Overcoming internal mountains

Not written the blog in a while, but I will get caught up! I’ve got loads to write, its just hard on the road on the iPhone, and when we are staying with other people and I could use the laptop, we like to make the most of the time with them. However, when I woke up this morning, all I could think about was writing. I have taken myself to sit on a rock bathed in morning sun overlooking the sun rising on the mountains. The sun is the only thing I’ve been bathed in for a while, but I am happy. Cycle touring is certainly not all idyllic mountain passes and waking up in quiet beauty spots, it’s often navigating busy roads, road works, and sleeping in laybys. However, through all of it, I am grateful and happy. This post is going to be a personal one.

When I was younger, my parents split up. The details are unnecessary, but I know as a family we all agree that the separation and subsequent aftermath were handled in a less than ideal manner. The result for my six year old self was growing up in an environment that did not fill with me trust in the world, and especially not confidence in myself. I had my brains, and I threw myself into academic work, becoming a perfectionist with little time for anything other than homework. I had no hobbies and I absolutely hated sport and exercise. So I thought.

My school reports stated that I didn’t attend P.E lessons, and I would have told you that the only sport I enjoyed was avoiding sport. The truth, as it always is, was a little more complicated. First, I had no confidence, and I couldn’t enjoy sport because the school cultivated an environment where sport was about competition and enormous praise was heaped on those getting into the teams, as well as criticism for those not performing well. Furthermore, I believed I was not very good at sport, and this caused mayhem with my perfectionism. Perfectionism is damaging as it prohibits your capacity to enjoy anything that you don’t naturally excel at. Which is, for most people, most things to be enjoyed in life. I wrote sport off as something I wasn’t good at, and honestly, I have yet to find out if I am good at team sports because I never tried to be. Over the past few years I’ve reflected a lot and realised that the version I have always narrated to people is “I’m not good at team sports”. However, the truth is, I just don’t know as I never had the confidence to make mistakes, learn and grow, and sabotaged all my encounters by not trying at all, thus protecting myself from failure by failing.

I remember being sat on the edge of Lake Ullswater on a family holiday watching my family on kayaks having fun. I had declined the opportunity to kayak because I said I hated sport. In reality, I was desperate to try and paddle on the amazing lake. However, the terror of not being able to kayak outweighed the desire to try it. Unfortunately not trying begets more self doubt as I didn’t allow myself to have any experiences to challenge the narrative of my being useless.

The third reason I didn’t enjoy sport was the clothes they made you wear; tiny shorts and skirts. Maybe OK for primary school children but for some teenage girls going through puberty, it was a nightmare. My perfectionism had already noticed my body didn’t look like the other girls, and especially not the ones people said were attractive, or so I thought. My thighs rubbed together, I had fat. I hated my curvaceous and naturally muscular legs. And above all else, I hated these tiny shorts I was expected to fit into to play sport. So I didn’t play sport.

There was a time where I would have wanted to give every detail about what happened next. But I am over it. In a nutshell, in my late teens I developed an eating disorder which lasted until my late twenties. It was a product of my lack of confidence, my perfectionism and my inability to emotionally mature or express emotions in a healthy way. I survived; it wasn’t easy. But I’m here now. And that’s all that matters.

Something happened during my twenties in that difficult time that set me off on this path that I am on now. The path of overcoming perfectionism and falling in love with all aspects of life, especially those that I’d written off because “I wasn’t good at them”. I discovered exercise. At first, it was incredibly unhealthy for me as I was unwell and used exercise primarily as a way to control my body size and shape. However, my love of the outdoors, moving the body and appreciating what my body can do rather than focusing on what it looks like, has helped me heal.

I remember the first time I went for a run, ironically the perfectionist eating disorder “lose weight” side winning over the “I can’t do it” side, I was amazed that I could run. Within a few months I was entering half marathons. Here was something I had told myself all my life that I hated, and I had been wrong! Yes, I wasn’t the fastest and that was OK.

Then, I discovered hiking, climbing and mountain biking. Climbing was a tough one was it involved learning complex rope work, and I had already written off in my mind that I was good at practical things. Climbing helped me challenge my internal narrative that I couldn’t tie knots, or learn practical tasks. It was really difficult because I had this story in my head that I was the last person in my class to tie my shoelaces and I couldn’t do things like ropework. In reality, I forgot to focus on the part of the story that mattered. I learned to tie my shoelaces. It took a bit longer than other people, and that was Ok. That was allowed.

Mountain-biking and hiking, and eventually cycle touring, made me feel like finally I had found the meaning behind life. Ruth that hated sport was now spending every weekend and most evenings being active. I felt energised in the mountains and surrounded only by nature and the company of people I loved and trusted, the voices of perfectionism and eating disorder altogether disappeared. Until I stopped the activity.

Yoga was an important milestone for me. I had always wanted to try yoga, but was terrified of attending a class and getting the poses wrong, or being too inflexible to even try. When I walked into my first yoga class, I had to fight memories of step aerobics at school where I was the only one unable to follow the teachers instructions. And yes, even now, after years of yoga, I struggle with copying poses off the teacher. However, now I have the confidence to be OK with that. And I tell myself, you will get there in the end. I am even able to laugh at myself, and my teachers learn how to show me poses in a way that works for me. After I learn the pose, I can do it just as well as anyone else.

Honestly, I will never know whether I really did have a problem with coordination and left and right as a child, or whether I just told myself I did and never tried to overcome it. I’m trying to overcome it now as an adult! You don’t have to tell yourself the same stories your whole life. Change is possible.

After overcoming the eating disorder, and continuing to work on the perfectionism, I was left with one further problem that needed to be overcome. I had damaged my stomach and oesophagus and needed surgery to repair it. This surgery left me unable to do any sport, running or cycling for 6 weeks and 6 months for any climbing or carrying a back pack. In reality it was nearly a year and lots of hic ups in recovery before I felt strong enough to engage in physical activity again. There were times in that year I felt I would never get there. I thought maybe I would never be able to carry a heavy back pack up a mountain, or cycle a loaded touring bike. Maybe I would never be able to run a half marathon or climb on rock face. It was an uncertain time, waiting to see if my surgery was strong enough for the activities I wanted to do. I made peace with my situation, and worked hard to suppress negative feelings about the chain of events that led to me having the damaged stomach in the first place.

As this blog shows you, I got there. I ran a half marathon in December. In March-April I carried my own rucksack over the worlds highest navigable pass and walked for 40 days. And I am cycle touring with the heaviest bike I have ever ridden, up the biggest mountains I have ridden!

The reason for this mini life history, and I feel a little ashamed at the self indulgence and self disclosure, was because I wanted to explain my emotions over the past few weeks cycling in the Alps. A week ago we cycled over Col de Forclaz (1517m), something I did on my own as a 23 year old. It was a huge turning point for me back then as my first moment of solo travel. I realised that despite the self critical narrative I had been beating myself with my whole life, I could read maps! I could cycle up a massive hill! It didn’t matter what I thought of my legs, they were incredible power houses to get me up hills! I was capable and strong!

Returning to Forclaz 10 years later, I was amazed by my body all over again. And, unlike 23 year old Ruth, I felt the enormous weight off myself because that critical voice is so much quieter than it used to be. I don’t live with the eating disorder to the same extent, I can manage the perfectionism, I can be happy. Happy was not always something I thought I could be.

