Article for "A2B Magazine":

End to End by Friday - Great Britain, July 1997

Huff... puff... WHEEE! Huff... puff... (expletive)... WHEEE! That's the Reader's Digest condensed version of my travel diary so far, having stumbled into the cosy confines of the A to B office after barely two weeks on the road. Hang on, shouldn't I be toasting my thunderous thighs at John O'Groats by now, if I'd stuck to the well-pedalled CTC route? In fact, I've met many end-to-soon-to-be-enders hell-bent on getting to the top in the masochistic 15 days the YHA route stipulates.

My reasons for taking the trip were different. At 34, I'd never seen Britain and I was bored with my job. I wanted to stop and simply meander for a while to see what life presented. A fellow member of the Melbourne Bicycle Touring Club showed me a small map of Britain from the CTC's Web site with a little dotted line from one end to the other. I thought: I can do that.

After much nail biting I quit my job and scraped together enough funds to last a year.The next step was choosing a bike. All of a sudden my trusty eight year old Diamond Back MTB just wouldn't do. It always felt too big (I'm five foot nothing), and though made of thick-walled aluminium tubing, it seemed heavy and cumbersome. The next three months were spent severely testing the patience of my cycling flatmates Carl and Mick, while I decided between a Birdy, a Bike Friday, a Moulton, or a custom-made 26" wheel hybrid with S&S Bicycle Torque Couplings fitted. I even considered a Terry 26" rear wheel, 24" front creation. Bromptons, I should add, were not well known in Australia at the time.

My criteria were as follows: The bike needed to be light; fit me; easy to transport; carry a year-long life support system... and be able to get up steep hills. The last point is important for less than Olympic riders like me - one is always looking for a lower gear. I eventually chose a Bike Friday because of the custom fit (fax your measurements and the bike1s in the mail), but also because it was time to try something different. It1s amazing how we sometimes find it hard to let go of what we know, even if we don't love it. My first bike was a dragster, the second was a 10-speed racer and the third was an MTB, so why not try a 20-inch wheel folding bike? The Bike Friday promotes itself as a touring bike that folds, rather than a folding bike that tours. This is an important point when you1re undertaking long-haul travel as opposed to quick commutes, or camp then ride around cycle touring. The next bout of angst was over which Bike Friday to choose. The Llama or New World Tourist were obvious choices, but having remained completely rational and practical up to credit card day, I went and fell in love with the Air Friday Triathlon.

This bike is a dream to ride - a nippy climber and fast freewheeler, with natural suspension in the titanium seat boom. And it looks incredibly cool. It is designed for road racing or light touring with a trailer, but I confess that I've stretched its duty statement somewhat, loading it up with four panniers and a lightweight tent on the back rack. Under this load, the Air Friday has taken me up all but the steepest hills ( less than 17% or 1 in 6), but understand, I weigh only 42kg, or 61/2 stone. The brake clearance is limited, so I1ve been restricted around boggy terrain, but that1s usually when I1ve gotten hopelessly lost!

I1ve been treated to absolutely stunning sea views and quaint villages on my journey so far - we have much of the former, but few of the latter in Oz. "Try to avoid making comparisons", warned my friend. "It dilutes the experience." I1ve generally stuck to the CTC route with some deviations and camping stops. In my touring club, 60km or 40 miles is considered a reasonable day1s ride. We1re lazier over there (and we1re not called the Melbourne Bakery1 Touring Club for nothing). I1ve also enjoyed the hospitality of the UK-based Women Welcome Women network of international female friendship which makes you realize the only reason hotels, motels and B and Bs exist is because we humans are generally backward about getting to know each other.

