Giro dell’Etna

Its impossible to deny that Mount Etna is fascinating – the most active volcano in the world, its impact on the local landscape and history of Sicily cannot be ignored. Surrounding the volcano the landscape is covered in smaller vents, plateaus of lava and rock formations from centuries of eruptions.

It is however incredibly touristy.

At Etna South, the southerly main active crater, there is a cable car and chalets reminiscent of a ski centre. It is indeed a popular ski area in winter, but in summer you must be guided to the summit on foot or by vehicle.

As two mountaineers the prospect of being guided up a large dome of ash and lava didn’t appeal to us. Thankfully there are alternatives and hiring bikes turned out to be the perfect day out.

All around the Etna national park there are trails, both hiking and mountain biking which are well marked and available on the national park map. As it was, the company we hired the bikes – Etna bike tours – from gave us a pre-loaded GPS for the main trail – the Giro dell’Etna. Including the descent back to the rental place in Milo the total loop would be 55km.

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Cycling the Death Road, Bolivia

I should start by saying I’m not really a cycling and have never mountain biked before. I own a bike which gets used once in a blue moon in the summer but is currently unloved in the shed collecting spiders.

But since I was in Bolivia it seemed like a good idea to take up the chance to mountain bike the famous Death road. How hard can it be? Its all downhill after all.

If you’re a strong cyclist or experienced at mountain biking, the Yungas road, or Death road isn’t that hard at all. But if like me, you’re a bit shaky on anything with front suspension, its a bit hair raising!

The Yungas road or Death road as its otherwise called, runs from the top of the pass from La Paz at 4600m high down to Coroico at only 1,200m (the lowest I ever made it in Bolivia!)

The 64 km route actually starts at the top of the hill with a long section on the road. I was quite scared of flying over the handlebars with the power of the brakes so I avoided hurtling down the hill at lightning speed.

The top part of the route is actually very impressive, as you wind through the mountains, and despite being on the main road its not too busy that you feel threatened by traffic.

Looking back up the valley you can just make out the route of the road.

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The trouble with peak bagging…. part 1

Peak bagging is great. It gets me to places I wouldn’t ordinarily visit – sometimes away from the crowds of the popular mountains. That’s not to say I only climb mountains once – but peak bagging is a great way to quickly think of somewhere to go when I have the urge to be somewhere new.

However, peak bagging has frequently found me in vast expanses of moorland staring at a plateau trying to identify the summit. Or wandering through peat bogs with wet feet and wondering why I’m there and not at the seaside. Or on a proper mountain.

Having ‘bagged’ the Berwyns the day before, that left me with the plan to get the range of summits between there and the Arans. But I woke to cloud and a lack of motivation to head over miles of moors for the sake of it. So plan B.

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Calder Valley Greenway – Huddersfield to Sowerby Bridge

Despite the grey skies I headed out on my trusty/rusty bike on Sunday. Having cycled the Huddersfield Narrow Canal a few times I decided in the drizzle it would be quicker and nicer to stick to the A62, so I made good time into Huddersfield as I bombed down the main road.

Knowing full well I was going to have to cycle around the backstreets of Huddersfield anyway as the Narrow Canal disappears around the university at street level, I decided against jumping on the Broad Canal and opted for the A62 right out of town, until I got near to Deighton train station, where I then joined the canal to cycle to Cooper Bridge. (Following the green line that follows the canal on Sustrans map below.) I’d not previously cycled this section of the canal network so I wanted to check it out.

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Battambang – temples and markets or guns and grenades

Having spent an amazing week in Siem Reap it was sad to leave the friendly buzz of the town behind and head off towards Battambang. The 3 hour drive took us past mile after mile of rice fields, making it clear why this part of Cambodia is the main area for rice production in the country.

It was also clear that local ‘delicacies’ were going to be more common; we stopped by the roadside to buy bamboo-sticky rice and also found these dishes. Being a vegetarian provided a great excuse to avoid trying them!

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Cycling and Kayaking Tonle Sap

Yet another scorching hot morning to cycle out of Siem Reap and traffic dodge – this time heading 18km away to Tonle Sap Lake for a day of kayaking and seeing the floating villages. If the cycling in the crazy traffic hadn’t been daunting enough my kayaking skills were non-existent so the day was always going to be an interesting one.

Heading south out of Siem Reap we took highway 6. I tried to get a photo as it was actually fun and surreal to be on a mountain bike cycling up a 6 lane highway out of town but I was also trying to concentrate on not hitting anyone – or anything – so its a bit wonky. The traffic system is confusing to say the least; there is a dual carriage way in the centre apparently for faster vehicles, with two lanes either side of it intended for slower vehicles travelling both directions. The rules are quite flexible I discovered when we pulled out on to the centre dual carriageway alongside a wagon.

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Cycling Angkor’s Temples

Having spent a few days wandering around Siem Reap and dodging the traffic, I have to admit I was a bit wary about the idea of jumping on a bicycle to head around the Angkor temple complex. In the end it was the best way of travelling; weaving through the traffic, learning to adopt a ‘blinker approach’ and just riding and letting the traffic go around me. Its loads of fun when you get over the initial fear of being run over by a tuk tuk or a huge truck.

The UNESCO protected Angkor site stretches over 400 km2 in total and reflect the different capitals of the Khmer Empire during the 9th to 15th Century and is one of the finest archaeological sites in South East Asia. However the chances are you’re probably going to head for the main temples of Angkor Wat and, at Angkor Thom, the Bayon Temple with its fantastic sculptural decorations.

The traffic significantly reduced as we passed through the checkpoint and onwards around the outside of Angkor Wat. We purchased a 3-day temple pass for $40 allowing us time to properly visit the temples and not rush around too much. I highly recommend this as the temples are too extensive, varied and vast to be able to see the best in one day.

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Sunshine cycling around Lough Furnace

We’d intended to pick up the bikes in Newport for our day’s cycling, but we’d left it too late to book them. In autumn the bike shop in Newport isn’t open all day, just first thing in the morning or for repairs at request during the day. This meant having to get them in Westport and cycle back along the Greenway (and back).

I wasn’t really put off by the additional distance (22km for the round trip), but I’m not one for doing something more than once so having done the full Greenway two days before I wasn’t that thrilled by the idea of doing part of it again. There’s so many other things to do! Its finally sunny outside we could go hiking!

I was in the minority, so we headed out cycling, and to be fair it was a great day to be out on bikes again.

So here’s some views of the Greenway from Westport to Newport which I didn’t take a few days earlier due to dusk setting in and the race back to Westport being a priority. I even managed to get a clear summit picture of Croagh Patrick!

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Cycling Westport’s Greenway

I’m not much of a cyclist (if you hadn’t noticed). But I do like a challenge and completing routes of any description and I love saying yes to opportunities thrown at me. So when friends I met in Corsica suggested meeting up and cycling The Great Western Greenway in Ireland, I wasn’t going to refuse.

This was my first trip to Ireland and my first trip somewhere which had been built around the idea of cycling and not hiking.

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