Yesterday we cycled over Mont Cenis Pass, 2087m, and as I cameover the hill after an epic four hour struggle, greeted by amazing mountain lake scenery and people cheering and saying congratulations, I felt truly like I have survived. I’m really ready to leave behind the years of self torment and their memories. I’m opening myself to all new experiences, challenging myself to try new things, or things I’ve previously written off as ‘I can’t do that’.

I feel utterly privileged and grateful for my good mental and physical health, and all the luck in the world that has allowed me to be born into a life to have these experiences when so many other people cannot.

People are amazing!

It. Is. Sweltering. We’ve been cycling through through the French heat wave and have paid the price. Man down, man down! Liam is experiencing heat exhaustion, we think. On reflection, there is no wonder. With regular highs of 42 degrees Celsius, and it not getting cooler than 21-25 on a night, cycle touring through the heatwave has been an inhospitable environment. However, we’ve still managed to have a lot of fun along the way.

The rain.

We departed from our rest spot 11 days ago and had two days of rain and storms. In our little green nylon fortress, we could hear the rumbling of thunder for an hour before the lightening struck overhead. Then the rain arrived, wailing, merciless, startling rain, nearly collapsing our tent onto us. It felt like we were in the eye of a hurricane! And then, as fast as it arrived, it passed. Just enough water to guarantee that our tent was soaking for when we had to pack it away in the morning!

The following evening, we once more had rain. This time we had constructed a bivvy spot next to a large bush in some wildlife reserve land next to a major road into Montpellier. The campsites were too expensive to stay in and we decided to brave the elements and trust our gear. As the sun set, I flicked ticks off my camping mat, batted mosquitos away, crawled under a nylon ground sheet tarp, into my hot sticky bivvy bag, and cried. I was doing exactly what I wanted to do, but it was so hard. As it goes, I slept extremely well, and our system worked perfectly because we both woke up dry despite the rain all night. Of course, all of our gear was damp from the condensation! For added amusement, the busy road had turned into stand still traffic in morning rush hour, and commuters looked at us in bemusement and bewilderment as we stood on the scrubland brushing our teeth as the traffic crawled slowly by. I felt like I was an animal in the zoo!

Finally, the last night of rain… we splashed out on a campsite because we were depleted by being splashed on. The rain spat down on us all night in our tent, and the mosquitos circled menacingly. We, and most of our posessions, were damp. However, the sun was on its way! We rejoiced.

The heatwave.

Oh, just how much we would miss the feeling of cold air on our face, we did not quite appreciate. A new kind of dampness was in the post. A heatwave bringing 40 degree heat to most of France hit us in the face, and soon we would be battling with stifling, relentless heat. A blanket of exhausting warmth that did not fade even with the evening sun. Being constantly covered in a layer of salty sweat, turning us into desperate shade seekers, with a mortal fear of running out of water.

Our tent, definitely dry now, became uninhabitable. We abandoned it in favour of stringing a mosquito net underneath trees and sleeping outside looking at the stars, with no need even for a sleeping bag.

Litres of water, teaspoon after teaspoon of salt, we struggled on. Getting up early to cycle until 1pm because by 4pm, you could not cycle. By the late afternoon, the heat became totally unmanageable and fatigued.

We struggled on, I had more tears sheltering under a walnut tree at lunch time. The heatwave warning said a danger to human life. How could we carry on? Oh, but we did. Maybe a little foolishly, we bashed out 80km days, 1000m altitude climb days, long days, hard days… and we were only 150km away from our target when Liam became unwell from suspected heat exhaustion. Which brings me to my overwhelming memory of the past 11 days.

The kindness of fellow humans

It started with a stranger giving us a bottle of fresh mineral water along the Meditteranean Sea near Sete. It continued with two couples making us a coffee at a campsite in Saint Gilles, seeing us struggling with our stove in the rain. A Danish couple also gave us chocolate! Chats about the Lake District with an English couple replenished our spirits. Playing with some Spanish Children in the town square. And then, there was the free glass of wine the Wine Bar owner bestowed upon us, after seeing the Gendarmarie move us on from sitting on the steps of the Church in the town centre. So many cheers from French people and road cyclists – ’Bonne Voyage!’ ‘Bonne Route’ and my favourite – ‘Bonne Courage!’. So many offers of help with directions, or just general cheerful and heart warming interest in our adventure. We’ve been powered by human kindness.

The kindness overflowed when we stayed with three Warmshowers hosts in Valence, Chateauneuf-sur-Isere and Voreppe. Warmshowers is a network of cycle tourers who host other cycle tourers – and we were lucky enough to meet three amazing sets of people. In Valence, we met a woman who regularly cycles 200km days and is entering a 1200km race! She let us pitch our tent in her garden, fed us, washed our clothes and we swam in her swimming pool! Our next host fed us raspberries from the garden, and we listened to the Lord of the Rings soundtrack from our comfy bed. Our last host let us stay very last minute and arranged it from London… and also washed our clothes! We had such an amazing time with each host, learnt a lot about French culture, had really interesting conversations, incredible food, lots of laughs, and shared stories of travel and cycle touring. These hosts saved us from the heat! We realise now, just two days of camping in the heat and Liam fell ill. Those nights of shelter allowed us to keep going.

On the last day of cycling, a French woman flagged us down to offer to fill our water bottles. And then, when Liam got sick, an amazing woman accepted our Couchsurfing request. I cannot imagine how she felt when she received a message saying ‘my partner has vomitting and diarrhoea, can we stay with you?’… but she accepted and even came to pick Liam and his bike up from our campsite. She also took most of my things, and I just had to cycle a light bike 10km to reach shelter. We’ve been resting in her home today and she said we can stay as long as we need for Liam to get better. Even though she has family staying from England right now, our ex-pat Mancunian hero Angie, offered us a place in her home. People, are just amazing.

That brings me to the next bit of amazing. Our Workaway hosts that we’ve been racing to get to, have been so understanding of Liam’s sickness. They said as long as we can make it to Geneva (40km away), they can pick us and the bikes up. I am just blown away!

The cycling…

When I think of everything we have achieved over the past 11 days, it makes my eyebrows raise a little. We’ve cycled nearly 1300km now, and the last 7 days have been particularly amazing. Up impeccable cycle tracks, along beautiful rivers, past castles, Chateaux, Nuclear power stations, wetlands, parklands, sunflower fields, apricot trees, vineyards, apple trees, cherry trees, walnut trees, beaches, historical market towns, churches and through forests. We’ve swam in rivers and picnicked anywhere with shade. We’ve mostly been on the Via Rhona, the track along the Rhone River to Switzerland. However, we’ve taken a few detours to make the route quicker.

The route is getting hillier and hillier, and we’ve had to push up a few of the hills due to the gradient! This is no easy feat – my legs are much stronger than my arms! Most of the hills we’ve managed though, in low gears, grinding on, with regular gasp breaks.

The treats!

We’ve also gotten a little better at treating ourselves. We realised that our adventure had become a Cycle Tour of Suffering! So, we’ve managed to relax our budget a little, and stay in a few more campsites and have a few more bottles of wine. A particular favourite during the heatwave was buying a 2 Euro for 4 box of magnums and eating two each! We also love having strawberries and cream. We’ve absolutely needed to treat ourselves a bit in this weather!

What next?

