Dispatches from the edge...

How to keep powered up when travelling off grid..

Hi de Hi off-grid campers.

As I blissfully slept dreaming of a world full zombies, cheerleaders and just little ol’ me I was brutally dragged kicking and screaming from this hypnogogic heaven by the incessant beepage of a reversing truck as it warned all and sundry within a twelve mile radius that it was indeed reversing.  How very very rude.

As a youth I would casually kick back the quilt, roll out of  bed (generally not mine and usually as a result of someone’s husband returning home unexpectedly) and continue the life long quest to jump into my Calvin Klein boxer shorts.  I’d improved my technique over time however the successful completion of this morning ritual remained elusive and was becoming something of an obsession.   So far I’d developed the technique thus:

  1. Ensure pants are not inside out (the reason being that, and this has no real impact on the technique, should I ever be successful and if in someone’s company to boot  I’d be damned if I was going to have my glory tainted by such a trivia which could possibly be amplified by some bleary eyed nymph slurring “You’ve got your pants on inside out” instead of showering me with the praise I richly deserved.)
  2. Ensure pants are not back to front (for same reasons as bullet point one.)
  3. A hand (your own hand) is placed either side of the Calvin’s grabbing the elasticated waistband
  4. A thumb and “pinky” finger is placed inside the waistband and the hands are pulled away from each other creating a loop with the waistband that lies parallel to the floor at roughly waist height.
  5. At this point one leaps ceiling wards whilst tucking the knees up to the chest.
  6. Arms are extended and the “loop” is pulled over the feet.
  7. The legs and body are straightened as the arms are pulled up.
  8. At the point, as the feet touch the floor, the pants should be definitively up and in situ with no further jiggling, pulling or twisting required.
  9. A”crucifix” type display along the lines of those regularly seen in gymnastics following a successful dismount and landing off the parallel bars is acceptable.
  10. One can award one’s self points for artistic merit etc..

“I’m too old for all this pant jumping now” I was thinking when my thoughts were interrupted by a rap, rap rap at the front door.  I hastily donned my jeans, fell over the sleeping deaf dog, and threw myself giddily down the stairs into the hall.  I pulled open the door to find it was the postie.  The eternally short wearing pensioner who usually  works the round seems to have been replaced, for reasons unknown but most welcomed, by a pert and perky Polish postie, ding dong I thought (though we don’t have a doorbell).   Oblivious to my non existent charms she thrust a parcel into my hand with all the warmth of Rosa Klebb at a shin kicking contest

I headed to the kitchen (then went back and closed the front door, at which the deaf dog started barking) , made a coffee and ripped open my parcel. Swaddled within the bubble wrap was this little baby…

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What is it?

It’s the Aqua Trek + 18000 (yes, 18 THOUSAND) maH  IP67 waterproof power bank.  A waterproof portable power bank/charger for 5v USB devices (mobile phones/tablets/cameras/action cameras/speakers/GPS/radio etc) with built in torch.

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Who’s it for?

Individuals/small groups who value communicating/filming/photography when off-grid for extended periods.

  1. Camping
  2. Festivals
  3. Trekking
  4. Canoeing
  5. Kayaking
  6. Boating
  7. Cycling
  8. Touring
  9. Adventure motorcycling
  10. Miltary
  11. Expeditions
  12. Other stuff…

How Much is it?

£59.95 (though there optional extras that can be added and that may increase price)

Where can I get it?

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Pro (for)

  • 8 + phone charges.
  • Fits in your jeans back pocket.

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  • Dual 5v usb ports (1 x 1amp 1x 2.4amp) and yes, you can use them simultaneously.

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  • Integrated high power torch.
  • Rechargeable from mains/car/usb.

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  • Recessed “On/Off”  and torch operation switch.
  • 4 blue LED charge indicator.  Each LED = 1/4 charge.
  • Water/dust ingress protection to IP67 ( IP = “Ingress Protection”  6 = “Dust Tight – No ingress of dust; complete protection against contact”  7 = “Immersion up to 1m –  Ingress of water in harmful quantity shall not be possible when the enclosure is immersed in water under defined conditions of pressure and time (up to 1 m of submersion).”)
  • Battery charge retention:  -/+ 12 months (dependent on battery charge/age/condition/climate)
  • Life span:  > 500 full charge/discharges

Contra (against)

  • May be pricey for some
  • Heavy (but rugged)
  • The blue LED charge indicators, as seems the fashion at the moment, blow out night vision and can become irksome, well they did for me, after a while.
  • Can’t think of anything else negative to say.  I’ll keep this blog updated with any good/bad experiences.

