Away Days – NE England

Having been working (and cycling) away since I came home from my Fijian adventure, I was keen to get away for a while. A change of scene was needed and just about anywhere would do. I had thought about going abroad, but decided to leave that until the end of the month instead – I’ll write about where I went soon!

No instead I decided to stay in the sunny UK, taking my long suffering Dad along with me. He did the driving so he actually kind of took me with him.

Anyway we ended up deciding to go to Northumberland for no good reason whatsoever, apart from having never really been there before. Maybe that is a good reason for going somewhere.

Early on a Tuesday morning we set of on our perilous voyage down the East Coast of Scotland to Englandshire, stopping first just across the border in Berwick-upon-Tweed. I had only ever viewed this town from the window of a London bound train so it was nice to explore the old town walls which had protected the town from the English, the Scots, the English, and then… I could go on. Basically for a period in Berwick’s history it was difficult to figure out which nation the town belonged to.

Picking up a cycle map, I studied some of the local routes, looking for one which would be suitable for me to test my legs on, as we headed towards our campsite for the next two nights. We camped on the outskirts of a small town called Wooler, 13 miles south-west of Berwick.

Taken aback by how quiet the roads seemed, I hopped on my bike as soon as we had set up camp. I soon found myself heading north up traffic free, dusty roads, meeting nothing but the odd combine.

If you know me at all you’ll have realised riding a bike is something I already find immensely fun (mostly!). However, there is something about riding on new unknown roads which adds to this sense of enjoyment. Using my phone as a map I flew down small country lanes and soon realised I was heading back towards the mother nation.

With around an hour’s riding done I decided to make crossing the border into Scotland by bike today’s target, only slightly concerned about the dark clouds forming to the west. Several miles and much (phone) map reading later, I came across a pedestrianised bridge with a plaque reading “ENGLAND” stuck to one of the archways. I had found the border!

On the other side of this picturesque bridge (picture below) across the River Tweed, I was welcomed to Scotland. For some reason it felt more special to be riding across the border which holds much less importance than it once did many years ago.

Changing direction once I was in Scotland, I headed towards Kelso, before swinging south across the border again towards Wooler, using my phone to navigate the peaceful country lanes. Although there were no particularly long climbs, the roads were undualting, with fun to be had on the steep short climbs and the technical descents which followed.

That evening I compared notes with Dad about the local roads. He had gone for a shorter cycle, something which was encouraging as health issues had often meant he couldn’t enjoy exercise as much as he sometimes wanted to. And the next day we dicided to cycle across the causeway to the Holy Island, an island only accessible by roads for 12 hours a day. Spinning across the slippery seaweed soaken tarmac was a somewhat surreal experience as small lakes of water surrounded us.

After crossing we didn’t stay around for too long. A hot drink and a short look around and we set of across the causeway and back to the car. It was a cold day and the clouds looked full of rain. Yesterday I had managed to stay dry but today the heavens opened after we had returned to the campsite.

Sitting in the car I suggested we go to Newcastle or “N,Castle” as locals like to call it. The city seemed a sensible idea when the weather was this vile. Again I had only ever passed through this city on the train and was impressed but what I saw. During a break in the weather we wandered down to the river, where there was bridges galore.

Having enjoyed my first “Nandos” ever (shock horror) and many a “geordie” voice in Newcastle we overheard many more broad accents in the pub that night back in Wooler. That night my mattress deflated so I got up at first light. First priority was water followed by getting my lycra on and hopping on my bike again. It being 6 am the roads were empty, though it was very cold.

It quickly warmed though and I did a similar route to the one two days previous, adding some miles to make it a 50 mile effort. Not a bad mornings work. With the sun on my back and my legs taking me were I needed to go I felt lucky to be alive. Sometimes getting up so early can be of significant benefit and I felt set up for the rest of the day.

It may have been a short trip but it was definetly an enjoyable one and worth it to explore a new place.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Highland Cross 2018 – Race Report

It is now Monday night and your legs are still sore from taking part in a 50 mile duathlon on Saturday. It was worth it however because you raised money for charities that do brilliant work in the Scottish Highlands. You also thoroughly enjoyed yourself and pushed yourself to the limits of endurance while travelling through some awe inspiring scenery.