My bike has been a constant source of interest for cyclists and non-cyclists alike. I haven1t experienced the real cyclists ride real bikes1 snobbery you hear about, even in Australia. I particularly enjoyed riding from Falmouth to St Mawes - breathtaking scenery - and the imposing Citadel at Plymouth. A few tips are worth sharing here, as my journey unfolds. Weight-wise, it1s far better to leave the tent, sleeping bag and mat at home and hostel it. However, if on a tight budget, as my homeless, jobless, vagabond status dictates, super lightweight equipment is essential. I1d recommend a Saunders, or the incomparable NZ Macpac Microlite tent (1.5kg), and the new breed of sleeping bag where you slip your ultralight inflatable mat in a sleeve, while the bulky loft sits on top, where you really need it. YHA1s are nudging the 12 quid mark in some places, and they evict you after 10am. One day I wanted to rest - even the toilet was locked, so I had to take a leak in the garden.

I have some Ortlieb waterproof rear panniers - they1re a slightly weighty luxury, but after the full Dartmoor experience, I1m very glad of them. One has a light gizmo that converts it into a day pack. I also have a dynamo light and a head-torch. Invariably, you will need to be seen in dull weather, or nip out at night for a bite to eat. An ordinary car chamois is invaluable as a towel that never goes mouldy, and to wipe down the tent, bags etc. Stock up on Isostar, or put a herbal teabag in your water-bottle to make it more interesting. Well, I1m off to Bath now. Cheers, see you at the top!

We waved goodbye to Lynette at Castle Cary railway station early in July. She has since been sighted in Bristol, Chepstow, Chester and Windermere.

End To End By 'Friday (cont'd) - More Mountains, More Moors.

Last issue saw me languishing in the plush Somerset environs of the Society Formerly Known As Folding, having suffered a severe bout of "cleatus interruptus" (i.e. neglecting to unclip one's feet from one's pedals when one suddenly finds oneself stationary). Woe was moi. Minutes earlier I'd run into three lads from London wearing sweatshirts embroidered "END TO END 1997". I suggested the message should read "END TO ", with the final END stitched up when they'd, well, stitched it all up. Hey, serves me right. I resisted the urge to sneak Jane's covetable fish-shaped hot water bottle into my pannier and headed for Bristol. There I sipped a latte in very fashionable Mud Dock Bikecaf accompanied by the equally sartorial Gary Lovell and Ray Racy. Gary waved me off at the Severn Bridge, emptying a roll of film I suspect I'll see in Vogue - NOT!

From the serene Wye Valley up through Hereford, Shropshire and Cheshire the CTC route is virtally flat.

I chilled out for three days at a magic little village called Clun, where I decided I should marry a sheep farmer and bake cakes for the local tea room for the rest of my life. ("Rooobish", intones Kevin back at base camp Windsor. "You'll be bored within a mooonth").

One thing about ambling through a country without a strict deadline is that precisely the right things happen at precisely the right times. Ten miles out of nowhere on a Sunday I developed what I thought was a mechanical failure. The pedals slipped as if something had broken. I wandered back and forth scratching my head, rode off, came back, faffed about as one does, when around the corner comes Tony, a fireman from Bishop's Castle. Not only does this man build bikes, he's toured extensively, and after 2 minutes of rummaging trhough a large box of bolts at his house, fixed my bike (a missing bolt on the rear rack). The universe provides.

I developed a penchant for Welshmen in Eyton, Wales. I'd camped in the field behind the Fox 'n' Hounds pub, fronted by the most gregarious Liverpudlian you could ever hope to meet. At some ungodly hour a gang of formidable-looking lads rolled in singing rugby songs. One took a shine to me and said, "Come and meet me moom". Had I been faster on my feet I'd have told him to knock on my tent at 8am tomorrow and I'll "meet your moom". Sigh.

Unfortunately, a less desirable fella chose to knock on my tent at an exceedingly undesirable hour in the Lake District. I'd been reading Josie Dew's hair-raising account of being held prisoner to some drunk sex maniac when I heard a shuffling in the darkness outside. "Are you all right in there... alone .. Lynette?" he said. "Yes thank you" I replied. "Oh, er, I'm trying to chat you up." "Not a good time". "Oh" He scrunched away into the night. Well! I lay there shitscared for about two hours, expecting a Swiss Army knife through the fly at any moment. That's really the only dodgy moment I've had so far. Incidentally, the Borrowdale and Langdale areas in the Lake District are truly the best places to head on a bike. The campsites are laid back campsites and the road into both areas is fairly flat, with mountains rising up all around you. I have to thank Mike Walker, the Moto Guzzi man I met in Kirkby Lonsdale, for his advice.

