13/07/2018 Simon ‘Wardy’ Ward is nomadonanomad.
So, back in England at long last. Leaving Laos was chaotic in the extreme. Not only had I got to sell all the stuff I had accumulated over the years but deal with a load of grief that I won’t go into now but will probably write about in the future. I have to say a huge ‘thank you’ to a couple of people who helped me during the ‘exit period’. They will know who they are. Enough said.
After 18 months of planning in Laos I now had to get on with the stuff that couldn’t be sorted there. One thing that I could have done in Vientiane, but didn’t have time for, was to get some stronger reading glasses. I had been getting fed up with struggling to read the small print on certain things and had, on many occasions, to resort to putting on both pairs of my reading glasses and standing under a strong light.
One extra bit of kit I had purchased was a magnifying glass on a chain that I could wear round my neck to save having to dig around in bags for my glasses. I really thought this was a great idea of the ‘up there for thinking, down there for dancing’ type. (I must add that my long distance vision has always been of the ‘Top Gun’ standard!) Off to Specsavers where they offer a free and comprehensive eye test, why not take it if it’s on offer?
After all sorts of tests the Optometrist then tells me that I have a cataract on my right eye and it needs surgery! Bugger! 18 months of planning out the window! Bugger! What do I do now? Bugger! If someone had kicked me in the nuts I would have been less surprised. Bugger, double bugger and thrice bugger!
I have always, throughout my life, tried to find positives from negatives, but this was testing all my reserves of whatever it takes to deal with crap like this. No matter how I thought about this there were no positives to be found so I decided on a complete rethink of my journey plan.
The way things would pan out would be that I would have to wait for a consultation appointment at the Royal Derby Hospital. Then, assuming it was agreed that I would have the cataract removed, I would have to wait for a date for surgery. To try to rush back from South America was obviously out of the question so I decided that I would instead tour Europe knowing that I would be able to get back home quickly when I had a date for surgery. Then, after getting my eye fixed, I would be free to go wherever I wanted. (Provided nothing else was about to fail/fall off!)
The plan now is to pick up the bicycle in Bridgewater, Somerset on the 4thJuly, as previously arranged, but then instead of heading to Gatwick for my flight to Seattle, where I would buy all the stuff for my expedition, I would now cycle to Plymouth to catch the ferry to Roscoff in France where I could pick up the southern section of Eurovelo 1 taking me to the southwestern edge of Portugal.
During my time in England I now had to buy all the stuff that I had originally planned to get in the States. Tent, sleeping system, stove, cookware etc. etc., which meant that I was busy again! So much for a nice quiet retirement. I was quickly becoming knackered. One day as I was trawling through more gear reviews I realised that Big Brother is definitely watching us all!
After my diagnosis re my eye, I had obviously spent some time researching what was involved regarding the surgery and aftercare. My laptop suddenly flashed an advertisement at me about laser eye surgery and I stopped everything else and started to read. Very quickly I realised that I could pay my way out of the shit and get the surgery I needed earlier by going privately. Yes, it would hit my already tight budget but I’d had some time to get my head around the fact that I might have to ‘unretire’ and do some honest labour at some point in the future to earn some extra ‘fun tickets’. (cash)
If I pay for the surgery now, I may find out that I can live even more cheaply out on the road than I had previously thought possible, and still not have to work again. If I do have to engage in some honest labour, then so what? I have a number of skills that can earn money, the fact that I had hoped they would not be needed in the future was immaterial. Get it done!
So, the decision was made and appointments booked. (The Bridgewater to Plymouth idea shelved. Yet another change of plan!) With all the aftercare visits to the clinic I would have to make, it would be around the end of September before I was free to get going properly. Then the second problem reared it’s ugly head. Insurance. To my way of thinking getting insurance cover for my trip would involve the internet and a load of reading regarding levels and conditions of cover. Ok, I know roughly what I want. Easy. Or so I thought.
I quickly found a suitable, i.e. cheap, policy that covered me for the stuff I needed. It happened to be a backpacker policy that included cycling. Everything seemed fine and I started the form filling exercise. Then a clause appeared that threw another proverbial spanner in the works. As part of the ‘conditions’ of the policy I had to declare that I had been a permanent resident of the UK for at least 6 of the previous 12 months when, of course, I had not. I had to admit to using the word ‘bugger’ again, numerous times, along with a few other choice expletives.
I felt particularly miffed as well as discriminated against. I am a British Citizen after all, and to have this obstacle placed in my way was bloody annoying to say the least. Just because I had chosen to live overseas for some years, why was I being treated as a ‘second class’ citizen? Nothing for it but to find another policy as I knew very well that if I told a ‘porky’ (porky pie = lie) and had to make a claim I would be found out and the claim denied. Time to explore other avenues.
