– The adventures of a solo round the world cyclist –

Day 951 (Turkey Day 30)

I got going quite a bit later than I hoped, but I still managed to achieve my goal of riding further than 80km. I couldn’t identify the cause of the puncture I had to repair before leaving. In the end I decided replace the worn tyre with my final spare. I had tyre issues again at the end of my riding day, when I realised I had another slow leak. Rather than fix it on the road, I put enough air back in the tyre to get me to a place where I could spend the night. This is a flat section of uncultivated land between the fields of a farm, hidden from the main road by a rocky embankment, at the bottom of which I have set up my home. I couldn’t find any hole in the tube, indicating that it has the tiniest of pin pricks. I didn’t want to use my water to search for the hole using the air bubble technique, so I decided to just replace the tube with one of my two spares (a used tube with 3 patches). Unfortunately, after I had put the refitted the wheel to the bike, I realised that I had neglected to inspect the inside of the tyre in case something was poking through. I won’t be entirely surprised if I wake up and find the tyre flat. But hopefully I get lucky and find that I have resolved the issue.

In between dealing with tyre I had a very pleasant day on the bike. The sky was clear and the sun warm; however, the air was still cold enough to encourage me to wear socks, gloves and jacket while riding. I could remove these when I stopped for breaks, provided I was in direct sunlight, but as soon as I was moving I really felt the cool air. I was able to make my planned distance, despite a late (10.45am) start, because I didn’t face any climbs or strong headwind. Instead, I enjoyed cruising at a decent speed through slightly undulating hills on a road that followed the path of a gently flowing river. I have just enjoyed a dinner consisting of pasta and noodles cooked with the condiments that came in the noodle packet, topped with vegetables (onion, carrot, potato, capsicum and zucchini) flavoured with salt, cumin and two types of soup mixes. I had a few lollies for dessert. With my teeth brushed and bed clothes on, I am half tucked in my sleeping bag. It is getting very cold pretty quickly now the sun has gone.

Back outside

Accommodation Free-camp
Distance ridden today 84.26km
Average cycling speed 18.8kph
Total distance ridden 25,752km
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Day 950 (Turkey Day 29)

Gas jets sent hot flames above my head, heating the air within the droplet-shaped space enclosed by white and blue canvas. The basket silently lost contact with the ground as it began to rise. Within minutes I was studying the intriguing patterns on the earth’s surface that represent Cappadocia’s unique geology. What a feeling it was to rise above such a beautiful landscape in a hot air balloon and watch it turn golden as the sun made its appearance above the far horizon. With little wind, the balloon didn’t travel very far, but I still felt as if we had a wonderful journey nonetheless. The best part was when the balloon dropped into Pigeon Valley and floated out across the top of Goreme. An incredible way to start the day.

Returning to my hotel at 8.30am (having left at 5.40am), I was nearly taken by sleep. Instead, I put my head down and got to work on my list of chores: wash clothes, buy food for coming days, get a haircut, fix my punctured tube, backup photos and video footage from Azerbaijan and Iran, charge my electronics and record a video to document where I am at in my overall cycle journey. At lunch time I joined Diego (who I met on the Green Tour) for a meal at Firin’s. I returned to the same place for dinner, where I bumped into and ate with Glen and Beatrice, a Kiwi guy and English girl who were on the morning’s balloon flight. Firin’s is the only place I have eaten at while in Goreme. I have spent the last little while packing up my stuff as far as practical. Come morning I need to look at my front tube again, as it has deflated since I repaired it this afternoon. I suspect that I didn’t manage to remove all of the tiny piece of metal I found protruding through the tyre.

In orbit

Accommodation $ Hotel dorm
Distance ridden today 0km
Total distance ridden 25,668
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Day 949 (Turkey Day 28)

My travel grant application is done and dusted. I pretty much spent the whole day getting it completed. On waking up I simply grabbed bag of snacks and my laptop, and remained in bed as I typed away. Eventually, I couldn’t stand the knowledge that I hadn’t brushed my teeth yet, so I moved out of bed and had a shower and clean-up. A quick walk into town provided me with some bread to make sandwiches. I devoured these rapidly before returning to bed and tap-tapping away on my laptop again. It took several proof reads (and lots of pdf copies in the process) before I had a final copy that was ready to send away. I can forget about the idea of cycling Africa for now and instead focus on enjoying the next few weeks until the winner of the grant is announced. Then I will know a bit more about the direction my life will go next year.