So, we are due to start with our Workaway Host on the 2 July. However, we have to see how Liam recovers. We are a bit gutted not to finish our cycle adventure into Ogens – visions of triumphantly cycling over the Swiss border and arriving at our workaway host on bikes, have been shattered. However, problems are all part of the adventure. We remain upbeat, and feel blessed to be staying with the lovely Couchsurf host. We turned the disaster into part of the adventure. We will wait until Liam is well enough, then get a train to Geneva and be collected by our Workaway hosts, or get a train directly to them.

The verdict? What a bloody adventure we’ve had!! Cannot wait for the next few weeks… looking forward to being indoors and our Workaway Opportunity, but we will miss our bikes! So far our adventure has been everything we wanted it to be. The warmshowers, couchsurf and workaway experiences are making it for us a very exciting cultural cycle tour experience of human kindness, learning and exchange.

Reflections on cycle tour life after two weeks


It is amazing how quickly somewhere can feel like home. It depends how you define home. For some people, it means bricks and mortar, belongings, memories, and a period of elapsed time. To others, it is a geographical location, sense of community, history or belonging. Home is not a noun, it is a feeling. As I walked down the Canal du Midi tow path this evening, back to a wild camp spot we first stayed in 9 days ago with my Dad, I felt like I was walking home. Home, now, apparently, is a clearing in a wooded area on a tow path where the French people tolerate wild camping. There is even a bin, and the refuse collection people politely asked me if my solar charger lying in the woods was rubbish or should they leave it. Other people camp here too, and it feels safe and comfortable. There are trees for shade; birds, snakes and rabbits for company.

The green nylon shell of our tent, also feels like home to me. It doesn’t matter where it is pitched, it looks the same inside. The comforting ritual of threading the poles through the outer sheet, watching home bounce alive as you peg out the material. Perfecting the finish tightening the guys. Attaching the bedroom, the groundsheet goes down, and then finally the unfurling of the roll matts and sleeping bags. I have created home and can create it anywhere I can pitch a tent.

Conversely, I don’t feel at home when I bivvy (sleep outside in a waterproof bag) in a wooded clearing next to a main road. The random odd cars whizzing by at 3am startle me awake. And worse, the shrill cries of an unknown animal punctuate the dark night with fear. My dreams are full of terror, and being awake is worse. In the morning youtube confirms my fears, wild boar were nearby! And I also discover the Pyrenees has bear and wolves! Sleeping outside in the Pyrenees does not feel like home!

And then there was the bivvy in a bush next to a road, very close to a cow field and a hunting dog kennels and miscellaneous industrial aqua feature. When you weren’t being woken up by the hungry cries of dogs with a scent, the sound of machines pumping water was always there to keep you company.

There is always of course, the perfect bivvy. In the middle of a gigantic coastal wetland, tucked away on the edge of a canal and along a bank of inland coastal lake. Perfect sunset and sunrise, 360 panoramic views and only the odd friendly cyclist or runner to wave hello to. No boar, cars, dogs or aquatic industry. We won’t talk about the mosquito problem, I don’t want to ruin the illusion!

The cycling

We’ve now cycled 400miles on our fully loaded touring bikes, and are currently having a rest day at the end of our great circuit! Unintentionally, we have ended up cycling in a great big loop from Sete in the South of France, up the Canal Du Midi, into the Pyrenees and Ariege, back down to the Meditteranean sea and back into to the Canal du Midi! Hence, we are staying at a wild camp spot we first slept in 9 days ago. From tomorrow we begin the great trek to Switzerland!

Our longest day so far has been 80km, but most of our days are between 40km-60km. We’ve surprised ourselves with how many miles we can cover when we push it, but also learnt the speed limiting power of hills and general progress halting demoralising misery of the headwind. The first hill we approached in the Pyrenees we both charged full of hope and self belief… only to fall off side ways, the gradient pissing on our bonfire, and we end up pushing. Fortunately, we got better, 2000m of climbing later! Hills go, and downhills are glorious. Despite it all, the wild, the hills, the rain, the sun, the gradient, the ache in your legs, the body objecting to the latent suffering… you just have to keep pedalling. Just like anything in life, if you keep pedalling, you get there, in the end.

The weather

We both thought the South of France would mean sunshine and more sunshine. Oh how wrong we were. Eight days into our cycling, we’d had more cloud than sun, and a series of wet nights had propelled us into misery. Everything. Was. Wet. I had a feeling of being cold that I could not shake. 9am, and I was wearing five coats including a Down Jacket. I looked longingly into the windows of cottages and houses, wondering what warmth felt like. Whats worse is that I knew I had done this to myself. I only had myself to blame for the suffering. I could easily just pay for a warm bed. But, I won’t, because that is not what this adventure is about. So, I pull on more layers and frantically check weather apps and skies for signs of change.

And change it does. Suddenly its 33 degrees Celsius and its burning hot, the tarmac is melting on the roads and there is no shade. Just miles of straight road stretching out like an optical illusion. The heat wraps you in a cocoon of fatigue, your body is screaming for rest and shade. But, you just have to keep pedalling.

The people

We were very lucky to stay with some of Liam’s friends he met through Helpx a few years ago, John and Debs and their lovely children. Even though we had to cycle up a gigantic hill to get there, their home provided laughs, familiarity, amazing food and company. Oh, and a washing machine, shower, and a cosy tent already erected in the garden! We stayed with them half way through our circular cycle and will try to return on our way home.

We’ve also met various characters who stop and ask us what we are doing. One lady in particular, approached us when we were sat on the edge of a hot road after a hard day, when we were asking ourselves just that question. What are we doing?! “I used to love travelling!!” Sparkled Janine. “I went to South America on my own back in the 70s!”. And suddenly, her smile and infectious enthusiasm remind us again of how lucky we are. The hot road will end. This is what we signed up for.

The Lay-by.

My final reflection is of our trusty comrade the lay-by. It provides us sanctuary and shelter from cars, rain, and road, at all times. In the lay by we can make tea, have chats, cook meals, dry tents, dry pants and fix bikes. All hail the lay by.

Post Script: the resting.

This is something Liam and I are both guilty of forgetting to do when we get mission orientated. The other day, we admitted to each other that we need to do some of it, and not embark on a cycle tour of suffering. So today we chilled all day, at home, slacklining, cooking, reading, drawing, talking, napping and drinking lemon tea. We concluded that cycle touring, especially on a budget, is really really hard. But. We love it. So, here is to the next part of our emotional rollercoaster cycle tour adventure.

Cycling the Canal Du Midi

Writing this blog entry from our tent fortress in Toulouse! We have been resting at a campsite and sheltering from the rain; living in a tiny flat in Hull has prepared us well for managing in this confined space. We finished the Canal du Midi cycle route from Sete to Toulouse, the first leg of our travel by bike adventure… this blog entry will try to relay some of our experiences, so many come to mind that it will fail to do the excitement and intensity any justice! We were also joined by my amazing Dad for the first three days of cycling, and Liam and I did the last two on our own.

We chose the route of the Canal du Midi as it made logistical sense having attended a festival near to Sete, the route being flat for ease, and with good train links so my Dad could join us for a section. Wanting it to work out, I did kind of ignore a lot of the warnings online that the route was very badly maintained and difficult/impossible to ride in places. My usual experience dictates that when people whine about routes being hard, it is never as bad as they make out. I did some more research, and there was even a Cicerone Official guidebook. How bad could it be? We decided to give it a go.

