UWC 50th Anniversary Begins

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A beautiful day for the UWC 50th Anniversary celebration and for the final ten kilometers of the journey across Canada and the length of Great Britain. I turn a corner a couple of kilometers from Atlantic College and see a row of bicycles along the side o the road.

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About a dozen students, two teachers and former Pearson long serving teacher, Marks McAvity, are there to ride with me to the College.

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I make it to the outer gate.

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And then all the Canadian students come out to greet me.

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I pedal through the archway to St Donat’s Castle and am met with a lot of cheers and get to chat with Her Majesty, Queen Noor, the President of UWC.

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And as I dipped my back tire in the Pacific ocean when I left Pearson College, I make my way to the shoreline and dip my front tire into the Atlantic.

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And one more lift of the Rivendell A. Homer Hilsen bicycle, which has served me so well for nearly 10,000 km.

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And a big thanks to all who supported me and cheered me on.

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Stats – for Wednesday 19 September 2012

Start: Cowbridge
Finish: St. Donat’s
Distance: 12 km
Time on Bike: 45 minutes
Distance for the entire Trip: 9,360 km

Penultimate Ride

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The sun is shining brightly on my penultimate day of the journey but really the last day of serious cycling. Getting up and over the Brecon Beacons proves to be beautiful, fun and challenging. The beacons are like a hand with the fingers pointing south and the highest part, the knuckles let’s say, in the north.

First I pass through the Welsh countryside.

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So I climb up and up the first knuckle not really knowing what to expect. When I reach the top, after many false summits, I can see it is a special place. Why? Because there is a film crew with all sorts of high tech gear setting up a series of cycling photo shoots with a professional cyclist for a bicycling magazine cover.

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The view from the top of the first Beacon is best seen on film.

And a few photographs too.

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The steepest climb of the entire trip came today going from the bottom of one beacon to the top of another.

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I have been heading for this town all week.

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Just about ten kilometers left for the ride in the morning.

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My bike and I settle in for one more night.

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Stats – for Tuesday 18 September 2012

Start: Talgarth
Finish: Cowbridge
Distance: 78 km
Time on Bike: 5 hours 10 min
Average Speed: 15.2 km/hr
Distance to Date: 9,348 km

Brecon Beacons beckon

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The first 30 km from Shrewsbury are a bit hellish as I get caught in what feels like morning rush hour on route A49 on my way to the Brecon Beacons National Park in Wales. Once I turn off the A49, I am back on country lanes all the way to Talgarth at the foothills of the mountains.

As I contemplate the final 100 km ahead of me, including getting up and over the Brecon Beacons, here are some images of today’s ride.

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Stats – for Monday 17 September 2012

Start: Shrewsbury
Finish: Talgarth
Distance: 98 km
Distance to Date: 9,270 km

Getting Close

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I leave Runcorn later than I would have preferred because their Sunday brunch was just too inviting. I ate so much that I needed a digestive rest before getting on the road.

It is a chilly day with a headwind mixed occasionally with drizzle. Starting today, I am not relying on any suggested end-to-end routes and, with the aid of Google maps, I plot my own course. Delightfully, the option to plan a route based on walking instead of driving, takes me on fairly remote roads and paths. I am especially careful because yesterday, after seven hours of cycling, I just missed going into flight when my front wheel caught the edge of one of those traffic calming islands that are intentionally placed in the middle of the road to slow down cars. I prefer roads with no curbing at all.

I am okay sharing with an occasional tractor.

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I make it to Shrewsbury just as it really begins to rain. And I notice a hotel with the name of the city in Canada where I began my continental crossing, Prince Rupert, and decide this is where I should stay. Upon sharing the story I get a deeply discounted rate.

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As I plan for the next two days, I have moments of disbelief that I am now less than 200 km from Atlantic College in Wales. Pretty excited too.

Stats – for Sunday 16 September 2012

Start: Runcorn
Finish: Shrewsbury
Distance: 85 km
Time on Bike: 4 hours 50 min
Average Speed: 17.6
Distance to Date: 9,172 km

‘Cross the Mersey

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Alan, like he did the day earlier, provides me a cycling escort, this time out of the city. He takes me past Lancaster University where he has a teaching post in music theory. I get to see a clever meeting room nestled in the forest, something that could fit in well at Pearson College.