I soon discovered that by changing my bank account at Nationwide to a different type of account I would be covered for travel insurance for trips up to 31 days at no cost. These trips could be extended by paying a supplement but with the follow up appointments re my eye, 31 days at a time would suffice. I would soon eat up time until the 30thNovember when I could get going properly with an annual policy.
Quickly I had a date for my ‘face to face’ with the surgeon on 15thJuly, with a provisional date for surgery of 25thJuly, both in Birmingham. Just at that time I was contacted by my brother, who I hadn’t seen in 10 years, who told me he was going to visit my nephew in Gloucestershire and look after his granddaughter Jessica, who I had never met, during a time when her parents had to be at work. I was invited to go along and help out although who was looking after who is something that we shall probably never know!
To get there seemed to be a bit of a breeze. I had been offered a lift to pick up my bicycle in Somerset by my oldest friend from childhood. A new plan was hatched to collect the bike, drive to his Mother-in-Law’s near Bristol and overnight there before heading back towards his home in South Leicestershire. On the way he offered to drop me off at my nephew’s place. Easy?? My idea was to be dropped off some miles away, preferably in the beer garden of a nice pub as the weather forecast was excellent. I could then assemble the bike and load it before setting off to do the remaining miles at the start of my adventure/disaster.
Great idea. The weather was indeed glorious, hot and sunny, which was good for me after nearly 12 years in the tropics. Bob, my mate, and I found the perfect place, the Catherine Wheel in Bibury. A pub with a beautiful beer garden only about 20 miles from my nephew’s village. Bob and I said our goodbyes with him shaking his head, obviously thinking that I even more barking mad than usual, and off he went in the car, and my journey could really begin.
I may have mentioned in previous posts that my bicycle is a Thorn Nomad Mk 2, in full expedition specification, including S and S couplings enabling the bike to be split in two for ease of transport. The first job for me to do was to fit the two halves back together. I got it done but had unfortunately forgotten one important thing to do before reassembly and my memory lapse had now left me with only 5 of 14 gears and yes, they were the higher gears. Not so good for climbing hills!
On top of this massive mistake which would start to dawn on me as I got to the first incline it would be the first time I had ridden with panniers and, as is common with novice cycle tourists, I had far too much gear and the bike, now fully loaded, weighed a ton! I have no idea what gradient the first hill was, or how long the climb, but I honestly thought I was going to die. (I was only able to select gears 8 through 13 because of my mistake when reassembling the bike) I did make it but only just and I cycled on slowly trying to get my breath back and I began to seriously wonder what I had let myself in for.
Yet another mistake was to have the saddle too high. I should have picked this up after my trial ride when collecting the bike but I now know how different it is riding without luggage to being fully loaded. The saddle height being a problem only became apparent when I decided to take a bit of a breather. (This was only about 10 miles from Bibury where I had set off, but as I said the bike weighed a ton)
Just down the road I spied a nice grass verge with some shade provided by a hedgerow. Perfect place to stop I thought. I slowed down and eased my way off the road onto the verge, came to a halt and then tried to lift my leg over the saddle, realising just too late, that the enormous amount of gear on the back rack meant I couldn’t ‘get my leg over’ properly causing my dismount to be of the uncontrolled variety. The motorist who was passing at the time is probably still dining out on the story!
Later on, I encountered some more hills and, after yet another climb where I escaped death from exhaustion by the skin of my teeth, I stopped at the Carpenter’s Arms in Fulbrook. A couple of pints of ‘Hoppy’ ale and a complete rejig of the loading of the bike and I sought directions to my nephew’s village. I must be fairly close by now? I was happy to be told it was only another 6 miles and was told to take a particular road that was a fraction longer but very much safer than the main road which has a lot of ‘boy racers’ on it.
When I was given my nephew’s address it said nothing like, ‘Top of Mount Everest, Gloucestershire’ to give me a clue. Not a thing. I think I must have pushed the bike for at least 4 of those last 6 miles. Lots of stops as well and I have no idea how long it took but it must have been hours. I messaged my mate, Bob, the next day after he had enquired as to my wellbeing and part of the message went like this. The good bits of my first days ride. 1. I didn’t die. 2. Gloucestershire has pubs. 3. There are no more good bits.
So, on reflection I have to get rid of a load of gear I previously thought essential. I have to practice riding with luggage. I have adjusted the gears after calling the manufacturers and have learned an important lesson now rather than at a worse time. I have lowered the saddle and can now dismount with considerably more aplomb than my first attempt. I need to get some miles in my legs and keep putting the softening stuff on the saddle to help breaking it in. One friend has mistaken some of my comments to be critical of the bike. No way! The bike is sublime and I would recommend it to anyone. The problem is the operator. 100%. On my name card it says, in reference to myself, ‘All the gear and no idea’. Already I’m thinking that was a very accurate description of me and what I’m trying to attempt. Anyway, if you know you can do something, what’s the point in trying?
Thanks as always if you’re still reading. Good luck and good health to you all and may your God go with you.
Simon ‘Wardy’ Ward.