Now its back to washing dishes though and your still pretty tired. So how did you get to this point. Well, 36 years after its conception the Highland Cross is still going as strong as ever with a field of over 700 taking part every year. Some choose to walk and cycle the distance while others, including you, choose to run and then cycle it. This is actually the second year you have taken part in the crossing across the Highlands from Morvich to Beauly, passing the stunning Sisters of Kintail and running through Glen Affric.

Organisation is a word you have always feared and has never ever been a strength. In fact its likely the reason teachers at school often became frustrated with you. Unfortunately a significant amount of organisation is needed to compete in this awesome event. Though fortunately the race organisation itself is top notch. To anyone participating in this event it is recommend to make a weekend of it. Take the option of dropping your precious bike in Inverness on the Friday evening to be transported to the transition point of the race after 20 miles.

Arriving in the capital of the Highlands, you will wrap your almunium bike, that you love dearly, in copious amounts of cardboard and bubble wrap while watching fellow competitors  wheel their carbon frames about. Its okay though because you’ve always believed its not at all about the bike and that the totally worn out tryes on your steed don’t make it easier to puncture. Basic science isn’t important right?

With the bike now at the back of your mind, as no last minute repairs can be made, you drive to Beauly where you will be spending the night with your team mate/mother in a hotel room. You have convinced yourself over the last week that the reason you couldn’t find anyone else than your Mum to join your team is that you are a maverick when it comes to running and cycling. You go it alone. Maybe its actually because you look shit in lycra. Oh well.

Anyway on arrival you meet with your team leader who you raced with last year. He is a strong athlete and therefore deserves his carbon bike (please write in), and has given you the great opportunity to do this event again. See you do have some friends in the athletic community.

The night before is less stressful than it was last year when you spent the wee hours pacing around your room and hoping you wouldn’t be using the bathroom as much when the morning came. Last year was more stressful as you really wanted to put in a good shift for your team leader to help him record a sub 5 hour crossing which you managed with 20 minutes to spare.

This year isn’t as stressful as you are purely racing for yourself, being given free lease to see if you can beat your previous time of 4:40. Training hasn’t been ideal and your health has been bit sporadic but you feel confident you can beat 4:30, not using excuses in a desperate attempt to provide a safety net for massive failure.

Feeling sick with nerves the next morning you force down some lumps of porridge which you are sure is actually a living organism, and head of on the 2 hours, 30 minutes bus journey to the west coast. This is where sheep have free will and the roads curve through towering mountains shrouded in low cloud. It is also where you will start the race.

Now standing on the start line your bladder gives it usual last minute reminder that its there, before the starting gun is fired at 11am. Your off at a storming pace and you feel great, strolling along a nice wide path through the beautiful countryside. At this pace you’ll get there in under four hours and you won’t even have to worry about finding a tree to take a piss behind.

Soon you hit the first climb and the legs aren’t the happy, reminding you there’s the best part of 17 miles remaining until transition. Slowing down you take water from every station you pass, commandeered by enthuasutic  volunteers with loud and encouraging voices. Taking it easy to the high point of the race you take in the amazing waterfall below and finally after an hour, relive yourself behind a small wall.

The descent to the halfway point is great fun and you revel in ploughing through deep streams which cross the path. Suddenly you are over two hours in and are still going well. You have munched through half an energy bar, finding out how hard it is to keep running while eating. Others are taking in gels and other food, but you think this will give you a sore stomach so keep going. You will regret this when your blood sugar levels drop through the floor after the race.

Its not long until you can hop on your bike and your getting excited about getting a seat of some sort. Your lycra is beginning to become uncomfortable and you want to start wearing it for its primary use, to protect your fruit and veg from the exertion of cycling. When running its heavy and feels like more of a hindrance than anything else. When thinking about all this you find yourself on the “Yellow Brick Road”, a seemingly endless hell of undulating double track which leaves cramp in almost every part of your body.

In reality this section only lasts five miles but it takes a lot of resolve to not start walking or stop. After a section of tarmac which adds to the pain, you arrive at the transition point to your absolute relief. This part of the race is brilliantly organised and you only spend five minutes here, changing into your circa 2012 cycling clip ins (I haven’t really grown) with the help of a friendly and patience race volunteer.

The cycle was great fun last year and you enjoyed it again this year, weaving through groups of slower cyclists and being passed by the quicker ones on the often technical run down to Beauly. It feels like your competing in a clean Tour de France. With your eye on the clock you power through the cycle in 1hour, 23 minutes, meaning your total time is 4 hours, 20 minutes. Success!

