe inspired by the level of trust people have in me, but Yam takes it to a new level. I shower in his marble lined flat, not too dissimilar to Joaquim’s. Yam works on computers, but is also really creative, making music, photography and video. Three and a half hours later the elusive host returns and I buy him a Guinness at the Irish bar below his flat. Here he is obviously a local, the barman treats us all to a shot of Jagermeister and we talk about Ireland as Yam drools at the young ( and I mean young ) Italian girls. I like Yam, he’s funny.In the morning we have a Cuban breakfast of Papaya, hot chocolate and eggs and yet again he leaves me to let myself out. I did 80km yesterday, so the 50 to Barcelona mean I don’t feel the need to start too early. Besides, yet again I feel a bit rough.
Still I get on my bike and am pleased to see the wind has reversed. Once the legs are warmed up, the gently undulating road passes by at a super pace, little effort uphills and racing down them. The road is busy though, and every now and again I try and take a path between the beach and railway. Sometimes this proves to be a chore, with a dead end or road closure and a bit of a detour back. One time I carry the bike down a subway onto the ststion platform, only to find I can’t exit without a ticket.
The landscape is a busy one but residential and industrial rather than touristic.
The traffic feeds off to the motorway leaving me more relaxed as I take in the views. Gradually the hinterland of industry grows and the pillars of the metropolis can be seen on the horizon. Before long I’m on the outskirts, a monstrous beast of a power station marks the end of functional ugliness and the begi
nning of sleek creative architecture, big tower blocks and apartments glistening in the sun. I’m confronted by endless grids of traffic lights, all seeming to go red on approach. I
go right into the centre and then pass the time for my host to finish work, wandering through the streets amidst the hoards of guided tours and young couples wandering about. I go to find Rupert and Bettina’s flat near the central station. They are the first people I know from beforehand since day 1, so it is refreshing to have some familiarity at last.

Wed Mar 03, 2010 Comments

Sunday, 28 February 2010

Costa Brava

When
I started writing this post, two men upstairs were skinning and
butchering a huge wild boar in the kitchen. I am staying with Kike and
his dog Tate in Saint Feliu de Guixols on
the Costa Brava after having ridden 80km down from Roses and it is
quite a contrast to my last host, Joaquim. After last writing I went
and met Joaquim at his flat in the centre of Roses. I put my bike in
the garage, was shown around the lovely modern flat and took a very
luxurious shower. He is a Catalan teacher at a local secondary school
and is a few years older than me. Although he thinks his English is
bad, I would disagree and I listen to him talk passionately about his
culture as we eat a delicious healthy dinner. He
shows me the tradition of eating Pa am Tomaquet, toasted bread with a
special local variety of tomato rubbed upon it along with a sprinkle of
olive oil and salt. The tomato is one that can keep for a year if hung
on its vine, and is expensive to buy in the shops. The Catalans tend to
grow these themselves, keeping seeds within the families and passing
them down through generations.
I
hear a concise rendition of Catalonia’s history, how Franco tried to
eliminate the identity, language and culture of Catalans, but after his
death how it became the first region of Spain to gain autonomy. How
although it is one of Spain’s most prosperous economies there are still
tensions between the cultures of the mainstream country and theirs.
We
talk until the small hours about all manner of interesting topics about
life and society, but I struggle to take it all in as I am very tired.
The
following day I take a well earned breather, I cut my hair, do the
laundry, go to the internet cafe and stock up on food. I then think I
deserve a siesta, so when I wake at 6pm I go with Joaquim to Figueres
where he goes to Japanese lessons and I go to the Dali museum. Alas it
is closed, so I take a coffee and watch the world go by, a lively
bustle of Spanish city life on a Friday night. It is true, lots of
locals of all ages are out and about, dressed up and enjoying
themselves. We go back and meet another couch surfer, Tom, an Israeli
girl who is working her way around Spain working on farms ( wwoofing ) .
It is another interesting night talking away until the small hours.
I
set off relatively early and get going, cycling inland past the local
industries of fishing, boat sales and repairs and smallhold farms. The
land is flat and populated with small villages and cattle farms, but as
I progress the dreaded headwind picks up. The runs alongside a new dual
carriageway construction and even on an off season Saturday it is
apparent why a bigger road is being built as traffic is heavy. The
route guides me between three sets of hills and back towards Palamos,
where the evidence of the area’s main industry, tourism is apparent.
Being off season, I pass huge ghost towns of empty high rise blocks,
never ending lines of Dutch and British caravans stored closely packed
in fields. The headwind is still relentless and the distance remaining reduces
painstakingly slowly, and yet again the knee begins to hurt. I get to
Saint Feliu where I grab a coffee and phone Kike ( or Henriyk ) who comes
and meets me by the bus station. We walk a short distance to his place
that he is building. Once a garage with an unused floor below, he has
converted it into a home with found and recycled materials. It is quite
a contrast, with a fancy granite topped kitchen aquired when a rich
family wanted a newer one, to the simple shower involving a bucket of
heated water and a jug. He lives a ‘good life’ with 5 hens, a vegetable
garden, occasional fish he catches when snorkelling, and meat which his
English friend Nick has just arrived with from a hunt. We drink beer
and lend an occasional hand in ripping the hyde off this impressive
beast, with Tate the huge alsation cross looking hopefully for some
scrap.
Kike works about 6 months of the year to pay for luxuries like car,
broadband and beer but is well on the way for living pretty self
sufficiently. As well as living he seems to have a good community of
friends and a very content life, so it seems strange to hear his band,
some of the angriest sounding metal punk I have heard. I like it
though. We drink beer till the small hours and I get the feeling I’m
not going to make it to Barcelona tomorrow.

Sun Feb 28, 2010 Comments

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Estoy en España!

