Our Finance Director, Mike Tyler, has a real passion for cycling. Here he tells us more about his top five cycling trips
CKB – Backroads of Kerala (Dec 2012 - Jan 2013)
This was my first visit to India and I can't think of a better way to experience the amazing assault on the senses that India provides, than travelling by bike. I travelled over Christmas and the New Year with my wife and a full group of mixed ages and cycling abilities who all got on like a house on fire. This is an easy going cycle trip with full-on, activity-filled days.
From the minute we mounted the Trek mountain bikes we were surrounded by the clamour of the streets, the vibrant colours, the smell of spices and rewarded by the warmth and friendliness of the people. The scenery changed constantly – from beach, to rice fields, to fishing village, to tea plantation, to busy town, to rubber plantation… and we never knew what might be round the next corner; a Hindu festival parade, an elephant or a group of children wanting to high five a bunch of Explore cyclists.
This was not just a cycle trip; it was also a boat journey through the Kerala backwaters, a train ride from Cochin to Trivandrum, an early morning jungle walk. And there was still time to shop, sunbathe on the beach and swim in the Arabian Sea.
By the end we knew how to extract rubber from a rubber tree, how tea is processed and had a small understanding of the customs, religions and history of this remarkable country. My only regrets are that I didn’t do this fabulous trip years ago and that I didn’t take a bigger bag for all the spices and sarongs bought by my wife.
Mike’s notes and tips: Pack light - it’s hot! Clothes are cheap. Take sterling and change in the small bureaux in towns. The rates are better than using a card. There’s Wi-Fi everywhere. A European travel plug works everywhere for charging.
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CAB – Cycle Albania (Sep 2012)
Albania may be in Europe but it’s surprising how little most of us know about it. In my own case my knowledge of Albania could be summarised as a former communist country, closed to the outside world until fairly recently and used to have a dictator called Enver Hoxha (pronounced “Hodger”). So this was a journey into the unknown.
The trip is graded as moderate to challenging and the cycling was definitely strenuous and exhilarating at times. It is certainly true on this tour that for every up there is a wonderful down. In general we cycled from one night’s accommodation to the next.
The country was a revelation; a hidden gem with few tourists. There was hardly any traffic and the scenery was simply stunning. The first three days were spent cycling along the undulating Adriatic coast down into coves with empty beaches and up again until we reached the Greek border where Corfu was almost within touching distance.
At this point we turned left and headed inland to the beautiful hills and canyons, the springs, the goatherds and the empty silence. The World Heritage sites of Butrint and Girokaster were not only awe-inspiring but uncommercial and deserted. Perhaps arriving at Butrint near sunset is the trick. I wasn’t expecting the food to be up to much but it was great – think Greek and Turkish – probably the best tomato salads I have ever tasted. Like everything else, the beer really is cheap. Even though it’s a Muslim country, everyone seems to drink beer and wine!
Mike’s notes and tips: Take your own pedals. Don’t take much money – about £120 is sufficient. There’s no Wi-Fi most of the time, so leave the iPad behind. Some of the hotels are quirky and some are great. It’s what you would expect in a former communist country.
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CICE – Cycle Iceland (Aug 2012)
I would have to include this in my top three. I'm not much of a mountain biker, preferring speed and smooth tarmac under my tyres, but this trip converted me. Despite the moderate grading, no MTB technical expertise is required, although there were times when we had to get off and walk. It’s not always possible to cycle up a steep black lava sand slope!
Five days and nights are spent cycling and camping in a remote area of the country, away from civilisation, roads, mobile phones, comfort(!) and – for most of the time – people. Camping really does mean camping: we put up our own tents and helped with the usual camp duties (washing up after meals for me). Of course there are those who develop the technique of getting others to put up and pack away their tents!
Then in the morning after a hearty breakfast and a quick wash in cold water it’s onto the bikes for another day of ever changing landscapes – through black volcanic deserts, past green volcanoes, rocky moon-like fields and alongside vast glaciers. The common theme is the myriad of ice-cold glacial streams. Very quickly we learnt to just keep cycling through these without pausing. Exhiliarating!
