Unlike most of the people I interview for ROAM, I have met Clare and Matty in person. A few months ago I travelled up to York for an evening of inspiring travel and adventure talks organised by Matty. He himself talked about his crazy adventure building a canoe and rowing it down the Murray River in Australia. After, we chatted about their plans to head to Nepal, one of my favourite countries. It has only been since that night that I have really started to follow their trip which is taking them around the world on bicycles. Clare is an artist and Matty a photographer, and together they are documenting their adventures through blogs and sharing their trip with us through Instagram. I wanted to chat with them about their trip, their creative backgrounds and what bike touring is really like. I can’t wait to see what they do next.
Before we jump into talking about your current trip, can you tell our readers a little about your backgrounds? Where do you come from, how much have you travelled before?
Clare: In 2007 I moved from Yarm in the North East to York for University and have lived there ever since. It’s a beautiful city full of history and culture and I call it my home. I have travelled since I was little. I remember fondly my dad taking me and my brother on an adventure of the east coast of America through Boston and Cape Cod and then down to Orlando. It was my first trip to the US and I loved it. During my uni days and afterwards, I have backpacked around Scandinavia, experienced hiking and horse riding in Iceland and city tours with my friends to Budapest, Berlin, Barcelona, the list goes on! Due to my job I was lucky enough to nip off somewhere every half term and soak in another culture. I have also taken coach trips with my mum around Switzerland and Italy and I was lucky enough to go to LA twice for work. One of my favourite experiences was staying in a Shasta camper van in a writers backyard in Nashville enjoying my love of country music.
Matty: I moved to York at a fairly young age and spent my childhood and teenage years there. It’s great but I fancied a change so ended up studying illustration in Bournemouth. I’ve always been into bikes and lots of the friends I made in Bournemouth would regale me with stories of their BMX adventures to the states and further beyond. I ended up going myself and spent quite a few months living out of the back of vans and RV’s. After university, I went to Australia for a couple of years and really found a love for human-powered trips and the wilder places. I made a canoe and paddled down the river Murray, bike-packed Tasmania and hitchhiked New Zealand. When I came back to Europe my friend Elliot and myself cycled from Greece back to the UK which was pretty damn fun.
You are both creatives both personally and professionally. How has your creatively driven your travels and particularly the planning of this trip?
M: I think for me it has allowed me to think why not? You have to think outside the box to be a creative and I think its the same with travelling otherwise I’d just go to Scarborough beach. I want to meet strange, weird and wonderful people, see places I would have never imagined and be surprised. Photography has played a big part in this and my previous trips. I love documenting what I’m seeing and having an outlet that drives me to go that little bit higher up a hill or go around that extra corner on a river.
C: I guess studying art over the past 7 years has allowed me to visit galleries all over the world. Usually, when I plan a trip, a contemporary gallery is always at the forefront of my mind. For example, it might be the Louisiana Gallery in Denmark, Moderna Museet Malmö, the Picasso Museum in Malaga, even the Venice Biennale. My cousin is also an artist so it has been amazing to travel with her, especially to the South of France where we had a list of galleries to visit. It was such a fun and inspirational trip. On this trip, I have been dragging Mat to galleries when we’ve reached the major cities, Granada, Malaga, Madrid, Oslo, Bergen etc.
“You have to think outside the box to be a creative and I think its the same with travelling otherwise I’d just go to Scarborough beach. I want to meet strange, weird and wonderful people, see places I would have never imagined and be surprised.” Matty
Why did you decide to travel the world? Why now? Why by bicycle?
C: I have always wanted to travel for a longer period of time, but mainly visit Nepal, Australia and New Zealand which have all been on my wish-list for a while now. I guess it was time for me to become more curious about the world that we live in. I also really wanted to sell all of my belongings, my car, move out of my rented house and essentially feel a sense of freedom from the burden of the ‘9-5’. Also, I turn 30 this month and visas become a lot more difficult once you have reached this ripe old age. We are lucky enough to be sponsored by the German company Bombtrack. They have invited us into the family and we are forever grateful. They are a warm, kind and generous family to be a part of and create the most beautiful and bombproof bikes. To travel by bicycle is the perfect tool. It’s healthy, it’s cheap and you have a sense of pride carrying everything you need with you and living off your bike. Also, you experience places in the rawest form, the overwhelming scents of your surroundings, little villages you would never have seen, the encounters with locals who want to find out about your trip, basically seeing each place in great detail.
M: I think Clare’s summed it up pretty well. All I’ll add is I love bikes. I would rather be travelling on a saddle than anything else. The endpoint doesn’t matter when your cycling. A flight, car journey or coach trip generally tends to be about getting to a destination. With a bike that doesn’t really matter, it’s about what you see and experience along the way. It’s very visceral.
Unlike some touring cyclists who pick a start country and an end country and ride, you guys have picked countries which really fascinate you and ridden in each extensively? What was the thought process behind this?
M: Having done a cycle tour through Europe, I never spent more than two weeks in one country. Each country I left, I always felt there was so much more to see and discover. The idea of plonking yourself in a country for a month really appeals to me. You get an awareness for the local customs, learn more of the language, get into the wilderness a bit more and generally feel like you’ve actually got a feel for the country. It’s all about the quality, not the quantity!
