Only a few more days until Andrew Sykes joins the book club at the King & Queen’s pub in Fitzrovia (Thursday 29th March – 8pm) to discuss his book ‘Good Vibrations’ … everyone is welcome to join and ask questions. Here we have the second mini interview with Andrew in preparation of the evening … another appetizer, in case you haven’t started on the book yet.
Question: Cycling from Reading to the south of Italy … am I right in assuming that Italy was the prettiest and nicest part of the journey (disregarding the poor street signs)?
Andrew Sykes: It’s difficult to match what Italy has to offer. I think that here in Britain we take a very different approach to our old buildings and countryside very often cordoning them off in what we call a ‘stately home’ or a ‘national park’ and then attempt to keep them as they have always been. There’s nothing wrong with that approach but if you did it in Italy most of country would have to be off limits to visitors. It’s wonderful that Italy lives its history and beauty in a way that other countries can only dream about. That said, while cycling through Italy, I experienced a wonderful top to bottom cross section of the place and that means seeing everything, warts and all; the suburbs of the big cities, the factories and out-of-town retail outlets, the out-of-the-way places that have yet to receive their fat cheque from the European Union to spruce the place up. But one of the beauties of Italy is not just what you can see. It’s also what you feel. The best example for me on my cycle was Siena which is an undeniably beautiful town but where I didn’t manage to see any of the Palio because I was there too early in the morning. What I could do however, was soak up the atmosphere and the life as I pushed Reggie through the packed streets. Each country that I passed through had elements of this so even the more visually-challenging places had their charm!
Question: If you were to repeat your trip this year, is there anything you would do differently this time around? Any luggage you could have done without?
Andrew Sykes: As far as the route goes, I don’t think I could have made many, if any, improvements. There are places that I certainly wanted to pass through as I had never visited them before, the best examples being Luxembourg & Strasbourg and my chosen route across the Alps (the Gotthard Pass which in fairness I chose because it was on the route of the Eurovelo 5) was as spectacular as they get. The path along the Rhine towards Switzerland was wonderfully easy to cycle and allowed for a few days of non-strenuous activity before the challenges of Switzerland kicked in and then the route along the west coast of Italy offered far more interesting diversions than would have been afforded by the east coast along the Adriatic.
As for the luggage, well, for anyone who has read the book, you will know that I left a small amount of camping equipment behind in the hotel room in Luxembourg (I had come to an early conclusion that when faced with the choice of either boiling up some water and making my own morning coffee or sitting in a café and have someone do it for me, it was always going to be the latter that I chose), but apart from that, it wasn’t so much a case of what I wouldn’t have taken as much as what I should have taken! Other than the night after the Eguisheim wine festival where for some strange reason I slept like a baby in its cradle, most nights in the tent were restless to say the least. My camping mat was one of those ultra thin jobs but for ‘ultra-thin’ I should have realised that it would actually mean ‘ultra uncomfortable’ and I regretted not having invested in something a bit thicker. My tent was also as small as I could possibly buy and I did wonder, especially after having seen what other touring cyclists were using whether I would have been better opting for a more roomy model especially in light of the fact that I spent quite a few hours cowering from the rain in my little green home! And spokes; I should have taken some spares. I’ll leave you to read the book to find out why.
Question: Anne Mustoe, author of several cycle travel books, famously quit her job as head teacher in Southwold at the age of 55 in order to cycle around the world. Something that may occur to you as well?
Andrew Sykes: Absolutely! Anne Mustoe did it when she was 55 and wrote some seven books so if I retire tomorrow, well… I think I may have to stick to the teaching for a few more years before I’m in a position to do what she did but why not? It would be a great adventure to just set off in one direction around the globe and keep going until you arrived back where you started. Recent years have seen an increase in the number of people who aspire to do a complete round-the-world cycle but the emphasis does seem to be on speed. If I were ever to attempt such a thing, my route would be a bit more wiggly and my time in the saddle significantly longer than the racers who are able to do it in well under 200 days. There are so many stories out there waiting to be told; there is definitely room on the bookshelves for Good Vibrations: Around The World on a Bike Called Reggie! Would anyone like to pay me to write it?
Andrew Sykes will attend the London Cycling Book Club on the 29th March 2012 at the King & Queen’s pub in Fitzrovia. Come down to meet the author at 8pm. (I am sure we’ll be able to have our copies signed, too!)