This joy at your time is short lived however, as you miss your team mates finishing as you pass out in your hotel room and sleep for the next three hours, obviously suffering from major calorie defiency. Both of your team mates ran storming times and you leave the Scottish Highlands with a great sense of happiness, hoping to return again to a great event for a good cause.

If you have been good enough to listen to my ramblings it would be awesome if you could sponser me a wee bit for completing the Highland Cross 2018. The work the Cross does goes back into the communities which play such a big role in helping the race continue successfully….

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/finn-nixon1

 

 

 

 

Keni Stops Play – Thursday 12th April

It had been a productive and highly enjoyable sixth week volunteering in the Yasawa Islands. The only disruption to the scheduled school visits had been on Thursday when we had carries out activities at base due to a poor water forecast. This had been followed on the Friday by a slightly hairy experience on our small boat in a larger than usual swell.

This was a perhaps a pre-warning of the storm which was approaching. It was a depression coming from the west which had caught the eye of forecasters who thought it had potential to become a cyclone. The damage from a Category 1 cyclone isn’t usually too significant I can’t so we weren’t too concerned.

On Saturday I waved goodbye to fellow volunteers Jessica and Steph, leaving school teacher Heather and myself with team members Gabby and Jim. Saturday afternoon and evening was relaxed at Botaria Resort, but the next day was far from it…

That night there was loud cracks of thunder over the islands as the rain poured down. We were starting to experience the first indications of the area of low pressure. After breakfast Heather received a phone call from Elle, general manager of “Vinaka Fiji”, informing us we were to be evacuated to the main island – Vitu Levu.

Elle is also plays a significant roll in the “Awesome Adventures” company, an organisation which helps run several of the 16 resorts in the Yasawas chain. It also provides the flyer, a daily catamaran service which provides the best way of travelling to your chosen resort while seeing the other islands. Therefore, it was her call to evacuate all guests at the resorts to Port Denaru on the mainland.

The Flyer is timetabled to arrive at Botaria at 11am on its way north. This time it arrived early and turned at the next resort along, picking up all tourists south of Naviti. Another boat would do the resorts north of Naviti.

The first challenge was actually getting on the Flyer. None of the resorts have a mooring large enough, so we are taken by small longboat to the flyer which stops just out to sea. Once the resort’s boat captain has managed to park next to the catamaran, passengers must step from one vessel to the other. This can be difficult in stormy conditions and proved to be today as Heather and I both found it hard to find any sort of steady surface to step on.

Thankfully making it onto the boat, we started our winding four hour journey south. As every guest at every resort was leaving the Flyer was soon at full capacity. Luckily Heather and I were able to find seats in the middle and at the back of the boat as we swayed from side to side in the large swell. This is seemingly the best place to sit if you don’t have good sea legs.

Relieved to arrive at the port, it was a farewell to Heather who had unfortunately only been able to spend one day volunteering while in Fiji. I was then given a lift from Elle herself to Nadi Bay, an inland hotel which would be my shelter for the next few days.

The next few days were spent sitting around and not doing very much at all. I was desperate to return to the islands but knew this was the a safe place to be as the cyclone arrived. On Tuesday it hit Nadi and there was high winds and flooding in other parts of Fiji. Nadi Bay was a sheltered spot and I felt sorry for the locals who had been forced to batch down the hatches again after the flooding which had followed Cyclone Josie a couple of weeks ago.

“Vinaka Fiji” team member Ross’ family home was flooded along with his farm just outside Nadi. Dengue fever had also been going around his village and he fell victin to it for two weeks. Meanwhile, Gabby and Jim had trekked to Kese when we were evacuated on Sunday. This village on the other side of Naviti from Botaria was hit by flooding from the heavy rainfall.

The Flyer didn’t run next untill Thursday and I met Miss Tema at the port. She had been forced to take an extended break and we were both unaware that Ross was ill as he didn’t join us on the boat. The cyclone had even worse effects in Kadavu, an island 60 miles south of the mainland. Roofs were torn of houses and locals said they thought the world was going to end, as Keni intensified into a Category 3 cyclone.

Arriving in the Yasawas again it was great to be back, but hard to hear of the difficulty my Fijian friends had faced. Difficulties that many say our becoming more common as climate change has a huge effect on a country which actually contributes to the global problem on a much smaller scale than most. When Cyclone Winston hit Fiji in January 2016 it was the strongest ever to hit the Pacific region. Huge Disruption was widespread and the current Fijian government now treats globe warming as a hugely important issue. Let’s hope for the sake of this beautiful group of islands, that there is now some restbite.

