Thursday, 27 May 2010

Bicycle Touring Biographical Article

ANDREW WRIGHT – Career of a Bicycle Tourist

Where does wanderlust come from? It was not acquired in my childhood, we always took our very occasional holidays in Blackpool, although when I was 14 we took a canal boating holiday on the Leeds Liverpool canal. So I think I can proudly boast that I am a self taught traveller, an education that took a long time and was hard won.

My first foreign solo jaunt was a day trip to Dublin on the ferry from Holyhead when I was 20. On the quay side in Dun Laoghaire I took a photo of my shadow to prove I had really been in foreign parts. Next year I took a month off work with some unpaid leave and went ‘Interrailing’. I set out with an old school friend but he was to come home after a week. In four weeks I visited Paris, Rome, Venice, Amsterdam, Monte Carlo and Athens. The two day train ride down through Yugoslavia was a real eye opener. It was on Interrail while riding a train through Switzerland that I saw from the window a fellow riding a loaded touring bicycle. It looked to be complete freedom and I envied him this great way of escape while I was trapped on railways. It fixed in my mind as something that appealed to me.

I bought my touring bicycle when I was 21. A Dawes Galaxy, the classic touring machine. After an initial ride to Chester I used the bike to make long excursions from around my Cheshire home, riding to Manchester, Castleton, Bakewell, Southport, Llangollen, Shrewsbury and York. The first big multi day ride was to London and back. I did the trip in early December 1986 staying at youth hostels each night. I had recently discovered that youth hostels were a great key to wider travels. The ride was 400 miles over nine days. I didn’t take any time to sightsee; I was too interested in gobbling the miles and reaching the hostels.

In 1987, bicycle trips followed in the Lake District and then an amazing tour of Scotland over 10 days in June. I visited Mull and the fabled village of Tobermory. I had never seen a more beautiful place than the west of Scotland, particularly when the sun shines, as it did for me. Later that summer I made a ride from Luxembourg down the Rhine to reach Switzerland. I was making wonderful discoveries of what it was possible to do on a bike.

Next objective was to take the bicycle by airplane. Bicycle travel by airplane is a major mental fence to jump. My trip was to Israel for a three week tour in the early spring of 1988. This was in the days before the airlines started imposing excess baggage charges for bicycles. The bike simply went as part of the ordinary baggage allowance, there was no extra charge. Israel was splendid. It was hard to believe, me, an ordinary fellow, in the Holy Land, a place drpping with culture, history and politics. I cycled around the Sea of Galilee, visited Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Tel Aviv. Even crossing briefly into the Gaza strip, “You must be crazy” said an Israeli border soldier as I cycled past him. It was the time of the first Palestinian uprising or, as it was called, the ‘intafada’. But to me it did not feel greatly dangerous.

I was settled into my job as a Draughtsman in the construction steel industry. But I still found unpaid time to make trips. I toured England and Wales on many occasions and before the advent of budget airlines I used holiday charter flights to get around Europe and the Mediterranean basin. I made classic tours of Andalusia, Portugal, the Pyrenees, Greece, Italy, Cyprus, Tunisia and France.

My finest prizes in cycling began to come along, beginning in 1989 with the French end-to-end, Nice to Calais. I was away a month and spent over two of those weeks cycling north in the company of a splendid Danish fellow called Henrik who was returning from a 5,000km ride to Naples. We shared the cooking and the campfire chat. I produced a new staple breakfast for us of spaghetti-porridge. Just what was needed for the start of a long day in the saddle. We rode into Paris in time for the 200th anniversary Bastille Day celebrations.

A tour to Morocco followed later in the year. Henrik had been in Africa and had said I would be killed in Morocco on my own. But it was perfectly safe. The people very hospitable and friendly, I was able to make a 600 mile tour, including climbing Mt Toubkal, the highest mountain in North Africa.

After the heat and stark blinding sunlight of places like Andalusia and Morocco I wanted to sample the cooler climates of the north. So in the late summer of 1990 I took the ferry from Newcastle to Bergen, in Norway, for a three week tour. To my mind Norway is the most beautiful country in Europe. Nature abounds there in its beauty. It is peaceful and scenic beyond words. I had the good fortune to meet cyclist Katryn, from Germany, and we cycled together for a week. I have clear memories of snow piled ten feet high at the road sides. One of my loves is test match cricket commentary and I was able to pick up the broadcasts of the latest match on my radio. What fun, cycling along in beautiful countryside while listening to cricket from England.