C: To be honest, we had a dodgy world map shower curtain and we both listed the countries we really wanted to visit. Nepal was a shared destination so we knew that was a must. Australia and New Zealand were on our lists, mine for never having been and Mat was so excited to return to see his friends. We also had a strict time frame for Nepal after the monsoon season to try and conquer the Annapurna Circuit on bikes. On our way back from New Zealand we hope to fly to one of the Stan’s and then cycle home from there.
Why did you choose the countries you have? Why Norway? Why Spain? Why to Nepal next?
C: Norway was a new country for both of us. I wanted to experience cycling in isolation not reaching towns or villages for days on end and being high up in the mountains. It was great practice for the elevation and mountains in the Sierra Nevada. It also has a right to roam law so camping was a breeze. Ultimately, when we think of Spain we tend to think of the typical coastal spots popular for a weeks relaxation in the sunshine. Mat and I wanted to push our perceptions of Spain and see places more in the land that would inspire us. Especially the beauty of Granada and Ronda. I also think the riding in Spain has been amazing, the Sierra Nevada and Sierra de Baza were breathtaking.
M: My Grandad cycle toured Norway in 1953 so for me it was a must do. It was really cool cycling the same places that he did and seeing how they had changed from the photographs he took. Originally Spain was a bit of a filler to get to Nepal on time. Soon after we planned it, it became the country I was looking forward to the most. It really felt like we weren’t in Europe at some points! The riding has also been fantastic, tonnes of dirt roads and rocky descents. Nepal has always had a huge draw for me. The instant I read an article about pedalling the Annapurna I knew we just had to go!
Can you describe a day on the road for us when bike touring?
C: If wild camping we wake up around 8 am and pack up the bikes then find a lovely viewpoint to eat breakfast. In Spain, we would pedal from 9am-12 and then have a break in the shade away from the heat, read our Kindle’s, stay hydrated, eat a tonne of biscuits and then move on again around 4-5pm and do another 20-25km until we see another perfect and well-hidden camp spot. It’s a hard life! Of course, every day is slightly different and it depends if we need to push on further to a town to get more food. Usually, we carry enough for 2-3 days.
What are the ups and downs of this type of travel and how have you learnt to cope with difficult situations?
C: I think for me the ups have been that feeling of pedalling under your own steam, reaching A to B with your own legs. It’s an incredible feeling. Thinking now of setting off five weeks ago from Gibraltar, the southern tip of Spain, and now reaching Madrid fills me with a sense of pride and accomplishment. With the up’s of course always comedowns. It has been a mental struggle, the elevation has been really difficult with 4-5 days in a row of climbing mountains in the heat with exhausted legs. I guess you just have to keep in mind the crazy descents that follow a 5-day climb. Then it is all worth it.
M: The weather has been a real challenge in both Norway and Spain. We quite often got soaked in Norway and would end up pretty cold. In Spain, the heat was definitely tough at first but once you’ve settled into the siesta lifestyle it’s quite hard to break it. Spain has taught us to slow down and enjoy relaxing. You can’t rush in Spain, apart from Madrid…
What has the highlight of the trip been so far? Are there any specific places, people or moment which really stand out in your mind?
M: Some of the crazy landscapes have to be up there. We cycled across this Mongolian-esque plateau in Spain and it blew my mind. Also, the first time we got up into the mountains in Norway, my breath was taken away. Matching some of my Grandad’s photos and riding in the same places is a huge personal highlight for me. It was pretty special to think that he’d pedalled the same roads 60 years earlier!
C: I think meeting Andy has been a highlight for me, he pulled up to the Refugio we were staying at in Spain early one morning after seeing our tyre tracks in the dirt a few km’s away. We then pedalled three days together through the most incredible landscapes. He’s been living off his bike now for 14 months travelling around Europe on his own, such an inspiration. I guess I have enjoyed this whole new experience of travelling abroad on two wheels – the sense of reaching A to B. Also, learning new skills like bike fixing or map reading. It’s all new for me so I’m seeing everything with fresh eyes.
What’s next for you? Where are you planning to bike next and where do you dream of going after?
C: So we arrive into Nepal on 9th October and plan for a few days to rest and explore with our cameras and sketchbooks. Then we will pedal from Kathmandu to Pokhara and attempt the Annapurna circuit on bikes. This is going to be our biggest feat yet, with not only taking our elevation up by 2000m or so but also contending with the high altitude. After this, we will cycle in parts of Australia including Tasmania and New Zealand before deciding our next move.
M: Nepal is going to be great! I’m already certain and we haven’t even got there yet. After all the flying we’ve been doing, the idea of a point to point route across a continent has really appealed to both of us. I guess we are just fed up of putting our bikes in boxes to get on a plane. Currently, the vague plan is to get a flight to central Asia and pedal home from there. We’ll see though, South America also looks quite tempting!
Annapurna Mellor is a travel photographer, writer and co-founder of Roam Magazine. She fell in love with Asia shortly after graduating and has since spent extensive periods travelling and photographing in India, Nepal, Myanmar and many more. She shoots regularly for brands and publications and her work can be found in National Geographic Traveller Magazine, Lonely Planet, Suitcase and The Guardian. When not on the road, she is based in Manchester, UK.