I was sitting on a fence near Dumfries scoffing an absolutely delicious Balti pie, when an Italian gent in a Versace suit rolled up to asked directions. He spoke little English, so I took the opportunity to practice my ten-word Italian vocabularly over a drink in the Leadhills pub. Although "wakey wakey hands off snakey" did not , I think, figure in my limited conversation, the Italian Stallion suddenly found enough English to ask me very directly to sleep with him. When I declined - I had to get to Glasgow - I found myself in a passionate embrace from which I had to forceably untangle myself. Upon which he roared off in a huff.

Heading towards Glasgow I noticed a lycra streak fast approaching in my rear vision mirror. It was a mileeater! He proudly informed me that he was exceeding the daily average on the CTC route, cycling 90-100 miles a day (as opposed to my average of 0-40 miles). Despite his tight schedule, he deigned to come camping with me on a farm in Blackwood. We treated ourselves to possibly the worst meal: a 3.95 quid, 3-course meal ever - a Batchelor's meal gone horribly wrong, however, we did get shouted 10 pints each, and after dignifying the act of giving by receiving, wove our way back to the campsite. Next morning I thought my comrade would have long flown. Instead I heard a moan from the tent next door, only until 0930 hrs, mind you. After a vat of Lynette's special brekky (porridge, banana, jam and whatever else) he was off in a flurry of scotchlite, his address twirling in his slipstream. But, as the trailer-towing ironman Paul Brennan who I met in Ullapool noted, it doesn't matter how you do it, as long as you do it different from what you normally do.

The Glasgow to Loch Lomond Cycleway is terrific - a scenic path with only a couple of confusing bits ( you can always ask a friendly Glaswegian) which disappears briefly through Renton and Alexandria but reappears right beside the Loch nearer to Luss. It basically becomes the old road, linking many quiet car parks . I got to Tyndrum and suffered a severe bout of depression. They do say that you experience the highest highs and the lowest lows when you're travelling alone. What pissed me off was the enormous trucks and buses thundering up to Fort William and west to Oban. I tossed a coin, jumped on a train to Oban and was on Mull that evening. It was the best decision of my whole trip. I camped for three days at a campsite at Killacronin near Loch Na Keal, the southside of which is just wild, big cliffs overlooking a fantastically eerie hunk of rock called Eorsa Island. From there I took a ferry to the hard and hilly Ardnamurchen Peninsula where I met a nice young shepherd who proved to be non-too-sheepish after a none-too-wee dram. But you'll have to read my book for more details on that!

From this, the most westerly point in Britain, you get fantastic views out to all the islands and even the Outer Hebrides on a good day. That's where I headed next, cycling up to Mallaig via the coast, stopping at Lochailort where I camped on the nature strip of Shiela and Ray Boden. I took a late ferry out to the Outer Hebrides, arriving on Barra, the southernmost island, at midnight. I stumbled around in the dark and pitched my tent where I could get the pegs in. Next morning I unzipped my tent directly onto a view of Kismul Castle floating in the middle of the bay, obstructing the view for a bunch of camera-clicking tourists. I rode north, through the Uists which are indeed wierd - bits of land and water strung together by one long road. I spent a magic 2 days on Berneray, which is like the Carribbean without the temperature. South Harris is the most brilliant place - a lunar landscape that had me gawking so much almost fell off my bike several times. I got a lift with a friendly piano tuner in Lewis, saving me a 15-mile slog through moorland when I left it a bit late to find a camping spot. Back on the mainland at Ullapool I took the coastal road north through Lochinver, after initially setting off up the inland road then turning around in boredom. The road twists throuh the Inverpolly National Park, through which is utterly spectacular. Somewhere near Bettyhill at the top the wind came up so severe I was almost blown off my bike into a truck. The universe provides - a lorry driver gave me a lift 30 dull miles to Thurso, winching my bike on to the top of his cargo of bitument barrels with a pallet lifter.