 

 

 

 

 

First Impressions of Fiji

After a mammoth journey over three continents and including three international airports, I had arrived on Fijian soil. Stepping out of the airport I had been met by a blast of hot, humid air, my first breath of Southern Hempisphere air as I sety watch to late afternoon.

I was taken by shuttle taxi to where I would be staying first. The plan was to stay on the mainland, 15 minutes from Nadi Airport in a resort next to the beach. I hoped that it would go some way in destroying my flight lag.

The “Smugglers Cove” resort turned out to be a great cure with good food, lovely staff and a well conditioned dormitory where I spent a fair few hours sleeping when I arrived. Sleeping from 8pm to 7am on my first night there.

This meant that I woke up the next morning feeling refreshed. Although I was quickly reminded when I wondered out onto the beach that these temperatures would take some getting used to. With the mercury nearing 30 degrees by mid morning.

I decided to go for a short wonder along the road but quickly found out this wasn’t really the thing for a tourist to do. Was stopped by many taxi drivers and drivers who wondered where I was going and whether they could give me a lift.

It was the second night at the resort that I met the most Australian man in the world called Ash. Nothing was off the table with this “bloke” and he delighted in telling me about every personal detail of his travels, not leaving much to spate. He didn’t seem impressed when I told him I didn’t think much of Australian Football.

It was during this chat that one of the resort staff, Rita, asked me whether I was travelling alone. On finding out I was, she insisted on giving me her bus e-card to travel into town (Nadi) and then onwards to the Port Denaru marina. Giving it toe the warning that if I lost it should would kill me.

With this in mind, I spent my last day before travelling to the Yaswa Islands, riding the local buses. Rita had given me strict instructions to follow and I had wondered up to the nearest bus stop with no idea about when the next bus would arrive.

20 minutes passed before I was joined by a local who explained she was also headed for Port Denaru, telling me to follow her. This had come from her ability to make conversation with a stranger at a bus stop. A skill which Fijians seem much better at than us Scots.

The first bus to Nadi was loud and had little windows, but gave a good insight into rural Fiji. It didn’t take long to get to town and when we did we were met by a huge queue of buses revving their engines at the bus terminal.

A short walk later I was on the “Yellow Bus” to the marina, thanking the kind lady who helped me as she got off to work at the “Hilton”. Port Denaru would be where I would get the boat out to remote Fiji the next day, though after buying some new sunglasses there didn’t seem too much else to do in the many shops and I headed back, looking forward to the next adventure.

That night we were treated to traditional dancing and fire throwing. Which looked no less dangerous than amazing.

The next morning I rose early, packing everything and getting on the “Awesome Adventures” coach with a huge school class from Norway. A long way for a school trip to go!

After a short journey to the marina I had visited yesterday, I met with the volunteer leader and was suprised to find out that I would be working alongside one other volunteer called Alex. After being provided with our tickets for the “Yaswa Flyer” and a t-shirt to be worn in the school, we boarded the boat for paradise.

 

 

The Big Trip

Only six weeks after booking the adenture of a lifetime to the Fiji Islands I was being seen off by my Dad at Glasgow Airport. I was nervous but thrilled to be given an opportunity to travel to the other side of the world to meet new people and have some exciting experiences.

This excitement was complemented by some nerves as being 19, I had never travelled solo by plane. This trip would include three flights and four airports, a thought for the inexpirenced traveller. The three boarding passes clutched by my side reminded me off this epic 35 hour plus trip as I waited to board the first flight to Dubai.

As I waited, I overhead some antipodean accents and wondered if any passengers would be joining me for my second flight to Brisbane as well.

On boarding I was pleasantly surprised that I found my seat so easily, usually being one to commit some sort of faux-pas at this point. I had an aisle seat, sitting beside two Glaswegian honeymooners going to Bangkok.

If your going long haul, “Emirates” seems the way to do it. Being seated in economy class, I was given good food and had plenty of leg room. I had no complaints, even if the lady harassing the flight attendants in front of me disagreed.

We left the cold, dark surroundings of Glasgow at 8.50 pm landing in Dubai the next morning, they’re time. On approach to Dubai we flew over the city and we’re given good views of the urban landscape and dessert that stretched inland like a massive sandpit. It looked warm, but my next destination would perhaps be warmer.

