I would like to introduce you all to Andrew P. Sykes. Andrew is writer, teacher, speaker and long distance cyclist with three fantastic travelogue books about his cycling adventures under his belt. His engaging, informative and humorous style of writing will have you hooked and back onto Amazon (or other equally good book retailers!) to swiftly order Andrew's other books. And you may find yourself with a serious case of wanderlust too!
I had the pleasure of hearing Andrew give a cracking talk at the recent Cycle Touring Festival in Clitheroe, and he has kindly agreed to answer questions about his latest book, Spain to Norway on a Bike called Reggie (Summersdale, 2017) and maybe a few others thrown in for good measure too!
Lets get started!
Where did the idea for the Spain to Norway cycling adventure come from?
Having already cycled across the continent twice, I was looking for a third and final route to complete the trilogy. Examining the map, the northern parts of Europe were a blank canvas in terms of my travelling so I came up with the idea of cycling from the continent’s southernmost point at Tarifa to its northernmost point at Nordkapp in Norway.
Your book begins by explaining the challenge of reaching the most southerly point of Europe. What happened?
Accessing Tarifa itself is no challenge whatsoever. You can drive or cycle there no problem. But the issue I encountered was that Tarifa is not actually the southernmost point of the continent. There is an ‘island’ attached to Tarifa by a long causeway – that has been there for 200 years – so the real southernmost point of Europe (in my mind at least) is the southern point of the erroneously named ‘island’. Alas the ‘island’ is occupied by the Guardia Civil military police so it took a lengthy exchange of emails before they granted me permission to access the island and set off from what I considered the real southernmost point of the continent.
As touring cyclists, we often attract the attention of others along the way; from questions about our journey, comments about our sanity for cycling such long distances, to acts of wonderful kindness. Is there anyone who stands out from this journey?
Many people stand out; most for good reasons, a handful for less good reasons. I suppose the two people who I will never forget are Hans and Veronika. They were a father and daughter from southern Germany and I met them for the first time very close to the Arctic Circle. They were good company and I continued to bump into them at campsites, cafés and occasionally whilst cycling during he final two weeks of the journey. It was good to see familiar faces as I was nearing the end of the ride and it also meant I had a couple of people with whom I could celebrate upon arrival at Nordkapp.
During this trip, where were the best and worst places you slept? Feel free to adjust names to avoid offending!
The best place I slept in terms of a campsite – and I camped for about two thirds of the time – was probably the remote Norwegian island of Andøya near the town of Bleik. A wonderfully atmospheric place next to a sandy beach with mountains in the distance. It was just about as good a place to camp as you could find. The worst place to camp? I wasn’t a great fan of the campsite in the forest just outside Montargis in France. It was far too creepy for my liking.
What was the funniest situation you found yourself in?
There are many funny situations and hopefully these come across in the book. Very often the situation isn’t that funny at the time but when you look back upon it, it was quite comical. Running over a Japanese tourist in Paris? (It was entirely her fault…) Being attacked by a rough-legged buzzard in Norway? Taking pictures of the signs in wonderfully named Båstad in Sweden? (The Båstad School, The Båstad Police…)
Is there a particular place from this journey that you would like to return to?
Many. I suppose on a long journey like this you never get the chance to stop for a longer period and really explore one particular place. Although I made sure I took days off to explore places like Salamanca, Pamplona, Paris, Bremen, Copenhagen, Oslo etc… I would love to visit all of them again and spend a good week or so really getting to know the cities.
Apart from reaching the most southerly point, did you have any dramas along the way?
It was a relatively uneventful ride in terms of encountering big problems; just one puncture and no physical problems even after having cycled the 7,776 km required to arrive at Nordkapp. There were periods of exasperation and a few days when you do wonder why you have volunteered to take on such a challenge (especially when the weather has turned for the worse) but a day or so later when the sun has reappeared you wonder why you ever had any gripes at all.
There can be ‘off days’ when out touring, especially if the weather is involved. What keeps you motivated to keep the pedals turning?