Well I have made it to Spain, and I’m now in an internet cafe in what appears to be the arabic part of Roses, a coastal town at the foot of the mountainous border. After I left you last I went to meet my host outside the hospital of Narbonne. I had assumed he was called David, so when greeted by a Sarah I was slightly confused. In case some of you may be wondering about the trend of hostesses and not hosts, so am I. I ask a few people in each place but seem to have only had responses from young ladies. Mustn’t grumble!

So we went to her flat around the corner and I had a cup of delicious tisane or herbal tea, seemingly more popular in France than UK. Much of it is home made and hand picked, and Sarah´s lemon, rosemary and honey blend was so refreshing. Sarah is yet another great hostess and quite funny as well. We talked for a few hours and then I went to sleep. In the morning I was delighted to have a fruity porridge and two of yesterday´s croissants, and we both left for work. My job was to get to Perpignan, though I had not had a definate reply from any hosts tonight, only a suggestion from a Guilguid that I come to a cafe at 7pm where the Perpignan couch surfers are having a meeting. Somebody there may well host me.

So to my delight I was back on the Canal de Robine again, guiding me south and over the beautiful Etang de Bages. The canal and railway come together and follow a narrow embankement separating freshwater and saltwater lakes. The view is incredible with the misty foothills of the Pyrenees in the distance and the wetlands in the foreground. Eventually the canal leads me into a forgotten industrial complex which reminds me of Newport in Wales, so when I realise it´s called Port la Nouvelle I chuckle to myself. I get onto the D709 but it is not a particularly pleasant road, and when the Peage ( toll ) avoiding trucks merge onto it I go back onto the coastal road to Leucate. This is my first taste of Mediterranean holiday town, and I imagine how much like Lego the architecture would look if it were all painted in primary colours. The road leads straight along wide palm lined boulevards, but being far from tourist season the place is deserted. I am passed by a big group of lycra clad cyclists, and then pass a slightly older group who up their pace to keep up with me; I’m sure it’s probably quite disheartening to be overtaken by somebody heavily laden and ringing a bell on a vintage bike.

The route guides me inland, and holiday architecture gets replaced with industrial and more humble residential architecture, eventually becoming more and more built up as I enter Perpignan. I have a little while to pass before 7pm so I get a big baguette and chips, and amble along to the Porto Cafe where I’ll sit outside with a coffee. I’m amused to witness a fiery row with the barman and one of the drunks, the dog barking and other locals joining in to the friction. Guilguid gets there at 7, and one by one the Perpignan couch surf hosts come together to have a social. Like all of my previous hosts they are all different, but share the same humanity and happily meet up regularly to socialise. It inspired me to do the same when I get back to Bristol. After a few amarettos, I gladly accept the offer of Nico’s couch, where American Anna is staying too. We go home and eat some food and chat away. He tells me a bit about Perpignan, how it is the capital of northern Catalunya, and how the French authorities banned people from talking Catalan in his grandmother’s day. Some Perpignan inhabitants want to unite with the Spanish Catalans and reform Catalunya. We chat away until 1.30. It’s going to be a struggle to get to Roses tomorrow!
I rise tardily and bid farewell to Nico, then I get on the bike and set coordinates to Cebere, the coastal village on the border. It’s 65km away which I think will be easy progress as I fly out of Perpignan with the wind behind me. It is easy progress for a while as I shoot past more holiday resorts, but as the misty blue foothills loom ever closer I realise the flat road won’t last. I stop on the beach to admire the view, have lunch and oil the bike, then push on. It feels like a long while since the front gear has gone down to the smallest cog for a while but it’s going to be pretty necessary for a while now. Uphills are a laid back 10 km/h and then the downhills glide along as the road twists and turns through hairpins, but the Route de Banyuls is slow progress. It is 4pm when I get to Cebere, so when the GPS shows it’s another 46km of twists and turns, ups and downs to Roses, I think better of it and decide to give my knees a break and camp. I take coffee at a cafe on the Place with Annie et Bob, two curious Parisiens who instantly ask questions about the bike and then the ride, couch surfing and all manner of topics. I get a pizza along with some groceries and as the light fades I climb up the enormous hill towards the border. 100 metres from the border is a little track which splits to another blocked track, the flat stony ground is the best I will find, so I erect the tent and get an early night.

I wake up at dawn, but I am in no hurry to leave, I have until 6pm before my host Joaquim finishes work. By 9am I am in Spain, and I cruise down the hill to Portbou where I wake up properly in a bar with two expressos. This is the first time I am unable to converse, which is especially a pity when passing time. Still I happily pass more than an hour before I get back to climbing, up and round three headlands and four towns before going up into the natural park of Cap de Creuss. This is not the direct route, but for once I think I’ll hapilly go the longer and challenging uphill route. I’ve got time to kill. The gradient isn’t too bad as the road weaves through some rocky jagged hillsides. It’s quiet on this road, but towards the top there is a gusty wind that almost knocks me off as I come round the hillside. I’m passed by several road cyclists and eventually I get to the summit, 280 metres up. The downhill sweeps into Roses, I’m at my destination by lunch time. About time for a breather.

Fri Feb 26, 2010 Comments

Monday, 22 February 2010

Canal du Midi

After

last writing I went and telephoned my Toulouse hostess for the evening,

Audrey. I took her instruction to go to the station and sent her a text

when I got there. I heard a phone beep and she was right next to me

waiting. I’m sure I’m not hard to miss.