Before landing I was concerned I would struggle to find my was around the massive airport, but was helped greatly by clear signage at every turn. It took 15 minutes to walk to the gate where I decided to stretch my legs round duty-free rather than sit with the masses bound for Brisbane or Auckland.

Soon enough I was going through a security check before boarding the largest passenger plane in the world.** Surely it would be harder to my seat this time? Again no issues and a settled down for the definition of a long haul flight – 14 hours in the air.

Sitting right at the front of the plane, I found myself between a Kenyan women and a man from Gloucester, who tried to convince me that the Scottish Rugby team were still as good as we thought they were. This being after I told him where I was from.

I tried to remain relaxed but found the middle of flight quite wearing as I watched our location on the map get closer to the Australian coast without seemingly ever finding land. The man beside me was less relaxed, walking about every 30 minutes and using an unusual device to take on board “atmospheric” oxygen. This did however give me lots of opportunities to go pee while not bothering anyone to move as he sat be tween me and the aisle.

It took five hours to cross Australia, before we hit the tarmac hard at Brisbane. I had a four hour break here, and as I wondered around the departures area, I realised that I was at least 10,000 miles away from anyone I had close links too. A mega-scary but also mega-exciting thought.

With some time to spare,  I went in search of some Fijian dollars and took out 100FDJ***. When asked by the cash exchange server if I wanted to know about future deals I might want to know about I declined, telling her I didn’t think I would be here too often. She laughed while looking enqusitvely at my Bank of Scotland card.

In deed most people I had come across so far had been slightly bemused when I told them where I was from and that I was travelling alone.

My flight left Brisbane at 10.30 am, on time despite the gathering storm clouds visible from the terminal building. By this point my body clock was throughly confused, but I still horsed down the tasty curry on the flight.

If the passengers and crew of the Fijian Airways flight were an advertisement for Fiji then they were a very good one. They welcome us aboard with aboard with a friendly “bula” – meaning hello and really all round happiness. They were dressed with colourfull Pacifican clothes and wore big smiles.

On our final descent into Nadi on the main Fijian island of Vitu Levu, the Fijian beside me complained that it was going to be cold when we landed. After a smooth landing in a rainstorm, she was proven wrong (in my eyes) as I was hit by a wave of humid air as we made our way towards the airport building.

I realised that the real adventure had now begun!

*Airbus A380 if your an airplane geek like me.

**Equivalent of approx. £35.

 

 

 

 

 

What is This All About?

This is the post excerpt.

Updated – 25/04/18

This blog is about giving an insight into my experiences of adventures which are always out there! Whether this be while running up in the hills, out on my bike, or in my new passion for travelling. A lot of time experiences seen as ordinary can be exciting and maybe slightly scary adventures.

At the start of this year I was in a hugely transitional period in my life. Though I think most of us are most of the time. Anyway, I had done a year at university and  wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue down the pathway I had chosen. I spent months at university seemingly lost, in a poor mental state and cut off from the rest of the world. I had given up the battle against my inner fears and had paid the price when I moved to a new city with new people.

When I arrived home I was relived. The last nine months had been a scary insight into what happens when you become unmotivated and let your anxiety take total control. After finishing first year I worked in my village until the welcome bells of 2018 started ringing. I washed dishes and earned money but that wasn’t what was important. Instead it was more important that I started talking to people again. Yes it took time, but after a while I was relaxed in the company of my colleagues. I started to feel like I had breath in my lungs again.

With this increasing confidence, I decided that I wanted to go travelling in the New Year. I didn’t know where I wanted to go or what I wanted to do. I just knew that I wanted to prove to myself that I was brave enough and that I could push myself to do something a bit mad (by my standards anyway). I wanted to go on a solo adventure to some far off land where I wouldn’t know anyone and would be thousands of miles from home. New Zealand sounded far away enough…

At this point you’re maybe thinking, typical millennial off on a gap year to New Zealand to find himself. This is absolutely true, though I didn’t expect to find myself and having returned I haven’t. However, I have learnt a huge amount and have a better knowledge of the type of person that I want to be. I am in a hugely privileged position to have lived with my mother while I worked for the last six months, meaning I paid little living costs and was able to finance this trip. Thanks Mum.

In the end I didn’t end up in New Zealand, but somewhere equally as far away and perhaps even more magical. Read on to find out more….

This blog has been created with the following words in mind:

  1. Honesty
  2. Modesty
  3. Fun
  4. Adventure
  5. Resilience