Warning: it's a long one so maybe grab a cup of tea or a glass of wine and settle down for a good read!
How has another year simply flown by and, even more shocking, how is it two years since I had that first mammogram that resulted in my brush with breast cancer. Talking of which, don't let routine check ups slide for whatever bits and bobs you might have - that includes the chaps too!
So, what have we been up to this year? Well, we haven't traveled extensively unfortunately but it just seems super hard to find the time to get away for an extended period these days. Tabitha is enjoying regular activities that she is committed to and that makes it hard to just hit the road.
It's been an exciting year even so, we waved farewell to faithful old Eileen in the spring. It was hard to see her go but she just wasn't getting the action and adventure she was made for. Luckily we were able keep it in the Karmann family and acquire a very cool Karmann Karuso orginally named Karl and now re-named Kiki. In my all time favourite colour green she has all of Eileen's home comforts in a much reduced footprint. We've enjoyed a few trips including Snowdonia and Anglesey where we recreated an iconic shot:
We were invited to speak at the 10th Anniversary meeting of Chester Globetrotters in November - not only a great honour but a great opportunity to catch up with friends on Anglesey and re-create the classic Llanfair shot!
Our other moving home, NB Midnight Blue gave us a fright back in February when the engine over ran on a routine visit to the service point. With great gouts of black smoke billowing up from beneath my feet and the engine revving like crazy we slammed into the bank at high speed in reverse. I desperately hit the kill switch and turned the ignition key to no avail. Turned out the fuel injector pump had been leaking and subsequently diluting the oil with diesel, eventually filling the sump which then ignited. It's called an 'over run' and can result in major engine damage.
It's been on ongoing saga but there have been some great positives and the short story is, we have a replacement engine which is still being tweaked but the whole sorry drama brought us to a new home mooring.
We are now a day's cruise further north, which is approximately 15 minutes by car, in a marina next to a brilliant pub and with a fabulous community. I've even started working in the shop a couple of days a week which I am enjoying tremendously!
And now we are settling in for winter in both the warmth of a fab community and a fab stove - which Dixy certainly appreciates!
We've both kept ourselves busy with new activities this year which have included getting back into a Dragon Boat for me.
The Paddlers for Life initiative was born from research that showed the benefits of paddling in breast cancer patients and earlier this year Oxford Paddlers for Life came into being. It was mid summer before Tabitha and I could get in a boat but once we did we were hooked!
Tabitha is a natural born paddler, which isn't really surprising given she has grown up with paddling and paddlers all around her. I am so proud of her and I am so grateful to this club of wonderful people all having been affected by cancer in some form - be it breast cancer or another form or as a relative or friend of someone affected.
The community and friendship we have found here is incredible. I am also learning to helm and absolutely loving the experience! Unfortunately we haven't been on the water for ages due to the crazy flooding!
New skills and hobbies for Tabitha have included dying her hair and teaching herself to play bass amongst other things!
We've had a couple of fabulous trips this year albeit not in the camper. Way back in Feb, what seems like a lifetime ago we flew out to Krabi in Thailand and had an amazing week with my awesome sister. Beach bars, beers, boats and a cooking class - absolutely fantastic! In the summer we made it to the top of Snowdon up Pyg Track with a group of old and wonderful friends.
Tabitha's home ed journey continues and she's now head down and studying for three iGCSEs; Biology, English Language and Environmental Management. We are lucky to have a great home ed community and Tabitha enjoys group learning so she's joined study groups for each topic. An IGCSE is an International GCSE and differs slightly from the standard GCSE. Tabitha has to sit as an independent candidate at an exam centre. It's a bit complex, slightly tricky and of course it costs for both tuition, exam papers, exam centre fees and admin fees. Home ed is NOT the cheap or easy option believe me!
However, it is the option that allows my daughter to follow her interests, discover her passions and discover the world and who she is with freedom. Her independence and maturity grow hand in hand, she enjoys solo trips to the V&A when I am at meetings on London. Recently she had 'the best night of her life' at a gig at Brixton Academy - nowhere I'd have had the courage to go to when I was 14. I hasten to add she was with a friend and I was just around the corner!!
Despite deliberately choosing to live a smaller footprint lifestyle we can't survive without some form of income - especially when engines blow up!
As for me, I have been continuing to develop those portfolio income streams in the form of web design/build, social media stuff and a bit of consultancy work.
However the BIG news here is that I acquired the Mohobo brand earlier this year. It's an online shop of fun and quirky motorhome and campervan related gifts and accessories. Originally an idea brought to life by another travelling family, I did some social media marketing for the brand a year ago and loved it.
So it's been a huge year of learning all about e-commerce. I have built a new website Mohobo, Tabitha and I did our first trade show, I've learned a great deal about SEO and I've introduced new lines.
Currently Mohobo products are flying out the door in the Christmas rush - if you'd like to order a t-shirt I'm closing my order book on 12th December to make sure delivery in time for Xmas. Other items such as mugs, cushions and bags that I have in stock can still be ordered up to 17th December though.
I'd be delighted if you had a look at the website, liked the Facebook Page and I'd be absolutely thrilled if you found something you'd like to buy! Sign up to the newsletter and you'll get a discount on your first order too.
I am so enjoying this experience and truly hope Mohobo will be a huge success!
So, as the 2019 slides away and I reflect on so many lovely memories and acknowledge that there has been times of darkness and challenge too. There is so much more that happened this year that I haven't mentioned but I feel I've waffled on quite long enough!
Thanks for getting this far, thanks for following our adventures and supporting our endeavours - we get a huge kick out of knowing people are enjoying the tales we tell!
Wishing you all a very much love and a Happy Christmas and a Prosperous New Year!
ps: I've also produced the outline for a book I intend to write in 2020
This girl... This girl rocks my world.
Up until now my blog posts have mostly been about our road trip or the daily lives she and I lead either in the camper or the boat. Of course T has featured but not especially deeply. Tonight I want to write about me, her and the stationary journey we are on now.
We've been back in the UK about 14 months now, we've moved out of Eileen the Karmann and onto Midnight Blue the narrowboat. I didn't go back to an office job and T didn't go back to school.
We found our tribe in the local home ed community and we found a warm welcome amongst our floating neighbours and in the local village. Both of us relish, cherish and celebrate our friendships and connections. We are as likely to welcome the buddies we have made through travel onto the boat as they pass through as we are new local mates. Eileen is a rather unusual guest wing and T's small cabin frequently resounds with the giggles of a girly sleepover.
The simple pleasure of being a mile from my old family home, swinging by for a cup of tea or serving my mum and step-dad a G&T and a curry on the well deck of the boat. A short drive to visit my brother in his residential care home, having the opportunity to be there more frequently and contribute to the families association.
We survived our first winter as the Beast from The East kept us snow and ice-bound, thank god for our wood burning stove! We revelled in the long, hot summer days swimming at the local lido, watching the fields around us turn golden and taking Midnight Blue on day trips and Eileen on road trips with a few festivals thrown in.
T has enjoyed all manner of learning related activities. We have worked on creating a bit more structure, still child led and still very diverse but a bit more maths, English and Science. Still time for the home ed orchestra, drama and sports amongst tutor groups, art lessons, museum visits and weekly ice skating though!
It hasn't all been plain sailing, there's been health scares for both me and my brother and both winter and summer weather extremes brought challenges. It's daunting and exhausting starting from scratch in a new (old) place. Home ed isn't necessarily an easy option and it's hard balancing T's schedule and learning with the unavoidable need to generate an income.
Even so, we are incredibly blessed on so many levels to be living this life. We don't take what we have created for granted in any way I promise you that!
But.... There's always a perennial 'but' isn't there? To be honest, without a but I think this blog would be quite boring.
So, on with the musings I shall go...
Autum is upon us, quite suddenly actually. It felt like the summer was never going to end but all of a sudden it did and we were thrust back into the routine, the schedule and the time-table. Even home edders aren't exempt, we just don't have the added hell of shopping for school shoes!
I love Autumn, it is as much about beginnings as endings for me. I have thrown myself into the physical activity of fettling the boat for winter and thoroughly enjoyed it.
T has started a new music group, her teacher has entered her for another grade exam. New tutor groups have begun and new activities are being embraced including a youth action team in our local town.
A netball team try out was, however, the catalyst for this blog.
This active, but not particularly sporty, kid asked if she could play netball and so I dutifully made that happen.
As I stood in the school sports hall where her new squad trains, as I watched her tentatively but enthusiastically join her new team mates and told her coach that yes, she'd be 13 next month I felt something else rock my world just a little bit.
For every club or team or group my wonderful girl joins I feel a parent's pride and hope in her ability and for her success.
At the same time, even as I feel the loosening of the ties that bind she and I, there is a tiny tightening of the ties that bind us to a stationary life.
And the refrain of that particularly haunting, evocative ABBA song echoes in my mind - the two biggest defining features of my life are slipping through my fingers;
'Slipping through my fingers all the time
I try to capture every minute'
So once the travel bug has sunk it's teeth into your nether regions it's time to really focus your mind on how to finance the wanderlust.
This is the holy grail of the permanently restless. Pretty much the first question on everyones lips when they find out that you don't work a regular 9 to 5 job.
I heard a phrase a few years ago which I have shamelessly purloined for my very own: patchwork income.
It's pretty self explanatory, basically I have, am, will continue to develop a number of different sources and way of generating income. Primarily online and location independent which allows me to work from anywhere at any time.
The absolute ultimate holy grail is achieving passive income - that means money coming in without my even having to do anything! This can be as a result of an initial investment of either time or money - maybe a book or stocks and shares.
As I've blown any cash reserves on the actual travelling bit I don't have the means, currently, to play the stock market.
Instead I am working on writing for myself and for others. I regularly pitch for work in the Virtual Assistant field which can be anything from social media account management to proof reading to web design. I am loading my photography images onto stock sales sites and learning how to take better, more saleable pics.
Another area of potential earning is via affiliate marketing, whereby I rate and review products that I use and recommend. Each product is is linked to an Amazon sales page and if you'd like to buy then I get a small commission.
So, today's blog post is to introduce you to my first attempt at affiliate marketing - click on the image below to find out more...
None of my patchwork income streams are get rich quick schemes, in fact that is not my desire or intention.
I set out to live more for less and I am proud that we are achieving that but even so, there is no magic money tree for me never mind the UK economy!
If you're in need of any of the products I have reviewed and you use my link to buy then I will be forever grateful! The list of products will grow as time goes by.
Watch this space!
Well, we appear to have survived what has felt like the longest winter in history. Conditions have been harsh and it might surprise you to find it's colder on a boat than in a camper!
Perhaps, on the whole, part of the challenge has been mentally adjusting to not resuming our travels as planned. As disappointing and frustrating that has been it was the right decision.
So a swift update, much delayed but I guess you're used to that from me by now!
The surgery went well. It was a long, and at times, painful day. Made vastly easier by the company of my gorgeous neice Seni. Sent at 10am for the wire to be inserted I then had to wait till nearly 4pm with 4 inches of wire sticking vertically out of my boob! Overall a small price to pay in the grand scheme of things. In and out I was on my way home to Mum and Brian by 6pm feeling pretty battered, shattered and wired all at the same time.
The next three days passed quickly and quietly and I was so well looked after by my parents and Tabitha. They say it takes 48 hours to get over the anesthetic and they're not wrong. I was champing at the bit to get back to the boat though - by Monday evening we back aboard.
I was keen to get back partly because the day before my surgery I was suddenly confronted by a puddle on the bedroom floor.
Unbeknownst to be me, but apparently Tabitha was aware, there had been some ominous gushing and glugging noises for a day or two!! I legged it up to the boatshed looking for some help and asked for Simon the onsite engineer who'd already tidied up a couple of bits n bobs for me. Came the reply; 'in the dry dock, why?' to which I gasped 'there's water coming through my bedroom floor' to be told 'you'd better run then'!!
So I did and duly found Simon who came along to inspect what all my panic was about.
To be fair, we did agree that my panic was not unwarranted!
So, off I went leaving Midnight Blue in the care of the marina crew. Whilst I had faith in everyone to make sure all was well I can't deny I was pretty anxious - I didn't really want my engine bay to double as hot tub!
Turned out the automatic bilge pump wasn't feeling it's autonomy . Several months of dripping stern gland (normal) and heavy rain/snow run off (not normal) had taken it's toll. Duly pumped out and a de-humidifier installed it wasn't long before we were mostly dry.
I can sense you are impressed with these additions to my vocabulary - now I just needed definitions to go with my new words!
The following month passed pretty quickly, two weeks without driving was not as onerous as I had anticipated. Family and friends rallied round to help and both Tabitha and I really felt grateful to be close to family and to have found such a great home ed community that has welcomed us so warmly.
Moving onto Midnight Blue has been a massive learning curve without doubt but totally the right thing to do. Truth be told, I already had an inkling that I needed a better, more comfortable base. I wasn't sure exactly how serious this health scare was nor how much treatment I might need.
Yes it's physical and can be cold, the camper is warmer and has more storage believe it or not! But with our winter touring plan on hold we were delighted by the wood burning stove and an oven! There has been a LOT of pizza and Tabitha has baked and baked. And we needed a secure home base from which to tackle what might lie ahead.
My physical recovery was amazingly quick and a fortnight later I was duly recalled for my results...
It felt routine, my recovery was swift, everyone I had dealt with was very positive of a good outcome. I went in feeling nervous, apprehensive even but hanging on to the positives.
I was about to be told that I have excitable cells, that in fact there were two tumours of these excitable cells but that both had been completely removed. My surgeon's broad smile got through to me before anything he actually said, I had been pretty sure all would be well but the relief was immense.
So there we are, it's actually taken a long time to process and in some degree I still am working through it all. I have several friends who have been on the same journey with much greater challenges ahead and in some cases, thankfully, behind. I feel incredibly lucky to have 'got off' so lightly.
I am left with a small scar, a bit of an oddly shaped nipple, 5 years of annual checks and an element of discombobulation. The relief is real but I haven't had the joy/euphoria that other's have expressed, and for which I am truly grateful for, on my behalf.
It's an odd experience that's all I can tell you!
This wasn't the blog I sat down to write this evening but I guess it was what I needed to write.
Come back for more floaty boaty tales of derring do and drama in Part II, as you might imagine there is plenty to keep you entertained!
ps: This is so much MORE than a post script however: thank you all for your well wishes and support, flowers and errands. Especially thanks to my mum and Brian who looked after me so well and of course to Tabitha who has handled this so amazingly. I am extremely lucky.
You might be forgiven for thinking I'd gone back to school and this blog title was my GCSE results.
Thankfully not, I have been occupied with far more interesting, exciting and somewhat scary things over the last few months.
Buckle up dear reader because never was a lyric so fitting as: 'life is a roller coaster, just gotta ride it' ...
B1 is for Bus - our beloved Eileen is no longer our full time permanent home. She is parked up nearby, slightly neglected and emptier than she has been for 18 months. Not as empty as I would like however as she has been host to a few cute but unwanted visitors. Yes we've had some mice come to stay, an occupational hazard when you live in the country. Humane traps and tracker bars dipped in fake nutella seem to have done the trick and Mickey, Minnie, Miranda and Marcel have all been kindly released - several miles down the road!
B2 is for Boat - EXCITING!!! In early December an opportunity arose for us to acquire Midnight Blue a 57' narrowboat build in '97 on a residential mooring in exactly the right location for us. Beautifully appointed with a woodburning stove, fitted kitchen, gallons of hot water and an oven (not to mention the pub 5 minutes walk away) all we needed was our toothbrushes, pyjamas and clean pants to make ourselves at home!
The December snow fall delayed our move from Bus2Boat so we still had the extreme challenge of temps down at -7 in Eileen and being snowed in for several days.
Our first 3 weeks on Midnight temps didn't get much above freezing. Keeping the boat warm end to end is harder than the bus but the stove makes up for that. The oven has also seen a great deal of pizza action!
B3 is for Boobs - well, specifically one boob that has been misbehaving. So it seems that turning 50 isn't just about jacking it in, packing it up and heading into the sunset on an epic adventure.
Luckily for me it also means a whole raft of mid-life health checks. Having done eyes and teeth and had wrist pain diagnosed as osteo-arthritis I duly trotted off for my first ever mammogram. A week later I received a recall asking me to come back for another look. The letter was very simply written and included reassuring statistics about how many women are recalled for innocent anomalies.
Not for a single second did I think I would not be in that bracket - I absolutely believed that all this was because I'd forgotten not to put deodrant on that day.
It was quite a big shock to be told I was to have a biopsy for a large and very serious growth that had shown up on the x-ray.
Which brings me to the 'C?' of this blog title.
The question mark is both excellent and frightening at the same time. Excellent because without the mammogram there is absolutely no way I would have known I had a tumour - and believe me I check. Frightening because exactly how serious it is yet to be 100% confirmed.
After the first biopsy I was given some great news, the initial results showed that the carcinoma had not infiltrated my lymph nodes and appeared not to have invaded any surrounding tissue.
I was called back 2 days before Christmas for another biopsy - a big badass of a biopsy to remove much more tissue for testing. This was an intense experience, sat bolt upright in a chair with my boob squashed between two metal plates whilst a large tube was inserted under ultrasound. Many tissue samples were taken whilst the loveliest of nurses held my hand and distracted me.
In our adult lives it is so very rare to be in a position where we are physically restrained - it was unpleasant in the extreme. At the same time it was the most incredibly uplifiting experience too.
The nurses, the equipment, the hospital, the NHS, the procedure were all there just for me that day. Just to focus 100% on giving me the absolute best chance of treatment for this tumour. As much as I was uncomfortable and struggling by being so restricted I also felt humbled and immensley grateful that this tumour had been found so early and that treatment was coming so quickly.
I was told the results would be available in the new year, that surgery was a given and depending on that result further treatment or surgery may or may not be required.
It was two days before Christmas and I had not told any family - I didn't want to frighten Tabitha or worry my mum and step-dad or my sister, nephew and niece. I didn't have any facts and I needed time to absorb the situation for myself.
Christmas and New Year were lovely, a mixture of family and new found friends that we have made in the local home ed community.
My results appointment was January 3rd and the news remained positive - the additional tissue samples continued to indicate all the nasties were still contained within the lump.
Time to tell the family which was both a relief and un-imaginably hard - especially telling Tabitha who was understandably upset and worried. I am so grateful that I was able to temper the bad news with the very positive diagnosis - I really can't over state how lucky I am that this has been picked up early.
So, as I had been advised at that first biopsy surgery to remove the lump was to be the treatment plan. A few days later I met my surgeon and a date was set.
So, now it's the eve of surgery day and finally I have felt the urge, the need and the ability to write the blog that has been bubbling around my brain since early December.
I am tucked up in bed at the family home ready for an early start in the morning - I am due at the hospital for 8am. It's a day surgery so hopefully I won't be hanging around too long in the morning and will be home by tea time! The offending misbehaving lump of boob will be sent off for full and final analysis and I will have the results in a couple of weeks - if all of it is removed and there is no indication that the surrounding tissue has been invaded then it's a big fat thumbs up good to go result! If not then it may be necessary to go to Battle Station Stage 2 but I am confident that won't be the case!
The next few days will likely be a bit uncomfortable and I'm not yet sure how limited and restricted I will be in terms of discomfort and driving etc. What I do know is that I will be well looked after and comfortable as possible at home with Mum and Brian until I am ready to get back to Midnight Blue.
I am very hopeful and positive that this surgery will get all the nasties in one hit and I will not need any further treatment. So in a lot of ways I think tomorrow will be the end of a pretty scary episode but at the same time I feel it's also the start of a shift in me. As cliche as it is, health scares like this truly do open your eyes and alter your perspective, bring you up short and reap great change forcing you to evaluate where you're at.
I am not good at being vulnerable, I am not good at asking for help tho I hope I am gracious in receiving it! However, I am humbled by the help, support and love I have been shown by those who have been on this journey with me to date.
Family, friends old and new, online and in real life I thank you all from the bottom of my heart.
Leaving aside the fact that it's all a bit crap, it could be so much worse and I feel exceedingly lucky that this has been caught so very early!
Watch this space for an update as soon as I am able, hopefully tomorrow evening.
Big love people - travel far and wide and treasure the wonders of the world near and far.
I'm not even going to apologise, it's just too embarrassing that this is my first blog since we were holed up in Portugal last May.
Please please forgive me, but I do come bearing gifts so perhaps you will! I also fervently hope that you've been following our adventures on FaceBook so you know we haven't disappeared off into the sunset.
Anyway - loads to tell you but now's not the time because I have a little pre-Christmas present for you in the form of my first e-Guide.
It's been a pleasure (sometimes of the head, wall, bang variety) and I am rather chuffed even tho I do say so myself.
Part I, there's one or two more to follow, is aimed at independent travellers who might be in a car or a camper. A circular roadtrip starting and finishing Marrakech.
Download it here, enjoy and please do let me know what you think!!
PS: Blog feed appears to have failed so this blog will be reposted. Apologies if you have received it more than once.
I can really only hope that you receive my more regular updates via Facebook and Instagram otherwise you might well think us dead and have long forgotten about our little jaunt!
We are not long back from our ten week sojurn in Moroccan and what an adventure that was - tales to tell indeed! Mind you, going on previous rates of blog productivity they may well be tales told from my bath chair to youngsters who may only know about flying cars and matter transporters #TooManySciFiBooks #StillHopeful.....
Did I mention FB and Insta as optional ways to keep track of us? The links are just to the right of the title of this blog post - above the box to enter your email to subscribe.
Anyhoo, we are now holed up in an off grid wood cabin in the hills above Lagos and bathing in water pumped from the bore hole using electricity generated by solar power and marvelling at the oven in which pizza can be cooked!
We are sleeping in different rooms, there is a washing machine, a fridge/freezer and some cats. We have a lovely young family as neighbours who took us to the local village yesterday for the Easter fiesta.
The plan is to stay a little while even tho I feel decidedly disjointed, not at all 'spaced out' as others have sometimes reported when moving out of the van into a house and somewhat disloyal to the intrepid Eileen.
I am sure I will adjust soon enough and in the meantime I will wash all the clothes and bedding and take advantage of power and internet to 'get stuff done'!
In the meantime have a look and a listen to our latest exploits!
The Route So Far is up to date:
Here are the soundbytes of our very first radio interview, given live from Seville a week or so ago:
So I'm really rather pleased to share that we have been featured on WorldTowning's regular article called "Inside a Traveler's Walls"
WorldTowning is the new venture of a family of four slow travellers, previously known as GoodieGoodGumDrop and I have connected with Jessica through the WorldSchoolers community.
Super excited for Jessica and her family's new venture and exceedingly chuffed to be featured by them.
Read all about us here goodiegoodiegumdrop.com/inside-travelers-walls-sarah-crofts/ and when you're done, have a look at the rest of the site. What Jessica and her family are doing is fabulous!
With a slight cliff hanger on the last blog and with you expecting weeks and weeks between blogs I thought I'd blind side you with a double whammy!
I left you as we emerged from the Traumatic Tunnel Terror #1, there are a more Triple Ts to come later in the Norway Chapter, and so we can continue.......
A few more minutes and then the signpost for route 63 on the left appeared and I turned off noting that actually the road didn’t look too ‘little’ altho it was un-edged and slightly narrower than the E road.
The post adrenalin euphoria was stoked by the complete head rush of seeing such incredible scenery stretching out before me. Pockets of unmelted snow and snow covered peaks surrounded us and the lake to my left was the most amazing cobalt blue colour. An almost maniacal laugh, possibly of hysteria, bubbled up as I urged Tabitha to take photos.
As we continued along R63 we saw the turn off for the private road to the peak of Mount Dalsnibba – from here you can see down into Geraingerfjord from the highest point. I’d heard it was a pay to play road and had yet more twists and turns – needless to say I did not turn off.
However, as the rush of surviving Triple T #1 and being stunned by scenery my thoughts turned to What Next…….
Oh yes, as surely as we had labored our way up and out of the valley on the Stryn side we were going to have to make our way down on the Gerainger side.
The descent started a few minutes later and my knuckles whitened as I gripped the steering wheel my stomach was in knots – before the road dropped away steeply and curved sharply to my left. The signpost told me it was a 1:10 and as soon as I had made the first bend the road again dropped away with a sharp curve this time to right.
A longer period before the next curve gave me time to look out across the enormous valley, I could actually see the Eagles Road that was the only road out of Gerainger on the other side – the air is clear this high up!
Remembering all that I had read and been told about descents like this I stuck to a low gear and tried my best NOT to ride the brakes for fear of boiling them.
Eileen’s coachbuilt habitation area felt so very heavy as we went nose down the steep, short stretches. I nearly came to a halt hauling her around the bends and I could fairly feel the wrath of smaller vehicles, and bigger, as they were held up by my terrified descent.
I could only keep remembering the intermittent loss of braking incidents that I’d experienced 3 times in the 21 months I’d had Eileen and prayed that replacing the master cylinder, in spite of the garage saying it wasn’t necessary, had cured the problem.
My fear of heights came crashing to the fore and desperately tried not to look down, or out and focus simply on the next 100 meters of blacktop.
As a pull out approached I gratefully pulled over and turned off the engine. Only 5 miles to go but the Sat Nav was helpfully telling me how many more hairpin bends I had ahead.
I messaged a few friends for a bit of moral support. A guy who’d driven this road previously and a guy who has vast experience of driving coach tours across the alps and other challenging roads – in the snow even!
No way up, the only way was down and forever going forward and with their encouragement after half an hour so to let everything (and everyone (me)) cool down I set off again.
At least I had another 10 minutes or so before I built up my little Irate & Annoyed following of vehicles with much more confident (reckless?) drivers tailgating me.
Now, I know that I have a few fears and phobias that come into play in these scenarios. Several months further down the line I have a much keener understanding of how my fear of heights impacts in these situations – which isn’t to say I know what to do about it.
Others seem to tackle these roads without a second thought and whilst I’d like to be less terrified I’m not sure I want to be so blasé either.
As we finally pulled into the campsite at the bottom of the descent I didn’t feel anything but complete exhaustion. There was no relief or euphoria or sense of achievement of any kind.
As I witnessed motorhome after motorhome pull up outside reception and get checked in the stench of burnt rubber and over heating brakes got stronger and stronger. How many of those drivers had come close to boiling their brakes without necessarily realizing I wondered – especially the rentals……
Caught between two extremely steep and twisty roads it didn’t matter which direction you arrived from, you’d had a hairy descent.
Geraingerfjord itself was beautiful in it’s way but the enormous cruise ship docked in the harbor overpowered the natural spectacular of the fjord itself.
The village was simply set up for cruise ship tourists and it was insanely expensive even by Norwegian standards.
I’d planned a BBQ but see above (there was a piece of steak in the shop for £44 !!!!). I can’t now remember what we ate but it was likely to be something pretty uninspiring, I may have had a beer but probably not.
I fell into bed that night absolutely sure in the knowledge that I was not driving out via Eagles Road and I was not doing Trollstigen. Despite a few people telling me it was no worse, easier in fact, than what I’d already done that day.
It took a long time to get to sleep as the drive down was on a repeat movie reel every time I closed my eyes.
The only shred of relief I felt was that I wasn’t going to do that again – we would take the ferry out in a day or two.
No sense of achievement prevailed, just a dread knowledge that I could do it if I had to but I had no intention of seeking out anything like that again!
Addendum: several months down the line and I am no longer quite so petrified by roads like these. My fear of heights still kicks in on occasion but my confidence in myself and Eileen prevail. I still don't actively seek out difficult roads but I am less thrown when they present themselves :-)
OK so today it is November 22nd and we are on the Costa Blanca in Spain. It’s a slightly grey day and it’s been a bit wet, for all that we are still in shorts and flip-flops but including a jumper.
It feels like a long time ago that, in early August, we left Melkevoll Bretun in Oldendalen for our next destination of Geraingerfjord.
Norway presented me with the most challenge any country has since, it was our first country so perhaps that’s to be expected. Perhaps later, more recent challenges haven’t seemed so monumental because of the baptism of fire Norway was.
I was in a permanent state of agitation during that first month, I found the roads altho well made were narrow and often ran alongside steep drop offs or the deep waters of an icy fjord.
