Archive for the 'design' Category

Preparing to cycle Land’s End to John o’Groats

October 31, 2012

“Land’s End to John o’Groats” is a well know British term, but once leaving the island, no one knows what you are talking about. To compare it to the pilgrimage Santiago to Compostela for Catholics, is Land’s End to John o’Groats to any British charity challenger or record seeker. It refers to the ‘end to end’ journey between Britain’s most South-Eastern and North-Western point. The most common means to make this journey is to cycle it, I also heard of people walking it and met a guy doing it by public bus services.


This guy is doing a bus challenge Holt – Land’s End – John o’Groats – Holt

It feels like much longer, but it’s only been five months since I completed the challenge. I am trying to recap why I wanted to take on this challenge in the first place. Around Christmas last year I made the decision to do it. But the intention to do it I made during earlier cycle tours, once from Cranfield University to Dover in 2008 and in 2011 I went from Belgium to Calais followed by London to Cardiff. I loved those journeys as they gave me inner peace whilst putting me out of my physically and mental comfort zone. These tours also changed my awareness of distances and detail of places I am usually passing on long distance travels. So I taught that the end to end tour would give me peace after a stressful time and give me the opportunity to experience the full scope of the UK whilst improving my stamina.

My other tours were made without many preparations. The first touring was with a backpack strapped on the rack and without any accurate map nor camping gear. I learned navigating away from main roads is difficult and making last minute overnight arrangements is challenging and expensive. During my second tour, I decided to stick to the Sustrans National Cycle Network and to take a small pop-up tent with me. I was lucky with the weather being extremely good and realised if it was even a little bit colder, I would have needed cooking equipment.

So for a tour that would take about a month, I definitely needed to be prepared. Staying in B&Bs or hotels and eating out all the time would be too expensive, so camping became the preferred option. Considering that doing a prolonged self supported tour would require more stuff to carry and as a result put extra load on the bicycle, I found out that cargo trailers could reduce the ballast on the rear wheel. Since this tour was an experiment, I did not want to go for the expensive high end outdoors equipment, but it also needed to be of sufficient quality to at least sustain the full tour. This is a video and list of the equipment I took with me me:

  • Bike: Trek 7.3 Fx Disk
  • Trailer: Adventure Ct1 Single Wheel Cargo Trailer
  • Tent: North Ridge Sphinx 2p
  • Mat: Hi Gear Discoverer Sleeping Mat
  • Sleeping bag: Vango Ultralight 600
  • Stove: Wild Woodgas Stove MK II + Spirit Burner
  • Coat: Berghaus goretex + Regatta soft-gel + Regatta fleeze
  • Underwear and T-shirts: Howies Marino light 1 short & 1 long sleeve, cycling shorts, waterproof and wool socks
  • Trousers: Craghoppers quickdry and Mountain Warehouse rainproof
  • Shoes: Karrimor Waterproof Walking Shoe
  • Navigation tool: Sustrans App (OS maps) via iPad 3G
  • Power supply: Freeloader Globetrotter Solar Charging System
  • Action camera: Chilli Technology Action 3 HD 720P Head Cam
  • Head torch, Reelight battery free bike lights
  • Emergency kit, Bike-horn

The trailer has a maximum load capacity of 30kg and I packed my equipment to these guidelines. I also had one pannier where I could store things I needed quick access to during the day such as food, navigation and rain clothes. Now I was ready to do some test riding. I explained a little bit of my test ride to Schumacher College in a previous post. At that time I was able to eliminate about 6kg of luggage that I wouldn’t need. Devon was a good place to start and Cornwall put the test to an extreme. I encountered a few difficulties. First, quick-dry clothing isn’t good enough for continuously being outdoors, second, I still had too much load to carry, especially going up-hill and third I had problems with my disk-breaks vanishing going down-hill. I aimed to cycle from Schumacher College to Land’s End, but these three problems caused me to call a halt to the cycling in St Austell and to take the train to Penzance.

First miles into Cornwall, on the edge of a windy cliff. The gear and rider weren’t tested to the extreme yet.

bottom of hill where my brakes stopped working

I met up with Gordon about two months before the tour and told him about my plans to cycle the end to end. He bought a touring bike a year before and was keen to test it out. I am not sure Gordon committed himself to cycle the end to end but he was definitely up for some adventure. I arrived to Penzance the day before we were supposed to meet, but Gordon informed me he was delayed due to the delay in delivery of a tent he bought on ebay. But no worries, he pointed me towards a very nice campsite I could relax the extra day.

