I was still at primary school when I developed an overpowering urge to travel. I also fell out of a fast moving vehicle and, as a result, rather inconveniently developed a lifelong aversion to cars. Then, when I was eleven, I started cycle touring: around the Isle of Wight, around Wales, to Land’s End, the Lake District, Scotland. I rode my bike every day to school and back (20 miles) plus after school rides which often topped my daily mileage to the 40 – 50 mile mark.
The best thing about school was riding my bike there and back. So, as I loved cycling and had always enjoyed cooking, I set up a small catering business when I was 15 (cooking and delivering three-course multi-storeyed meals by bicycle and cycle trailer) which I worked at full time when I was 16.
As soon as I got some money together I cycled to Africa. That was in 1985. I had cajoled Ward, my non-cycling Liverpudlian mega tea-drinking boyfriend, into coming with me. After realising on the ferry from Harwich that I had left his four month supply of Tetley tea bags at home (which did not go down well) we set off from the Hook of Holland (where we spent several long-winded hours getting lost looking for a place called Doorgaand Verkeer (on-going traffic) before sallying forth through Belgium (flat), Luxembourg (flatish with lumps), France (French), Germany (Black-Forest flavoured), Switzerland (v. lumpy), Italy (long), Tunisia (hot), Algeria (sandy). We had hoped to reach Morocco but Ward had picked up something that felt at home in his intestinal department so we curtailed Africa and cycled home through France.
Here’s how my chequered cycling career progressed:
1986: Cycled with Ward (whose inner workings were now working) through France, Andorra and Spain. Planned to reach Morocco but one day away from catching ferry to Tangier, a van crashed into Ward on the Costa del Sol and he landed on his head before ending up in intensive care in hospital. We had to get flown home. Morocco had to wait.
1987: With Ward put off cycling (I couldn’t understand why) I found myself setting sail for foreign parts alone. First time abroad by myself. Thought I wouldn’t survive more than two weeks on my own. Ended up cycling 7000 miles in six months through Holland, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Faroe Islands, Iceland, Lapland, Finland, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Austria, Switzerland and France.
1988: Cycled with Mel (my brother’s non-cycling girlfriend) through Spain and Portugal to Morocco. Endured Saharan locust invasions, ogling Arabs and tree-climbing goats.
Later in the year, I cycled with Red’ed (a Canadian cycling friend I’d met in Iceland) around Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.
1989: Aboard my first made-to-measure mount (a bright pink super-shiny Roberts) I rode from Katmandu across Nepal’s hilly Himalayas before plunging down into India. Lots of noise, lots of chaos, lots of people, lots of dahl, lots of rats, lots of dubious water supplies. But very fun.
Later in the year, I rode a wheelchair bicycle (looked like a conventional bicycle after having nose-dived into a conventional wheelchair) from Land’s End to the other end (John o’ Groats) and onto the Orkneys, raising money and wheelchair bikes for Barnados.
1990: Took my aging (but young at heart) mother cycling around the Channel Islands for her birthday. From there she returned home while I cycled off across France, Switzerland, Italy, Austria, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Romania (just after Ceaucescu was shot), Bulgaria and into Turkey. Had planned to cycle through Syria, Jordan and Israel to Egypt but Iraq invaded Kuwait, and as I didn’t fancy scud missiles landing on my tent I cycled home through Greece, Italy, Sardinia, Corsica and France.
1991: Planned to cycle across Canada to Alaska but got an offer to write a book (The Wind in My Wheels) so cycled around Nova Scotia and the British Isles instead.
1992: Cycled around Hawaii (lots of palm trees) and across the USA (lots of tornadoes) and eastern Canada (lots of logs).
1993: Cycled across northern France with my Mum before riding from Vancouver down the west coast of the USA and on through Mexico’s Baja peninsula.
1994: Found myself cycling around Japan instead of New Zealand and marooned in a typhoon.
1995: Found Japan such an enjoyably odd place that decided to go back via Hong Kong and a corner of China, followed by a stormy stomach-churning voyage across the East China Sea by sailing ship.
1996: Cycled around Ecuador.
1997 – 2000: A wonky knee put paid to my cycling for a long time so got into heavy duty writing instead.
2001: Started cycling 5000 miles around the coast of England and Wales during wettest weather on record until my knee broke down. (Included overshooting into France for a bit).