Well, I was wrong. The people online were completely correct with their assessment- the track was very difficult to ride for the most part! Liam and I set off on our fully loaded touring bikes with road tyres, and were greeted with easy to medium rated mountain bike routes, including slithers of single track with dicy drop offs into a canal, tree routes, gravel, sand, subsidence where parts of the canal were missing, huge grasses providing resistance to the panniers, no paving on most of the track causing rattles and jerks. Having no suspension and little control over our tanks of bikes, this made things, well, very challenging! My Dad had his mountain bike with proper tyres and suspension and less load, so he fared a little better!

Our bikes, arms, legs and tempers were put through their paces as we experienced a good beating and rattling as we made our way on the route. Liam’s front rack and mud guard broke, his bike stand broke, everything got shaken loose, all the nuts and bolts needed tightening.

All that being said, we had an absolutely fantastic time! We found great humour when faced with these adversities. We saw the positives of the experiences as we were able to really test our bikes and my amazing mechanic Dad helped us fix the issues. We will be facing unpaved roads and tracks in many countries we intend to visit… so it provided a great opportunity to see what would happen!

The route itself, was really beautiful and I would highly recommended it for bikepacking on a mountain bike. We travelled through beautiful rural French villages and towns along the waterways, spotting heron and water birds, cycled along the meditterean sea and had a swim, bought local cheese, cherries and strawberries, had coffees in lovely local cafes, explored French towns, saw lots of fascinating locks and shared greetings with holidaymakers on canal boats. The sun mostly shone down, and was glorious. The grasses were long, the smells of spring and summer floating in the air, and the enormous plane trees planted along the banks were glorious and provided some shade.

We worked really well as a team, and had some amazing wild camp spots. The best one, my Dad found, was underneath an aqueduct which supported the Canal! So, not only did we ride along the canal but we slept under it. We found it after the only evening it rained, we were cold and wet, and in need of shelter. The universe provided! In the morning we had a much needed wash by swimming in the river with the fish. Then shared our breakfast with the ants whilst drying out in the sun.

Another fun bivvy was after Liam and I’s first solo day… we had put in some hard miles and could not find anywhere to bed down. We cycled and cycled until we had nothing left in our legs, and the light faded, so we were forced to just put up camp on the side of the track in full view of anyone passing. However, we counted on no one passing that far our in the rural area whilst it was dark! We eventually managed to get to sleep about 11pm after Liam cooked up a feast! Then, about 1am, I was startled awake by 4 bright lights in my face. A group of four night cyclists whizzed by at high speed, and shouted Bonne Nuit!

We had a lovely time in Carcassonne exploring the medieval city, where a nice French cycle tourer helped my Dad fix Liam’s bike. My dad didn’t ask for help, but Bernard was extremely excited by the technical challenge and jumped up when he saw my Dad working on the bike. I was very amused watching them work together with limited shared language – but they functioned in harmony. Bernard offered us some comments on our gear, not all good! Ha ha!

Finally we arrived in Toulouse after a day of cycling on amazing paved track. It was hot, and it took us a while to find the campsite. We learned we do not like cycling in cities even when they have amazing cycle paths. We have enjoyed the city, its beautiful rivers and architecture. However, we also enjoyed the comforts it offers… namely Starbucks…. Where we passed an afternoon charging our electronics and learning how to use the Garmin, which will help us navigate.

Liam and I are sometimes a bit haphazard, and owned this amazing piece of kit with no idea how to use it or even what it does. We were absolutely amazed by it, and now have downloaded our onward routes for the next few weeks. Fingers crossed it makes navigation a bit easier. Stay tuned for updates.

Toulouse also provided us with an opportunity to catch up with some of Liam’s friends he made whilst couchsurfing in 2016. We went out expecting to be home (tent) by 11pm and away cycling by 7am. How foolish of us. So here we are, nursing hangovers safely back in the tent at 10pm the next day. We’ve spent the day resting and sheltering from the rain because it has not stopped raining really for two days. Unexpected in the South of France!! So, it kind of worked out. We also learnt some more lessons about not riding bikes whilst drunk, not navigating whilst drunk, and not planning epic cycles the day after going out for a beer!

We are making slow progress as we try and get fitter on the bikes and adjust to sleeping wild, cooking every meal outdoors, and living cheap. I have to say, we are in our element. I love sleeping outside, being on the move, shopping for cheap food, having so few possessions and living simply. All you worry about each day is where to sleep, what to eat, and where to go. Every day is full of new experiences and rich with learning, struggle, joy and suffering in equal measure. A coffee in Starbucks or a warm shower is like the ultimate luxury! You appreciate everything that you have. Emotions are felt with intensity. I love this life!

So… tomorrow we move on. We are aiming to cycle to Switzerland via Foix, Perpignan, Montpelier and Eurovelo route 17 in the next three weeks. It is about 1000km and lots of ascent! So, we will have to see how that goes. Honestly, we have no idea how we will fare. Our bikes are very very heavy and we have a lot of muscle to build! Whilst googling stupid things like can you cycle 1000km in 3 weeks, all I found were posts on forums of people asking if they could do it in 2 days. So… we will give it a punt. To be continued.

Just wanted to give a massive shoutout to my amazing Dad, who we miss as our third musketeer! Despite being more than both our ages combined he was faster than us, had more energy, more skills and more positivity! He really is an inspiring individual! Thanks so much for coming and all of the laughs we shared. Thanks for fixing our bikes, buying us cherries and coffees, keeping us motivated and cheerful. Thanks for doing the washing up and letting us rest after we were too exhausted to move and you were full of beans 😂

And we are off! Again!

I’ve relapsed into non writing of the blog due to being super busy having adventures. Nepal lent itself well to blogging due to short days and free WiFi everywhere… but France is not the same! Long long days, so much to do, and camp life, have meant little time! I will try to get back into good habits from now on! For now, a summary of what we’ve done.

1.) We drove from Hull to Nimes, via Dover, Saint Quentin and Foret Du Morvan.

Highlights: walking to Mount Beuvray and the beautiful forest areas in Foret Du Morvan, getting lost and adding 10km to our 8.4km walk, getting pain au chocolates delivered to our tent, Camembert, drinking 3 litres of red wine, sleeping in a tent again.

Lowlights: getting 2 hours sleep for 36 hours driving to Saint Quentin, Liam having to do a six lane motorway merge at 4am after no sleep on the “wrong side of the road”, driving generally, realising the pound is now crap against the Euro.

2.) My Dad joined us in Nimes for Air B&B life and we went to This is Not A Love Song Festival.

Highlights: the amazing air b&b, seeing Big Thief and Fontaine’s DC live, awesome times in the festival- including my Dad in a mosh pit, food and walks with my Dad and Liam and creating guerrilla Spiker Art in Nimes Art gallery.

Lowlights- I got bitten by a mosquito? None to name!

3.) Drive to Sète and start the cycle tour!!

It’s currently Day 1 of our cycle tour, and we are cycling the Canal Du Midi… so will do a blog entry about our experiences when it is done. So far, so good!

Last two weeks in Nepal!

Our last two weeks have flown by, and I am writing this in the air on flight number one to Oman. The next blog entry shall tell tales of our time in Pokhara, a yoga retreat, and then, similar to my fate in Portugal last year – the Great Malaise- I got ill for the last 5 days of our trip!

Back in Civilisation- Pokhara.

