The cycle trip ends…

Final destination

[Please see comments at the bottom Re: my conclusions on my carbon footprint for cycling. Its all good news to me, I was absolutely wrong!]

So yesterday I returned from the big cycle around France and Spain. The final few weeks in Spain provided much merriment and many kilometers. Here is a low down of a few of the things we learned and did:

Sunseed; We spent 4 days volunteering at Sunseed Village in Sorbas. This is a place that is looking into all sorts of alternative technology and environmentally sustainable ways of living. It is a fantastic place because they look to live within what I guess could be best described as a ‘closed system’, i.e. they don’t want to rely on anything outside of the area for their living needs. Although they are not there yet (they have to buy food, amongst many other things) they are doing a damn good job. We saw effective water systems that use local river water, a reed bed system for cleaning grey water, decent compost loos so all human waste is composted, solar water heaters, a wind turbine, solar energy and a good permaculture food growing system, a natural cana reed bridge and much else. The other main focus is, necessarily, on reducing energy use, something that everyone needs to focus on of course, but Sunseed is progressing really well in this direction. Communal cooking, bread baking and loads of music playing/singing and general merriment was had.

Cabo de Gata; With Pete and Alice, we took on two more cyclists, James (our mate from back home) and Amme from New Zealand and set off from Sunseed to cycle to Cabo de Gata, a beautiful national park area on the South-east tip of Spain.

Beneficio community; So we went to Beneficio near Orgiva. It is right next to (just South of, in fact) the Sierra Nevada, a phenomenal mountain range in Andalucia, Southern Spain. Beneficio was at the other end of the communal living scale to Sunseed. Where Sunseed was very organized and, to an extent, regimented in its system, Beneficio was not. I suggested to Pete and Alice that Sunseed was the embodiment of progressive Anarchists today; doing, acting, being practical and that Beneficio was the opposite, an illustration of the end of the failed Hippie movement; potheads and lethargy. However, Pete suggested that maybe, in at least one respect, it was the other way around. At Beneficio there is total Anarchism, anyone can show up and just start building or creating a project, no questions, no regulations on what must be done or signed up to. Which is in many ways a really powerful thing. There is elements of truth in both perspectives I think.

I didn’t warm to Beneficio (although bear in mind that we arrived at the least enchanting time, the Winter rains had just arrived) as, to me, the place stunk of escapism without a cause. A place where people came to get inordinately high and opt out of mainstream society but also opting out of thinking and creating for something new. There were, however, many people higher up the mountain who we didn’t see or encounter and I am sure my view is distorted, perhaps with more time and an open outlook my perspective might have been different.

So this picture shows Olive groves, a river bed with yellowing leaves, an arid mountain landscape and then a snowy mountain landscape right in the distance at the top!

Granada; Between the three of us we all agreed Granada might be the most beautiful city we had ever seen. Quite a plaudit. Every street provided beautiful architecture and Spanish beauty. The people we met were warm and welcoming and everyone knew everyone else. A real community feel in a city that is not too big. I couldn’t recommend Granada enough and with the Sierra Nevada just next door there is heaps of natural beauty around. This includes some natural hot springs which we cycled to and camped next to. A wonderful way to end 2200 kilometers of bicycle riding.

We came across all these thrown away tomatoes by intensive 'Plasticos', large scale agribusiness. After filling ourselves on the edible ones we had some fun with some of the others.

Final ride stats:

1 aeroplane ride

1 bus ride

2 train rides

1 broken rear axel and sprocket

roughly 6 punctures

1 incredible Romanian man

1 night in a hostel

1 night camped in a city

15 kilometers non-stop downhill on the final stint to finish the ride

20 degree Celsius when I left Malaga

2200 kilometers

I wanted to do a CO2 emissions thing to show how much less CO2 I used getting down to Malaga on my bike versus flying back in a plane to illustrate just how damaging flying can be but unfortunately I haven’t been able to work it out very well. It is, of course, nigh impossible to do it accurately with the bicycle calculations anyway, but what I seem to have found is that it is more carbon intensive on a bicycle?! So hopefully someone can post up how wrong I am about this.

Basically, accounting for food is the fuel cost on bicycle trips and allowing for 100g of CO2 per mile ( my trip down to Malaga was 1367 miles of cycling, therefore (very roughly speaking) my CO2 consumption was 136700g or 1376kg.

According to an average carbon emissions calculator found with a quick search online ( my flight back was roughly 175kg of CO2. Now, that is 6 or 7 times less than the cycling. So either I’m being totally wrong (hopefully this is true and my minor research is woefully inadequate) or this is an interesting fact about long distance cycling. Any constructive criticism or info would be most welcomed on this point, something to ponder.

An Aside:

As an aside and on the theme of carbon usage I wanted to put in an extra bit about toilet paper.

After a couple of brief chats with Alice and Pete it occurred to us that in all the super low impact living places we’ve visited, we’ve never come across anywhere that doesn’t have toilet paper in the compost loos. How strange it suddenly seems to me, that we don’t even think that this could be terribly environmentally unfriendly and something that needs to be addressed.