We crossed the street

and went to her flat. I put the bike in the courtyard and we sat down

for tea and chatted away. She cooked some chick peas, lentils, cumin

and marmite concoction which was very tasty, then we chatted away

drinking tea until about 11 when I became very sleepy. I passed out on

the sofa and slept like a log until the next morning. Audrey was great

to talk to, she had a very easy friendly manner and seemed very wise. I

was tempted to hang out the following day but I

was on a mission and had some catching up to do, so after going to an

internet cafe to ‘book’ the next couple of day’s couchsurfers and buy

us some breakfast I said my thanks and goodbyes and got back on the

saddle. The Canal du Midi was going to be my path for the next couple

of days and was right on her doorstep. It was completed in 1680 by a

rich farmer, Pierre Riquet, though he died with huge debts months

before his completion. The Midi and the Lateral link the Mediterranean

with the Atlantic, a huge strategic advantage to the French as

navigating goods by boat around hostile Spain was very long and

dangerous.
This

older stretch was noticably less straight than the Lateral ( as the name

may suggest ) , and it didn’t take long before I realised how much of a

headwind I had to negotiate. I got away from the shelter of built up

Toulouse and out onto the open plains and the wind only got worse. I

was normally able to cruise at 15 mph but today it was very hard going

at 8 or 9mph. It didn’t take long for me to realise my goal of getting

to Carcasonne, 65 miles away was going

to prove to be an almighty challenge. I stopped at Villefranche for

lunch ( I was so glad to have brought stuff with me as everything was

closed on Sunday ) , and it was quite demoralising to see how much

further I had. I had asked the potential host to text me if it was ok

to stay, but I had not had a reply so it was looking more likely I

would camp this evening. After lunch the wind seemed to die down a bit,

but I was exhausted and my lunch wasn’t quite enough. By Castelnaudary

I was so hungry, and realising Sunday meant the only thing open was a

Mc Donald’s, I stuck my two fingers up at my principles and devoured

two Big Mac meals. The ride past Castelnaudry was much better, both

being full of dirty food and no wind at all to slow me down.

Furthermore the grey weather had been replaced with a beautiful evening

sun, and the canal and landscape had become more interesting. I

rode about half an hour into the pitch black, then scoped a camping

spot in the wild as I was actually quite near Carcasonne and had

ditched the hope of a response from the Couch surf host. I found a spot

in a huge flat field, far away from roads and paths. There I passed out

in the comfort of the tent and fell into a deep sleep. I was exhausted.
I woke up at 8.15, promptly upped sticks and left. It

really wasn’t far to Carcasonne and there I stopped for coffee and

croissants. It didn’t seem too appealing and so I continued on down the

canal. The landscape was stunning but the weather was not. I pressed on

but was still hungry so kept my eye out for more food, monday morning

however was not good for business in rural France. I did however find a

boulangerie and picked up a job lot of yesterday’s pain au chocolat.

As

the day progressed the terrain of the track deteriorated, and I had to

negotiate muddy singletrack lined with tree roots. Some bits were

incredibly slow going, especially as the headwind had picked up too. On

and on I pressed, I realised that I didn’t have such a massive distance

to do today so I stopped in a charming village called Ventenac en

Minervois. The first cafe I found was open, and once inside it was

apparent that a stranger had come to town as all eyes looked my way. It

didn’t take long for the curiosity to turn to warm hospitality when the

barman asked where I had come from en vèlo. The place was full of old

and young bon vivants of many nationalities, including an old London

chap called Peter who took insulting banter from his Belgian friend.

Peter gave me his son’s address and number in Spain in case I needed a

familiar helping hand. Yet more humanity to keep me going. I pressed on

with only 25km to go, and at the last 10km the canal split into many

parts.

A sign and the GPS helped me distinguish which arm to choose, but what

was unclear was how to cross either the canal or a massive wier cutting

the way. I asked two sets of old ladies who gave opposing directions,

neither of which made sense to the GPS and sign, so when they

intersected each other I let them realise this and they showed me a

tiny singletrack.

This led up to a big old steel railway bridge. A load of old ramblers

had come off the bridge and ensured my confidence it was the way, and

although not exactly mainline, the silver surface of the tracks

suggested it was still used. I chuckled to myself about the nature of

the navigation on this final stretch, descending a ramped wall to to

the correct final stretch of canal and finally getting back onto some

smooth gravel track. The old bike had taken a beating today, and as I

cleaned out the dirt from the mudguards I noticed this great iron

sculpture, the claws of destruction. The

last straight bit of canal quickly descended into Narbonne, and I

reflected on the last five days of almost completely off road travel,

Atlantic to Mediterranean, it had been extremely tough and solitary at

times but beautiful and satisfying as well.

I’m now sitting in

an internet cafe waiting for my host to finish work. The city feels

daunting and unfriendly, there are lots of people talking to themselves

and this cafe is full of photos of guns and knives, but I’ve got a warm

feeling of the adventure I’ve had so far.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

1000 km in!

I

am in Toulouse, and I’m burning up in an internet cafe. Having come in

from the cold, I’d like to take my fleece off but I fear the stench may

offend my neighbors ( having not washed for 2 days ) .

