Friday, 31 July 2015


What a difference a week makes.

My last blog ended with my arrival in Rawlins, Wyoming, having had a fun day crossing the state line from Colorado into Wyoming.

Pulling out of Rawlins I entered an area that can only be described as desert. Not the sand variety but just a featureless expanse covered in sage as far as the eye could see. The road dropped in elevation down a steep hill into the Great Divide Basin, roughly 200 square miles of nothing but baking heat.

The Great Divide is, as I described in my last blog, a fun phenomenon, where if you pour water on one side it will flow west, and just a few feet away on the other side of the divide it will flow east. But the Great Divide Basin is unique in that none of this happens. The water is trapped and simply evaporates.

This days ride ended at a location called Muddy Gap, which was in fact just a gas station in the middle of nowhere. Run by two enthusiastic guys they were very interested in where I was from and where I was going. Inside their gas station main building, thousands of through cyclists over the past 10 years have signed every available space on the ceiling and walls, so I added mine to the ceiling of course.

I camped the night here but didn't get much sleep. At sunset all the forecourt flood lights came on, and even brighter lights over the road junction, just 100 metres from my tent!

The next day though made up for it, as, after just 6 miles, I came across a historical landmark called Split Rock. The landscape is virtually flat smooth everywhere, with the occasional blob of rock. One of these large rock hills has a natural V split in it, and some liken it to a rifle sight. In the early 1800s, 500,000 people passed this point as they were pushing west, including 75,000 in 1848 in search of gold in California, who became known as the 49ers.

The pioneers were able to see Split Rock from miles away, and for miles after, so they knew they were on the right path. There goal at this point was another rock formation 18 miles west, that became known as Independence Rock. They had to make this point by the 4th of July if they were to make it safely west before the winter storms. Many didn't make it. Those that camped at the rock carved their names into it, and their carvings can still be seen today. A permanent record that they passed this way.

My next camp spot was Sweetwater Station at another road junction, which took me six hours to reach, even though it was only 40 miles, due to a 25mph head wind.

Wyoming may be desert-like, but boy, is it windy! Partly I guess because there are no trees.

The camp was in an historic site maintained by the Mormons on the edge of Sweetwater River. It's called the 6th crossing, and marks one out of nine points were pioneers had to cross the Sweetwater River. Thousands came through, traveling thousands of miles, but not on horseback or wagon (as pictured here). They were pulling handcarts. Pushing west was big business, and a handcart was more affordable than a horse and wagon. Astonishing to think of a family pulling a large wooden handcart all that distance. The majority of these people were Mormons fleeing persecution, and would eventually establish their new base in what is now known as Salt Lake City.

I was now at the edge of the desert areas, and the winds had finally subsided. I set off knowing I was less than 200 miles from Yellowstone. Within 10 miles the scenery immediately changed. I was entering more lush areas, and mountain ranges were starting to appear in the distance, a precursor to the mighty Grand Teton. Though it had been a hard, but fun ride so far, the less interesting and featureless landscapes were behind, and it felt like this was the first day of the Rocky Mountain adventure.

I started down a steep 6% gradient that went on for five miles. Thank goodness for disc brakes. Half way down I felt a hard bump through the handle bars, caused by a two or three inch crack in the road surface, which are everywhere, but usually they're small or have been filled. As I passed over it there was a judder in the handlebars. The third wheel trailer then hit it and bounced, causing the front end to oscillate violently. I slammed the brakes on to reduce my momentum some more, which only made the wobble worse.

I knew something bad was coming.

I seemed to be catapulted from the bike, bounced off the road several times, banging my head so hard there was a bright flash, and removed large areas of skin on my right side calf, hip, elbow, fingers and shoulder. I also rammed my right leg ball joint hard into its socket, bruising the joint and ligaments. Just to put the icing on the cake I fractured my wrist too (type of fracture in the blog title!).

I came to rest, badly winded, after I rolled down a small embankment at the side of the road. The bike and all the kit were scattered all over the road, and one bag had opened and spilled everywhere.