I started to develop a worrisome stomach upset, which I put down to exertion, or a female thing, or worms, or kidney stones, or maybe just needing a break. So as I rolled towards toward John O'Groats I felt a little down. All of a sudden a rusty car pulled up beside me and kid, who couldn't have been more than 16, leaned across and shouted, "Would you like a date?" "What?" I said. "A date. You know, a kiss and cuddle like" "What?" I said, hardly believing this conversation, "Is .. is that the way you pick up girls?" "Ach, it's the way it's done up here". I told him I was going to John O'Groats, so no. "If I go to John O'Groats, will you give me a date?" When I got there he was waiting in his car, and pestered me constantly about the "date" I'd somehow "promised him". "I've always fancied getting it on with a foreign lassie" he chimed. He lamented what a hole Thurso was, where he'd lived for 18 years with no brothers, sisters or "foreign lassies" but rather fags, alcohol and cannabis to entertain him. He claimed he spent 60 quid a week on cannabis. I felt like an interviewer on Youth At Risk.

He did have a job - as a self-employed lobster fisherman. On a good day he could snare thirty, and at 8lb/kg (each a minimum of 0.5kg) I could see how he funded his recreational toys and clapped-out diesel-powered chick-mobile. Outside my tent, the flat grassy slope that is John O'Groats gave way to a mediocre vista of sea punctuated by some indistinguishable flat land masses - Orkney I suppose. The Rough Guide was right - a bit of an anti-climax, and with this in mind, I thought, what the hell, and gave into my persistent cab criver. Needless, the experience proved to be as anti-climactic as JohnO'Groats itself. I now now why I prefer older men. Mission accomplished, he bolted from my tent, thankfully without hesitation to face his mother's chagrin and a dehydrated evening meal. The journey continues...

Letter from Lynette, 13 August 1997:

It's been two months since I started out from Land's End and I think I've reached the best place in the whole world - Scotland! I'm writing this at Lochailort, in the lounge of the very kind and generous Ray and Shiela Boden, whose nature strip I stumbled across on my way to Mallaig (jumping off point for the Isle of Skye) and subsequently camped on. They gave me water and a very yummy slice of home made apple pie - loooxury! Although I've come a long way and bumped into the most amazing people I'd have to class yesterday as my best achievement to date: riding along the hard and hilly Ardamurchen Peninsula to the Britain's (Europe's? I haven't got my Atlas with me) most westerly point. From this place you can look out to see the craggy islands of Rum, Eigg, Coll and Tiree and on a clear day, Skye and the Outer Hebrides some 75 miles away. After that slog I don't think I can make any excuses for not going on the MBTC 'Hard' rides! Another reason I feel like I've done more than just pedal the well worn path is that I've now gone right off the tried-and-true CTC End-to-End route. Up till then I think I was sticking to it out of a need for security, even though I've deviated left and right of it, all along the way. What happened was this: I was camped in this crowded site at Tyndrum where where huge trucks and tourist-laden buses were chugging north to Glen Coe and Fort William and I thought: this isn't fun - get me out of here! So I jumped on the train to Oban and landed on the Island of Mull that afternoon. There I camped for at a fantastic spot overlooking Loch Na Keal and a stream. From there I went for a spin around the southern side of the Loch where it's wild and windswept, with the cliffs hanging gloomily over the single-track road.