After the Annapurna Circuit we spent two nights in Pokhara, a large city located on a picturesque lake with a beautiful bustling and colourful tourist area. Pokhara, busier with tourists than Kathmandu, is the hub for most of the trekking industry and the majority of people stay here before and after their treks. It therefore has lots of amenities to please the tourists, and is awash with hostels, swanky (by Nepal standards) hotels and spa resorts. There are loads of eateries and coffee shops, some restaurants even do pretty spot on Western food and there is a KFC and a Baskin and Robbins! There are also quite a few bars. In this Westernised bubble, many tourists don’t bother to respect the local Nepali cultural customs of modest clothes, and lots of bum cheeks are falling out of short shorts, or biceps peeping out of vests.

After 40 days of the same menus (fried bread, fried rice, fried potato or fried omelette, with fried cabbage, fried onion or fried carrot), we got stuck in immediately to eating different food! Well, not immediately. As usual in Nepal, nothing quite goes to plan. The hotel we had booked had been overbooked… so we had to be moved to a different hotel… as usual in Nepal, no apology is really made for these mishaps, the proprietor just smiles your questioning face into oblivion with his magical spell of “no problem!”. It was a problem, as the hotel we were moved to was not as good as the one we booked, but we still had to pay the price of the original hotel…. ah well. We were so tired, it mattered little. On the plus, we were reunited with our bag (yay!) and spoiled ourselves by wearing some different clothes! Also, we were moved to the hotel we had actually booked the following day, and got to enjoy the luxury! The manager had at least given us the best room to compensate for the night before, and we had a beautiful balcony and amazing views.

We passed two happy days in Pokhara, drinking wine and cocktails, and browsing the many shops selling souvenirs and clothes, and replaced some of our tatty clothes. We also bought some clothes for yoga, as we had decided to go to a retreat for a week!

On the third day we moved to Begnas Tal Yoga retreat, and I took with me about 40 mosquito bites on my feet, acquired from the carefree cocktail devouring session wearing flip flops by the lake. Thank god I didn’t have to wear my walking boots again, as I am slightly allergic and the bites were hot, red, itchy and angry, and kept me unwanted company, right up until we left Begnas!

Begnas Yoga Retreat

We arrived in Begnas after a 25 minute taxi journey from Pokhara, and were greeted by a glorious lake and jungle. Begnas is a very small town, also very popular with tourists but far less developed than Pokhara. It is rural and peaceful, well… peace from traffic. On our first night I had one of the worst nights sleep I’ve had in Nepal due to a very very loud bird, whose song will forever be burned into my mind. The bird was defending its nest in a tree outside our window for the whole week we were there, by singing the same alarming song on repeat with no gaps. It was particularly loud at night, and we were glad we had ear plugs! The song always begins innocently enough, but quickly builds, increasing in volume, pitch and frequency until it sounds like a high pitched squealing menace. I honestly think the bird could be used as an instrument of torture. Everyone at the retreat joked about the bird, as we all suffered it’s pitched perils. We even prayed to it to try and ask it to move trees! Our prayers were mostly unanswered.

The retreat schedule was roughly 6.30 walking meditation, 7.00 Nasal Irrigation (!) 7.30-9.00 Yoga, 9.30 Breakfast, 11.00 Treatment, 13.00 Lunch, 15.00 Yoga Theory, 17.00 Yoga, 19.30 Dinner and 21.00 Mantra and bed. Liam and I avoided the Mantra session and opted for bed and a western media meditation such as going on our phones!

The Nasal Irrigation requires some further explanation… apparently this is commonplace in Nepal… I remain unconvinced.

First, you pour about a decent sized mug full of warm salt water through one nostril, then the other. You tilt your head so the water pours out your other nostril… or if you have a blocked nose, your mouth. Then, you use a variety of techniques to evacuate the contents of your nose, blowing snot and water noisily all over the flowers and hillsides. So much snot comes out that it’s unbelievable that you could have so much. On my first day, water kept pouring from my nose for a good hour or so afterwards! Newcomers feel embarrassed by evacuating the contents of their nose in public… but quickly this process is normalised and you begin to become excited by the contents of your nose, and share tips for removing it, admiring each other’s snot loads. Yep.

The technique is said to clear your nose.. but my nose is never blocked anyway. I embraced it whilst I was there, but secretly mourned my delicate nose mucus which I’m sure does an excellent job and I suspect that my body harbours it for a reason. I also pushed to the back of my mind thoughts of the transmission of hepatitis, as we all merrily shared nasal baths together.

The yoga was really good, and we practiced twice a day in a glorious room with 360 degree panoramic views of mountains jungle and lake. We often stopped to watch birdlife and sunsets, or views of mountains, or laugh about The Bird. The only plague was mosquitos! Oh, and the Gurus mobile phone, his 3 year old daughter, and the ladies who came to take our food orders, who often also interrupted us!

The guru at the retreat was quite the character. As with everything in Nepal, the retreat was not quite like a retreat in the UK. The guru was quite often distracted during yoga or yoga philosophy, by his daughter, or tending some business, or by wanting to tell us some tale, or speak on the phone, or manage his staff. It was a new business, and sometimes it could be slightly chaotic! Things did not really run to schedules, and you never knew what you were going to get. It really didn’t matter though, we thought it was all part of the experience. Liam and I actually quite liked the lack of structure and discipline, we were tired and happy to lay around.

Not everyone agreed though, whilst we were there, one woman left three days early, and another left on the first night, creeping away under the cover of darkness, without telling anyone! We could understand why I suppose. If you were expecting a quiet nights sleep at a retreat, then you actually got a very loud bird, and a 3 year old who screamed periodically in the night! There was also the problem of the monsoon rains which flooded all the rooms several times (we learnt to stem the tides with towels), the lack of hot water (which we didn’t mind), and one guest’s bathroom smelt very badly (ours luckily was fine!). Or maybe it could have been eating your dinner sat on the kitchen floor with the ants and gigantic spiders (again, we didn’t mind).

All that being said, we had a wonderful time. The staff were all lovely and cooked us amazing fresh food every day. Much of the food was grown in the garden or collected from local markets. We saw gangs of wild monkeys cheekily stealing the food during the day! We were treated like gods, and fed constantly!

We also had some pretty amazing treatments. I had a mud bath, which included having my boobs massaged, which was, erm, an experience. In fact, by the end of the retreat, every female member of staff had managed some close encounter with my bare boobs. And I thought Nepal was a country shy about nudity. Not when it comes to doing beauty therapies it seems! The treatments were great though, we had massages, reiki healing, a steam bath, pedicure, oil bath… and were taken out on a boat and had a lovely picnic.

After the week was up, we were given a Buddhist blessing, and I felt close to tears feeling grateful for the experience of the retreat. It wasn’t quite the retreat I expected, but I got so much more. I got to share a week with a Nepali family and some lovely staff, and live in the jungle doing yoga twice a day. We learnt so much about local culture, from arranged marriages, road financing, education, the caste system, the Nepali wars and… unfortunately I also got to learn about illness…

The Great Plague

Having managed to avoid any illness for two months, Liam and I both contracted a sickness in the last week. We were both too grateful it hadn’t happened at any point before, such as at 5000m, to be too upset. Well, emotionally upset- our tummies were very upset! Liam got ill first, and his bug lasted 24 hours. I had to go and beat him.