I was in the middle of nowhere. I sat, dazed, for a while, bleeding and shaking as the adrenalin kicked in. I was carrying an emergency satellite locator beacon, and I contemplated activating it as I lay there. There were no passing vehicles. Somehow though, probably because of the adrenalin, I managed to pick everything up, put it all back together, and even got on the bike. I was attempting to rescue myself basically.  I free-wheeled another two miles, with my right arm hanging at my side, when I came across two workmen at the side of the road. I almost crashed again as I got to them, exhausted, but one guy reacted instinctively and grabbed me. They didn't hesitate, and bundled everything in the back of their pick up and took me the 35 miles to Lander General Hospital.

I never got their names.

In ER they gave me happy drugs and literally scrubbed my wounds. The morphine wasn't much help. Then after multiple x-rays uncovered the fracture, my arm was put in a cast. I was distracted a bit by the attractive nurses and the comedy of the ER physician, who was a spitting image of John Goodman. At this stage, because of this tiny fracture, I knew the cycling was over. I was enormously disappointed. That said I owe an enormous debt of gratitude to my hospital medical team, who were all characters in their own right and endlessly cheered me up. I will miss them.

Five days on and I'm discharged, resting in a local hotel for 4 more days (I was transported by the Senior Bus!). My leg, and thus my mobility, is improving in leaps and bounds every day. I'll be an outpatient until next week getting my dressings changed but the cast will remain on for a few weeks yet.

Obviously plans have changed. The bike, which doesn't have a mark on it, is already on the way home. But I felt I needed to salvage something from my trip, not just an interesting story, so that I didn't go home having seen nothing of the most beautiful part of my route. So next week, with assistance, I will travel 160 miles to Jackson in the Tetons, and from there take a day trip to Yellowstone, thanks to the generosity of friends. So be sure to check the blog next week when I will be able to share that experience with you, which five days ago I never thought I would get the chance.

My helmet was compressed and split open from the crash, but that could have been my skull. So I end with a personal mantra: when you're on a bike, always wear a helmet.

More, higher quality, photos on Flickr (if you've seen the earlier pics please scroll down the Flickr page).

Thursday, 23 July 2015


I departed Golden, on the outskirts of Denver, early morning on Friday 17 July. My goal for the first day was a small town just 39 miles away called Empire.

But not before I hauled my 40lb load, me and the bike (which I've nicknamed Yogi by the way) up a relentlessly steep six miles to visit the grave of Buffalo Bill. Apparently, not long after he was interred in 1917, residents of Cody, a town he founded, planned to steal the body. So the townsfolk of Golden poured tons of concrete on top of him!

Down the other side of Lookout Mountain Road I hit a major problem. I was at a junction of Interstate 70 (i70) and I needed to get to a point two miles on. But bicycles are not allowed on the Interstate and there were no other roads. I stood for almost an hour scratching my three-day facial hair growth, pondering what on earth to do, when Bob, in his pickup truck, arrived. Unbelievably he was an engineer about to start construction on a bike path to fill the gap!  Four months too late for me he says, then puts all my gear and bike into the back of his truck and takes me the two miles!

This, in my experience, is what I love about the American people.

I didn't make it to Empire. The altitude of 8,000 feet was already taking it's toll, and it was near to 95 degrees and almost the same humidity. At Idaho Springs I threw in the towel and took a motel room.

The following day was short and I just finished the 13 miles to Empire. All the way there I was treated to the old and abandoned gold mine works, now long since closed down. However, I was constantly distracted by the chaos of heavy traffic, at times just two feet from me! At Empire I decided to stay put and acclimatise a little. I'm glad I did, as I met the local town character Rob Morris. What he didn't know about Empire wasn't worth knowing. He was once married to the grand daughter of one of the founders of Harley Davidson. I could have listened to his stories all day, especially about the local Hard Rock Cafe. This is the original, by name, and it was hotly contested when the chain started up. But Rob and Empire won the day.

An overcast, and actually cold, day greeted me for the ascent over Berthoud Pass, at 11,307 feet. With inclines as steep as 6% it took me four hours to haul everything up the 12 miles to the top. Once there I posed for a photo on the Continental Divide. If I poured water on one side of the sign it would flow to the Atlantic. On the other, the Pacific. Down the other side it was freezing as I whizzed along at between 25 and at times 35mph. I was actually shaking on the bike form the cold.

I scooted through the ski town of Winter Park, a purpose built town with no charm, and clocked a few more miles to stay in Grandby, a town that the Colorado River runs by on the edge of town. As I chatted to a local policeman about my journey he asked if there had been any "No Bicycles" sign at the problem i70 junction. There hadn't been. In that case then, he said, no one could have stopped you using the shoulder!