As we entered tunnel after poorly lit tunnel capturing glimpses of roughly hewn rock it felt like entering Mordor itself. We neither of us would have been surprised had Gandalf materialized in the road ahead! Listening to The Hobbit on audiobook fuelled our imaginations of course.
At times like this, on the road from Stryn to Geraingerfjord, I truly felt Bilbo’s reluctant adventuring despite this being the culmination of two years of dreaming and planning.
For the first time in my life I experienced a split second almost irresistible deep need to just stop – fight, flight or freeze – but it simply wasn’t an option to stop mid-tunnel with articulated lorries thundering towards me and Norwegian drivers tailgating itching to pull out and zoom past as soon as there was a sliver of room – yep overtaking IN the tunnel was quite usual!
I have felt this ‘freeze’ lurch a few times since, mostly in Norway but also more recently in Italy.
Let me backtrack a little and explain how we ended up in this predicament……..
We had met a variety of people in Melkovell, one such group being a Scottish lady with her husband and their Beagle dog called Whoopee who were on a retirement tour in their MoHo (slang for motorhome, I was getting used to it slowly!). They also had her sister along for a few weeks. Lovely people who were the first native English speakers we’d met in Norway, they gave us lots of info about sourcing LPG (gas for cooking, heating and water) and tips on where to go and what to see.
I had been having my usual obsessive ponderings on how to travel to Geraingerfjord and whether to do the infamous Trollstigen and with their having come from the north I was able to ask a few questions.
They urged me to take the E15 to Stryn and then towards Otta and pick up route 63 at Skjak.
This road I now know to be The Gerainger Road. Constructed in 1889 for horse and carriage it is basically the same road today as it was then altho widening has taken place to accommodate cars, busses and motorhomes of course!
Emboldened by my successful foray off the main drag onto smaller roads in order to get to Melkevoll, which I had traced via Google Earth, I thought ‘hell yes I can do this’ and I deliberately did NOT look at Google Earth, it was time to put my big girl knickers on and get on with it!
So we set off in high spirits and had a spectacular drive back to Olden where we turned right for Stryn. Another lovely run to the small and vibrant town, I would regret not pulling over to stock up later but for now I wanted to push on.
The day was gorgeous and the scenery stunning and as we stayed on the valley floor I was able, for once, to enjoy the views of the lakes and soaring mountains to either side of the valley.
At the tiny village of Hjelle the road swung away from Oppstrynsvatnet and we began to climb out of the valley. Dropping down gears and hauling Eileen around hairpin bends I was able to glance out to my left and see the most amazing views of the valley we had just come from.
Whilst the Gamle Strynesfjellsveg, one of Norway’s famous Tourist Routes, continued on with even more twistiness the newer E15 took a wider sweep towards the new tunnel.
To this point I’d been enjoying the ride, going up has never bothered me or Eileen and I knew there was a tunnel coming up – thanks to the Sat Nav – so yeh, I felt pretty good about this one. I also have a feeling I knew this was a new road and tunnel so what was the worst that could happen right?
Entering tunnels is always a bit of an adjustment as you are plunged into darkness from the bright alpine clear sunshine and this was no different. As my eyes adjusted it quickly became apparent that this was a tunnel built with economy in mind – mostly of scale which I suppose translates to financial in the end.
The narrowest of tunnels yet and not far off the most dimly lit – a Norwegian friend (via the wonderful connection of FB) told me later that even he didn’t understand why they made this tunnel so narrow.
We continued to climb, not as steeply, and I hugged the right hand side as coaches and lorries thundered past on my left. As soon the oncoming lane was clear a car would overtake me and I would instinctively slow down to give them more room to cut back in. This then led to me losing momentum and ending up going even slower thus annoying the people behind even more so they became even keener to get past – vicious circle.
It was in the middle of this tunnel that I had that first fleeting irresistible feeling that I could not go on, I had to just stop right there that instant. It passed in a nano-second but it was unnerving to say the least.
Eventually we burst out of the tunnel into super bright sunshine and I was nearly blinded whilst my eyes adjusted but the relief was palpable!
Stay tuned for the next exciting instalment, cleverly entitled Must Come Down.........