Home in Goreme

Accommodation $ Hotel dorm
Distance ridden today 0km
Total distance ridden 25,668
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Day 948 (Turkey Day 27)

Today I got to know Cappadocia a little better by going on a Green Tour. There are two typical day tours running out of Goreme, a Red one and a Green one. It’s best to do both to get a bigger picture of the area; however, I have thus far opted for one. I thought the attractions along the Green tour sounded a bit nicer, especially because it included a walk in a natural area. The three main attractions on the tour are the Derinkuyu Underground City, Ilhara Valley and Selime Monastery.

The Underground City consists of eight storeys of rooms carved into the ground as a series of tunnels and caves. Four of these storeys are accessible today. The City was used by successive ruling groups as place to hide from invading armies and more easily protect their people. Food and water storage, and ventilation shafts, meant that people could survive underground for months at a time. The narrow tunnels force single-file, crouched movement, so any people invading them would be vulnerable to attack. Large rocks carved into wheels were rolled across tunnel entrances to strategically block access. Over time a range of peoples have used the underground refuge for various purposes. In more recent times the cities have been used for storing food.

Ilhara Valley was particularly impressive because of the suddenness in which it drops away from the surrounding undulating farmland. There is no hint it is coming and then wham, you abruptly face a deep chasm with vertical sides. A set of stairs takes you to the bottom, along which you can walk for about four kilometres. The Valley was first used by Christians fleeing Roman soldiers, who moved into the valley to take advantage of its water supply and hiding places.

Selime Monastery was amazing. The best part about this place is that you are free to explore it on your own. With no railings or people telling you where you can’t go, it feels like a massive playground. It would be the perfect place for a paintball fight, with seemingly secret tunnels and windows scattered across the face and into the depths of the hill. Originally the place was like a massive building, with multiple levels and rooms and corridors. Erosion has caused a lot of the outer parts of the carvings to break away, but it’s still possible to get an idea of what once was.

All up it was a great day out. A nice lunch was included and we had a good group. I particularly liked spending time with an Argentinian guy, an English couple and a Russian couple. I’m now super tired and looking forward to getting under my blanket. I didn’t sleep very well last night. I always seem to find it hard to sleep indoors again after multiple nights camping out. It’s not for lack of comfort though. The dorm room here at Relic Hotel is very cosy and the single wooden beds are fitted with some of the softest sheets I’ve ever felt.

Tour mates

Accommodation $ Hotel dorm
Distance ridden today 0km
Total distance ridden 25,668
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Day 947 (Turkey Day 26)

It was a great choice to sleep in the farm shed last night as I stayed warm without having to cover up to extreme levels. Besides the occasional train it was nice and dark and quiet. With only 40km to ride I didn’t need to be in a hurry to get up. Even after a small lie in I was ready to go sooner than yesterday, given the fact that I moved quicker in the warmth. It didn’t take long for me to completely warm up as I began to climb into the hills. Soon I was sweating lightly under my waterproof gear.

I reached the summit sooner than expected. I promptly rugged up, knowing what was coming: a freezing cold descent. Enough pedalling kept me warm as I began to glimpse homes built against and within the rocky landscape. From Urgup I heated up again as I climbed out of the town and past more spectacular rock formations. I also began to see tourists, lots of them. At some point I’d picked up a slow leak in my front tyre, but luckily I only had to pump it up once to reach Goreme. I’ll deal with it another day.

Once in Goreme, I rode straight to Yasmin’s Place, but the hostel seemed deserted. The reception area was open and I spotted the WiFi password, so I took the opportunity to jump online and check what my friend Jonno (who I met in Tajikistan) had to say, having been here a few weeks earlier and who said he’d pass on his recommendations. His message told me where he stayed (Relic House Hotel), so I went there instead. Again I found a deserted place. While waiting for signs of life, I had a picnic lunch in the courtyard and even walked through the property twice, but I still didn’t encounter anyone. As I left I started chatting to a young guy outside Cappadocian Guide Travel Agency. The boss inside ended up calling the manager of Relic. I returned there and waited a further ten minutes for the manager to arrive. I checked into a four-bed dorm (the only dorm room they have) for 25l (AU$6.50) a night. After getting my stuff in and securing my bike I jumped on the WiFi. After a quick message to my mum she called for chat. It was just a brief one as I was keen to have my first shower in five days. After a decent wash I packed up my dirty clothes and left the hotel to get some things done.