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It is a beautiful Saturday morning for a bicycle ride. There are far more cyclist on the road through the Bowland Forest than cars. Most are MAMILs. Middle aged men in Lycra. Much has been written about them recently and with Bradley Wiggins having won the Tour de France this summer, he has spawned many more. Packs of them pass me as I head to the Trough of Bowland. The few cyclists I am able to have a conversation with, all clad, indeed, in black Lycra shorts and flamboyant tight jerseys of the same material, tell me that this stretch of road is the best cycling in all of Britain. It is a curious combination of some of the best landscapes I have pedaled through so far. Something additional in this one is seeing hunting parties with their dogs, tweed clothing and men wearing colour coordinated ties. I cannot imagine walking in the mud and muck of these moorlands wearing a collared shirt and tie. But then again, I am not sure why men wear ties anyway.

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Part of the landscape is like a lower altitude mixture of the Lake District and parts of Scotland.

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After the trough of Bowland the landscape flattens out and I pick my way through lots of little towns and villages to the bridge that takes me over the Mersey to Runcorn.

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Construction on the bridge has closed two lanes, and they allow cyclists on one of them. So I get to look up into the bridge structure from an unusual vantage point.

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Stats – for Saturday 15 September 2012

Start: Lancaster
Finish: Runcorn
Distance: 125 km
Time on Bike: 7 hours 20 min
Average Speed: 17.1 km/hr
Distance to Date: 9,087 km

Alumni Escort

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A treat of a day. I ride from Windermere for about 20 km where I am met by Pearson College Year 2 Alum, Alan Marsden. While there is rain all around me, the sun shines on the route and it is pretty much all downhill to the little village of Sampool Bridge and at the moment I reach the bridge, he reaches it too, after pedaling up to greet me from Lancaster, about 40 km away.

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Alan leads us through farmland on paths hardly used by cars. We stop halfway to Lancaster at a bird sanctuary for lunch.

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We then follow a towpath along a canal all the way to Lancaster. Lancaster is a dream city for cycling. The city was used as a test by the UK government to see how to transform it into a cyclist friendly place. The infrastructure and sign posting is excellent throughout the city.

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Something that has been rare for me, twice in 9,000 km, a flat tire, happens to Alan. But he is an experienced and prepared cyclist and quickly fixes it. He has cycled the UK from end to end.

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We conclude our ride earlier than my normal schedule so I use the time to give my bike and my clothes a good cleaning.

At dinner I learn that Alan was one of the three students who built a boat while at Pearson then set out to sail across the Pacific, which they did successfully. This is one of the big stories in the College’s history that captures the kind of personal challenge and adventure so tied in with the philosophy of Kurt Hahn.

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Inspiring stuff. By coincidence, he was sailing across the Pacific the same summer I was crossing Canada by bicycle for the first time in 1977.

Stats – for Friday 14 September 2012

Start: Windermere
Finish: Lancaster
Distance: 56 km
Distance to Date: 8,962 km

Estimates – the bike computer is kaputt still

Lake District Gales

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Over nearly 9,000 km, there have been many “est” days: hottest day, longest day, coldest day, farthest day, hardest day, hilliest day, loneliest day, flattest day, wettest day and so on. In my two weeks cycling the UK from end to end, I was not anticipating any more. Well, maybe the wettest day. But today was a surprise: the windiest day. I certainly have had lots of windy days but upon reaching the Lakes District National Park today, I could hardly pedal against the wind. It was blowing steady at 50 km per hour with gusts up to 80 km per hour or more. And right on my nose.

Here are some views as I approach the top of the pass from Carlisle to Keswick.

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I am totally exposed to the elements up here with no place for shelter. The driving wind with a bit of drizzle not only works it way into my bones but into the few electronic things I have on my bike. My bike computer stops working as well as my two bike lights. The wind must have blown moisture into the heart of theses things.

The best way to feel it is in video. Take your pick.

In this one you can hear the wind – like a jet engine.

Windblown like never before, I make it to the town of Keswick. Full of tourists but a good base for exploring the surrounding mountains.

I get a great route tip from a local bicycle shop on how to get from Keswick to Windermere staying off the main road. And I also get a few breaks in the clouds along the way.

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I come across a field of black sheep. I wonder, since the term black sheep is usually used figuratively, if there were a white sheep in this field would it be a black sheep?

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Come ride along with me in this final video of the day.