Essentially the point is that we are so ingrained into thinking that toilet paper is the only possible way of being hygienic when we go to the toilet that we won’t consider that we might need to stop using it.

We are stuck in a psychological trap that is costing trees dearly; “According to Rose George, author of The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters, there is no fixed norm for hygiene; cultural differences define hygienic standards. “Wet” cultures (those using water for cleansing) can achieve health standards every bit as high as “dry” cultures relying on toilet paper. “Sanitation improvement tied to toilet paper use assumes a flush toilet paradigm,” she contends. “A decrease in fecal-oriented disease in developing countries is a much better indicator of improved hygiene and sanitation, particularly in ‘wet’ cultures. It is illogical to use something dry to clean the dirtiest part of our body when we use water to clean everything else.””


“As Marcal’s Tim Spring notes, it takes 3.5 tons of raw fiber to produce 2 tons of toilet paper. Monoculture plantations or agri-tree operations, established in response to limits placed on old-growth forest logging and growing consumer demand, endanger local environments with heavy use of chemicals, reduce biological diversity, demand large quantities of water to support fast-growing tree species, and displace indigenous populations and their farming cultures. Converting virgin pulp to toilet paper requires more water than producing toilet paper from recycled paper. Manufacturers of virgin-pulp toilet paper are increasingly utilizing high-energy drying techniques to maximize softness and fluffiness, and their chlorine-based bleaching processes pollute local water sources.” (‘Flushing Forests’ by Noelle Robbins)

So, something to consider folks. A paradigm shift away from toilet paper. I’m going to make the effort!

Two articles of interest I found at a glance;

And here is a picture gallery of the last part of the trip.

Hasta Luego.


3 responses to “The cycle trip ends…

  1. Been loving the blog mate. Can’t tell you how jealous I am of your trip, sitting here in an office in London. I’ve been cycling a lot, for the commute and so forth, and hope to start doing some long weekends soon (just need the money for a bike first!) – in large part this has been inspired by you guys, so cheers.

    RE: the carbon calculations, the comments on that Guardian article point out, quite rightly, that those figures are a bit misleading because the human body essentially ‘ticks over’ from one meal to the next. It’s similar to the way that a bee can fly despite having such a massive body compared to its wings – it harnesses potential energy so that the overall energy used per flap is a fraction of the first ‘big’ one. Similarly, whilst you might eat a meal for a long day of cycling, only a fraction of that food is actually going on cycling – a lot of it will be going on just ticking over your everyday bodily functions.

    So it looks like you need to look at how much extra energy you consumed, per mile, than the equivalent amount used just chilling out. The same goes for the plane, too, of course, but I’d bet that [E(sitting on your arse) + E(extra food for cycling)] < [E(sitting on your arse) + E(extra food for flying)]. If that makes sense?

    I'm a bit sceptical of the validity of using carbon footprints and the such though, because there's always difficulty in drawing a line under where you start measuring the carbon output. If you want to do it properly you'd need to not only take into the fuel used but also the cost of producing each component of both bicycle and plane, and also the carbon footprints of the workers involved in the construction chain, etc. etc. Best to just try to minimise carbon emissions at every stage regardless surely!

  2. Re: cycling vs. flying comparison:
    1) You mistranslated from grams to kilograms. 136700g = 137.6kg NOT 1367kg. So that’s already 20% less than flying.
    3) This calculation is based on the energy you used while cycling, which you estimate at 50calories per mile (seems fair enough), but what you haven’t factored in is general usage of time.

    For every mile you travel, you are also doing something else with that 50cal energy, eg. LIVING/HAVING FUN. So to make an accurate comparison of flying vs. cycling for your holiday as a whole, you should be comparing activities over the whole time period, not just the flight there. Therefore AT A VERY MINIMUM you should include carbon cost of flying to Spain + all calories consumed by your body at rest for the same duration as it took you to cycle there.
    And even then, that would be as if your planned holiday was to fly to Spain then sit motionless for the entire duration of the trip, which would be a pretty rubbish holiday in my book. In the time that you were not cycling, you’d have probably been doing many other activities which created carbon emissions in some form, so all these should be included to come up with an accurate comparison.
    I think after all that, cycling would come out pretty conclusively on top.

  3. Wow, that so makes me want to get back on my bike and cycle off somewhere really far. I can see yout trip was far from over at Sunseed – anyway time passes differently when you cycle, you live more intensely, a day can seem like a week, I wonder if you found that as well? (You could even see the bicycle as a sort of time-stretching machine – a sequel to the bad time travellers perhaps? 🙂
    Interesting what you say about the Beneficio community – the idea of raw untethered creativity definitely appeals to me but I think it’s better suited to painting or writing poetry than building sustainable houses and communities.. you need a balance between discipline and spontaneity, not easy, I think Sunseed do really well though.
    Thanks for the link, I loved the time traveller story.

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