In the three months prior to mid-August 2012, Iceland had enjoyed one of their best summers as the Jetstream sat, unusually, over the UK. But as I flew to Reykjavik, it moved north with me. However, the cold and the rain (often a feature of my cycle holidays) only seemed to enhance the experience. On two of the nights the weather was so bad that we slept in remote, mountain huts, which was great fun, making us feel like pioneers. The last night was spent camping under the shadow of THAT volcano. The Canadians call it “Ay, I got your yoghurt”, the locals call it “Charlie”, but with the tutoring of our two fantastic Icelandic guides, by the end of the week the 8 of us on the trip could pronounce it properly – Eyjafjallajökull.
Mike’s notes and tips: Don’t take your own pedals. Wear trekking trainers without socks to cycle and ¾ length cycle shorts or tights (you will spend a lot of time with wet feet, crossing streams). Take enough batteries for your camera. There are no charging opportunities until you return to Reykjavik. Back in Reykjavik, go and see the Volcano Show. It’s quirky. The director introduces it and talks to you about life in the most geologically active country in the world.
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CTC – Cycle the Cape (Feb 2010)
My thinking was that by February I would have had enough of the UK winter and needed some warmth. So what better place to go than South Africa? A long way but no jetlag, great wine, superb food and, as people on other Explore trips had told me, good cycling. I wasn’t disappointed.
Over the 10 days I warmed my winter cold limbs in the hot African sun, tried more wine than was perhaps wise, ate almost my body weight in succulent steaks, absorbed the history of the Southern Cape, swam in the South Atlantic Ocean, experienced some great rides and saw penguins, seals and ostriches. Oh yes, you can't travel around the Cape without seeing ostriches. The region has 90% of the world’s population!
As for the cycling, my personal favourites includes the descent from the top of the Swartberg Pass (built by convict labour) with its amazing views across the Little Karoo and the flat, seemingly endless ride from Swellendam to Cape Agulhas, the most southerly point in Africa; next stop Antarctica. Like many of the daily rides, part of this was on gravel roads, with the ruts and bumps being easily absorbed by the front suspension bikes. The cycle grade is moderate. The terrain is a good mixture of mountainous, undulating and flat. On occasions some of the group, (my wife included), opted to get in the bus for the steeper hills leaving the rest of us to prove ourselves in the heat and boast about our conquests in the pub at the end of the day.
Mike’s notes and tips: You will need to take a backpack as panniers are not provided. Remember to take a special African round pin adapter. The usual multi-travel plug adapter won't be of any use.
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CPP – Pedalling in Poland (July 2011)
Taking time out of the office for more than a week is rarely convenient; hence the Explore 8-day cycle trip is just perfect. I love to get a couple in every year and then the big one in the winter! So Poland seemed a great choice for a one weeker in July: a short flight and the chance to see some different parts of Poland (and Slovakia).
Starting off in Zakopane in the Tatras Mountains, we put our nice, comfortable bikes in a cable car and ride to the top, to spend the rest of the day cycling downhill. Yes I know it’s cheating but this is a nice easy going trip with leisurely stops for lunch, ice cream, a beer…
This is a very green trip. There is no support vehicle, but it’s not necessary. When we had a puncture on the first day (in the middle of a market), the men all gathered round to discuss the best approach to changing an inner tube, while the ladies drifted off to the market stalls (and the Tour Leader got on with the job). A small van collects the luggage in the morning and takes it on to the next hotel. In general we follow the Dunajec River, much of it along cycle paths.
The stretch through the Dunajec Gorge can only be described as gorgeous (sorry, but it’s true) and traditional log rafts drift along with us, filled with parties of nuns and locals. Of course we are in the mountains in the summer and you can expect rain, so make sure you have some good waterproofs, because rain isn’t really the best word to describe it. ‘Stair rods’ is possibly better and on my trip, even that wasn’t sufficiently descriptive. But it doesn’t last long and in the meantime the only thing to do is to stop and have a Polish beer.
The holiday ends with a cycle tour of Krakow and some free time to explore this beautiful city. Some of the group, who did not have to return to work on the Monday, stayed on for a few extra days. I wasn’t sour or envious. Definitely not.
Mike’s notes and tips: Don’t try to pronounce the place names. It’s impossible! You won't need to take a gel saddle. The bikes have wide gel-filled comfortable saddles. A waterproof pannier is provided, which is adequate for camera, extra clothes etc. A small, foldable daysack/backpack is useful for those occasions when you leave the bike to walk to castles etc. I would recommend waterproof trekking shoes for when you don’t manage to get into a bar before the rains hits you.
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