I took a ferry to the Ardnamurchen Peninsula yesterday and apart from riding to the lighthouse (hilly!) met a very nice young shepherd/shearer/ex-houndsman in a pub. None-too-sheepish John took me in his car to the north coast to see the deer congregate on the hill, and watch the sun set pink over Rum and Eigg - like the Lost World of Atlantis, then cooked me a hot meal and gave me a bed in his 3-bedroom house. Such is Scottish hospitality, especially in the north. (In Dumfries, an old fellow gripped my arm and told me, "In the South, they won't see you starve, they shut their eyes!"). Speaking of Dumfries, a guy stopped to admire the Bike Friday (as most people have). Rick owns Rick's Bike Shed, took me mountain biking in the Mabie Forest with a gang of young thrashers. This is the first time I've been mountain biking, the drops were near vertical and it pissed down. I did surprise myself by getting up some steep bits on a Saracen 24" kids bike - must be the weeks of carrying my entire house contents between my thighs.

Today I'm off to Mallaig to catch the 6pm ferry to the Outer Hebrides, starting at Barra, the southernmost Isle , and riding heading north through the Uists, Harris and Lewis. From there I'll return to the mainland at Ullapool and might head up towards Durness, and across to John O'Groats. There I shall throw the bike in the sea and buy a Holden Commodore - only kidding. But I might not do this at all - the great thing is, anything can change.

30th September

Hi! I've just come back from a FANG through France to Basel, Switzerland, on the back of a motorbike (a very cool, retro-looking Honda CB750, for gear freaks out there). What a blast. The funny thing is, on a motorbike you go out of your way to find twisty steep ascents. Quite the opposite when on a bicycle (unless you're a masochist after the spotted jersey). Although I can hardly talk having deliberately ridden the hard 'n' hilly Ardnamurchen Peninsula in Scotland (aaah, where is my shepherd?). Switzerland is a funny place - very ordered. like, dare I say, clockwork. Like most Germanic countries. Reminded me of Munich and Austria. My 10 quid/day budget went out the well-engineered window in our host's immaculate apartment. My chauffer Kevin, Mark and I hired a car and headed for the Alps - the Jungfrau, to be exact, where we trotted up to the base of a glacier in our street shoes. The scenery was stunning of course (it would want to be at $A35 for the Thomas the Tank Engine ride up the hill) but Scotland is still hard to beat for sheer desolation. Magic.

September 8

Hi Lynette, do you remember me? We met at Durness and at Tongue and I'm the german girl, cycling in Scotland. It was very good to meet you, gave me a good spirit, you were so very much enthusiastic and open-minded. What are you doing now? If you pass Germany, make a break at Goettingen! Contact me by phone or by email ( Take care, Ulrike

September 1

Greetings Lynette will we ever meet. Should we have a headon in the Black Forest.As we head north for the winter will we see you sensibly pedaling south with the birds. We can be contacted via our website Au revoir. Steve S.

August 29th

Message from Martin and Moya Thompson on a tandem cycle camping in the Western Isles. We met Lynette in Harris on August 18th full of the joys of Summer and an enthousiastic salesperson for Bike Friday. On her recommendation we diverted to Berneray Island and camped beside the Gatliffe Hostel. Lynette seemed more tolerant of the dirty condition of the hostel than we were - but perhaps we were put off by the gale force 6 straight off the sea and into our tent. Valley Cycles seem to expect Lynette at their open weekend 12-14th September in Wellingborough. Perhaps we will see you there Lynette? regards, Martin and Moya

August 26th

I met Lynette at Laxford Bridge on her way to Durness, in the north-west part of Scotland. She was looking fine even though the hill upthere are pretty steep. As a cycliste myself, I can tell you that she is a pretty courageous girl. Keep on going girl, Stephane Tremblay.

August 21

Had a call from Lynette tonight. She had just returned to Ullapool from the Outer Hebrides and was heading for Durness. Said she would be at John O' Groats by the end of the month and from there would head back to Inverness then to Edingburgh. Also mentioned something about going to Switzerland with Kevin on a MOTORBIKE! What will Bike Friday think about that.