The day before the end of the yoga retreat, I woke up and evacuated the contents of my stomach… and did so about 60 times that day, out of both ends. It was just litres of water coming out. Of course I googled cholera and thought it sounded the same, but Liam told me I was being a bit dramatic. Which it turns out, I probably was. Probably!

The illness was with me for four days, getting slowly better. But, it caused a great deal of concern as we had a plane to catch, and I wasn’t going anywhere considering I couldn’t even make the en-suite bathroom sometimes never mind go roaming in the wilds away from a room.

Never have I been more humiliated than to poo myself whilst we had an en-suite bathroom. And not just once. Four times.

Luckily, we had travel insurance and they had a telephone GP service. I sought some advice and the GP was hopeful my symptoms suggested a virus which would clear up in time for the plane (not cholera, after all, then). And she was right. Didn’t stop me spending the last 4 days of my holiday in bed though. I moved from the bed at the yoga retreat to a very nice hotel in Pokhara, and that was all I moved.

We didn’t mind too much. We had air conditioning, room service, a very comfy bed, and a TV! Liam even got to watch the football.

The end of Nepal

So, I recovered enough and now I’m in Oman airport. Our last day was spent on a bus to Kathmandu, a bus which we paid double for to have a bus with a toilet (just in case). A bus which broke down, and then we were promptly transferred to cheap bus, with no toilet (thankfully I didn’t need it) and no refund. Futhermore, the bus dropped us off on a different part of Kathmandu, so we had to pay extra on top for a taxi. But it’s ok though, the driver said “no problem”, so there was no problem. Paying double and some more to go on a bad bus. But hey, we made it!

Next stop… driving to France in a week!

Finishing the Circuit! Back to Civilisation.

It’s been a week since I blogged and that’s because we’ve been pretty busy, relatively speaking of course! We finished the Annapurna Circuit, stayed two nights in Pokhara and are now on day four of a seven day yoga retreat in Begnas Tal, a small town 20km from Pokhara. I will hazily attempt to describe the past week, though I have to admit, the heat and relaxation of the retreat is making me lazy. But, according to the yoga philosophy class I just attended, pratyahara, meaning… do the opposite of what you feel in order to grow. So, I write!

Finishing the Annapurna Circuit via Poon Hill Trek

We departed from Ghorepani and the weather, which had been mist, rain and more rain, was suddenly glorious! We had had barely any views for a week, which was contributing to us wanting to stop trekking, but it was like Annapurna was inviting us to keep trekking by showing us mountains again. I felt so blessed to be climbing 400m and more to a panorama view point of the Annapurna Range. The rhododendron trees were blossoming with red and pink flowers, and the hills were dotted with magnificent colours.

After admiring the view, we began a very long descent of over 700m, down hundreds and hundreds of steps into Ghandruk. This took several hours of thigh and hip burning stair cases. Fortunately, the waterfalls, crystal clear streams, views and jungle surroundings made it worth it. The scenery was so pristine! However, this part of the trek was also rather busy. The trail was now the Poon Hill Trek, a self contained 5 day trek, and very popular with large groups of guides tourists and their trekking staff. We spent some time wondering at many ill equip trekkers. That, our burning legs, in addition to the roasting heat, contributed to us wanting to stop trekking again!

When we reached Ghandruk, we were so hot, we had to have a coke before we even considered trying to find a guest house. By this point, we both knew that we needed to stop trekking soon. We were both pretty much done, and despite the glorious surroundings, trekking had become a chore.

That evening, we tried to lift morale by sharing a feast of snacks bought from the local shop. We bought Nepalese Chocolate Eclair sweets, a tube of Pringles and a tray of assorted biscuits. However, when we opened them, the Pringles were completely crushed into tiny pieces, the chocolate eclairs were actually aniseed chewy sweets, and the assorted biscuits were just 20 of the same bland biscuits, with a similar texture to baby rusks. We ate them all anyway, laughing at ourselves for hoping for any comfort!

That evening we were treated to an enormous rainstorm! The water flooded the communal outdoor space of the guesthouse and poured down complete with thunder and lightening for an hour. The spectacular clouds that followed were a highlight of the trip for me! Layer upon layer of different cloud type rippling up from the valley floor to the mountain tops like the giant lasagne we were so craving.

The following day, we set off on the final two day leg of our journey, to a town called Landruk, then onto Pothana and to a bus to Pokhara. We first descended another 700m of stairs with very achy legs, and were repeatedly harassed for chocolate by local children on their way up the stairs to school. Liam joked, no wonder they need chocolate if they walking up those stairs every day! It felt quite uncomfortable though, and especially when one girl asked for Spiker, shortly followed by a boy trying to grab him! He was not a happy Puffin.

When we passed the staircase we reached a river where we started to ascend again. We checked the map and realised with horror, we would have to ascend another 900m in two days… so we decided to look for an alternative route, desperate now to finish the trek. In 37 degree heat, we trekked with little shade along a river to a town where we could get a bus.

This part of the trek was utterly brutal. We were so tired, and hot, and we became quite full of tempers and snapped at each other a lot in a way we never usually do.

“I’m so hot!” “What do you want me to do about it!” Etc. Who would have guessed we had spent every moment of 40 days in each other’s company! It wasn’t helped by accidentally taking the wrong turn, walking uphill unnecessarily, and hearing our bus pass below us.

Fortunately, we made it both alive and innocent of murder to a town where we could take a bus to Pokhara. Before we took the bus, we tried to order lunch. Although Pokhara was very close, Nepali buses are very slow, bouncy and stop a lot, so it could take hours. Sadly, the woman who owned the teashop said “no doing lunch” (despite the menu suggesting otherwise) so we decided to just get the bus.

Then, our fortunes/moods changed a little. A guide and his clients came to the teashop and marvelled at how we had spent 40 days trekking! No wonder we were so exhausted. The guide, however, encouraged to keep walking the extra 2 hours to Nayapul (the town where the Annapurna Circuit officially ends) as it was a really beautiful walk. Having walked so far, we were really tempted, but couldn’t do it without any food. Then, the guide ordered lunch for his clients (the woman was serving lunch now apparently) and so we had some lunch and felt refreshed. We resolved to carry on, and finish the Circuit!

The final few hours were also long and hot, but we kept resting in the shade and stopping for cokes and tea… and we made it. Relieved and absolutely shattered!

We decided to stay a night in the town just before Nayapul and we enjoyed several cold beers and felt proud of ourselves. We watched game of thrones on the phone but the episode was set in the night time and we could barely see screen! We kept asking each other, who was that? Are they dead? Did they die? Who was that? What happened! Luckily we were in better spirits so no snapping!

Next stop, Pokhara! That is for another blog entry!

Jungle paradise, rain and leeches

It is nearly time for us to end our time on the Annapurna Circuit and after 37 days of trekking life, I have to say I am nearly ready. It turns out, there are only so many Dahl Baht and Tibetan Breads you can eat before the menu becomes an item of horror rather than joy. Nepali food being 90% carbohydrates and 10% egg, I’ve begun to crave more variety! I feel like Rice, Potatoes and Bread and I need to take a short break to reassess our relationship. It’s been beautiful, but it’s been intense, and we need our own time, hobbies and interests. Fortunately, I don’t feel like this about Liam!

Joking aside, the last four days of the walk have been, as always, spectacular and also spectacularly different!