Another pass beckoned, Willow Creek, with it's approach through a stereo typical picturesque North American wooded valley. Arapahoe county. This pass  was only at 9,683 feet, but when the sun comes out and beats down it makes it just as difficult as the day before. Beyond the pass the temperature rose rapidly and I struggled onto Walden, running out of water before I got there. I rewarded myself that night with pizza. The local police had no problem letting me camp in the city park. They told me the sprinklers came on around 5am on the south side, so camp on the north. But that was not what happened. They came on at 5am alright, but both north and south! Nothing like a morning cold shower to get you going!

I had hoped yesterdays ride would be under 50 miles, but in the end I clocked up 68, again in searing heat, to camp at Saratoga. My intention had been to stop at Riverside, the 50 mile point, and have a day off to use wifi. Unfortunately, at the local diner, they said their wifi (the only one in town) was down, but it would probably be back in five days or so! Five days?! As I was chasing wifi to be able to post this blog I pushed on, so that today I could reach Rawlins, where I knew I would get reliable wifi, which I did, obviously. The most exciting part of yesterday though was crossing the state line out of Colorado and into Wyoming.

Long roads disappearing into the distance in a straight line from the Colorado/Wyoming state line, took me through a tree-less, yet amazing landscape of rolling plains, and eventually led me to Rawlins. Not before I had to endure 13 miles of craziness on Interstate 80 though! Phew! Sadly, on arrival, the police in Rawlins were unwillingly to let me use the city park, which is becoming the norm, and annoying, and a local campground, called KOA, said they were full. When I explained I just had a bicycle, not a super-massive RV, and a wee tent, they weren't interested in helping me. Eventually I stayed the night in a motel and tomorrow night in another, further away campground. It's all part of the adventure and daily challenges; sleep, get up, cycle, buy food, find somewhere to camp, repeat.

When I look at the photographs and recall the magnificent views on the plains, all the problems seem not to matter.

Overall every day is pretty tough. Occasionally the boredom of cycling solo is broken by meeting fellow touring cyclists going the other way, having as tough a time as you, and a fun exchange takes place of tips of the places each has yet to encounter. Always it starts with, where are you heading, where did you start from.

Every day always entails climbing of hills, and it regularly hits 85 degrees. Throw in an 18 to 24 mph head wind and 40 miles can feel like 80. But the bike, sorry, Yogi, is running well, and I'm acclimatised and getting stronger, slowly.

The next section takes me through areas of little services so I'll have extra weight on the bike in the way of additional food. 250 miles done, 280 miles to mighty Yellowstone National Park!

All the photos so far on Flickr.

Friday, 17 July 2015


So I am currently in a campground one mile above sea level in a suburb of a city nestled in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains USA.


From here, starting this Friday, it is my plan to cycle 1000 miles north out of Colorado, across Wyoming and through Yellowstone National park to Missoula in Montana, journeys end.

It has been a rough journey getting here, and a total of 22 hours from my home in Edinburgh to the motel in Denver. Most likely because of a combination of the pressure changes in the two aircraft I took, and sitting in a cramped seat for a total of nine hours flying, my foot that went through an operation in March, has swollen up big time. In comedy fashion I left the airport wearing only one shoe! Packing it in ice while munching some takeaway seems to have helped.

On arrival Denver was shrouded in jet black heavy skies and the skyscrapers of downtown were under attack for giant lightning bolts. The airport is 25 miles east so we had a fabulous view of the storm. The driver of the shuttle bus from the airport told us all that just a few hours ago in the afternoon there had been a small tornado developing out across the prairies to the east of the airport. Thankfully that was all gone by the time I arrived. Though here in Denver they say if you don't like the current weather wait 15 minutes and it'll change.

The campground is in a western suburb of Denver called Golden, and it couldn't be more different. Where Denver city was an urburn sprawl and choked with vehicles, Golden is a haven to outdoor sports. I always had it in my imagination that Denver would be wall to wall outdoor shops and people with strokey beards doing feats of derring-do. But that's Golden, not Denver. It was founded in the early 1800s as a mining time, principally as a goldrush town.

