As much as I love cycling, until recently I had never taken an entirely human-powered holiday. Which means that every holiday I have ever taken has been powered by fossil fuels (some more than others, thanks to those international flights!). Perhaps it is understandable - in Melbourne you have to cycle at least 50 kilometres in any direction just to get out of the city.
We seized the chance over the Easter long weekend to try something new, and what resulted was one of the most satisfying and refreshing short breaks I have ever had. With the prospect of two weekends of international flights ahead (a wedding in Hungary followed by a trip back to Australia), I really couldn't stand the thought of being cramped in a bus, train or plane. So I came up with the slightly crazy idea of riding the entire length of the 88 kilometre Taff Trail over the weekend - and my boyfriend, supportive as always, went along with it.
For those not based in Wales (or not super into cycling infrastructure), the Taff Trail is a route that runs from Cardiff to Brecon through a lovely mountain range called the Brecon Beacons (perhaps that should have been a warning that the ride might be a bit hilly). It is part of the National Cycle Network in the UK, which signposts safe(ish) routes for cycling across the country. I say (ish) because some of the routes are on roads which never feel quite as pleasant as a fully separated bike path.
So how did it go? As you can see from the pictures, the scenery was nothing short of spectacular (actually the photos really don’t do it justice). However, it was definitely a challenge and I learnt some lessons for the next time that we decide to take an adventure by bike.
Tip 1 - Have something to look forward to. We weren't paying anything for transport on this trip so we splurged and stayed at a pretty fancy schmancy bed and breakfast. The thought of a hot shower made the last 25 kilometres coming into Brecon when we were soaking wet so much more bearable (refer also to tip 3 on weather). If you are looking for a place to stay, I highly recommend Herdmans Bed and Breakfast. Janie and Nick were wonderfully welcoming and helped us to dry all our wet gear and safely store our bikes, not to mention the delicious breakfast (they also have solar panels!).
Tip 2 - Know your limits. And then push them. I knew we had ridden 80 kilometres in a day before, so I figures 88 kilometres would be fine. I didn't quite take into account that it would be through a mountain range though. We spent a good 9 - 10 hours on the road each day of the ride, but that included quite a few breaks to eat and take photos. Nonetheless, we were glad for the lengthening spring days, as we only just made it to Brecon in daylight. If we had known what a challenge it would be, we might have just taken the sensible option of a bus to Brecon. And if there was an easy way for us to give up halfway after lunch in Merthyr Tydfil, I think we would have. But we pressed on and were rewarded with the most spectacular views in the second half of the ride.
Tip 3 - Check the weather. Turns out there was a yellow weather warning for storms on the first day of the ride. We didn't realise this until the last minute, and even then decided not to reschedule because we wanted to take advantage of the bank holiday. But if you happen to find a sunny weekend in Wales, definitely choose that one for the ride! I have never felt so miserable riding down a hill as on the last 25 kilometres of the ride to Brecon, because we were so cold and wet. Nothing a hot shower couldn't fix though, and we certainly felt a sense of achievement afterwards.
Tip 4 - Pack light. We were staying in a bed and breakfast so were able to fit everything we needed for the weekend in two panniers (neither of which were on my bike...lucky me!). While I will happily load up my bike (and myself) with 20+ kilograms of groceries for a quick trip through the city, I certainly had an easier time going up hills than my wonderful boyfriend who was lugging all our stuff. That said, I would like to try more bike touring after this ride. We passed and chatted to a particularly inspirational Polish family who were carrying everything that they needed to camp self-sufficiently - even their son who looked to be about 10 years old was carting panniers and a backpack. After seeing them I felt rather less impressed with myself, having carried nothing!
Tip 5 - Stay positive. We knew it would be a long ride so from the outset I was very conscious of staying positive and appreciating the scenery. It helped that we set out with the mindset to enjoy the journey, rather than focusing on the destination. Riding up an unrelenting hill on a gravel path for 10 kilometres at the start of the ride home was made much easier by making jokes, singing and exclaiming at the snow covered peaks which had been covered by mist on our way there.
If you are planning a ride around Cardiff, Wales or the UK, here are some fun and useful resources to check out:
And a disappointment...