Step 1: organise a hot air balloon tour. I returned to the Cappadocian Guide Travel Agency and spent nearly an hour chatting with Kadir. At the end of this I had booked a day trip (green tour) and reserved a balloon flight. Unfortunately tomorrow is bad weather so no balloons are flying. At this stage I will fly Tuesday, return to the hotel at 8.30am and ride out of town the same day.

Step 2: find a place for laundry. My hotel charges 30l, so I was keen to find somewhere cheaper. I found two places that charged 25l. Expensive (same as a night’s accommodation), but time-saving, considering how long it would take me to wash the 26 items I had. My chosen place was a hairdresser with a washing machine out the back. I put a load on to wash and went out to dinner to Firin’s Cafe. When I ordered pide and stew, I was told that it would be too much food and that a pide would be plenty for one person. I capitulated, appreciating their honesty, and just order pide. When I finished that I ordered the stew and ate that too. I then found a supermarket to buy some snacks. On my way home I dropped into the hairdressers and said I would use the drier on offer – originally I planned to take my clothes back to dry in my room. I returned at 7pm and moved half of my clothes into a drier, taking the other half (merino wool stuff) home to hang out. I then returned to the streets for more exploration before collecting the rest of my clothes returning home to sleep.

Hiding

Accommodation $ Hotel
Distance ridden today 43.58km
Average cycling speed 14.6kph
Total distance ridden 25,668km
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Day 946 (Turkey Day 25)

Not only was my water frozen this morning, but so too was my milk (partially), which I’d kept just inside the tent. It was so cold outside my tent that my main drink bottle (which didn’t freeze while inside my tent thanks to its neoprene cover) began to freeze once it was in the open air. After finishing breakfast, I’d put some water in the bowl to wash it out with, placing the bowl on the ground outside for just a couple of minutes. When I went to empty it I found it had frozen solid with the spoon stuck in it.

I managed to stay warmer through the night than yesterday because I completely rugged up: two pairs of socks, long johns, boxers, two thermal tops, gloves, beanie and thick neck buff. When the temperature reached its lowest point, my head only stayed warm because I pulled the buff over my head and face. This also helped to block out the light of the moon, which will be full tomorrow. The buff is thin enough that I can breathe through it fine, but good enough to keep the cold off.

I changed my routine again to try and stay warmer longer, today having breakfast inside my tent rather than after packing up camp. As soon as I was out of my sleeping bag my hands and feet got freezing cold to the point of being painful and they didn’t warm up until long after I’d started riding.

Despite the cold, I succeeded in getting moving earlier than yesterday. Today I rode with more clothes on than ever before. Even so, my feet and hands continued to freeze and I think I need to consider wearing my waterproof socks. While I was feeling so cold, I began to replan my route in my mind, thinking I should keep to the coast in an effort to avoid dealing with such cold every morning for the next couple of months. Once I began to warm up I quickly forgot the pain and began to think ‘this isn’t so bad’. Maybe if I adapt a little more I will be able to deal with it fine. Overall I am appreciating the experience – I have said I wanted to discover what it’s like to ride in cold weather and now I’m finding out.

The ride was pleasurable with no major climbs, just low rolling hills. For much of the day I had the grand peak of Mount Erciyes in my sights. My main milestone along the way was Develi, which appeared to be a welcoming city with a nice atmosphere. As I left, the road was generally flat and I began to realise I was making good progress. I even thought it might be possible to make it all the way to Goreme (a 120km day). When I reached BP (major intersection) I looked at my map and assessed my options. Riding would likely mean a big climb for about 15km before a descent. It would be possible to complete the climb but it would get dark during the descent. Not wanting to venture into the night, I decided to wipe this option and look for others. Next to BP was a nice building with a barely readable ‘Otel’ sign on top. I became tempted enough to check the price, but discovered that the hotel is closed. Keen to avoid suffering another cold night outside, I asked BP if I could camp under the hotel’s verandah. No, they said, but I could camp in front. I had some time so I thought I would give BP some patronage and treat myself to a coke and chocolate bar. After about half an hour I was approached by the manager and told that that I couldn’t camp there after all. Instead, I was shown a patch of dirt out the front of the petrol station. It was clear BP didn’t want me on their property at all.