August 19th

1997 Hello there, we (Monique and me) met Lynette in the campsite of Arran, just over the Scottish border on the 28/29st of July. She was on her way to Dumfries then. We were spending our holidays touring Scotland on a motorbike, and though motorized we found the slopes steep as well... When developed, we mail you a picture of Lynette and more! Groetjes, Alexander

August 18th

I am sending this from Wales but in actual fact we met up with Lynette at the campsite at Loch na Keal on the Isle of Mull on August 7th. An absolutely beautiful place with lots of buzzards, geese and herons for neighbours (we saw a golden eagle on the island but at an even more remote spot). Anyway, Lynette looked splendid - this tiny figure peddled into the campsite looking for the loo and washing place, which was 300 yards back along the road she had biked along! Within minutes we had news of her journey - it sounded like she had had good fun in Wales. Good luck Lynette - this is a brilliant website - it will be so interesting to follow your progress. Cheers, Katie

11 August, 1997, from (the very kindhearted) Ray and Sheila: Hi from Lochailort in the Highlands. This is a quick e-mail from Ray and Sheila Bowden in Lochailort. Lynette was here on Monday 11th August and used our facilities (computer) to e-mail you on Tuesday. She was in good spirits and was looking fine.

We provided her with some sustenance (home made apple pie and some home grown vegetables) as well as water. She camped under a copper beech tree by our garden and the River Ailort. The local wildlife took a liking to her and so she was found burning a mosquito coil to keep the local midges at bay!!

We suspect that she is finding some of our hills quite hard but her strength and endurance are increasing. She left here on Tuesday morning for Mallaig to catch the ferry to Barra. We will keep visiting your site to keep track of her progress. Ray and Sheila at Tormore, Lochailort.

Back in July:

She was huffing and puffing away from the "sordid outskirts of Manchester" toward the Lake District. The rest of the postcard (actually it's her photo on the right here) refers to what seems to be a depraved and debauched encounter with 6 inebriated Welsh karaoke fanatics.


Due to a combination of false economy and mild enebriation, I've trashed my Sharp Personal Agonizer containing ALL my addresses. So if any of you are reading this and you want to stay in touch with me, PLEASE email me your details. Ah, the lessons we learn. The cap on my water bottle had come loose, and instead of replacing it I decided to save 2.50 quid and make do, as one does on a 10 quid/day budget. At O'Brien's pub last Friday the lid came off, drowning everything in my waterproof inner lined bag. Instead of addressing this problem immediately I thought, "she'll be right" and ordered another Heineken. She wasn't. I now have an address book with one of those pencil thingos.

--- oooOooo ---

What did I do after circumnavigating Southwest Ireland? 1. Flounced around the cobbled streets of Windsor Castle dressed up in a voluminous Victorian costume for a friend's Olde Time Photo business. Loads of Japanese tourists took my picture, oblivious to the fact I look exactly like one of them dressed up. One was canny enough to come up to me and say, "But you're not English!". I said, "No, I'm Chinese, from Australia, in an English dress. Haven't you heard of multiculturalism?" This was lost on my comrade. As was "There are no sides on a round planet".

2. WWOOFed on an Organic Farm. WWOOF stands for Willing Workers On Organic Farms. The idea is you work and learn about organic farming i.e. farming with no commercial fertilizers, feeds or sprays, in exchange for food and accommodation. This is something you can do all over the world. I rose at 7am, milked Jasmine the Jersey Cow, made butter, hoed the beds, fed the animals at Warren Farm in Streatley, a little haven 30 miles east of Windsor. Different, cheap and educational way to spend a weekend or more. As a result I find myself hunting for organic produce even though it costs more. Commercial fertilizers are full of salt, which is why your commercial apples and tomatoes etc look taut and perfectly formed but taste watery. I read an analysis of a commercial lettuce Vs. an Organic one. If you rate the Organic lettuce at say, 100, the commercial one came out at about 2. scary stuff. Oh, and always peel your carrots. Unless they're organic, recent tests have revealed high quantities of Dildren (spelling?) in the skins. Here endeth the lesson.

Copyright 2003 Lynette Chiang All Rights Reserved