Before we moved to Cardiff we did a bit of research to see if it was the kind of place we would like to live. There were certainly some positives (castle keys! municipal composting! affordable rent!), but bulk food shopping was one thing I wasn't sure of. Using my internet sleuthing skills I starred a couple of places to check out on google maps, and in my first week I diligently went and checked them all out. Unfortunately none were a bulk food store in the sense that I was used to (i.e. where I could bring my own bags and completely avoid bringing any additional packaging home with me).
It has taken me six months, but this weekend I ventured back to one of those initial places to try again, and this time ask if they could help me rather than just look around. I was optimistic, as they bag everything into little plastic baggies from big sack on site, so I thought they might be able to just pop some into my fabric bags while they were at it.
Long story short, they said no. They had a bunch of reasons why it would be too hard, and perhaps they have tried it in the past and it hasn't worked. Either way, I left without buying anything. My boyfriend did sneak back though and buy some pearl cous cous - everything here is in packages so I guess we might as well enjoy the food we like!
I feel it is inevitable that someone will open a bulk or plastic-free store in Cardiff in the next year. They are popping up all over the UK and Wales a the moment, and plastic pollution seems to be the issue of the moment (it is even the theme for this year's World Environment Day). If you decide to open a bulk store in Cardiff, I promise to be your most loyal customer!
On the bright side (literally), with the start of daylight savings this weekend it feels like we are finally emerging from winter. I even spent most of the weekend outside in the sun (admittedly wearing a scarf, beanie, woollen jumper and explorer socks, but I'll take it!). I can't believe I took the two below photos on the way to work just a few days apart last week. Here's hoping for some more sunny days!
Since moving to Cardiff (in actual Wales, not New South Wales) last year, I have stopped really paying attention to the weather forecast. After ambitiously trying to leave my raincoat behind and getting unexpectedly saturated on my short ride to work once, I have realised that I'm better off just wearing it every day because it is always rainy (yes, I should have expected that, I know).
So when storm Emma dumped a load of snow on Cardiff, it was a complete surprise to me. I have been sent home from school in Australia due to heat, but never have I experienced a snow day before, and thanks to Emma I got to have two!
But what does all this have to do with sustainability, I hear you ask.
Last Friday no one could use their cars. It lasted just one day until the roads were cleared and the temperatures began to rise on Saturday, but it was a magical day. The streets were alive, not with cars racing along, but with people. As most workplaces were closed, my housemates and I huddled in our front room (the warmest room the the house), working from home. From there we could see people wandering past, dragging sledges, chatting to neighbours and generally just chilling out rather than rushing from one activity to the next as they normally might. There were no worries of a car coming along, so children (and let's be honest, Australian "adults") frolicked in the streets.
When we ventured out in search of food (because we thought it was a joke when everyone started panic-buying bread and milk on Wednesday), the only shops that were open were those that are locally owned. The larger chain supermarkets remained closed, which meant the local grocer where we buy our fruit and veg was absolutely bustling. We managed to find some bread at a local deli, and for everything else we just ate what was already in the cupboards and fridge (the best way to reduce food waste!).
By Saturday, at least in central Cardiff, the snow had started to turn to slush and noisy, dirty cars ruled the roads again. Just a week later, those magical days feel distant already as the hustle and bustle of work and other activities returned to normal.
Of course, not being able to use the roads caused havoc for emergency services and those with limited mobility (and that is definitely not a good thing!). But for the rest of us, it was an enforced exercise in slowing down and smelling the daffodils.
I am getting pretty excited about flying to Italy to blog about the World Environment Day celebrations at the Milan World Expo. Time passes so quickly, I can't believe I fly out this Friday already! Although I was thinking today...it is rather ironic that this trip will greatly increase my carbon footprint for the year.
The graph below is an old friend with some new additions. Australia doesn't have government emissions factors for flights, so I borrowed some from the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. As you can see the emissions per kilometre travelled by plane are actually surprisingly similar to travelling by car, or even less!
Where it makes a difference is the enormous distance that people travel by plane. A quick look on google maps shows that Melbourne to Doha is about 12,000 kilometres and Doha to Milan is about another 4,000 kilometres. That's over 30,000 kilometres return!