Jungle times and disappearing paths

As we descended ( via, of course, down up downs) into the hot springs town of Tatopani, the walk became a dense forest lively with the sounds of life. The insects, birds and animals which had been scarce at high altitudes in unforgiving territories made a come back! We were treated to a feast of every shade of green imaginable, giving Ireland a run for its money. Bamboo, palm trees, shrubs, clover, and being no botanist, I wished I had my friend Lizzie with me who would have no doubt taken even more joy and interest than I, and been able to identify the plants.

Walking through forests breathing with new life made me think of home, as I reflected how this was one of the most beautiful parts of the walk so far, and how much my perception of this was influenced by being surrounded by the familiar. Always when I travel do I end up feeling lucky to live in the United Kingdom, and having so much beauty in the thriving hedgerows, lakes, forests, baby mountains, rivers and streams.

One thing we don’t get in the United Kingdom so much is the disappearing adventure paths of Nepali trails. There are two prime (but also linked) culprits behind the Bermuda Triangle of paths; the construction industry and nature (though bulldozing your landscape, particularly messing with river flow, also causes shifts which causes landslides). I will now relate a few disappearing path tales.

On on occasion we had descended over 250m down a steep forest trail to exit the path onto a road… only to discover a gang of carefree construction workers merrily bulldozing the cliff at the side of the road, which included our path. Suddenly, the path dropped off 10-15m below, a gaping mud hole where the path once was. Torn between retracing our steps (a three hour walk up and down 250m) and delicately climbing down the mud ridge the bulldozer had recently created, we assessed the risk to our bones vs psychological harm of re-ascending, and chose the latter option. Liam heroically took my bag because I’m a lot less balanced (in both feet and mind but that’s another story), and we managed to make it down, much to the entertainment of the local construction workers and their children who watched my terror from below with great amusement and interest. One Nepali man even stopped by on his motorbike to offer us the usual advice ‘slowly, slowly’, which it seems is transferable from ascending giant Himalayan mountains to descending bulldozed trekking trails… and who knows what else?

Another favourite missing trail was when we were walking along a beautiful section of dry river bed along a forest, only to discover a bulldozer merrily digging up the path, seemingly with no reason. We can sort of understand the roadside path hungry bulldozers as locals are always trying to fortify their roads and construction is continual. Bulldozers make sense here! However, there seemed no identifiable reason to bulldoze this part of the dry river bed, never mind the poor unsuspecting way-marked conservation area approved trekking trail, in particular! We deduced that the Nepali people are planning on building another road up this valley which is sad for trekkers as the valley had been used as a detour away from the road. We joked a few days later that the people who divert the trails away from the roads and forge new paths are actually providing inspiration for new roads. Nepali people must see what a lovely path it is and think – what a lovely path, a nice dusty road would be better! Joking aside, we’ve had many conversations about development, and the obvious tensions that exist between different types of development and the trekking industry. We have no answers, but a lot of questions. Almost makes me wish I had time for another PhD!

There is also another reason for paths disappearing and that is nature. One of the sections we walked had a path cut into a cliff face and along the way we discovered several parts where the path had fallen into the river and been rebuilt. Rebuilding is fine as long as there is somewhere to rebuild, and unfortunately, in some places they were running out of room. The river was clipping back the soil and vegetation directly to the cliff face, and certain parts of the trail involved perilous creeps along slithers of landslide mud. I would have refused to cross a certain section had I not just seen two Nepali men carrying sheep on their backs walk across merrily and with ease.

Changing season- Mists and blood sucking menaces.

We’ve been walking so long we’ve seemingly walked right past the end of winter, through spring and now into the beginning of monsoon season. Local people keep telling us they had a long winter and now monsoon season is coming early. One Nepali man gave a great lament to his full trekking lodge of people (sheltering from the rain) about how the snow then the rain is ruining his livelihood. None of us would have stopped in his lodge without the rain, but we didn’t explain the irony to him. Without a doubt, the snow-line is lower than it usually is, and when it rains here, it absolutely pours annihilating any possibility of any farming or construction.

For us the coming of the rains have also brought some things which are making trekking less attractive. First, there are no longer any views! As soon as the sun rises, the mist follows and turns the landscape into a hazy humid mysterious landscape. This has its own beauty, but the rewards of ascending thousands of metres are diminishing with the mountain tops hidden by veils of clouds. More troubling are the arrival of leeches on the trail. Usually these blood sucking parasites only appear in about June when monsoon season hits, but try telling that to the one which attached to Liam’s calf the other day! Or the three wriggling around in our room having dropped off Liam’s trousers. Leeches are absolutely horrific, tiny wriggling menacing looking things. Usually you would think that you could only pick them up by wading into jungle swamps, but Nepali leeches are really accommodating, and find you, wherever you are! They either fall onto you, diving off trees and vegetation, or wriggle up your boots using their blood guzzling suction pads, into your socks and up your trousers legs. Whilst they don’t carry disease, I think I mentally prefer both ticks and mosquitos. Maybe it’s their similarity to slugs. Leech, tick or mosquito? The question was hotly debated in our lodge amongst trekkers that evening.

We managed to remove Liam’s bloodsucking companion by pouring salt on it, bringing forth a gush of blood. Everyone in our lodge felt a little itchy all of a sudden!

Onwards plans

We’re now resting in Ghorepani after trekking back up to 2860m, a climb of 1700m, in two days. There are supposed to be mountain panoramas but all we can see is layers of mist, and cloud. Every afternoon now it begins to rain spectacularly hard. However, it’s really warm and cosy in our lodge, and we are comfortable!

The mists, afternoon rains, leeches, carbohydrate exhaustion and general fatigue are leading us to think of Pokhara, a town at the end of the trail that has Western food, french wine, Italian pizzas… ice cream. It is also 30 degrees there and it doesn’t rain. It would take us just one day to reach this leech free pizza filled Mecca should we choose to, and be done with the circuit! However, we want to do a few side trips first, and reckon we have about 3-7 days of walking left in us.

Tomorrow we move on to Ghandruk in one long day, and then we will see what next!

Trying hard for your walks- High routes and rewards

Life on the Annapurna Circuit is a lot more relaxed post altitude, snow and Thorong La. Suffering and fear being my favourite muses, I find less motivation to write a blog now I don’t need it as therapeutic discharge for my adrenaline filled dramas! Beer, sunshine and sleeping nine-ten hours a night -are my new normal- not the most conducive atmosphere for productivity. But, I will do my best!

The Road. Part two!

Since Kagbeni, we’ve walked for four days to a town called Kalopani. The amusing fact is, we could have probably walked along the road for a mere day (and many do) and made it here, but instead we’ve chosen the alternative paths that avoid the road, quadrupling both our distance and net elevation gain and loss. It is completely worth the extra gruelling miles through – the road on this side is far more horrific than the other. I understand now why people want to avoid the road, and may choose to get a jeep past this section.

On the other side, the rock was more solid and the valley narrower. There were fewer towns, the environment being more harsh. Once built, the road kind of stays there, and most of the traffic is just tourist jeeps. On this side of the pass, the valley is huge, the rock crumbly and the weather warmer, more friendly for settlements and hence development. The road regularly crumbles due to freeze thaw and landslides so it is being constantly rebuilt/improved. This means there is a lot more traffic (relatively speaking- it’s still no rush hour in the UK!), especially construction traffic. The traffic flows in styles typical of Nepali driving, heavy goods vehicles racing along with little regard for the sheer drops or bumpy surface, or other traffic, or pedestrians, beeping their horns noisily and with alarming frequency, to clear their oncoming path. The road has its very own offensive soundtrack of pile drivers breaking rocks, or motorbikes kicking dust into the sky and several types of horn. The rock itself is so dusty and crumbly, the road appears to vapourise every time a vehicle bounces past, and you are always covered in a layer of dust.