The campsite was at Treen, a tiny village a couple of miles out of Penzance in the direction towards Land’s End. The way to get there was extraordinary, first there were the coastal towns that had a Mediterranean atmosphere, once going up the cliff-side there was a deserted plane than valleys cut along it. These valleys had a tropical micro climate and finally arriving at the campsite felt as being on a Caribbean Island. Despite the beauty I was surrounded by, there was not much time to fully enjoy because of the three problems I had to sort out, i.e. getting waterproof clothing, reducing my luggage and fixing my breaks. This was challenging to organise at a remote place with few public transport links and poor mobile coverage. Luckily I was able to enjoy the beautiful evenings and went to see a musical an open air cliff-side theatre. After one more day, Gordon arrived without his new tent, I got rid of another 6kg of luggage and we were ‘ready’ to go.

‘old’ versus ‘new’ brakes


Musical ‘Titanic’ in memory of the boat sailed along this coastline exactly 100 years ago that day

The next post will elaborate on the route we took:

  • Day 1 – 13/04/2012: Land’s End to Truro (45m or 72km)
  • Day 2 – 14/04/2012: Truro to Bodmin Moor (46.5m or 75km)
  • Day 3 – 15/04/2012: Dodmin Moor to Tarka trail (59m or 94km)
  • Day 4 – 16/04/2012: Tarka trail to Exmoor (51.5m or 83km)
  • Day 5 – 17/04/2012: Exmoor to Tirverton Parkway (26m or 42km)
  • 18/04/2012 – 27/04/2012: break (meditation in Hereford)
  • Day 6 – 28/04/2012: Tiverton Parkway to Taunton (25m or 40km)
  • Day 7 – 29/04/2012: Taunton to Wookey Hole (48.5m or 78km)
  • Day 8 – 30/04/2012: Wookey Hole to Bristol (46m or 74.5km)
  • Day 9 – 1/05/2012: Bristol to Forrest of Dean (30m or 48km)
  • Day 10 – 2/05/2012: Forrest of Dean to Black Mountains (46.5m or 75km)
  • Day 11 – 3/05/2012: Black Mountains to Newbridge on Wye (40m or 64km)
  • Day 12 – 4/05/2012: Newbridge on Wye to Machynlleth (52m or 83.5km)
  • Day 13 – 5/05/2012: Machynlleth to Blaenau Ffestiniog (42m or 67.5km)
  • 6/05/2012: break (visit friend on Isle of Anglesey)
  • Day 14 – 7/05/2012: Blaenau Ffestiniog to Caernarfon (30m or 48.5km)
  • Day 15 – 8/05/2012: Caernarfon to Holyhead (32.5m or 52km) + ferry to Dublin
  • 9/05/2012: break (visit friend in Dublin)
  • Day 16 – 10/05/2012: Dublin to Clogherhead (36m or 58km)
  • Day 17 – 11/05/2012: Clogherhead to Portadown (64m or 103km)
  • Day 18 – 12/05/2012: Portadown to Belfast (35m or 56.5km) + ferry to Cairnryan
  • Day 19 – 13/05/2012: Cairnryan to Maybole (66m or 106km) via Galloway Forrest Park
  • Day 20 – 14/05/2012: Maybole to Isle of Arran (37m or 59.5km) via Ardrossan-Brodick ferry
  • Day 21 – 15/05/2012: Isle of Arran to Loch Caolisport (35mor 56.5km) via Lochraza-Claonaig ferry
  • Day 22 – 16/05/2012: Loch Coalisport to Oban (59m or 95km)
  • 17/05/2012: break (Oban visit)
  • Day 23 – 18/05/2012: Craignure (Isle of Mull) to Malaig (85m or 137km) via Oban-Craignure ferry and Tobermory-Kilchoan ferry
  • Day 24 – 19/05/2012: Isle of Skye to Isle of Harris (64m or 103km) via Malaig-Armadale ferry and Uig-Tarbert ferry
  • Day 25 – 20/05/2012: Isle of Harris to Knockan (48m or 77km) via Stornaway-Ullapool ferry
  • Day 26 – 21/05/2012: Knockan to Durness (55m or 88.5km)
  • Day 27 – 22/05/2012: Durness to Thurso (71m or 114km)
  • Day 28 – 23/05/2012: Thurso to John o’Groats (21m or 34km)
  • total of about 1300m or 2100km

Continuity in disruptive times

October 27, 2012

After some time of silence at this blog, I am back with the first in a series of posts I am planning to write this month. So far 2012 has brought many challenging, changing and exciting moments for me and I want to share with you the highlights of my stories via this platform. I could blame my silence on multiple difficulties I encountered to write blogs on an iPad whilst on the move. But lets be honest and admit that in times the flow of life counts may interruptions, its easier to jump into the action than to document the story.