So

where was I last? Oh yes, Bordeaux, feeling a bit down because of the

knee and the slow progress. So I went and saw a doctor about it, who

said it was an inflamed tendon due to RSI and prescribed some

voltasomething and some anti-inflammatory gel bandage. I also picked up

the wheel, which was a bit better but confirmed my theories about these

trendy fancy bike shops as it still wasn’t perfect. Still, it’ll do and

I was past complaining again. Besides,

I just want to go. That evening I made a quiche and bought an

earthenware flan to bake it in as a little thankyou gesture. It really

wasn’t enough for the superb hospitality I’ve been treated to.
On

Thursday morning I packed up and left, happy to have some very clement

weather to enjoy. I rolled down the riverside and crossed the almighty

Garonne on the Pont de Pierre. I carried on upstream on Bordeaux’s less

classy side, which gradually became industrial and then rural. I was

looking for la Piste Roger Lambert which was a disused railway line

cutting a windy section off the Garonne. I wasn’t exactly sure how to

find it ( as it wasn’t on the GPS ) so when I eventually passed a cyclist

going that tiny bit slower I asked him. He

was out doing a spot of exercise, so he decided to change his course

and take me there. I spent 20km chatting away with Charles about life

and bikes so I didn’ really take in the scenery. I was astonished when

he told me he was 58, he could have passed for 40. We went our separate

ways ( I think he’d gone well out of his way ) and I took his advice to

have an early lunch at this restaurant. I

had a delicious seafood salad, boudin noir ( huge black puddings ) and

chips and some kind of meringue and custard all for 10 euros. I could

have also had a carafe of wine with that too but opted for water. I

seemed to be the centre of attention again, and talked with an old

postal worker who looked like David Attenborough about france, country

living and Burma, but had to excuse myself when the conversation got a

bit heated about politics with an homme droit ( David was gauche ) . I was

back on the saddle, and the old railway weaved through some stunning

countryside. I’d passed some old boys who’d stopped so I asked them if

they were ‘en panne’ -I was determined to make use of my heavy tool bag

some point. There had been so many opportunities to chat away
but I had to continue, as I had decided my knee was good and I wan’t going to take the 40km lodging option.
I

was quite surprised about the gradients for a railway, going was

occasionally quite tough as the old line got up to some high ground

with a bit of a headwind. Here the old boys in their lycra were gone,

and it didn’t take long for the feeling of solitude to kick in. 60km in

and the railway route stopped, I had to rely on the sketchy directions

of the GPS. The hills got harder and the way became wigglier, and I

switched to an arrow waypoint and got onto some tiny tracks. I was

getting a tiny bit concerned about the time, but there was little I

could do but to press on. Eventually I lost a lot of the gradient, and

had my first near miss as an old lady decided to cross the road without

looking. I am so glad I had replaced the old 70’s brakes on the bike!

On to the flat and I decided to ditch the GPS directions and take the

busy D road as it was straight and flat, and

daylight was running out. As I got into Marmande, I phoned Edwige from

the station, and she came and met me instantly. I heaved the bike up

the stairs and realised how exhausted I was, I had ridden a pretty

hilly 120km.
Edwige

gave me tea, I had a shower and she cooked me soup, pork and pasta and

Normandy perry. Edwige is a young sage femme ( midwife ) , who works in

Marmande and is quite adorable! We went out to the local bar, had a

drink and then crashed.
I had a leisurely start with a great petit

dejeuner and went out for a quick coffee with her midwife friend. I

left not long before noon, heading south to find the Canal Lateral. I

got on the towpath which would be my route to Toulouse, about 150km of

virtual solitude. The going was good, dead flat, pretty straight and

some fairly interesting relics of industrial heritage. But it was

solitary, and yet again it really set my solitary feeling which

is quite deep and at times daunting. It was times like this that the

mp3 player is a godsend. I kept a good pace with little rest for 5

hours, passing my goal of Agen, where the canal crossed the still

enormous Garonne on an impressive aquaduct, one to make Dundas or

Avonmouth look piddly. The canal swept round past a town of hills on

one side, plain on the other, and I was happy to keep going, knowing

that tonight would be another night under canvas. Evening came and I

looked for something larger than a hamlet on the GPS, finding a big

village. The

nature of it’s welcome gave me an incling of the bored kid factor,

loads of really noisy mopeds ragging about, and sure enough while

waiting for my pizza by the riverside I was surrounded my some

intimidating kids, smoking and spitting. When they asked what I was up

to and I told them, their hostile nature changed to one of surprise and

disbelief, and dare I say it, smiles and respect.
I stuffed my face

with pizza and left the town with dusk falling quickly, getting back

onto the canal to scope for a hidden camping spot. I had plenty of

energy and was happy to be fussy, so when I found my spot I was a good

10km away and in the pitch dark. I popped the tent up, spoke to parents

on the phone and went to sleep very quickly. Another 100km day.
The

night’ sleep was ok, but there was a lot of condensation in the tent

and I was slightly damp. It was colder again, and I got the tent away

quickly as it started to rain. I got 10km along before finding a

pleasant market town with a thriving market and about 10 hairdressers.

I got some breakfast, lunch and a coffee and chatted to a woman

interested in the bike.
Back on the towpath and the weather wasn’t

great, but I handled the solitude easily today. It was yet more

industry, massive power station cooling towers and railway line running

parallel with the silver streak of the TGV flashing by. I wondered if

the canal’s summit would be Toulouse as each set of locks indicated

about 5-10m incline and there were a hell of a lot of them. A flight of

locks was bypassed with this set up, I

can only guess is a boat lift, one of the strangest vehicles I’ve ever

seen. After lunch, with yet more hostile weather, monotonous canal

increasing headwind and general tiredness, I was pleased to see the

landscape fade back into what I’d seen as I left Bordeaux, except this

time Toulouse changed into city over what seemed like a much larger

distance. So here I am, in the centre and it’s about time I check if my

host is free ( wasn’t sure by the email and I’m a day earlier than

expected ) .

Mon Feb 22, 2010 Comments

So after a bowl of coffee and some homemade crunchy oat cereal with cocoa and almond milk ( yum ) I left the Baudot’s. It was yet another bitterly cold day and I headed west from Saintes on a mixture of GPS and Jerome’s directions to try and find la route Royan ancienne, or D150. The old road kept merging into the new dual carriageway N150 and so I wiggled north and south on some very minor and roads and dirt tracks, some of which were full of frozen muddy ruts.