Other info:

  • Dimensions:  158 x 90 x 30mm
  • Weight:  445g
  • Chevron/dust cap colour options:  Green/Blue/Orange

Conclusion;  Fab or Fail?

For me, Fab.  I put my hand in my pocket and spent my own cash.  The independence it brings to travelling and staying powered up and connected is what this is about and it does that with ease.

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Learning to Paramotor with Sky School @ Fly Zone Fermo in erm.. Fermo, Italy…

I’d been Umming and ahhing about Paramotoring for some (way too much) time and,  after reading an inspirational article in the Guardian about how  “conservationist and freediver Sacha Dench took to the skies in a motorised paraglider for the start of a daring 4,500-mile expedition across the Russian Arctic to draw attention to the decline of the UK’s smallest, shyest species of swan.“, I decided I’d procrastinated enough.

I had, some time ago, thought about just buying some paramotoring kit (How hard can it be?) and learning as I went along (Knowing what I know now, that may have not been such a great idea, but maybe I’m just getting old?).   Although no formal training, licencing or qualifications are required, as paramotoring is deregulated (In the UK and hopefully it will stay that way.  It’s not in all countries so it might be worth checking before planning flying abroad.), it’s still quite easy to get one’s self (and by association paramotoring in general) into heap big trouble…

Full of ignorance and enthusiasm I contacted Alex Ledger at SkySchool and enquired about course types, availability and location.  Paramotoring is exceptionally weather dependent and there are small windows of opportunity in which it is possible and/or safe to fly.  This in mind, and after some consultation with Alex, I decided that the weather, opportunities to fly, pizza, seafood etc would be much better in Italy as opposed to dear old Blighty.  Also providing the opportunity for a little road trip..

The courses available (at time of writing) were:

  • UK – Taster, Beginner and Intermediate Courses in Mere, Wiltshire
  • Italy – – Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced and Instructor courses at Fly Zone Fermo
  • Oman – Taster, Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced and Instructor courses in Muscat
  • APPI PPG – The International Paramotoring Association Training Syllabus – (You don’t need a licence to fly however having this provides certain benefits worldwide and the knowledge gained will, in my opinion, accelerate your abilities in and enjoyment of the sport as opposed to probably becoming a gourmet of hospital cuisine.

I chose two weeks in Italy at Fly Zone Fermo with the aim of attaining the APPI PPG Pilot Licence.

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The cost for two weeks of training (with all kit hire, fuel and log book included) was £1295.

SkySchool kindly offer some discount for payment in full before a specific date and can offer discounts on training and/or certain equipment should you buy it from one of Sky School’s partner companies.  I didn’t but any kit so I can’t say if they offer both of the early payment discounts and the equipment/training discount.   Couldn’t hurt to ask I suppose.

The add-ons were €35 per night (room only) in a single room (in a shared apartment as it turns out, but that’s not a bad thing).

I did contemplate finding my own accommodation though following some discussion with Alex he suggested that I may learn more by being surrounded by other  paramotoring students and immersed in the experience and conversation plus it’s a friendly group vibe which I may miss out on being in accommodation on my own somewhere.  With hindsight, he was 100% right.  If you find yourself pondering the same decision, go with the group…

You’ll need to factor in buying some Medical Insurance inclusive of Paramotoring and I (as everyone else is strongly advised to do) purchased insurance for medical repatriation to the UK.  SkySchool have links to some companies that provide this cover and to my recollection they were around £30 each.  Well worth it for the piece of mind that brings.  Also (pre-brexit, if it ever happens) the EHIC card is good for minor local treatment.  As a side note I bought a regular sized tube of Ibuprofen Gel,  Ibuprofen 600mg tablets and a box of 500mg Paracetamol tabs which came to €20 at the local Italian pharmacy.  Why did I need these?  Two little words:  Ground and handling!

One other potential cost which may need factoring in is the damage to equipment.  Poor launches and landings do have the possibility of breaking a prop or frame, which is the most probable learning expense that may occur.  It’s possible though not probable, but it does happen.  Props can be around £250 so it it’s worth checking with the guys before booking and factoring this in as a potential cost to be paid for, if it may be a funding issue.

After several months with my face pressed against the calendar it was time to finally saddle up and sod off.  A yawn of a ride down the A1 from West Yorkshire got me to the Euro tunnel. Increased security measures as a result of the London attacks slowed things down with trains running around a half hour late.  I exchanged the usual pleasantries with some of the other bikers making their way across (or more accurately under) the channel and then finally was let loose on continental Europe.

