Cop21 – We Did Finally Get There!
Monday, June 6th, 2016
COP21 started for me the night before in a McDonalds of all places. After arriving late to our ‘not the best but will do’ kind of sleeping arrangement, getting all the batteries and everything else on charge, and starting all the downloads of pictures and videos, we washed up and went seeking food. Everything was closed by then so Mcdees to the rescue.
After our not so pleasant dinner, we were leaving and passed a man reading a COP21 magazine. I asked him a question about the COP21, we exchanged pleasantries, and he asked if we’d like to sit. We took up his offer, and ended up sitting with him until the McDonalds staff were all waiting at the door for us to leave.
His name was Bruno, a French Scientist living and working in Belgium. He taught me more about climate change in relation to the different eco systems and how we all are interconnected with our planet. My view and understanding about the connectivity in terms of energy, oceans, land use, biodiversity and how none of them sustain only themselves. We’re all going down if we lose one key thing as it’s all connected. Tech will only get us part of the way out of the mess: we need to give the planet time to heal itself. He spoke about cumulative impacts, baseline analytics and many other things in a way that my kids could understand. He was engaging and sincere with what he spoke about and how he spoke about it. It was at times a scary discussion but throughout it I always felt there was a sense of positivity and that we all can make a difference, maybe even just being here.
We shot the breeze till Mcdees staff put the lights out. Here I was sitting and having a grown ups discussion- who’d of thunk it!
Next morning we were up and off to the conference proper at Le Bourget…. We arrived but were told to leave our bikes at the entrance of the complex due to security issues. We got in which was a surprise as we had been told we had to have registered weeks before. I approached one of the organisers behind the ‘help’ desk, he was a man who liked our plan. He spoke to the French police and after not too much chat plus a few smiles we were allowed to bring our bikes right in front of the public entrance for a quick photo opportunity. Although we had to remove the batteries and leave them at the gate for security. We set up our bikes in front of the entrance for our photo shoot and then it started. Queues of people started walking up and chatting about what we were doing, where have we come from and where were we going to end. There was such a diverse group of people at COP21, each having their own reason/discipline for being at the forum. We were interviewed by a whole host of foreign radios and TV. People from small organisations to large NGOs. Everybody really got what we were doing, about how important it is to keep spreading the message. It made me feel part of the solution even if it was just for the day. When explaining what the PHN stood for and our Ebike Africa message, they loved it. They further validated Last Mile Delivery enterprise, the potential to scale up an enterprise that will go a long way in affecting climate change and have a positive impact on your community.
We eventually had to just walk away after 4 hours of non-stop talk and try to see inside the convention. We left the bikes with people still walking about intrigued by them.
By the time we left it was dark and the traffic was utterly mental. We still had to make it further into Paris… another 16kms. There were cars everywhere, pouring out of every side street making it more busy and crazy. We had forgotten what traffic was and how unpredictable it is. There were at least two accidents right in front of us, scary stuff when you’re trying not to get hit dragging a 6ft trailer.
Eventually we found a hostel after again finding our first place to be just too small. Our room view of Sacré Coeur was the perfect end to a great day. It didn’t dawn on me then how great a feat we had just accomplished – not until long after we had returned to Glasgow.
The next day Uwe (Susanne’s boyfriend) arrived and we got sorted at breakfast and took the bikes and trailer out into Paris for a ride and to see the other COP21 sites. Security was on high alert and we were quickly ushered away from any public building but we did get some amazing shots. The day was topped off with a night time ride down the Champs-Élysées onto L’Arc de Triomphe.
The next day was a rush and I missed the Eurostar, thankfully managing to get the next one with a lot of help from Suz and Uwe. Uwe kindly took my trailer back to Germany so I wouldn’t have to take it on the train which in hindsight would have been impossible to do. It was the start of another eventful day having missed all my other train connections and half the country being in a flood. I rerouted all round the country and eventually got back to Glasgow 10 and a half hours later.
I was home and tired, but happy if still a little delirious. It was time to start thinking and planning the next leg… a slightly longer version of the first with a few more things to consider… Africa!
Almost at Paris…
Thursday, December 3rd, 2015
Today we left Noyon in Northern France, a small town with ancient origins, about 100km north of Paris.Our digs were pretty grim, there’s been such a variety of accommodation on this trip I think I could take up a new job as a travel writer – from the heady heights of modern hostels in Amsterdam to the floors of Belgium students – it’s been interesting!
Anyway, there was some work to do on the bikes (isn’t there always) so we didn’t leave until 10am, but the weather was good, we’d traded high winds for some cloud cover and felt like we were winning! Traveling in high winds for 4 days now has really taken its toll, but clearly helped our fitness as today we’d cycled 60km by lunchtime!
We stopped at Compiegne, a beautiful market town, with a beautiful castle. A welcome sight, as unfortunately our journey through North France had been pretty charmless and the only sights to see were seemingly endless cemeteries for those lost in WWI. The cemeteries seemed to take on even more significance today in light of the UK decision to enter into the Syrian conflict.
We stopped for lunch at another picturesque town called Senlis, full of beautiful cobbled streets and real French feeling about the place – granted that could have been because everyone was speaking French – but you get the picture! After recharging our energy reserves and our batteries we took on the last 30km and reached Gonesse. We’re now a mere 6km away from COP21…
…I can barely believe it.