By the time I had reached Royan, the old back wheel was wobbling about quite a bit, due to a broken spoke. I was pretty close to the centre of this deserted tourist town, so I limped to the port to check the ferry times across the Gironde, then went and got a pizza and coffee. Before the ferry arrived, I tried to true the wheel by tightening the adjacent spokes but another one snapped. This made the wobble so bad the bike was barely rideable, the tyre wasn’t going to last long rubbing on the frame. I phoned James, my Bordeaux host and he suggested I get on the boat and try a bike shop in Soulac, 6km from the port. If all else failed there were trains from there to Bordeaux. The crossing was about 15 mins across the enormous estuary, and I
hopped onto the cycle path to Soulac, immediately taking in the pleasant woodland trails.

It was a long 6km, but eventually I got into Soulac and found Ericycles. They took the wheel with a big smile and hurried off to operate on it. After aking where I’d come from/going to they seemed to erupt into a wonderful cacophony of joy and happiness to meet such a nutter ( nous adorons les gens fou! ) . I was touched when they did not charge me, ‘c’est pour l’humanité’ after hearing the trip was for Médecins sans Frontieres.

So it felt like a speed machine after the mechanical and mental big up, but wasn’t long before the light was fading.
Jerome had talked about wild camping in freezing conditions, and he advised I should christen the tent when I wanted to, not when I had no other option. I’d been against the idea for a while, but since getting on the Medoc I was up for it. So I got into Montalivet les Bains and found a restaurant where I got the squid, steak and chips and ice cream, relaxed while watching France win against Ireland at rugby, watched the foreca
st warn of -3° and then went out into the wilderness. Finding a spot was pretty easy, so many deserted spots to choose from. I popped the tent up and got snug, and despite being sub zero I was more than cosy.

So I woke up having had a good night’s sleep, but by the time I was on the bike I felt the cold. I went back to Montalivet to get some breakfast but the place was dead. I found a young guy outside a cafe waiting for his boss to arrive to open up, but after 15 mins gave up and found somewhere else. This cafe felt like the centre of the world, bustling with locals. So by 10 I was back on the road, heading for James and Stephanie in Bordeaux, 55 miles away. The long straight empty cycle track vanished into the foggy bleak horizon, and the surrounding pine woods seemed to repeat like the backdrop of a Flintstones cartoon. The tarmac eventually ended but the GPS lead me straight on down a sandy track. I had come 5 miles down the tarmac, so I was reluctant to turn back, instead I continued down the sand track, pushing the bike with the optimism that the junction 1 mile away displayed on the

GPS would be tarmac again. It was not, and the track became more and more sandy, making even pushing the bike a real effort. I headed inland, assuming I would evenually get to the road parallel to the coast. By the end of it, 3 miles of pushing had challenged my patience no end,
and I had lost at least an hour of valuable riding. The road was yet more endless cold horizon, in some ways satisfying to go in a straight flat line but psychologically very arduous, especially as I had a cold headwind to battle against. About 20km from Bordeaux I got off the bike to text my hosts to tell them I’d be late. As I got back on the bike I heard a snap and to my dismay another one of the old back wheel’s spokes had gone. I wonder if the cold affected the brittleness of the spokes, but whatever my spirits were quite down by now. Still, the first van I stuck my thumb out to picked me up, and the kind couple who had been to maintain their holiday house took me all the way to James and Steph’s door, way out of their way.
I was greeted by a James at the big door of their beautiful riverfront apartment. His radiant smile lifted my spirits in no time, and after a cup of tea, shower, glasses of wine and spaghetti carbonara and delightful company talking english I was happy as Larry.

I woke to this beautiful sunrise, and after a coffee and a spell planning the next few nights on Couchsurfing I went out with the tired old wheel to find a bike shop. It was pleasant strolling through the spleandour of Bordeaux’s grand streets, and eventually I came across a bike shop. A rebuild was going to cost the same as a cheap new wheel and tyre, and I took the shop’s recommendation to keep the quality old wheel, as I’ve been told hand built wheels are better than factory built ones. I found a knee support and Ibuprofen ( yes I’ve kept quiet about that, it’s not just the old bike that’s been suffering ) and wandered around the old market, picking up a few provisions. Afternoon was spent reading, shaving, washing up and watching the Office on DVD. I went to pick up the wheel and got back, but was frustrated to see that it was a shoddy job as the hub wasn’t centre. So annoyingly I won’t be leaving Bordeaux early tomorrow.

Mon Feb 15, 2010 Comments

So after a bowl of coffee and some homemade crunchy oat cereal with cocoa and almond milk ( yum ) I left the Baudot’s. It was yet another bitterly cold day and I headed west from Saintes on a mixture of GPS and Jerome’s directions to try and find la route Royan ancienne, or D150. The old road kept merging into the new dual carriageway N150 and so I wiggled north and south on some very minor and roads and dirt tracks, some of which were full of frozen muddy ruts.

By the time I had reached Royan, the old back wheel was wobbling about quite a bit, due to a broken spoke. I was pretty close to the centre of this deserted tourist town, so I limped to the port to check the ferry times across the Gironde, then went and got a pizza and coffee. Before the ferry arrived, I tried to true the wheel by tightening the adjacent spokes but another one snapped. This made the wobble so bad the bike was barely rideable, the tyre wasn’t going to last long rubbing on the frame. I phoned James, my Bordeaux host and he suggested I get on the boat and try a bike shop in Soulac, 6km from the port. If all else failed there were trains from there to Bordeaux. The crossing was about 15 mins across the enormous estuary, and I
hopped onto the cycle path to Soulac, immediately taking in the pleasant woodland trails.

It was a long 6km, but eventually I got into Soulac and found Ericycles. They took the wheel with a big smile and hurried off to operate on it. After aking where I’d come from/going to they seemed to erupt into a wonderful cacophony of joy and happiness to meet such a nutter ( nous adorons les gens fou! ) . I was touched when they did not charge me, ‘c’est pour l’humanité’ after hearing the trip was for Médecins sans Frontieres.

