What’s it like?

This is the question everyone asks and is the hardest one to answer. Every day is, of course, different but also strangely the same.

I thought it would be worth explaining our routine because we are strictly governed by it – and wierdly I have come to like it.

For pix have  a look here


4.30 the alarm goes off and I get up, pack up my clothes, sleeping bag, therma rest etc. Then I brush my teeth, take my malarone and scrub endlessly at my fingers with a wet wipe so that they are clean enough to put my lenses in. If I am lucky, I will have dry bike clothes to put on, haven’t had dry shoes for a while… Then I get all my bags outside the tent and start dismantling it. This is always gruesome in the wet, but thanks to my chavtastic waterproof trousers, I’m quite happy scrabbling around in the dirt. Bag and tent go into the locker – there is a queue – and it is time for breakfast.

5.30 breakfast. We are always hungry. Porridge is my favourite breakfast with a big dollop of jam on top.  Usually I manage to get a cup of camp coffee before it is gone but you have to get in quick.  For some reason, TDA have not got enough chairs for us all to sit on. So there is an unseemly scramble at mealtimes, with a lot of baggsying going on and then the rest of us having to sit in the mud or stand up. It is something that really annoys all the riders as it makes life just that little bit more difficult and uncomfortable – we may have to foment a revolution. We eat breakfast, chat, then rinse out our plates, put them in our lockers, fill up with drinking water and set off.

6.00 – 6.30 By now it has got light and everyone heads off to get on the road. Mike with a bike and I usually set off together and warm up for the first 10km then stick together or separate out.

The riding days are always different, depending on terrain, weather, how you feel, traffic, scenery, hills and most importantly – wind direction. Usually we’ll bike till the first chai/coffee stop or until 9.00 when I will need something to eat, and will grab a power bar, often just eating as I ride. I love the mornings, so want to get ahead and take full advantage of them.

Lunchtime really varies. I think the earliest I have had lunch is around 9.15 and the latest is 12.45.  But almost always, the lunch truck feels about half an hour too far away- it is typically around the 70km mark.  Spotting it, parked up in the distance, is a real high point of the day. There is always a group of riders there, so you get to catch up on the gossip. When you get to the truck, you have to take your gloves off, wash your hands and then help yourself to bread and tuna/hummus/egg/cheese/jam/peanut butter/mayonnaise – whatever is on that day’s menu – and same with fruit; mangoes/bananas/pineapple and my favourite little bittersweet oranges. I usually eat quite quickly because I don’t want my legs to get too sore, fill up with water again and set off.

The next breaks are the infamous coke stops. I ALWAYS need these in the afternoon. It gets you off the bike for a rest, gives you a chance to talk to local people and use a bit of language, and that hit of sugar really helps.

Then, ride on to camp. The last 10-20km, I am focussed on getting off the bike usually and if we are going into  a town, slightly worried I am going to miss the orange flagging tape which shows us which turn offs to take. The finish flag is another high point.  Again, when we get into camp really varies: earliest was 11am and latest has been 6pm. Depending how exhausting the day has been, I either sit round chatting and recovering and eat some soup and drink rooibos tea, or I get to it and put the tent up. I always want to get out of my cycling clothes and shoes though. By the time I get in, they are wet either with sweat (charmingly) or with rain, or both on a good day.

Once the tent is up, there is nothing to do till supper. This is our socialising and snacking time. I consider myself an expert in both! Peter JVA and I have started up the eating club. Membership requirements are an ability to consume vast quantities and also to provide treats – we are considering introducing mando days.

This really is a nice part of the day. You get to physically recover and also enjoy the companionship of the group and the stories of the ride.

But there are always tasks: Bike clinic and health clinic are usually from 4-5 pm so that is the time to take care of yourself and your trusty machine. There is always a queue. Martin and Gabe – our mechanics – work really hard and are working harder as all our bikes take a long distance beating. And as for Clare and Matteus on the medical side – well they have seen sights and sores that would make the strongest man blanch.

Kendra’s yoga class is at 5.15 ish. This is always a big hit with our local spectators. Then, rider meeting is at 5.45 when we hear about the next day’s ride and any general info. Straight after that is supper.

Supper is always good.  The food on the trip is amazing. Usually we get a carb like potatoes or rice, a meat dish and then 2 or even 3 other side dishes of veg, salad etc. Kim and James, the chefs, are miracle workers.

The chair fiasco repeats itself. But dinner is much more leisurely than breakfast. By the end of dinner it is dark, or getting there, so most people wash up their plates, do  dish duty if they are on it, and then head to bed.

I am usually in bed for about 6.30pm. I read for a bit and then go to sleep. And the whole camp is pretty well silent by 8pm ready for the next day.

If you enjoyed the blog, there are lots more stories in my latest book, My 1001 Nights, out now. Or you might fancy tales of biking across Africa or travelling to Timbuktu.

0 comments on “What’s it like?

  1. Rob Waghorn on

    Sounds just like any other day on any cycling trip! No seriously, The Andes Trail had similar set-up but we did not usually have to start as early. I can only refer to the first 2 months as I crashed out in Bolivia, I was not as lucky as you with the over the handlebars party trick!! Up until then the daylight was quite short and with often more than 2000 metres of climbing at altitudes already over 2000 metres we were not doing very long distances, around 80-100K. The highest we got was 4865 metres! There were not many days in the part I did which had much more than 120K but in the second half there were a few longer days on the schedule, but the Patagonian winds would have been the next obstacle instead of the hard climbing.

    Sad that you have not got enough chairs, as I have said before don’t stand when you can sit but that doesn’t sound as pleasant when there is nothing but mud around!

    I found the food one of the biggest problems, I am not a really fussy eater but just the monotony started to get me down a bit. Not sure if you are losing weight but raiding any “shops” that had chocolate or something different certainly helped to keep the stomach happy knowing that I was not getting any “fatter” on the ride.

    My only other problem was the amount of time you had to spend in the tent when bush-camping. In the part up to my premature end we did not have as much under canvas as the part that I missed, so when we were in “hotels” it was easier for a late person like me to stay up. But once it was dark at 2000M+ it got so cold that the tent was the only place to go for warmth, as the temperature went way below zero during the night. My Ipod helped to pass some time until I felt I would sleep and not wake up at some stupid hour way before I needed to.

    Great to hear that you are still surviving the daily routine and getting closer to the end each day. I hope we get a chance to meet up one day and compare notes on our trips, I want to do TDA one day so would like to pick your brains, but I have the second half of the Andes to do in 2012 before I do TDA.
    Keep going, and enjoy it as much as you have already.

    Cheers, Rob (Congleton CC)

  2. Lynne McCadden on

    Youve answered all the questions I was thinking about. Glad to hear you are still drinking the tea.And that you still have a healthy diet. All doom n gloom here so keep enjoying


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