On average, a registered vehicle in Australia drives 14,000 kilometres in a year (based on ABS data). While this doesn't exactly equate to how far the average person drives because cars may be shared, it gives an indication of just how huge the emissions from my one flight are in comparison. In just one week long trip, I will be responsible for the same amount of emissions as if I had driven a car in an average manner for two years.
So what's a green blogger to do? Purchase some offsets!
The Australian National Carbon Offset Standard (NCOS) defines a carbon offset as...
Carbon offset: Represents reductions or removals of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere by sinks, relative to a business-as-usual baseline. Carbon offsets are tradeable and often used to negate (or offset) all or part of another entity’s emissions.
I could write a whole post about the different types of offsets but I might leave that for another time. If you are interested, the NCOS provides a good overview.
There are various options to purchase voluntary emissions offsets, however many of them are aimed at organisations who want to obtain carbon neutral status. One option to purchase offsets as an individual is through Greenfleet. Offsets can be purchased to cover certain activities, or on a per tonne basis. The Greenfleet offsets come from native Australian reforestation projects that capture carbon from the atmosphere to compensate for the emissions from different activities (like flying to Italy).
Based on my flight distance of 32,000 kilometres, with an emissions factor of 210 gCO2-e per kilometre, these flights alone will contribute over 6.7 tonnes of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. Offsetting them at $13.99 per tonne with Greenfleet will cost me $94. I'm not sure how this compares to purchasing the offsets directly though the airline, but in the grand scheme of international travel, it is not a lot of money. It is sort of like the old phrase - if you can't afford travel insurance you can't afford to travel. Replace travel insurance with offsets and I have a recipe for a much greener trip!
If you are interested in reading about my adventures in Italy at the Milan Expo celebrations for World Environment Day - watch this space and follow me on twitter (@karabrussen). I would love to share my experiences with you, and I always love to hear what you have to say in the comments!
In my second year of university I was lucky enough to be involved in a design competition held by one of the big engineering firms. During our mid-semester break we pretended to be adults for a week as we worked with some of the engineers to design a self-sufficient green portable classroom.
One of the engineers gave us a presentation on a concept they used when considering sustainability - one less thing. As important as new technology is, sometimes it is considering what can be removed that leads to the greatest innovations.
At the same time as applying it to our design work, they encouraged us to thing about one thing we could minimise in our everyday lives. At the time this made me quite indignant. I liked to think my lifestyle was already pretty environmentally friendly - my family composted and had solar panels. But one aspect I kept coming back to was transport.
Like all Australian 18 year olds, having just obtained my drivers licence I was reluctant to stop driving and give up my hard earned freedom. Plus I had a million excuses why I couldn't:
Just as a side note, shall we have a look at some of the impacts of driving? I'm not going to go into a lot of detail here, but I couldn't resist including some graphs (I am an engineer after all). This one, from the Australian Government Climate Change Authority shows the significant contribution that light vehicle (aka car) use makes to Australia's greenhouse gas emissions. The comparative contributions of public transport seem tiny!
But it still bothered me that there are some emissions from public transport. Looking at it from another perspective, the graph below shows the comparative emissions for a person travelling a kilometre on different transport modes. Specifically in Melbourne, it seems that while travelling by public transport does have less emissions than driving, it's still not the greatest.
It is interesting to note that this data will really depend on where you live. Unfortunately in Melbourne the electricity that powers our trains is very polluting as its mostly from brown coal. Also our bus system often operates below capacity, which means there are less people to share the emissions between. The data I have collated in this graph is from a University of Melbourne study (if you are keen to recreate it, I have averaged all the values in Table 10).
So I started to consider cycling. I had a bike, and sometimes went for leisurely rides but had never considered commuting.
But one chilly morning my dad helped me put some lights on it and I struggled through the 3km ride to work. But I survived, and I grew in confidence. That summer I had the time and freedom to ride everywhere, and by the time uni started the next year I was ready to tackle the daunting 20km commute.
Several years later, cycling has become a habit that I love. It brings me so much happiness to whiz past gridlocked cars and packed trams on my way to work. It started as one less thing - but cycling has had more benefits for me than I had imagined.
What's your one less thing? If there is something in your life that you have changed or are considering changing for the greener, I'd love to hear about it in the comments.
Welcome to Wonderfully Green...
My name is Kara and I created this blog as a way to document all the lovely aspects of sustainability. You can find out more on my About page.
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