Annoyed at having even less time to find a place to camp, I left BP and entered the small road towards Goreme Historical National Park. Still determined to avoid ice overnight I crossed my fingers that I would find a derelict building to camp in. Just before the train tracks I explored a track off to the right leading to a property that looked very quiet. At the start was a building with a little porch the size of a tent. Option number one. Not a great option however, as the porch is within sight of the road and through the windows I could see some fruit and clothes and tables and chairs, revealing that it wasn’t a completely abandoned building. Against the building was a shed with wooden doors slightly ajar. Inside was enough space for a tent. It was also nice and warm inside, away from the ice-cold breeze. Option number two. A few hundred metres away was another building with enough space outside for a small tent. Option number three. Overall the area felt empty and I gained the impression the place is only used during harvest season. In the surrounding fields the grapevines are dying. After a bit of deliberation I made my decision and snuck into the shed. Influencing my decision were a number of factors, including the fact that I hadn’t heard any dogs around, the way the vines were growing around the doors to the shed showed that the doors hadn’t been opened or closed in a long time, and there were no fresh tracks on the access road or around the entrance to the shed.

I am writing my diary as I complete my end of day tasks. I have just been sitting quietly for a while getting acquainted with the noises: a woodpecker on a tree, the vines rustling against the door as birds land on them, traffic on the road pausing before crossing the train tracks…

I have just set up my tent and got a shock when I unrolled it. This morning my fly had a good coating on frost on it and rather than wipe it off and dry the tent before packing it up, I’d simply rolled it up with the frost inside, placing it in a plastic bag to catch the water as the ice melted. When I unrolled the tent this evening, I was surprised to discover that the tent was still covered in frost – it had been so cold all day that it hadn’t melted.

I am now cooking dinner while watching the doors for signs of life. The greatest threat to my sanctum is the seemingly deafening rustle of the plastic bags I have all my food wrapped in. There are gaps between the wooden slats making up the shed door, so while it’s still light I can see out but no one can see in.

I have just snuck out or a pee to be confronted with a breathtaking sight: the full moon having just fully risen up from behind Mount Erciyes, the sky still pale blue, the peak ghostly white, the vineyards just holding their dead bronze colour before the darkness turns everything grey.

Now I’m in bed and it’s delightfully cosy. There won’t be any ice tonight. The only annoying thing is that I am right next to a train crossing. There have been at least five trains go past since I have been here and each one sounds like a freight train going past my head. The crossing signal is also super loud.

Frozen

Accommodation Free-camp
Distance ridden today 81.51km
Average cycling speed 18kph
Total distance ridden 25,624km
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Day 945 (Turkey Day 24)

The temperature is literally freezing. Despite putting on my moderately thick merino socks before bed, and despite adding another pair of even thicker merino socks over the top, my feet never got warm, I also slept in my beanie all night. In the early hours of the morning it got so cold I basically buried myself in my sleeping bag, head inside and all. I got a big shock – and it’s a first for me – to find my tent covered in a thin layer of ice. One of my bottles of water had also frozen. I struggled to get moving in the cold. Fortunately, unlike yesterday when my tent was wet and took some time to dry in the sun, I discovered that frost is better than wetness. I wiped as much of it off as I could and it didn’t take very long for the sun to dry any remnants off. The day looked amazing weatherwise: sun out and clear blue skies. I rode in thicker socks and my cold weather leggings. Previous days I have just ridden in thin, ventilating sports leggings, but it’s time to wear my proper cold weather cycling ones.

The riding was utterly exhausting. I basically spent the entire day doing interval training that generally headed uphill. Some of the climbs were incredibly steep, sometimes so steep that I couldn’t maintain a straight line, instead weaving back and forth across the road. At one point I opted to push inside of ride. While the riding was hard, it was also incredibly rewarding in terms of the scenery it took me through. This is a beautiful part of Turkey and I am glad to be on these back roads. It was nice to ride directly through some very small villages. I particularly liked Akpinar. My last extreme climb took me past the peak Karagedik Tepesi, after which I finally found some decent downhills.

