Introducing Marcus & Kirsty, who tired of sitting in front of computer screens upped sticks (along with their tandem) and embarked on riding from Bristol to New Zealand. Part one of their dispatches comes from the journey across Europe…
“These kind of things are bound to happen” was my dad’s reaction when I called to tell him about our accident. I was lying on a sofa with 6 staples in my knee 4000km from home. Beside me Kirsty was inspecting the tears in our Vulpine merino jerseys, a strip of gauze on her cut lip and limbs wrapped in padded bandages. A front tyre blowout at 70kph could have had worse consequences for a tandem crew though.
There’s only so long you can spend sitting at a desk watching a blue bar scrolling slowly across the screen in front of you. Or a turning egg timer or spinning wheel or whatever the latest device is that tries to distract you from the fact that there are better ways to spend your time than waiting for a computer to do something.
Kirsty and I were ready for a change. We wanted to pull the eject lever on our ergonomic office chairs. So we did. We quit jobs we’d held for years, rented out our house and packed everything we own into a shipping container for storage. We were left with four panniers, a tandem bike and the big wide world to explore.
The plan was simple: ride from Bristol to New Zealand via some interesting places, the rest we’d work out as we went along.
Strange and wonderful things can happen on a journey with the flexibility to be shaped by the people we meet. Like a night on the tiny Finnish island of Uto or a rave in an ex-Soviet bunker in Lithuania. Riding a homemade penny farthing in Poland or a freezing cold dip in a pool in Ukraine. We never quite know what the day will bring when we unzip the tent in the morning.
Even the unexpected calamities, that at the time seem awful, can be turned around thanks to the surprising generosity and kindness of strangers. Take the high speed crash for instance which happened in Cappadocia Turkey. Within an hour we’d been scraped off the road by a passing truck driver, looked after by some restaurant staff, cleaned up by a passing paramedic and had the damage to the bike assessed by the national cycle team mechanic. We also met Arif and Gülson who put us up in their flat for as long as the recovery process would take, giving us more time to explore the extraordinary landscape. If ever there was a good place to convalescence then this was it. We’d only planned to stay for a night but ended up being there for two weeks. Out of a bad day on the road we now had some new friends and great memories to go with our scars and patched up jerseys.
We’d found Arif and Gülsun through the hospitality website Warm Showers, linking willing hosts with tired cyclists. This same site led us to Geyser in Slovakia. Normally we’d be happy with a living room floor for the night but Geyser had other ideas so together we pedalled out into the woods outside Kosice. It was getting dark and as we rode he told us about the wolves and wild boar that lived further up the hill. It was also the 31st October so the small cabin that he took us to, far from anywhere, was a perfect place to spend Halloween. We cooked sausages on the fire and heard stories about Geyser’s own travels around the world. I only wish I hadn’t returned the favour by spilling our porridge into his hat in the morning.
As well as people, food plays a very important role in our daily routine. Running out of breakfast ingredients on a gloomy morning in Albania forced us to ride to the nearest café with empty stomachs. The owners had never met anyone from England before let alone two people riding one bicycle so they excitedly offered their services. Usually a hand to mouth action conveys the message that we need something to eat but in this case they brought us paracetamol, then Alka Seltzer. Our haggard appearance must have looked like a hangover. Perhaps we’d like cold mutton soup? Eventually we were served clementines, fresh yoghurt, bread and feta cheese all made in the surrounding villages. A small selection of the local community watched us tuck in with amusement. We’d made their day and they’d started ours in the best way possible.
Language barriers can cause difficulties and mean that the offers of help aren’t always obvious. One evening on a riverbank in Georgia we were approached by an agitated man with a shotgun on his back and a hunting knife in his belt. We greeted him with a cheerful “Gamajoba” but he made noises and motions for us to pack up our camping gear and ship out. He had weapons, we weren’t about to try and argue, but it was now dark so where were we supposed to go?
The answer was back to his house where his wife, Nora prepared a tasty meal and Jimali served us his homemade ‘Cha Cha’ moonshine. We’d just experienced the legendary Georgian custom of always looking after visitors, even if it has to be administered at gun point.
But sometimes a little caution is needed when we’re receiving help, even if it’s still well meaning. Taking directions from a man who included a bottle of ouzo as a parting gift was asking for trouble. An hour and a half later and we finished negotiating a dismantled railway bridge that was long since out of service. A more exciting route than the main road I’m sure so perhaps the man did have our best interests in mind but the bike very nearly ended up in the river.
Our lives have changed a bit now we’re on the road and that scrolling blue bar is the sky, the spinning wheels taking us towards new encounters. As dad quite rightly pointed out “these kind of things are bound to happen”.
Read more about Marcus and Kirsty’s adventures here: