"I am the world’s slowest cyclist. Everyone overtakes me, I do not like hills and just get off



Note for Tough Girl

I am going to be 60 later this year.

I am the world’s slowest cyclist. Everyone overtakes me, I do not like hills and just get off and push up!

In Sept we moved back into our house after cycling the world and covering 16,000 k, or 10,000 miles. We originally set out in April 2015. If I can, then, truly, anyone can!

Brief bio.

  • Name: Christine Armstrong.

  • Born. 1957. Very soon to be 60!!!!!

  • Married since 1984 to Stephen Smith

  • 3 grown children, Alaric 29, Conal 28 and Eleri 26

  • 1st grandchild due in December

  • Degree in French and German then trained as a Chartered Accountant. Met husband on 1st day at work, also an accountant.

  • Worked part-time after birth of children.

  • Currently live in Surrey, but originally from Somerset.

  • Very committed feminist!!

  • Methodist local preacher

  • Love learning languages, travelling, cycling, cooking and growing veg!

My first cycle tour was with a friend after university, and we chose to go cycling through a lack of money; cycling for 5 days from her house in Dorset to mine near Southampton. I had to borrow a bike to do it as mine was too old and decrepit to manage the trip. We had such a great time that we scraped the money together and then caught the ferry to France and spent a week cycling from St. Malo to Roscoff.

When my husband and I got together I found out he had also done a cycling trip, so we inevitably went on a cycling holiday and loved it and continued almost every year. Generally in Northern Europe. When the 3 children came along the cycling holidays continued. Initially taking the bikes with us and going for day trips. There was none of the wonderful gear for children that exists now. We bought one of the very first trailer bikes when our oldest was 5 and practically brought the traffic to a halt in Holland when people saw it. When the youngest was 8 we did our first holiday entirely by bike taking trains to the south east corner of Germany and cycling along the path following the Danube to Vienna. The following year we cycled in Denmark. We cycled in many European countries, and also had cycling holidays in the Rockies and in Cuba. Generally we headed to Northern Europe for the fantastic cycling infrastructure. We never camped. For me that was a step too far then.

My husband and I always said that when we retired we would go on a big bike trip. When the youngest of our children left university we decided to go, thinking if we waited till retirement age, for us 67, we might not be fit enough to cycle and camp. We knew we would have to camp both financially and to enable us to go where there might not be any accommodation. The decision was taken quickly and easily one evening in November 2013. We decided to go in April 2015 giving us plenty of time to prepare, quit our jobs and sort things out and leave as the weather was warming up as we wanted to set out from our house and head East. Friends and family were generally amazed at what we were doing, but our children just accepted it saying they knew we would do it one day.

Our original plan was to head east and maybe get as far as Australia, going overland as much as possible, but our watchword was to be ‘Flexible’. If we wanted to catch a train, then we would, and we would try to take off 2 days a week. This was at my insistence as my husband would happily cycle all day every day!

We finally set off with a small group of friends waving us away. I had done no preparation, figuring I would get fit as we went and I hadn’t ridden my bike for 6 months! This meant after about 100 yards I got off and pushed up the hill on our road. We cycled down to Newhaven and took the ferry to France. We then headed south to Orleans where we picked up the ‘Eurovelo 6’, the long distance cycle path that goes from the Atlantic to the Black Sea. We had done the bit from The Atlantic to Orleans a couple of years before with our daughter so picked it up where we had left it. Our plan arose as I speak French and German, and we thought that by starting through countries we knew well before moving onto countries we knew less well where I didn’t speak the language, we would acclimatise ourselves to our new life before we got to more ‘difficult’ areas, like Central Asia.

We settled into our new life almost straight away and really enjoyed it from the first. The only problem was that when planning it we thought we would do 50 miles a day, but in thinking this we hadn’t taken account of how much difference the weight of carrying stuff for a couple of years and camping equipment would make. I found this too much as it meant nothing but cycling, but for my husband this was the goal and he didn’t want to do less. It took a while for him to be able to accept going slower was fine. We loved the trip across France, Germany, Austria, especially going along the same path along the Danube we had covered with the children many years before.

The path was less developed as we moved east of Budapest. Then just outside Belgrade, Serbia, I fell off and hurt my arm. We got to the city with the help of some kind Serbians and rested up, but when my arm showed no sign of improving after a couple of days, caught a plane home and found out it was broken! In addition I was diagnosed with osteoporosis. Then we were home for 5 months while I recovered and did rehab to strengthen the arm and finally manage to let our house. It was letting the house that funded the trip. By the time this had happened it was November and heading east from Belgrade in winter did not look like a sensible idea. We were trying to decide where to go. One morning I said I had just had a really wacky idea, and my husband looked at me and just said New Zealand. He was right. We decided to fly to New Zealand, where our daughter was living for a year, cycle there for a while and then head west back towards the UK. We had 3 months cycling in New Zealand. It was great apart from the drivers. A nightmare on the narrow roads of the country.

From there we flew to Australia and cycled from Sydney to Melbourne. I had never had any desire to go to Australia before, but I absolutely loved it. Whilst in New Zealand I had seen a cruise ship and thought wouldn’t it be great if we could travel back to the UK from Australia without travelling by air. I found a cheap cruise from Sydney to Singapore so we cruised from Australia to SE Asia. We thought we would hate cruising, the antithesis of what we normally do, but we loved it. As a means of transport with bikes it beats flying hands down. Bikes go safely in the cabin, so you don’t have to worry about potential damage which you get flying. You don’t have to source boxes and pack them up, and after 5 months In a tent we enjoyed the luxury of an inside toilet etc.

Arriving in Singapore we discovered very quickly that I could not cope with cycling in the heat and humidity of SE Asia, so we were not going to manage cycling up through there and into China as planned, so we took a train to Kuala Lumpur and flew to Japan. By now we knew we were not going to go overland to the UK as my sister was getting married at the end of September and we wanted to be back for that. We had 8 weeks cycling in Japan, and it was a mixture of wonderful and difficult. The country was fascinating and often very beautiful, but also difficult as we were away from the big cities most of the time and very few people spoke English. I was trying to learn as much Japanese as I could, but after about 5 weeks my husband had had enough, just being ground down by the difficulties, whereas I was fine. Despite that, we would both love to go back there and would say to everyone, go, as it is such a fascinating and fantastic place.

To get back for the wedding we decided to fly to Berlin, head north to the Polish German Border on the Baltic coast, and follow the coastline all the way to Dieppe for the ferry home. We had cycled along the Baltic coast in Lithuania, the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad and Poland as a summer holiday with our daughter and eldest son a few years before so we felt we were continuing that route. We had a wonderful time, especially feeling ‘at home’ being in a country where we spoke the language and knew how things ‘worked’, after Japan. During this time our tenants asked if they could extend the lease through to spring the following year, and having had 3 successive summers arriving back at the end of November wasn’t so appealing so we agreed, but the we had to think of where to go for the English winter.

We decided to go to the southern USA. We took a cruise across at the end of October to Fort Lauderdale from where we planned to cycle to Houston. Then we booked a side trip to Costa Rica, without bikes as it was a visa run as our 90 day tourist visa wouldn’t take us through till our return in April. We hadn’t particularly enjoyed cycling in Texas because of the dogs. Guard dogs allowed to run free who took to chasing us. After a week of our 10 day trip I said I would rather stay in Central America and explore there than return to Texas, so we travelled down to Panama and using buses made our way back up through all the countries of Central America to Mexico, from where we flew back to Houston. We had just taken 1 rear pannier each with us for the 10 day trip, and that did us for 7 weeks. We had a fantastic time in Central America, absolutely loved it. Found it easy, even with my very limited Spanish. We now really want to go to South America, never really having done so before. Central America and Japan were definitely the highlights of the trip!

We flew back to Houston, and collected our bikes and luggage from our Warmshowers hosts. We then hired a car to get us back to Fort Lauderdale for the cruise home. Ironically on a cruise stop in Bilbao a cyclist and I collided, resulting in 5 stitches to my leg!!

We arrived back in the U.K. ready to move into our house at the end of April, but 2 days before the end of the lease the tenants said they wouldn’t be moving out! It then transpired that our agents had messed up and had to reissue the 2 month notice to quit, then there would be at least 6 weeks before we could get a possession order, so we were faced with at least 3.5 months of homelessness. However, we did have 2 bikes and all our camping gear. Rather than mope around in the U.K. we flew to Kirkenes in the North of Norway on the Barents Sea in early June, and headed south cycling for 5 weeks down through Finland to the Baltic. We had a great time there. From there we took a ferry to Germany and spent a week in our favourite place, Lake Constance, and from there cycled along the Rhine and took the ferry from the Hook of Holland back to the UK.

You don’t need to go on such a great trip. It is easy to do great adventures from here. E.g. We had previously cycled the length of the Rhine from its source in Switzerland to the mouth at the North Sea in Holland in stages, going for long weekends and following a fantastic cycle path the whole way. We are also 75% of the way around the coast, again doing it in stages having started on London Bridge in 2010 and having covered 3,000 miles so far.

Also, for many years I had only cycled on holiday as I couldn’t cope with the traffic in the UK. Then in 2007 the Tour de France came to the UK and there was the chance to cycle the first stage, over 120 miles, the week before. For me this was my ‘marathon’. I hate running and would never run one, but always liked the idea. So, I made myself ride on the roads and got more confident and trained. We set off from Greenwich shortly after 6am. The timing would stop at 6pm, but I felt I would have until about 10pm when it got dark to finish. Shortly after setting off there was a hill and I got off and walked up it. I could see people looking at me thinking there was no chance of me getting to Canterbury. But I was pacing myself. For most of the day I was continually passed, but in the last 10 miles I finally overtook a few people. I amazed myself by arriving before the timing stopped, and only about 2.5 hours after my husband! After the times of 4,000 participants were published and I was delighted to come in no. 3992!!

When we got married in 1984 we went to live in Papua New Guinea, which was very exciting. For our Silver Wedding Anniversary we decided to go back. We made plans, but as we did the cost went up and up. Papua New Guinea is not a cheap place to go! Finally it just became so expensive we couldn’t go. But what to do instead? Another ‘luxury’ trip was no good, as no matter where we went we would think it was second best compared to PNG. We needed something completely different. One day on the internet Stephen came across a couple who cycled Land’s End to John O’Groats for theirs, and that was what we did. I was absolutely on my limit cycling 1600k in 16 days, but it was a wonderful experience!

My husband and I are so glad we did take the plunge and go. He did say that he would never have done it without me and my encouragement, whereas if I were not married I probably would still have gone on my own. I have always been the traveller and would say I am 70% travel and 30% cycling, whereas he is 70% cycling 30% travel. Generally I come up with the ideas and arrange things and he goes along with it if he likes the idea!

10,000 miles covered. 37 countries visited. 2 years 4 month trip, with 5 months recuperation in the middle. And literally, if I can do it anyone can! I still cycle slowly, I still walk up hills, but now I have an excuse as walking is good for osteoporosis, whereas cycling is not!

I hope this story could be inspirational for older listeners, and those who think they would never be able to do some of the things many of the amazing women on the podcast do. Maybe it could also inspire the mothers of some of the tribe.

I hope that I have inspired my daughter. She is a member of ‘The Tribe’ and introduced me to the podcasts. She was working in New Zealand when we were there on our cycle tour. She finished her year working, having saved very hard the whole time. She then took 4.5 months to walk the Te Aroroa trail the length of New Zealand. We are in awe of her as there is no way we could do that!

She is currently working in Australia for a year saving very hard and planning and hoping to walk the Appalachian trail and the PCT in the States I like to think that our travels helped to inspire her in what she is doing.

My husband wrote a blog as we travelled and you can see it at

www.christineandstephen.co.uk

You can listen to Christine on the Tough Girl Podcast as she shares more about her recent adventure!


#Cycling