One bad thing about where I am is that it is so rural that people are more self-sufficient in terms of fresh produce and bread. Consequently, these basic items aren’t available in the little shops I come across, which only stock things people can’t grow or prepare themselves. I really needed some lunch supples like bread, tomatoes and cucumbers, but I couldn’t find any. The closest thing to bread I found was sponge cake. I also wanted some vegetables for dinner, either fresh or canned, but alas there were none. As I ate the sponge cake with my last two tomatoes outside one little shop in Catalcam, the owner must have felt sorry for me. He disappeared into his house and emerged with what I thought at first was plain bread, but turned out to be flat bread that was stuffed with spiced potato. It was amazing. I ate some immediately and saved the rest for dinner.

I’m adapting my routine to deal with the cold a little better when I stop riding. The aim is to get dinner cooked, camp prepped and myself changed as quickly and efficiently as possible. Tonight’s routine: 1. Set up my tent. 2. Got some water heating on my stove. 3. Unloaded my bike into my tent. 4. Cleaned and changed my bottom half (putting on two layers of socks, pyjama boxers and two layers of pants, with shoes). 4. Added rice to the now-boiling water. 5. Tidied up the tent, prepared my bed and locked up my bike. 6. Moved the rice to my home-made pot warmer to finish cooking and put on some more water to boil. 7. Cleaned and changed my top half (putting on two thermal layers, jacket, neck warmer and beanie). 8. Finished cooking dinner and ate it, with an orange for dessert. 10. Washed my dishes and cleaned my teeth. 11. Got in my sleeping bag and began to write my diary. After I put this down I will have a spack-attack to generate some extra warmth. My feet are already feeling cold.

Hillside water supply

Accommodation Free-camp
Distance ridden today 68.15km
Average cycling speed 13.6kph
Total distance ridden 25,543km
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Day 944 (Turkey Day 23)

Turkey is a great place to explore by bike. It’s populated enough that you don’t need to think too far ahead about food. There is free, clean water available from roadside fountains that tap into underground supplies. And it’s not so populated that you can’t find a hidden place to camp. My camp spot tonight is the nicest yet for Turkey. In fact, the area I am in is perhaps the most beautiful I have seen in the country so far. From my tent I have 180 degree view of a rocky mountain range. Some peaks are dusted with snow. As the sun set the colour of the rock changed, as did the intriguing pattern of shadows that revealed its ruggedness. I couldn’t help but take a set of photos every couple of minutes.

It’s colder than ever. My feet never warmed up in the night, so tonight I have upgraded my bed socks from thin cotton ones to moderately thick merino wool ones. It took me a while to warm up in the morning and for once I actually wished for a hill climb just so my body could heat up with the effort. My gloves weren’t enough to keep my hands from hurting so I began thinking I will need to find some thick winter gloves soon. I got my hill climb and ever so slowly began to thaw out. I never got really warm though. While yesterday I made the milestone of riding all day in socks and gloves, today I rode all day in my waterproof jacket too.

The ride was very pleasant despite the cold. Just before Goksun I got called into a roadside vegetable stand by a guy who could obviously speak a bit of English. He is a retired electrical engineer who was born in Russia but has been living for many years in Turkey. He dislikes both countries. His work in the gas industry must have taken him all over Central Asia as he could also speak a couple of other languages. He is not a fan of Central Asia in general. Rotten politics and too much fighting, he said. He would love to move to Canada or Australia. From his broken English I also gathered that he is chatting online to a woman in Indonesia who is trying to convince him to move there to be with her. This was after I was given coffee prepared by someone I assume is his Turkish wife. As I enjoyed the coffee I prepared myself some lunch. When I pulled out a tomato to add to my sandwich, my new friend exclaimed, “No no no…not good pomedore…from factory…bad for stomach…wait…” He disappeared and returned with a huge tomato grown in his backyard. “Organic. Better”. I was also gifted with some of his organic apples too.