The bike store where I picked up my new bike from came out to last nights motel and picked me up. I was so grateful as I am lugging around one bag with 20kilos of kit in it and it's around 35 degrees (90F) and very high humidity. It tends to rain heavily around four o'clock and after that the humidity goes through the roof. Today I escaped into the air conditioning of Safeway!

So Golden is a real outdoorsey town and has tried to maintain it's Western style look with the front of the buildings. All around the town are bronze sculptures, some outdoor related bronze and others a homage to Golden's past when it was the capital city of Colorado in the early 1800s. It is still the proud home of Coors beer however.

The new bike is a Specialized Crosstrail Comp Disc and I love it. It is very light, until I put all the kit on it of course. I'm also pulling an Extra Wheel trailer which takes some of the weight off the bike. The bike store have been very helpful, and changed the front ring gear set for me to make it easier up steep hills. They also let me take over a corner of their store today for three hours to finish setting up the bike.

So, for the next five weeks this is what I'll be doing. I have to admit to be slightly apprehensive. It's going to be very hot and humid, I'll have high altitude passes to cross at over 11,000 feet, and hills every day, plus I'm not as fit and strong as I was four years ago when I crossed the USA with Pauline.

I hope you'll check in once a week and follow my progress, if only to see if I've collapsed from heat exhaustion . . . or been eaten by a Grizzly Bear!!

Thursday, 9 July 2015


180 is a number of some significance for me right now. It also has some relevance in general as well.

It's the number of degrees that a triangle adds up to.

It's the highest score in one round of darts.

And in biblical terms Isaac is said to have lived to 180.

However, for me it represents the almost biblical number of individual items that I have recently assembled and packed into just four panniers in readiness for a new cycle adventure.

Part of this set up has been the purchase of an all new bike by Specialized, called the Crosstrail Comp Disc. It is a hybrid-type bicycle fitted with hydraulic disc brakes and large 28" wheels, suitable for all manner of terrains, from hard paved roads to off-road trails. However, just recently I discovered that its gear ratios do not have very low gears, which are crucial if you're ascending steep terrain with 20kilos of kit strapped to the bike. Add to this the addition of a trailer in the form of the Extra Wheel (to take the largest panniers off the bike), pictured below, and we're talking needing a very wide range of gears.

Finally, after much research and mathematical calculations, the two-ring front gear set are being changed for a three-ring set up, thus giving me super low ratios for the steep hills. This now gives me 30 accessible gears with the additional small front ring. A granny ring, I think the bike store guy called it!

So with all the bike gear, camping kit, maps, filming equipment, the bicycle itself, the trailer and me, it all adds up to 127kilos.

So why? Where am I bound for? Clearly I'm shooting a film with all the camera gear on board. Well, suffice to say this new adventure will take me five weeks through some incredible landscapes and snow capped mountains. So be sure to check in next week when I'll reveal the plan as I set out on a 1000 mile pedal.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015


Breadalbane, "The High Ground of Scotland", is an area that spreads around Loch Tay and surrounding glens in the Atholl area of the Highlands of Scotland. Various routes have been devised and linked for walkers and cyclists, collectively known as the Rings of Breadalbane. It consists of a great many routes I have never experienced. Until now.

On a calm and warm sunny Saturday, something of a novelty this year in Scotland, Pauline and I set out for Kenmore, a small village on the eastern tip of Loch Tay, Scotland's sixth largest loch at 14 miles long.

Setting out from Kenmore we cycled into Glen Lyon, the next glen north of Loch Tay. I had never explored this area before, so this was a first. Within a few short miles we had arrived in a small settlement called Fortingall. On the outskirts of this collection of a few houses is a small church, and within its grounds is what is widely accepted as the oldest living thing in Britain. It was at one time thought to be the oldest living thing in Europe, if not the world, but recent modern expert examination has proven it to be younger. It is still very impressive.

As you would expect, at over 2,000 years old the Fortingall Yew is not the prettiest of trees. Age does not support beauty normally. But what is astonishing is not its beauty, but the very fact that this tree has been growing on this site since the Romans were in Britain! Leading up to the tree is a footpath of flagstones, with dates carved onto their surfaces. Placed at the time when it was thought the tree was 5,000 years old, the inscriptions lay claim to it growing in the stone age and being older than the pyramids of Egypt. I knew about the Fortingall Yew before coming to the area, so it was great to see it for the first time.

The road up Glen Lyon is an easy cycle along the 34 miles of this, the longest enclosed glen in Scotland. A lush Scottish valley, complete with a castle built in the 14th century.