Top Tip: I usually set Tolls as an avoidance on the GPS and it mostly comes up with a decent route.  If you’re wanting something more scenic set Motorways as an avoidance also and/or change routing from fastest to shortest.  My GPS is knocking on a bit now and I know some of the newer GPS models have a scenic/twisty routing option.  Maybe I should just buy a new one.

If you’re flying down to Fermo the nearest airports are either Ancona or Pescara then you can either hire a car, catch a train, get a taxi or pay the SkySchool guys to pick you up (if available)

If you’re driving, it’s around 1250 miles, well it is from where I live near Leeds.  I broke it down into chunks as I promised myself some time ago, for my own sanity (well, what bit I have left) that I wouldn’t do any more 1000 mile + rides in one go.  I’ve done a few and the novelty has well worn off.  I spent the first night in Troyes on the way down, then the next night in Chamonix.  The final days riding was through the Mont Blanc tunnel…

Mont Blanc Tunnel

and down to Fermo.

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To avoid the tolls on, and boredom of, the Autostrada I started on the back roads.  Initially the scenery was beautiful but after an hour or so the mountains grew smaller in the mirrors and it got quite boring.  What I saved in cash, I lost in travel time so eventually after a couple of hours of feeling like I was wasting time on the back roads, I changed onto the Autostrada.  With the Mont Blanc Tunnel and the Autostrada tolls I think it came to around €70 (each way, by bike, it may be slightly more by car) but it saved me roughly five hours of riding (each way).

I noted a monstrous traffic jam on the opposite carriageway.  This bad boy stretched for 40 miles…

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The ride down the A14 was pretty uneventful and easy going.  I plugged in the ear buds, got the audio book IT by Stephen King playing and cruised down the A14.

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The accommodation was at the Villagio Le Mimose in Porto Sant Elpidio.  It’s half apartment/bungalows and half camp/caravan/motor home site.  It’s a decent place to chill out and about five minutes (by car), if that, from Fly Zone Fermo.   It’s self catering though there’s a cafe/bar/restaurant on site and a small store behind the bar which will meet most of your simple day to day needs.  The bar has a small “take out” menu which can be a blessing after a long day.  May I suggest trying the deep fried olives stuffed with meat.  Sounds weird I know but worth a try…

The rooms had free wi-fi though for reasons unknown it didn’t stretch to the bar/cafe.  A minor niggle.

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Info about the following days start times etc is usually posted on a tiny dry wipe board located on the wall outside the instructors apartment.  You can just about see it to the right of the green door at the far right of the picture above.

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The pebble beach, which is an easy five minute walk.  The beach at Porto San Giorgio (2.6 miles to the south and read on for further info) is pure sand and significantly better.

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Marmalade Croissant and a Cappuccino which rapidly became my breakfast of choice throughout the two weeks.

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There’s a DIY BBQ at the rear of the cafe/bar/restaurant and a trip to one of the better local supermarkets will reveal the meat counter, which puts most English supermarkets to shame.  There are some fantastic cuts to be had and for a good price too.  Obviously you’ll need one guy to cook and the other two to watch and tell him how he’s doing it wrong..

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Some “post flight briefing”.  In reality, you may be too tired to drink and “clubbing” will not be an evening of choice for many.  Early starts (05:30) and late finishes put a damper on most students (and instructors) night life aspirations.  Save the heavy “socialising” for Saturday night, Sunday is the only day off from training.

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This is the usual accommodation for the course however on our second week, there was a cycle race/triathlon type event which meant all the accommodation had been booked up so we had to re-locate to the Hotel Eden in Porto San Giorgio. Which, in reality, was about two and a half miles down the beach.  The rooms were good but shared, unlike the Villagio Le Mimose.  The bars and restaurants locally were much better and it had a livelier, though not adolescent, vibe.  The prices for food and drink were fair, in my opinion, and the quality of the sea-food in Porto San Giorgio was outstanding.

If you have the option I would consider travelling up to Porto San Giorgio for the food alone, if you can be bothered.

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I also had one of the best pizzas I’ve ever had at the unfortunately and misleadingly named Stella Artois 2000 restaurant.

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Despite it’s name it was a great place to eat.

Possibly some of the best food I had during the whole trip was at the Ill Grillo, reservations may be required as it’s full most nights.  It’s most definitely worth the effort.

Chalet Malu is also worthy of a mention.  On the sea front and great quality, good value food.

After arriving on the Sunday, the course started in earnest on the Monday.  The course obviously has some knowledge and theory underpinning practical application such as:

  1. Theory and principles of flight.
  2. Introduction to the wing and harness.
  3. Untangling, folding and care of the wing
  4. Wearing the harness, clipping into the wing and 6 point check
  5. Forward and reverse launching.
  6. Motor Safety Checklist
  7. Safe starting procedures.
  8. Wearing the motor and running it
  9. Hang test, adjustments, Reserve practice deployment.
  10. Landings – planned and unplanned.
  11. Meteorology.
  12. Air law.
  13. Flight planning.
  14. Cross country flight planning and preparation.
  15. Dealing with failures and malfunctions.

These are reinforced and revisited through out the training, though the majority of the training is focused on building competence in practical skills through repetition and repetition and repetition and repetition….

The video below pretty much sums up the first week….

The first week consists of predominantly (this is dependent on previous experience i.e. paragliding, skydiving, aptitude for learning etc) ground handling and although initially I found the repetition tiresome and the learning curve rather steep, by the end of the course I appreciated the skills I’d learnt and felt much more confident and capable in handling the wing safely, especially in higher winds.

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The only advice I can offer at this point is to learn by handling the wing.  The temptation (and with good will) of the instructors is to show you how to do it but I found I learnt very little from that.  I needed to hold the risers and feel how the wing worked, moved in the wind and subtly reacted to my input.

Despite my initial erroneous presumptions, the wing is not possessed, is not trying to mock me and does not have a mind of it’s own.  They are very responsive and my initial, clumsy over reactions to what I thought the canopy was doing caused more wing movement than it stopped.   By design the beginner wings are designed to be stable and fly true and straight when into wind.  Once it’s in a stable and flat, position and heading into wind it will fly straight.  At this point little input is required to keep it that way,  it took me a lot of sweat and frustration learning that.  And you’ll never learn watching someone else do it.  Once you start to “get it” it becomes relaxing and enjoyable, akin to flying a huge kite.

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This training is a build up to handling the wing whilst connected to it and this in turn to improve the chances of a successful launch.

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Launching (for a beginner) is possibly the most psychologically and physically demanding part of the learning experience.

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It’s a combination of handling the wing (sometimes in reverse, depending on wind speed) to get it in a stable flyable position at which point you have to give the motor (with a whacking great propeller on the back) full beans and run (especially in low wind) with a 25kg motor on your back, then find yourself climbing quite briskly up into the air.  There’s a lot going on and it’s easy (as a beginner) to get some parts of that wrong.  I (and others) got it wrong a couple of times.  Zeb, the chief instructor, had a lovely head of hair when I arrived, this was unfortunately gone by the end of week two.  I salute and appreciate his patience and tolerance.

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The group had our first flight on the Friday evening with various “points to improve upon” showing in the first flight.  The instructors keep in touch via radio offering constructive pointers on techniques/skills whilst launching, in the air, relaying certain learning objectives which are mostly discussed pre-flight though sometimes present themselves mid-flight and during landing.

Rob  (as seen below) usually films take off and landings, which can be useful for feedback on technique or, as I found several times, providing evidence for “Fine O’Clock” later in the bar for performing the paramotoring faux pas of the day..

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One nice touch is that Sky School creates a WhatsApp group for the week you’re there and exchanges info, pictures, videos etc prior to, during and after the course.  It’s a great way of keeping in touch and sharing info.  If you don’t know WhatsApp is, it might be worth checking it out now…

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Learning “care of the wing” and how to fold, pack and store..

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One of the student frames and engine..

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The “Top 80” in closer detail.

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Paramotoring harness i/c reserve..

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Closer shot of harness with throttle unit visible.  It works very much like a Scalextric throttle unit.  If you’ve never used a Scalextric throttle, go find and slap your parents for not raising you properly, get some cash off them (which they should have spent on you many, many years ago tell them) and go buy a set immediately…

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Fly Zone Fermo is surrounded on three sides by farmland and a river on the other so access is via the farm’s dusty, hole riddled tracks.  Be prepared for the car to get exceptionally dusty and potentially bottom out if you get giddy with the throttle.

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Whilst we were there the farmers were spraying the fields with what was thought to be water.  It’s not.  It’s a combo of water and manure.  We nearly got caught out driving through it with the roof down when the spray was intermittently yet disturbingly frequently soaking the road in front of us.  Some excellent timing and generous application of the right foot prevented a huge fail, all credit to Theo for that!  Though it could have been worse.  The week before we there, one student had unwittingly decided to fly low through the “water” then couldn’t figure out later why he stunk of shit.