I am quite an impatient person and have a low boredom threshold. I love to see things change and am always optimistic that however wonderful one day or place has been, the next will be even more wonderful so I have never found it difficult to keep myself motivated. The biggest hurdle in terms of motivation is not getting up every morning and continuing to cycle, it is the decision to complete such a journey in the first place and turn up at the starting point on day 1. Once that’s done, the rest is easy. Usually.
Is there anything from home you miss whilst on the road?
No. On the contrary. Like everyone else, I surround myself with ‘stuff’ whilst at home. Most of that ‘stuff’ we never use or is entirely superfluous to making sure we have an enjoyable existence. Packing the things you need into four pannier bags and setting off with just those few bits and pieces is a wonderfully therapeutic experience. Yes, I like watching films on my TV when at home but would I swap cycling through a wonderful landscape just to do that? No. There’s plenty of time to catch up on things like that when I’m old and my knees have stopped functioning!
What is the one item in your panniers you cannot live without?
My camera. I love stopping – it’s so easy on a bicycle – looking at the view and taking a photograph. I dare say there might be a few complaints if I started to cycle naked, but a camera is the thing I’d really miss. (And, perhaps, the clothes…)
To satisfy the bike techies out there (me!), which bicycle do you use for touring?
My touring bike is a standard Ridgeback Panorama bike that I bought back in 2010 to cycle to Italy. It has, however, been much modified since. I changed the drop handlebars for a set of butterfly bars which are far more comfortable and the saddle is, of course, a Brooks (highly recommended). Much of the rest of the bike has been worn out and replaced since 2010 but essentially it’s the same bike that I bought.
You have named your bicycle 'Reggie'. Where does the name come from?
I wanted to have a character in the books – my Passepartout or Sancho Panza – who I could refer to from time to time. Naming the bike Reggie for no better reason than it sounded nice when combined with ‘Ridgeback’ provided me with an instant sidekick.
How do you plan your trips - do you meticulously plan every waking moment of the day, take each day as it comes, or strike a balance somewhere in-between?
My planning is pretty minimal. Most of the detailed planning is on the morning of the ride itself. I look at the map and have a destination in mind and then try work out a way of getting there. Sometimes this is made easy if there is a long-distance cycle path to follow – the Vélodyssée in western France for example of the Kattegattleden along the coast in Sweden – but essential my pre-trip planning is mainly on a very global scale. What’s my final destination? Where could I visit along the way? The nitty-gritty of how to get to the places is very much last minute. I like that as it means I can be as flexible as possible.
Are you someone who likes gadgets/equipment to make life easier when out touring? If so, which is your favourite & why?
Yes, I love my gadgets. The iPhone is a wonderful tool with not only its GPS features and instant access to the Internet but also its ability to take high quality pictures and HD videos. I have a GoPro (and even a GoPro selfie stick!) and I took with me an iPad mini to edit short videos that I made. Perhaps my favourite gadget however is my bell. It’s a Japanese Crane Suzu bell and it’s simply wonderful. Try one.
And finally, what next for Andrew and Reggie?
Well, talking of Japan… That would be an interesting place to cycle. A top to bottom ride via Tokyo would take me through what is, I’m certain, a fascinating country and give me plenty of things to write about. At the other end of the scale is Yorkshire. I was born and brought up here and I am now back living in the Calder Valley. Should I take on a long trip around my own back yard and give it the ‘Reggie’ treatment? Perhaps…
I would like to say big thank you to Andrew for taking the time to give us all an insight into his latest trip. If you would like to read more, then why not treat yourself to the the book - Spain to Norway on a Bike called Reggie, you can find it here. Spain to Norway. Don't forget to check out Andrew's other great books. Andrew P Sykes Books
Andrew will be giving talks about the book:
- 1st August 2017: Cambridge – FREE
- August: CTC Birthday Rides, Moreton-in-Marsh (exact date tbc)
- September: Halifax (details tbc)
- 23rd January 2018, Geographical Association, Huddersfield – £2 ON THE DOOR
Andrew's Website and Social Media:
And to finish off, here are a selection of photos from Andrew's trip.