The previous post was written whilst preparing the challenge to cycle from Land’s End to John o’Groats. The tour took about 30 days and as you probably can see from the pictures, I’ve got a few stories to tell about what happened in between. I’ll keep this for the next post.

Lands’s End 13th April 2012

John o’Groats 23rd May 2012

In my previous post I also mentioned briefly that I took a course at Schumacher College. For over 20 years the college has been a place for transformative courses on sustainability. Back in 2008 I took a course in designing for sustainability which at that time gave me a leap in my professional development. The course I followed this time was titled “Cultivating an Ecoliterate Worldview: Person, Place and Practice”. The two week-residential was an experience that changed my values and reconnected me with the ecosystems we are part of. The course is still ongoing via a global study circle. Although I see the whole experience more as personal development, I might write a post about “design and innovation versus emergence and transition for sustainability”.

Dr Stephan Harding explaining 1 meter will represent 1 million years

During the 4.5km walk references are made to the 4.5 billion years geological and biological evolution of the earth

Last 20 centimetres introduces the human species on earth, last 2 millimetres the industrial revolution

Other personal development experiences since my last post included a ten-day Vipassana meditation course and volunteering on a later course. Vipassana is a meditation technique where, by experiencing the impermanence, you learn to eradicate yourself form misery by controlling deep behavioural patterns of craving and aversion. I would recommend everyone to try a course! An unexpected outcome of a course that only caters vegan meals is that I have overcome my phobia about eating fish.

In July I went to Italy to attend a summer school in designing the semi public space. Izmo associations, the organiser of the summer school, are a dynamic bunch of people somewhere between architects, researchers, design activist and just very nice Italians. I was particularly interested to attend because of the participatory design workshop and the realisation of community based design interventions. As you can see from the pictures there is a lot to tell about this experience, too much for this blogpost.

Participatory design workshop

design team and installation

After the summer school I began actively seeking work, i.e. job-hunting. In hunting terms I can say the climate is changing and this season isn’t going to bring an easy catch, a good time to master some survival skills! How I approach my hunt will be for a next post. What I can tell you for now is that I want to make sustainability happen via design and for this I am looking into three possible types of meaningful work:

  • eradicate poverty by designing products, services or systems in third world countries
  • supporting meaningful and good design by providing qualitative research services to any type of ‘sustainable designers’
  • creating systems change by bringing design-led approaches to policy development/delivery

Another challenge was, and still is, the ambiguity of me being an expatriate versus native. I haven’t relocated yet and have been hopping between the UK and Belgium finding a space to work anywhere with wifi or 3G. It’s an organisational and legal challenge and sometimes creates interpersonal difficulties. I can now say I have an temporary operating base in my hometown, Poperinge, Belgium. This situation not only taught me to travel light, but also to live light. It has also been a time of (re)connecting with friends, family and masters two languages simultaneously.

So the last half year brought adventure, professional development, personal mastering, hunting experience and a nomadic lifestyle. I am keen to use this blog to go into more detail on a few aspects of this transitional period, starting with a long post on the big cycle tour. Leave a reply below if you are interested in a particular story. You can also follow me on twitter for instant updates.

Why is the human brain so big?

January 9, 2011

Why is the human brain so big? Biologists are struggling with this question for ages. Darwin’s theory shows evolution happens gradually. However, a sudden disruption in the brain size appeared about 200.000 years ago. Recently a new theory emerged: A mutation of the brain could have doubled the brain size. This could be the explanation why everyone’s genes are pointing to one ‘earth mother’.

I see design as a process that enables humans and other animals to change their behaviour without having to change their genes. Without design we need to become new species (and evolve) to do new things.
I think the current “genes” of the man made systems are facing a giant mutation. We are facing global warming, a massive decline in biodiversity, massive changes in demographics, digitalisation of the way we think,…

But is this mutation a threat, or does it provide opportunities for humankind to make a giant leap towards something beautiful? Please don’t understand me wrong, I want to point out that the mutation itself is not beautiful, but the reaction could be.

What if the earth was is the middle of its life, are we humans at the top of our capabilities?

YES, we do live in times of prosperity, but NO, this does not mean everything is perfect, far from I would rather say! Why is it so difficult to make plans two years ahead? What if we want to design the society in 10.000 years? How would this look like? Impossible you would say? Look at the start of agriculture. Even though these first farmers were just experimenting, their results defined how our ancestors, we and our children live.

Indeed, this is an impossible question, but what I want to point out is that we need to redistribute our capabilities and be more flexible to change even if the change does not seem to be beneficial at first sight. What is our non-biological evolution? Or do you think evolution does not exist?