2002: Finished cycling around the coast of England and Wales. (Got very wet – it was still raining). Total miles: 5041
2003: Cycled 1000 miles following the coasts of Holland, Germany and Denmark on my way to the Baltic States (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania). At least, that was the idea. But then I went a bit off course and found myself cycling around Ireland. I then went off course even further by riding onto a Russian freighter (big storms, broken engine, failed rescue attempt) which over the next 2 months transported me from France to New Zealand via the Panama Canal.
2004: Spent nine months cycling around New Zealand. (Got very wet again during the country’s wettest weather on record.) Sailed on board a German freighter in a Force 10 gale from New Zealand to Australia. (Got extra specially wet. And seasick). Knee broke down again. Flew home from Melbourne.
2005: In between cycling 50 miles a day wrote ‘Saddled at Sea’ about my voyage to New Zealand on board Russian freighter.
2006: Got pregnant and kept cycling until I went into labour. Gave birth to Molly (just after returning from a bike ride) and kept cycling in any spare moment. Wrote my New Zealand book ‘Long Cloud Ride’ at night.
2007: Still cycling every day. Half way through year Molly completed her first 3000 miles strapped to back of bike.
2008: Cycled 8000 miles with Molly bouncing about in a Burley trailer behind my bike. Married my builder (and Molly’s dad) on Molly’s second birthday. Honeymooned on the Isle of Wight during one of the wettest Augusts on record.
2009: Cycled 8500 miles with Molly feeling far too heavy in trailer behind my bike. Got pregnant and kept cycling until I went into labour.
2010: Gave birth to Daisy after returning from a very bumpy pot-holed bike ride. Cycled 6500 miles this year as well as 2000 miles of pram-pushing! Acquired Nihola cargo trike end of the year.
2011: A lot of Nihola trike riding among other two-wheeled mounts. Had a fair few near misses with bad and dangerous drivers. Gave chase to three of them and had words! Police were involved in one encounter and were surprisingly impressive at taking the case seriously.
2012: In March I was asked to give a bike talk in Utrecht, Holland. Instead of flying I decided it was more fun to make a meal of it and ride there and back . So took Molly out of school, plonked her on the tag-along bike on rear of the Nihola and coerced husband Gary into coming along for the ride to drag the trailer containing 1-year-0ld Daisy.
All of Molly’s school summer holidays was spent a-wheel. We all returned to Holland – Gary pulling Daisy in the trailer again, but Molly and I rode a Circe Helios tandem. It only has 20″ wheels but is surprising nifty. We lived outside for 6 weeks, camping and cycling. Girls looked like grubby urchins for most of the time but loved it. We had 15 thunderstorms and ended up riding 800 miles (or 1300 km) across Holland, Germany and Denmark. Would liked to have kept going to Norway, Iceland and beyond but sadly school was calling. Molly made it back to school only a week late.
2013: Got pregnant and kept cycling until I went into labour. Gave birth to mini cyclist number 3 – Jack – (after returning from bike ride).
2014: Kept cycling over hill and dale and vale. Fancied going off cycle touring to foreign lands but as Gary was too busy with work to come along to help I wasn’t sure I would have enough hands to look after a baby and 2 young girls alone. So, keeping closer to home, spent the school summer holidays pushing a pram and a glorified wheelbarrow the 100 mile length of the South Downs Way from Winchester to Eastbourne. Jack was 11 months old, Daisy was just 4, and Molly was 7. We averaged about 5 very hilly miles a day of walking, pushing and pulling and camped wild at the side of the track.
2015: Had planned to spend the summer holidays cycling around the periphery of Holland but at the eleventh hour Daisy came down with appendicitis so had to postpone mission. Cycled around the Isle of Wight with my young mob instead.
2016: Spent my 50th birthday cycling the 50 miles of the Shipwright’s Way from Alice Holt Forest to Portsmouth during some of the worst floods on record. At Easter experienced my first child-free night for nearly 10 years and rode the South Downs Way through Storm Katie and terrific floods!
2016 – Aug/Sep. I returned to the Netherlands with Molly, Daisy and Jack for the whole of the summer holidays. I rode my Circe Helios tandem with Daisy on the back and pulled Jack in the Burley Cub trailer. Molly rode her own Islabike and Gary (the builder) rather sensibly stayed at home for a bit of peace.