Just five miles before the end of the glen is the Bridge of Balgie, where we stopped a while and enjoyed home made cakes and coffee, sharing our goodies with brave little Chaffinches and Robins. From here a narrow road turns south to take you back over to Loch Tay, past the visitor centre for the Ben Lawers mountain. But we were continuing on to the head of the glen where we would take a disused steep road up onto the saddle of the hills to camp for the night, away from the marauding midges. For the past few hours we had experienced a light head wind and squally showers, but during the night the wind and rain picked up, battering the tent into the early hours.

The morning of day two was less bright but with less showers of rain, and we had the previous days light head wind now at our backs. Once we were down from the hills on a fast road, albeit in poor state of repair, onto the valley floor, the weather brightened up. A quick six miles took us into the village of Killin, at the opposite end to Loch Tay from our starting point. Right in the centre of Killin are the Falls of Dochart, created by the river as it cascades over exposed rock on its way to Loch Tay.

After picking up provisions, and enjoying a morning coffee, we set off south west, along a fairly recently completed cycle path, through Glen Ogle and onto the next glen south of Loch Tay and its body of water, Loch Earn. There are two options here for getting to the eastern end of Loch Earn; either you take the busy north road, or take the single track, south road. The safer option is of course the south road, and once again I had never cycled this part of Scotland before. We picked a nice spot that overlooked the loch to stop for lunch before heading along the southern shore.

Just over four miles later we were in St Fillans at the Loch's eastern tip. In 2005 this little village hit the headlines. A new housing development was halted to avoid killing the fairies that lived on a rock on the proposed site! And yes, the campaigners won and the development was redesigned to preserve the rock!

From St Fillans to Comrie, about four miles further east, we had heard there was a cycle route, helping to avoid cycling the busy A85 Perth main road. It was well hidden but we did eventually find it. It is not signposted so you would never know it was there. Though short, it was a little gem, with the route making use of old wrought iron railway bridges. With this being yet another first it was a treat to "find" this little hidden route.

Our second night was in a small wood high above the village of Comrie. In order to reach the spot we had found we had to squeeze our bikes across a narrow footbridge, which had cleverly made use of the gap between three trees to support the span across a river.

Our final day first took us through the market town of Crieff, which was established in the early 1500s. After picking up more provisions we turned north, following a fun cycle path that cuts through the local golf course and neighbouring woods. From its end we turned north up the main road heading back over to the Loch Tay area and the town of Aberfeldy. Handily, for the cyclist in need, there is a convenient restroom in the middle of nowhere!

The road climbed continually and at just over nine miles we took a narrow road at Amulree heading north west up Glen Quaich, back to our starting point of Kenmore.

By now I was starting to feel exhausted, made all the more rubbish by being overtaken by a touring cyclist with a smaller bike and more luggage! Just as we set off up Glen Quaich we met Scottish cycling celebrity Mark Beaumont, out for a little pootle over to Loch Tay to meet a friend. So off he sped on his lightweight bike with little effort, as I engaged a low gear and groaned at the thought of yet another nine miles uphill.

But this is no ordinary uphill. About half way the road designers thought it would be immense fun to make the road rise almost vertically for over a mile! Getting up this hill without any kit would be hard enough, but with 12kilos of gear on the bike, plus a few extra kilos round my waist, this hill was hell.

So I got off and pushed!  All the way!

By the time I reached the top Pauline had searched and secured a lunch spot, and I collapsed in a heap with barely enough energy left to pull open my tin of tuna.

Of course, what goes up must come down. I had cycled this glen about 16 years ago, but in the opposite direction, so I knew what was coming. At the Kenmore end the road dropped equally as steep, but this time with added hair-pin bends just for fun! This meant constantly pulling on the brakes to avoid taking an even quicker route to journeys end.

Eventually I popped out at Kenmore again and the south shore of Loch Tay, where it had all begun three days earlier. To round off a great three days of cycling, in the last few yards a Red Squirrel ran across my path and scurried up a telegraph pole, watching me from the top, most likely alarmed at my groans of pain from my burning, spent muscles. I did wonder for a moment why the squirrel sign displayed a large exclamation mark. Maybe it was because there were gangs of marauding squirrels jumping passing cyclists from atop telegraph poles!?