A baptism of fire – my first day as an expedition cyclist
Saturday, November 28th, 2015
It’s day 7 and I’m still alive. I’ve had a good deal of time to reflect on the events of last week, and there were a lot of events. I’m going to download what’s in my head more regularly from now on, I just think I needed a bit of time to get to grips with all the goddamned cycling!
I thought I’d start at the beginning for this blog and I feel I’m proficient enough as a ‘cyclist’ now (sitting in Rotterdam!) to be honest and see the humour in the farcical things that took place on launch day.
So…I woke up at 5am and lay in bed thinking about all the things I hadn’t done. I’d gone to bed without packing shit, not a bit of clothing, not a toiletry, nothing. I’m a bit of a ‘manana’ guy, so here I was, it was ‘manana’, ‘d-day’, ‘lift-off’ and the empty pannier bags were basically a physical manifestation of my lack of physical and mental preparation for the journey ahead.
As I drank coffee I had the vaguely amusing thought that today I’d be learning to cycle again, that old adage ‘you never forget how to ride a bike‘ was to be tested to the limit, with a 50kg trailer thrown into the mix for good measure. Amusement turned to anxiety as I started shoving stuff into pannier bags and had a sense of foreboding, there was so much that didn’t feel right. I was thinking of my boys, wondering if they’d be proud of me, or pissed off at me. I imagine it’ll be a bit of both right now, but I hope in time they’ll view this as a positive thing.
Anxiety took a greater hold as I remember this was my idea, I had put myself forward for this, had dreamed of doing something like this for years. Not only is it a massive privilege to be able to something this but there’s been a Herculean effort from so many people to get me to the start line, none more so than from Jo. She’s been a tower of power and whipped E-Bike Africa, The Purple Heart Network, Last Mile Deliveries and, of course, me into shape.
Anyway, I digress. After packing everything Susanne and I headed to Dales Cycles with Sascha, who had come over from Germany to do some filming. It was the start of an eventful day, we were supplied with an amazing car that Sascha would ride in to take footage – unfortunately beautiful cars are designed to be in front of cameras, not behind them, so we had to come up with a new plan. Thankfully Rab stepped in at the last minute, he was a total god send that day, especially later on when he drove to my house to pick up the bike battery keys that I’d left on the kitchen counter (insert lols here)!
We had a fantastic turnout for the send-off from Nelson Mandela Place, I have no idea how these things work but you don’t just turn up, wave and cycle off. You have to ride around in circles for an hour or two while people get their pictures. 2 hours later we were still cycling in circles for photos and film, not quite the departure I’d envisaged.
Finally we set off, this is where the real ‘fun’ begins…have you tried to cycle out of Glasgow to the countryside? If you have are you still alive? What an experience, cycling along the hard shoulder of an A road that quickly turns to motorway we found ourselves being advised by the Police to find an alternative route, they escorted us off the motorway and into a little village. Unfortunately all roads out of the village led to more motorways and dual carriageways.
It was now 6.15pm, it was dark, we were cold, our batteries had long since died, desperation, hunger and misery set in. Equal distance from my house and New Lanark, our target destination, we decided to take drastic action. Susanne began flagging down any van she could see, I frantically rang round friends trying to get transport, but to no avail. We were really beginning to worry, it wouldn’t look good to die of hypothermia 50 kilometers into a 18,000 kilometer expedition!
About 40 minutes later, we were ready to throw in the towel and take the psychological hit of just trying to get to my house. Then, we spotted a halo of light ahead, raindrops diffused by yellow sodium streetlamps, leading us to salvation…a train station! It took us about 30 seconds to swallow our pride, struggle onto the platform with bikes and trailers and take the train…ONE station to New Lanark.
And they’re off…
Thursday, November 19th, 2015
Welcome to the first E-Bike Africa blog. It’s the first of many, most of them will be from Bruce but there will be a few from me and the rest of the team. Hopefully by the end we’ll have a bit of a blueprint to help other folk who might be mad enough to even consider embarking on something like this!
Today was quite a day, if you’re wondering how and when all this started you might be surprised to know that we’ve pulled it together in relatively little time, about 5 months. You can read more about how it all came about on Bruce’s blog here.
We’ve had the most amazing support from people, the amount of time, energy, resource and knowledge people have shared has been amazing and I’d like to thank everyone that helped get us here; most notably Susanne Bruesch from Pedelec Adventures, a lovely human being who just solidified my long held belief that Berliners are some of the best folk in the world.
Launch day was hectic and, like all things expedition related, exhausting – I’m sure Bruce and Susanne have gone cycling to get a rest!
We woke early, packed panniers, realised not everyone would fit in the car, caught a train, got coffee, hung out at Dales Cycles, rode in a BMW HY 8 (an eco-friendly cross between the Batmobile and a Delorean), took some picture, shot some film, met with the press, chatted to our friends, drank more coffee, shot more film, took more pictures, met more friends, chatted to some school kids and then it was time to say goodbye.
Bruce and Susanne headed out of the city bound for New Lanark where they’ll stay overnight before embarking on a massive 100km cycle tomorrow. As I sit in my kitchen and listen to the rain outside I just want to wish them both a safe cycle, full of interesting, blog-worthy, events and as little unpleasant weather as possible!
Bruce & Susanne at the start line