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Bike to the Future

Written by George Fisher

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James Desmond is on a 10,000-mile charity cycle expedition from London to Sydney

In July 2012 James Desmond left the tranquility of the Lake District to set off on an adventure around the world. In aid of local charity The Calvert Trust and a charity working in Africa (Solar Aid) James plans to ride across Europe, over the Alps, through India into the Himalayas and down Asia to arrive to Sydney, Australia early next year. One month into the adventure James has reported back with how the ride is going; the ups, the downs and the kit.

Month 1: 2500km, 10 countries, 1 puncture and a whole lot of adventure!
The ride started from London and soon I was cycling through the flat fields of France and Belgium, making my first mountains the Ardennes. Following some of the Tour de France route it was easy to get carried away trying to sprint up the cols, however on a bike weighed down with 20-30kg of kit - to cover everything from alpine climbing to desert travel and months of camping - this was proving a challenge!

Another 600km and switching the pedals for crampons for a few days, I found myself on top of the Breithorn (4165m) in Switzerland looking across to the majestic Matterhorn. This was to be a practice climb for an attempt on Mont Blanc, what my team didn't tell me about was the 95 miles up two 1500m passes I would have to cycle to reach our camp in Chamonix!

An injured ankle, the first major setback of the trip, prevented a successful climb of Mont Blanc, but I was soon back on the bike and having crossed into Italy I was again at the bottom of a daunting 1800m Alpine climb, Passo de Maloja, to get back onto the planned route through Switzerland and Austria. An agonising eight-hour climb in brutal 35-degree heat left me exhausted, but I enjoyed an easy two days descending back into Austria.
Finally I connected to the Danube, a Mecca for Euro cycle tourers, particularly the Passau- Vienna leg. This river will lead me all the way to the Black Sea passing through Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria and then on to Istanbul to complete the European leg of the expedition. And from what I remember from geography lessons, rivers don't flow uphill!

Regarding kit, I spent months researching every item. For cooking I have chosen a multifuel MSR stove with the GSI pinnacle soloist cooking pot, after long conversations with Sean in George Fisher. The combo has worked nicely – as well as being very light and durable, and some tasty meals have been made, the only negative being a slight lack of control when trying to simmer water. Continually adding cold water to the boiling pot has been my low-tech solution to this.

My Icebreaker merino wool underwear and t-shirts really have stood up to the “Think, don’t stink” test. Weeks of wear without proper laundry, being stuffed into my pack when not in use and they genuinely don’t smell too bad yet! A little more fragile than cotton, but I honestly think they are great – it means I can carry just two T-shirts instead of ten!

For camping I chose a lightweight RAB down bag (Neutrino 200) with the Sea to Summit Reactor Thermalite liner and Exped SynMat7 sleeping mat. This nicely sets me up for all situations, and I’ve not had a cold night yet - when it’s warmer I can just use the liner.

In the rain (and there was a lot in Belgium!) my eVent waterproof has been well up to the job, a little more breathable than Gore-Tex when working hard on the bike and so far my Keen sandals have been the perfect all-round shoe to cycle, hike and travel in (combined with SealSkinz waterproof socks for when it is a little cold!).

If you would like more information about the causes James is cycling for, the trip or would like to donate to the causes please go to jamesdesmond.com/donate