So it felt like a speed machine after the mechanical and mental big up, but wasn’t long before the light was fading.
Jerome had talked about wild camping in freezing conditions, and he advised I should christen the tent when I wanted to, not when I had no other option. I’d been against the idea for a while, but since getting on the Medoc I was up for it. So I got into Montalivet les Bains and found a restaurant where I got the squid, steak and chips and ice cream, relaxed while watching France win against Ireland at rugby, watched the foreca
st warn of -3° and then went out into the wilderness. Finding a spot was pretty easy, so many deserted spots to choose from. I popped the tent up and got snug, and despite being sub zero I was more than cosy.

So I woke up having had a good night’s sleep, but by the time I was on the bike I felt the cold. I went back to Montalivet to get some breakfast but the place was dead. I found a young guy outside a cafe waiting for his boss to arrive to open up, but after 15 mins gave up and found somewhere else. This cafe felt like the centre of the world, bustling with locals. So by 10 I was back on the road, heading for James and Stephanie in Bordeaux, 55 miles away. The long straight empty cycle track vanished into the foggy bleak horizon, and the surrounding pine woods seemed to repeat like the backdrop of a Flintstones cartoon. The tarmac eventually ended but the GPS lead me straight on down a sandy track. I had come 5 miles down the tarmac, so I was reluctant to turn back, instead I continued down the sand track, pushing the bike with the optimism that the junction 1 mile away displayed on the

GPS would be tarmac again. It was not, and the track became more and more sandy, making even pushing the bike a real effort. I headed inland, assuming I would evenually get to the road parallel to the coast. By the end of it, 3 miles of pushing had challenged my patience no end,
and I had lost at least an hour of valuable riding. The road was yet more endless cold horizon, in some ways satisfying to go in a straight flat line but psychologically very arduous, especially as I had a cold headwind to battle against. About 20km from Bordeaux I got off the bike to text my hosts to tell them I’d be late. As I got back on the bike I heard a snap and to my dismay another one of the old back wheel’s spokes had gone. I wonder if the cold affected the brittleness of the spokes, but whatever my spirits were quite down by now. Still, the first van I stuck my thumb out to picked me up, and the kind couple who had been to maintain their holiday house took me all the way to James and Steph’s door, way out of their way.
I was greeted by a James at the big door of their beautiful riverfront apartment. His radiant smile lifted my spirits in no time, and after a cup of tea, shower, glasses of wine and spaghetti carbonara and delightful company talking english I was happy as Larry.

I woke to this beautiful sunrise, and after a coffee and a spell planning the next few nights on Couchsurfing I went out with the tired old wheel to find a bike shop. It was pleasant strolling through the spleandour of Bordeaux’s grand streets, and eventually I came across a bike shop. A rebuild was going to cost the same as a cheap new wheel and tyre, and I took the shop’s recommendation to keep the quality old wheel, as I’ve been told hand built wheels are better than factory built ones. I found a knee support and Ibuprofen ( yes I’ve kept quiet about that, it’s not just the old bike that’s been suffering ) and wandered around the old market, picking up a few provisions. Afternoon was spent reading, shaving, washing up and watching the Office on DVD. I went to pick up the wheel and got back, but was frustrated to see that it was a shoddy job as the hub wasn’t centre. So annoyingly I won’t be leaving Bordeaux early tomorrow.

Mon Feb 15, 2010 Comments

++CLICK+image8.jpg+FULLSIZE++

So when I last wrote I was having a well earned day off. I was happy to spend the whole day in

the warmth of Laetitia’s flat without any guilt about stying in. She

returned in the evening and we went out to Niort to a very fancy

restaurant with her friend. I enjoyed a salad of strange meat things, a

fancy steak and chips and a creme bruleé. No matter how much I tried,

she insisted she pay the bill which I felt bad about, it’s not like she
++CLICK+image10.jpg+FULLSIZE++
hasn’t looked after me enough already. The following morning I set off in the icy cold and snow towards Saintes. The

siberian wind blew me south through Niort, along a desolate back road

over the plains, where I got my first puncture. Changing it in the snow

with numb hands was a testing job and I didn’t hesitate.++CLICK+image9.jpg+FULLSIZE++
Onwards past Niort I got onto a busy D road, dead straight with the occasional

truck thundering past but not much else. The icy wind blowing me and

the snowflakes along meant I kept up a good pace, averaging 20mph. I

stopped at a true trucker’s Les Routierés where I had another steak and

spaghetti, proper carbs. The

GPS took me away from the straight flat line, making the going more

interesting but slightly more challenging. A couple of roadies passed

me, the second one intrigued by me poids lourdes, congratulating me on

such an epic adventure. I
++CLICK+image11.jpg+FULLSIZE++
descended into Saintes and found Rue Arc du Triomphe where I found

Jerome and his elderly mother. The house was an incredible time warp,

it had been in the family for over 100 years and was slightly

dilapidated, but had such a charm to it. I was so intrigued by the

various meubles situated around the house, including this ancient

bicycle belonging to Jerome’s grandfather. Jerome

is probably more of a cycling fanatic than me, having traversed Canada

a few years beforehand. They fed me with some very healthy food, raw

veg and no dairy and homemade chocolate hazlenut and date pudding. Yet

more delightful hospitality.
The following morning I woke up with a

bit of a fever. I initially decided to only go a short distance, but

with no lodging sorted and the freezing weather I have decided to stay

a bit longer and recuperate.image16

image17

henryrolls

0

comments

Fri Feb 12, 2010 Comments

Ok, so I’ve decided to duplicqte the blog to henryrolls.blogspot.com as it seems more reliable.  Apologies for the multiple posts.  I will contine to post the entries here.