Fly Zone Fermo is great for learning  paramotoring, but has few facilities at the times you’ll be there so you’ll need to take what you might need.  I suggest plenty of fluids, a snack or two, sun cream, you’ll definitely need a cap/hat and toilet roll (there’s none in the toilet at the drop zone however I found a secret stash in the centre console of the Sky School Landrover).  And the toilet is a very continental hole in the floor, so start practising now. I found that there was, more often that not, free Wi-Fi near the main building on the airfield, if that’s important to you..

It’s an active airfield so small planes/microlights/helicopters do come and go which it’s advisable to keep an eye out for and it’s an active drop zone at weekends.

In summary it was a great couple of weeks and I learnt sooo much.  I came away with a lot more confidence (and competence) and would feel comfortable starting to tackle the skies on my own (I’m now evaluating some kit to buy).

I was “under the weather” for a couple of days of the second week with what I can only describe as heat stroke.  A combination of heat, exercise and failure to hydrate just seemed to get the better of me.  My advice would be to re hydrate continuously and more than you probably think you need to.  Although they never said it, I’m sure the instructors thought I had a hangover. The two days of down time impacted heavily on what is an intensive course, especially in flying time in week two…

The days are long, and I was unprepared for just how long.  The first week isn’t too bad however the early mornings start in week two.   Paramotoring is, due to the capabilities and characteristics of the wings, heavily influenced by the weather, predominantly wind speed and thermic activity.  These tend to be lower for around two hours after sunrise and two hours before sunset.  The effects of the Sun on both wind and thermic activity is greatest when it’s at it’s highest.  So early starts and late finishes it is.

The first week can be physically demanding.  If there’s little/zero wind you have to run to get/keep the wing inflated and in the heat the repetition can take it’s toll.   Take plenty to drink.

The good/bad point of this is that from around 8 AM to around 6 PM is down time which, if not having any lectures or other supporting educational shenanigans, is your own time to fill.  Luckily, there’s enough history and culture in and around Fermo to fill your days.  Plus there’s always the beach just a short stroll away.

I’ve purposefully stayed away from revealing any course content/tips/techniques etc as there’s no alternative to quality, hands on training, which these guys deliver by the bucket load..

That just about sums things up.

The big question for most will be:  Is it worth the money?

One of the great guys who I met on the course, Theo, took some in flight footage (which there’s a story behind to tell over a beer) he was kind enough to share the FB link with me so you guys can see what all the fuss is about once you’re up there.   Thanks Theo…

So, for me, and Theo, and the rest of the guys the answer is a resounding yes.

  • I came away with a new skill set which will last a lifetime.
  • I met some great people, who I plan to stay in touch with and fly again with some time, soon I hope.
  • I came away inspired about the sport, places to fly and adventures for the future, not only for me but for my friends and family.  Yes, you can take friends and family up with you, with the right kit (as long as you don’t charge them for it).  And Sky School can get you trained for that.

Paramotoring is easily the cheapest and simplest form of getting airborne available today.  It’s a multi faceted sport with many disciplines and there will be one in there somewhere for you.

So, What are you waiting for?

A shout to all the instructors/guys at Sky School:

Zeb Murcan

Rob Furnival

James ? ( I’m no good with names, apologies for that)

JC

You, and of course my fellow students, made a good couple of weeks great.  Thanks for that…

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Note:  I have no connection with Sky School or any of it’s partner companies.  I’m just a guy who did (and paid for) the course…

Great British Loop – Riding the mainland GB coast – Road Trip – 2016 – Day 13

After a night on the settee, blissfully free from aural assault, I ventured back into the waking world.

On rising, just in time for my booked and cooked breakfast, as I was still down stairs I didn’t have far to walk.  While I dined I exchanged light conversation with a very pleasant German lady who was visiting the remaining family she had in England.  Again, not the clientele you’d expect in a YH but, as previously noted, my expectations were incorrect.  I clocked she was reading Roald Dahl’s classic “Danny, the champion of the world” and commented on the same.  We fell into a discussion of English and German comparative children’s literature, which can be quite enjoyable over a hash brown.  After Brekkie and the stimulating chat, I again packed up and saddled up.

The plan:  Head for the East coast, turn left and keep going.  I’d booked a YHA in Blaxhall so that was today’s final destination.   On perusal of the map whilst planning this leg of the jaunt I’d decided that today would be a long (wrongly as it transpires) and awkward ride, with little to see (rightly as it transpires).

It proved a short but irksome ride.  More a long commute than anything pleasurable.  On reflection it was generally an accumulation of unnecessary tyre, engine and ass wear whilst burning petrol and contributing to global warming.  On looking back at all the photos these are the three that are least boring, not that that makes them in anyway interesting.

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