Stats – for Thursday 13 September 2012

Start: Carlisle
Finish: Windermere
Distance: 85 km
Distance to Date: 8,906 km

Estimates – bike computer ist kaputt

English Countryside

All across Canada, wherever I camped, I took a photo of my tent at each campsite. So I realize this morning there has been no UK equivalent since I ditched the tent when I left Canada. So here is the UK equivalent this morning.

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I usually pedal into a town or village around sunset and look for a bed and breakfast with a vacancies sign. This time of year this is working well.

I leave the village of Moffatt with the aim of reaching the edge of the Lake District by sunset.

Outside the village, I come across a sculpture on the side of the bike path. Not sure what it means.

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The morning is a mixture of sun and rain with a nice tailwind pushing me south.

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I like uncovered bales of hay better than black plastic dotting the landscape

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I take a little detour to the town of Lockerbie, well known for the spot where the plane debris landed in December 1988 after it was blown up by a terrorist. I remember the day well as my sister in law was flying from the UK to the USA at that time, fortunately on another plane. I end up spending a few hours in a sunny modern library in the town centre catching up on things that require lots of Internet research.

The remainder of the ride into Carlisle is rural countryside at its best. The trail follows paths not even shown on most maps and now that the sun is lower in the sky, it dips below the remaining rain clouds and shines brightly. These are the moments I dream about when I think of bike touring.

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You can get a better sense in this video of the ride through the fields and farms.

I am sad to leave Scotland behind as I cross the border into England.

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I like the graphics used to warn about crosswinds ahead.

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Carlisle castle greets me as I enter the city, located along Hadrian’s Wall, the farthest reach of the Roman Empire. For those interested in a great walk, there is a walking trail along the entire length of the wall, from the east to west coast.

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Stats – for Wednesday 12 September 2012

Start: Moffatt
Finish: Carlisle
Distance: 78 km
Time on Bike: 4 hours 3 min
Average Speed: 19.2 km/hr
Distance to Date: 8,821 km

Wind Farms

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A day that I understand is typical this time of year. Sunshine followed by rain followed by sunshine followed by rain. The beauty of today’s ride is that the gusty wind that accompanies each little rain squall is a tailwind pushing me sweetly and southerly.

I have a little trouble finding my way out of Glasgow but once I am well out of the city, I begin to pick up the National Cycle Network 75, which leads me to Moffatt, Scotland’s first town – at least that is what the sign says going into Moffatt.

By a curious coincidence, at the same time I am about halfway from the top of the UK to my final destination, Bridgend in Wales, I pass through the town of Halfway.

Here comes another rain cloud.

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The route today winds through wind farm country. These are impressive and hypnotic. Scotland is able to generate about one third of all its electricity needs through wind power and is striving for 100% by 2020. No more stinky coal in the air I hope.

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The views in the rolling hills south of Glasgow extend for miles.

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And even though traffic is light on these back roads, there is a dedicated path next to the road for cyclists. Sweet.

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More wind farms.

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Stats – for Tuesday 11 September 2012

Start: Glasgow
Finish: Moffatt
Distance: 98 km
Time on Bike: 5 hrs 26 min
Average Speed: 17.9 km/hr
Distance to Date: 8,742 km

Loch Lomond & Glasgow

A day full of little surprises. The first one is that the first twenty kilometers out of Crianlarich are all downhill to the shores of Loch Lomond. The A82 is narrow and full of blind curves and of course no shoulder. But the drivers, including big tour busses, coexist with me nicely. The second surprise is that about halfway along the western shore of the lake, a dedicated cycle path appears. This takes me to the end of the lake where I pick up the National Cycle Network 7 path along canals all the way to Glasgow. So more than half the day on bicycles only pathways. Nice and peaceful.

I can’t remember any other surprises although I think there were some. Oh, like how slippery cobblestones are in the rain.

The day in photos.

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Overlooking Loch Lomond in the morning.

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A quintessential cottage.

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My own little private passageway most of the day – or so it feels.

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Clear signage along the way.

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Modern sculpture along the trail.

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And Fiach OBroin-Molloy (PC Yr 26) who I was able to have coffee with, in his anorak ready for Glasgow rain.

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And the city all wet after the sun has set.

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Stats – for Monday 10 September 2012

Start: Crianlarich
Finish: Glasgow
Distance: 95 km
Time on Bike: 4 hours 23 min
Average Speed: 17.6 km/hr
Distance to Date: 8,645 km