Not far down the road I pulled into a service station to use a toilet and while there I was invited to have a tea with two workers. One of these spoke excellent English and I was surprised to hear he had learned it in school but hadn’t really used it since.

I really liked the look and feel of Goksun. I stopped in at a little shop to buy some milk and a packet of choc-chip cookies. Then I began to fall in love with the area beyond Goksun. I headed up the main road towards Kayseri, but soon turned off onto a minor road that looked a bit more adventurous. This was where things got spectacular. I had about twenty minutes of riding to go (to reach my 4pm target) when I decided to stop so I could camp directly in front of the stunning vista.

I have a new favourite-shaped pasta. It is like a curved tube that has been pinched at one end. New for me. I loved it. I had it with a canned bean mix and the remaining three quarters of the giant tomato I was given at lunch. The bean mix was flavoured but I also added some salt, cumin, chilli powder and soup mix. It was absolutely delicious. The only trouble was that the air is so cold that I can’t get through half of it before the food feels refrigerated.

Nice spot to sleep

Accommodation Free-camp
Distance ridden today 73.32km
Average cycling speed 15.2kph
Total distance ridden 25,475km
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Day 943 (Turkey Day 22)

The weather has changed since I made it to Malatya. The only warmth comes from direct sunlight, so it gets cold anytime the sun is hidden behind a cloud. And there are many clouds. Sometimes the whole sky is covered in them. Some of them are big and dark. I got rained on by such clouds today. But I also enjoyed some blue skies with warm sunrays. The winds are so strong at the moment that in a single day you can be passed by multiple storm systems. While the morning was absolutely freezing, my day has ended pleasantly warm. Well, not really warm, but not shiveringly cold. I have found a lovely spot to camp in a small field that feels as if it has been covered in straw to create a perfectly soft campground. On one side is the main road hidden behind a row of large trees. On another side is a creek lined with thick vegetation. The third side is a row of trees blocking the view of a field with recently tilled soil. The fourth side is the best – it offers an open view of a low hill that is dwarfed by snow covered mountains in the distance. The scenery is slowly getting more spectacular – the rolling hills covered with farmland that I have been riding through for quite a while now are slowly transitioning into rocky scarps and rugged snow-covered mountains. With the light almost gone from my world, the temperature is dropping dramatically. I spent the entire day riding with socks and gloves to stay warm.

As I turned off the main road towards Elbistan, I stopped at a little shop to buy some water and bread. I got 3L water and a large loaf of fresh bread for 3l (AU$1). As I walked out of the store I spotted a water fountain offering water straight from the ground. Money wasted. Oh well. I had a brief chat with a friendly group of men (as far as our language allowed anyway) and before I left the owner of the store gifted me with four pears.

My Achilles are giving me trouble again. I am also battling an infection in my armpit causing a huge, red, super painful lump under the skin.  Some kind of cyst? I have had it for about four days now.

*Sigh

Accommodation Free-camp
Distance ridden today 95.97km
Average cycling speed 17.1kph
Total distance ridden 25,401km
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Day 942 (Turkey Day 21)

It’s sometimes difficult to tell the difference between laziness and a need for more rest. I reluctantly got moving and decided I was just feeling a little lazy. My legs felt strong and I really didn’t feel like another day in a city. The open road beckoned once again. Then it hit me across the face with a never-ending climb and some of the strongest headwind I’ve faced in a while. The wind was so strong and blustery that it pushed me around and I found it hard to maintain a straight line. As the morning wore on, grey clouds were blown aside to reveal a pale blue sky and sunshine. In the afternoon a new set of storm clouds took over the sky. The temperature dropped and I found my hands and feet going numb.

Slightly earlier than usual I decided to take an opportunity to find a camp when I came across a small dirt road running from the main road. I faced a choice. I could either follow it into some quiet-looking hills or I could set up camp in the tunnel that runs under the main road. The tunnel is like a giant culvert and provides access to a village next to the main road. The pros of the tunnel: more sheltered from freezing wind and protected from rain. The cons: I wouldn’t be hidden and cars will likely drive past. I decided on the tunnel so I’d be warmer.

Leaving home

Accommodation Free-camp
Distance ridden today 55.73km
Average cycling speed 11.5kph
Total distance ridden 25,305m
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