I also have a great love for cycling in the mountains. One favourite trip was my high Alpine tour. I was particularly fit at the time. I took in many high mountain Cols, some with Tour de France connotations. A great prize was cycling all the way to the top of the St Bernard pass without getting off and pushing. If I were one day to get the Col Galibier, Mt Ventoux and Alp du Huez I would have bagged all the famous Tour de France climbs.

Some trips live inside you for long periods, sometimes for many years before they come to fruition and are lived out in reality. Such trips were Egypt, Iceland and Sri Lanka.

Egypt was marvellous. Even though I was there for three weeks I only cycled about 100 miles. The cycling was around Cairo, and also in the Sinai Desert. I don’t have a purist view about having to cycle every inch of the way, unless the trip is a classic end-to-end or particular challenge. So I don’t mind taking the bus or train occasionally. In the Sinai I had a dream travel moment. I was taking tea at an isolated tea house when two traditionally dressed Bedouin rode out of the desert on their camels. They flopped their camels down and came for tea. Not a word was spoken, just a nod of acknowledgement. It was marvellous to be there.

Iceland was a long standing dream. I flew from Glasgow to Reykjavik and made a three week tour of the magnificent island of ice and fire. The weather was ideal; I only encountered serious rain on the last day riding back to the airport. The natural wonders of Iceland are incredible. I wild camped for the whole trip and so kept down my expense. I crossed the central glacial desert of Iceland on a road called the Sprengisandur, carrying all the food I would need for six days. Some of my wild camps were truly idyllic after hard days on the gravel roads.

Sri Lanka in 2001 was one of my boldest trips. I wanted to follow the England cricket team on their tour to the country. So I ended up cycling 400 miles between the Test match venues of Galle, Kandy and Colombo. There were long rest days watching the matches. In Sri Lanka I paid £2.50 to attend five days of the Kandy Test match, the bargain of my life. I particularly remember cycling on a jungle road past a number of giant Monitor lizards basking in the hot sun. Another time I went to rest under a tree on some grass when in the corner off my eye I saw a snake slither away into the undergrowth. I had nearly sat on it. It was five feet long and green.

In 2008 I teamed up with an eccentric Canadian lady cyclist called Dawn. Dawn had designed a new bicycle route from the top of Spain at San Sebastian to a town called Tarifa on the coast near Gibraltar. We were going to navigate and mark the route. It was an end to end and so a purists trip. It was over a thousand miles of cycling over five weeks on the road. Dawn had an angular and grating personality and we didn’t get on very well. But for the first time, I saw how Dawn used publicity for her expedition. And it gave me ideas about my own trips. For the first time I started getting in the local paper. It is fun to get some recognition and to see your writing in print. In Madrid we were joined by an American fellow called Randy Castle. I got on with Randy much better; he was a little easier going and laid back. Randy was riding a small folding bike with his luggage contained in a suitcase trailer attached to the back of his bike. In Andalusia I nearly got a chance to achieve a personal ambition, when we arrived in a small town minutes too late to take part in a bull running festival.

The following year I took up a challenge called ‘Le Raid Pyrenean’. The ‘Raid’ is a cycle ride across the Pyrenees from the Atlantic coast to the Mediterranean Sea crossing 28 high mountain Cols. The challenge is made difficult by a time limit of ten days to cover the 790kms. I put in a brave effort but fell quite a bit short of meeting the challenge. I completed 19 Cols in 15 days. After the ‘Raid’ I took a night train to Paris and made a tour of the Somme and Verdun battlefield sites before making a rendezvous with my new friend and cycling buddy, Randy Castle. Most of my cycling has been done alone, so for me it is a novel experience to have a good travelling companion.

I am now approaching 25,000 miles on touring holidays alone, nearly a world circumnavigation, made up of 50 bicycle tours of a week or more in duration, in 30 countries, over the last 24years. My next and 51st trip would be called ‘In the Footsteps of T.E. Lawrence’ based on the germ of an idea to visit the sites in Syria and Jordan associated with a hero of mine, the legendary WW1 hero ‘Lawrence of Arabia’. I have contemplated this trip over a long period before finally deciding that a flight to Amman was the way in. More cycle tours to follow, it is my hope.


  1. Let me be the first to comment - well done on your blog it would be a far too complicated thing for me to do! Lucky you going to Iceland, that's one of our unfulfilled destinations. We did talk about going this year, then the volcano erupted!
    Hope all goes well in Scotland.
    Carol D.

  2. Congrats on the beginning of your new (Internet)adventure!

  3. Bon courage pour la suite et bon découvert du monde^^