So, Liam and I have been very careful to avoid the road! Sadly, even when you are high above the road, you can still hear the sound of pile drivers, cracking rock, and vehicle horns echoing and amplifying round the valley, drowning out the birdsong and river. But, we accept it, and have long conversations about it!

The walks

We’ve had some absolutely wonderful days walking high in the hills. The scenery is so different on this side, stunning desert at first, followed by alpine style walks in pine forests with increasing plant and birdlife.

One of our favourite walks was from Kagbeni to Jomsom, a stretch which along the road can take 1.5 hours, but took us five, as we climbed 700m up and descended the same back down, along a high route. Amazing views of mountains including Thorong La, we passed through two beautiful pristine villages, and saw not a soul along the way!

Other walks have had us wandering around on river beds, walking in gigantic loops (we walked for 7 hours and we could have walked along the road in 1 hour!) around high mountain lakes and rarely visited towns.

The benefit (for us) of doing all these side trails is also that we rarely see any other trekker. Most people have already taken the jeep to finish the trail, others walk along the road. We have the trail to ourselves! However, this is quite bad for the people who had come to rely on the trekkers for their livelihood. We have seen lots of abandoned teahouses and even one town which, in our guidebook, was supposed to be a growing trekking town, abandoned and no longer on the map!

Game of thrones

Liam and I have been in horror at realising that we will be missing the final season of Game of Thrones whilst we are in Nepal. But Liam, savvy as he is, and fuelled by desperation, worked out a way to download it onto his Samsung! In one of our lodges, we shared this information with some Australian students we met, and they were so desperate to watch it, we shared our phone with them for the evening. So, you can watch Game of Thrones on the Annapurna Circuit!

Resting and descending into the apple blossoms

Sitting here, writing, sheltering from the wind blasted rain, listening to the consequential rockfall crackling into the Kali Gandaki River in Kagbeni (2800m). Since coming down from Thorong La, we’ve descended another 1000m and taken several rest days. 24 days on the Circuit had left us a little battered and requiring some staying in one place and sleeping in (till 7am) chill. Usually I find it hard to rest, but not this time! I think I’ve needed some time to emotionally process the past week, and leave Tilicho Lake and Thorong La behind. I’ve needed to adjust to my new normal- no longer needing to be (as) afraid and vigilant.


Descending from Muktinath to Kagbeni was a really beautiful walk. The muscles in our legs, so used to going up, had to adjust to walking down. I kept stopping and turning round to appreciate the amazing views behind us, panoramic vistas of Thorong La mountain. It was amazing to imagine we had been up there, on the unwelcoming white mountain tops, the day before! We passed through some incredible villages along the way, and I really started to relax. So nice to walk without fear or altitude!

Eventually after a long, hot, dusty five hour walk down, we sighted Kagbeni and Tiri, two beautiful green villages nestled in the desert foothills of the Mustang region. The scenery was a sharp contrast to the rest of the circuit we had seen so far. Little apple orchards decorated with pink spring blossoms, green rice paddy fields irrigated by the river, beautiful green plants.

Nothing comes easy in the Himalayas though, and we quickly learned what made life difficult here. A huge wind blasted down the valley every day, building from 10am into a veritable storm by the afternoon, clouds of dust and pebbles swirling and pelting jeeps and trekkers, visible on the road from our hotel window. The howling wind raging noisily, and with marked punctuality, became our companion for the next few days.

The joys of losing altitude

When we were steadily climbing up and up, we noticed the effects of altitude on our bodies. According to our fitbits, albeit they aren’t the most accurate of devices, our resting heart rates rose from about 52-54 to 57-60. Also, we slept poorly! The low point being Thorong High Camp with 2 hours.

Now we are descended back below 3000, we are seeing this effect in reverse. Our rest my heart rates are now 52/53 and we are sleeping amazing! Our guide book said that on the way down “you sleep like a baby”… and I concur! Last night My Fitbit informs me I slept for 10 hours. I get into bed, and woke up 12 hours later having slept most of it. This is a miracle for me! It’s the most sleep I’ve ever had!

The Reluctant Tourist town

We decided, despite the wind, to rest in the beautiful Kagbeni for a few days. There was a half day walk to a local town (Tiri) we really wanted to do, and then a hard 8 hour walk along the “high road” to Jomsom. However, our legs needs to be rested for this! Also, there were two days of bad weather forecast. So, we resolved to spend four nights in Kagbeni, reading, eating, resting, sleeping and avoiding the wind. It felt like a real “holiday” for a change!

In this time we stayed in two hotels, visited two shops and one cafe… and found that they all had something in common. It was always a little difficult to get served! Unlike other places in Nepal, where people sit outside their establishments and invite you in, friendly and helpful, owners and service staff were difficult to locate. Furthermore, Liam and I both agreed that once they had been located, it felt like by asking for something, you had offended them!

The first hotel we stayed in, it took a while to find anyone after we walked in, and then they seemed genuinely put out that we asked to stay there. After showing us the room, and us hungrily waiting in the dining room, we had to again go and locate someone to ask for some food. The woman we found seemed annoyed that we wanted food. We asked for the WiFi password and she said “not now”. Baffled, Liam and I wondered if maybe they didn’t want us there. This feeling was compounded by us asking someone if we could get our laundry done, and them saying it was very expensive and we should save our money. Of course, if we were “lazy”, they would do it for us. Not wanting to seem lazy, or put them out, we resolved not to do our laundry there!

Liam and I moved hotels the next day (because they were full that night) and found that this attitude of hosts was everywhere. We entered a shop and were made to feel like we had interrupted something important by the shopkeeper, when all we actually wanted to do, was buy some of the goods they sold in their open business! Again, in a cafe, the proprietor seemed dismayed when we wanted some of the baked goods she was advertising.

The hotel we’ve stayed in for three days is no better, though we have become numb to it now. When we asked if they could do our laundry (a service they advertise) they said “no, busy”. Every time we want to order some food from the menu, we feel like we are intruding on a special family time. We take it in turns to go and locate someone in the maze of rooms and corridors, often leaving it till we are quite hungry, the motivating factor required to face the social anxiety of asking someone for food who clearly doesn’t want to provide.

As Liam pointed out, all signs point towards them wanting to sell food. They opened a restaurant, printed menus, have a kitchen, talk about lunch. However, you still feel like you are asking something unreasonable by ordering an omelette.

We’ve discussed it a lot and can’t work it out- maybe none of the people in Kagbeni wanted to open teahouses or tourist serving businesses but realised it was the best way to a quick buck. A lot of the teahouses are run by family units, and family life goes on, so you really are interrupting family life by asking for lunch. We’ll never know. Despite the feeling of being unwanted charitable cases rather than paying guests in a hotel, we’ve managed to relax. Despite our social anxiety, we’ve managed to not starve and develop thick skins. But, we will both be glad to move on and interested to see if the lack of hospitality continues!

Tomorrow we move on to Jomsom!