10 Feb 2010 : ++CLICK+image18.jpg+FULLSIZE++
Here I am with my new friend Chocolat on my first day off. I’ve never met such an affectionate, licking dog. He’s now got his jowls on my lap as I write

this. I’ve been left here by my hostess, Laetitia as she’s gone to work as a consultant for photovoltaic installation.
It’s quite heatwarming to see such trust in a total stranger, she even offered her car keys and phone to make local calls but I had to refuse.
Laetitia lives on her own in part of a beautiful farm, there are a few other youngish tenants and she has a friend in Niort, as well as good workmates, but it strikes me as a very solitary place to live. The

nearby Villiers en Pliene translates as Villiers out in the open and it certainly lives up to its namesake. It’s so open and barren, and with the freezing temperature and misty light it had a really eerie feel to it.

So Monday morning I left Mr et Mme Girling  and set off at sunrise. It was

the first day I had no confirmed destination, I had the possibility of

staying in a place called Cholet but the host hadn’t replied to my

request. So I set the GPS to guide me there, and if I didn’t get a

reply by 4 or 5 I would find a hotel. It was going to be a big day,

120km but I was up early and feeling much fitter than the day before.

It was a frosty start, and the GPS took me down an ‘unpaved’ route

which was blocked with a chain and a sign saying ‘passage interdit.’ A

local said yes c’est interdit but beckoned me past when I explained the

GPS suggested I go there. It was a few miles of beautiful forested

track, but with a car behind me I dare not stop and take a photo. The

track eventually rejoined a road and I cruised on south to la vallee de

la Loire.
I

had heard how the weather was considerably different south of the river

but actually it seemed to get colder. It was however quite noticable

how the landscape and architecture changed as this was suddenly wine

country. Big vineyards and terracota roof tiles, I felt pretty smug

having seen such a change from Bristol landscape using leg power.
The

day progressed, and I kept on pedalling through rural France. I stopped

at a patisserie for a bit of energy and met a friendly local who wanted

to know my destination. I hear a lot of ‘bon courage’ from people, it’s

good moral support.
I reached a village and stopped for a steak and

chips in a local bar and was naturally the centre of curiosity for the

patrons. It’s amazing how noticable food can pick one up, and straight

afterwards I was back on the saddle pedalling away. The weather got

colder, but I realised this was in my favour, since the cold northerly

wind was behind me. By 4pm I kept my eye out for a phone box. Naturally

these seem to have disappeared since mobiles, and more so in France.

Eventually I found one, and used the GPS to find nearest hotels. This

little device is a godsend as it not only lists the closest lodgings

but stores their phone numbers. So I shopped around, and with the

hostel closed on Mondays I opted for the cheapest hotel, 6km north east

at Les Herbiers. I realised how

beneficial the wind was beforehand, as now I had to fight it with tired

legs. The clock showed 76 miles and this last little bit seemed to take

forever. It was getting close to 6pm and I was so glad to step into the

warmth of Le Centre, a 2 star hotel, tired and cigarette tainted but

trying to be smart. I took a very small en suite for 41 euros,

showered, found a boulanger and bought lots lots of pizza and watched

the Météo. Then I fell into a deep sleep.

So

I woke at a leisurely hour and went out for a café and 3 patisseriés. I

checked out and got on the bike at 10.30. It was very cold and was

gently snowing so I donned all my gear and got going. The going was ok,

gently up and down quite a bit. The route today was further inland, so

the going became more undulating. Not quite

Somerset and Dorset but more gentle. The icy wind behind me made the

gentle uphills less noticable though. Lunch time I stopped at another

bar tabac and got a quiche, baguette and paté. The barman asked me to

go and get a pain from the boulanger, where a customer told me that 60%

of the inhabitants of the village were english. Throughout the day I

had only seen about four or five people out and about, it was so

deserted it felt like an apocolypse had occured. So towards the end of

the day the landscape became more barren and flat, and it started to

snow again. I eventually got in to Villiers, where I called Laetitia

and she came and collected me. We ate endives in bechemal and drank red

wine. It was nice to talk a mixture of French and English for once. I

was glad she wanted to go to sleep early as I was flagging after a

couple of glasses.

Thu Feb 11, 2010 Comments

henryrolls.blogspot.com

Ok, so I have made some headway.  I am 20km north of Nantes ( yes I am metric now ) and I’ve got a lot to catch up on.  So, after the last entry I went to a pub in Bridport with Gitte and Tim and we met the skittle playing locals.  Watching some of the players throw themselves onto the floor as they launched the ball with two hands, it dawned upon me how local customs such as this were already becoming quite different, and they were going to become considerably more so as I go to France.

So I got up, had some breakfast and left in the pitch dark towards Weymouth.  The going was tough with some pretty gnarly hills, but the sunrise over the hills and the view of Chesil Beach made it worthwhile.  I got there by 9am, got on the boat and had a pretty uneventful crossing to Jersey.  I passed 5 hours in St Helier where I changed the brakes ( 2 days of rainy Dorset hills had taken their toll ) and strolled through the town centre, fairly uninspired by it.  I couldn’t figure out what it was about the place, it felt a bit like Essex.

After a while of wandering I returned to the ferry terminal and bought a paper.  This entertained me on the énd crossing and by 10 at night I left the port of St Malo and set the GPS to Plouer Sur Rance, home of Stephane et Sophie, the first French couch surfers.  The 14 mile ride was lonely, rainy and windy, and for the first time it hit me what I had ahead of me.  I don’t yet know but I fear the real challenge will be much more mental than physical.  I have spent six weeks alone before, backpacking in Asia when younger, but there’s something much more alone about this adventure.  The appreciation I have for my couch surf hosts is much more than just for their amenities, it’s the humanity and curiosity they have for me, and that is so much more valuable than a means of saving money. So Stephane and Sophie ( a fork lift driver and a nurse ) greeted me with wine, gateaux, shower and a bewildering curiosity, pourquoi tu faites ce voyage extrordinairre?  I had forgotten that it was their night off and they were happy to stay up until 1am conversing.

Breakfast was nice and late and French, with yet more generous offerings as well as some English conversation with their 7 year old son, and then I set off for Bruz.  The going was excellent, the roads are so much more pleasant for cycling than in England.  Wider, flatter, smoother, a fraction of the traffic and the few cars that do pass give loads more space.  The landscape felt like it whizzed past, and my spirits were much higher with the mp3 player.  It felt like no time before I arrived at my destination and met Reno, a chap about my age who lived in a shared house on the outskirts.  A very agreeable chap, he cooked me some pasta and chatted away about allsorts.  We went to the shops and bought some provisions, and then the housemates and friends all came round for dinner.  One girl recounted on her excellent time in Wales but she could never pronounce the name, ‘M… ‘ to which I replied ‘Machynnlyth?’  It turned out she was good friends with several of the people I had gone to Spain with the year before.  So we ate, drank, were merry and played poker until I realised I had to sleep.  I could have happily spent all night up, but I have to push on.  Shame!

Sunday- a tardy start and never felt awake, but left the new friends and set off for Saffré.  The day started sunny but the going got windy and I realised that I didn’t feel on top form.  The route took me for the most part on a hard shoulder of a dual carriageway, with slightly more hill and a headwind, so the pleasant ride I felt yesterday was not so pleasant today.  I rested in an Aire ( service station ) and a couple of hours later arrived in a very remote hamlet where Mr et Mme Girling lived.  They were the parents of a couchsurfer who had happily put me up when their son was unable to, yet more superb hospitality.  Yet another treatment of great hospitality and curiosity lifed my spirits, along with a tarte au citron to die for.  I like the French!

Sun Feb 07, 2010 Comments


Well I’m in Bridport at my first Couch Surf hosts. The really hot shower and spaghetti bolognaise are already so appreciated after two very damp days in the saddle, with the first night spent in the back of a Transit in the muddiest farm yard I have ever seen.
I left Bristol with my Jack who kindly saw me off on the first leg.  The first two days encounter about 1/8th the total climbing, and the sheer weight ( yes it is heavier than the training run ) put the thighs to the test.  The tops of the hills were in the drenching clouds and had a bleak wintery beauty to them.
We descended into Wells and Jack parted, leaving me to this adventure. 20 miles in and the sheer scale of the trip becomes apparent.  I get to Muchelney, south of Glastonbury where I stay with Julia and Justin, two vegans who live in a beautiful romany caravan round the back of a beef farm.  Julia warned me to keep pedalling when I get there as I had to traverse enormous floods of mud and cow shit.  The momentum of the extra weight of the panniers helped, but my confusion of which caravan they lived in didn’t.  I’m going to have to put up with that poo smell on my trousers for a little while.  So Julia and Justin hosted me delightfully with lots of cups of tea, a delicious hearty soup and some porridge.  I checked out her jewellry workshop and gallery in another vintage caravan in the adjacent farm the following day, and donned my waterproofs for day 2.
The going was tough, headwind and plenty of undulating Dorset countryside.  It was a short day today but my legs were quite tired.  I freewheeled down to Bridport, straight into a timewarp greasy spoon to pass the time and top up the calories with some good old fashioned stodge.  Anyway here I am with Gitte and Tim and I feel pleasantly recharged for my dawn start tomorrow.  Thank you kind hosts!

Thu Feb 04, 2010 Comments

19th Jan 2010
Counting down the days and I really should try out the fully laden bike and go for a long ride.  I also should test out this GPS and be fully familiar with it.  So I draw up a route on Bike Route Toaster and it’s a big’un, 64 miles and nearly a kilometre of climbing.
It’s a new experience following a pink pixellated line on a bike ride.  It takes me on the reasonably familiar cycle route out of Bristol theough Whitchurch and over the hill to Chew Valley.  Then I’m in the hands of the gadget, trusting its clever little brain and letting it take me through such unexplored (but now charted) territory.
It’s a tough start, with the undulation of travelling in fairly straight lines down little lanes with a bike twice as heavy as norrmal quite noticable.  It’s not so bad, but I’m glad I’d planned the flat canal towpath and cycleway of Bradford on Avon to Bristol at the end.
To sum up, it’s pretty familiar and dare I say it uneventful ride, but a lack of events is probably a good thing.  My legs are inevitabley sore by the end of it, and I feel like the exertion has made me feel run down after not fully recovering from some lurgy, but all in all, great!  As for the bike, I can’t think of a single thing to complain about.
Now for that exciting data analysis…
http://connect.garmin.com/activity/22795756

Thu Jan 21, 2010 Comments

4257668194_156e8dd798
So a few people have asked me about the bike.  Here it is.  I believe it’s a ’77 Dawes Galaxy, the same age as me! The only ‘upgrades’ I’ve done have been spd’s, modern panniers, modern brakes, new rear mudguard and bar tape.  The previous owner fitted new ‘biopace’ gears, but these are now vintage.

Sun Jan 10, 2010 Comments

Sun Jan 10, 2010 Comments

http://www.justgiving.com/henryrolls

Welcome to the Bristol to Morocco ride blog.  If bookings and initial couches go to plan I plan to sail from Weymouth to St Malo on the 5th Feb.

I was planning to do a trial ride to Brighton this weekend, but with snow and sub-zero daytime temperatures, I need to do a rain check. (Snow check)

Tue Jan 05, 2010 Comments

Sun Jan 03, 2010 Comments

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