Wind, rain, hills and smiles! Henley to Den Bosch
11 September, 2010 11 Comments
Today is the seventh day since we cycled away from home, and yesterday we arrived at my sister’s house in Holland for a relaxing weekend off after covering 550km through 4 countries (however, the next 4 countries will take around 6 weeks to cross!)
The first two days turned out to be very tough going – in hindsight, we really should’ve given ourselves an easier start with less miles. We both felt worn out before we’d even turned our pedals with the adrenaline and emotional stress of getting ready to leave and saying goodbye, and a long lunch with my parents on part way through day one left us with 40 miles still to go at 3pm. In the mad rush to get everything packed and ready to leave, we’d forgotten to pack any snacks to eat whilst cycling – during a previous tour I discovered that having a well stocked nosebag is essential for long days on the bikes. In the late afternoon we suddenly realised we were starving, so we quickly pulled into the nearest petrol station and gorged ourselves on chocolate on the forecourt.
We eventually finished at about 7:30pm, threw the tent up, boiled up some pasta and both passed out in our sleeping bags by 8:30pm. On the upside we did manage to avoid any major inclines, which was a rare navigational triumph given that we cycled directly through the Surrey Hills. Unfortunately as we’d already booked the ferry for 10am on day three we had to get within striking distance of Dover on day two, and this time we weren’t so lucky with the hills. In short, it was a long, hard day, and the hills really kill your average speed when you’re carrying all your possessions for over a year. Another very early night was required.
Spirits were higher the following day as we woke in our tent on the cliffs to the sun rising over the Channel, knowing that we would soon be getting on a ferry to France. Ever since we decided to go on this journey I’d wanted to cycle onto the ferry and sail out from Dover because it’s a crossing I’ve done many times before and, in my eyes at least, is the classic option for reaching the continent from England. It’s also the simplest, cheapest and shortest way to leave England. You can’t beat watching the White Cliffs of Dover disappear into the distance on a sunny day as the ferry slowly chugs it way across the water, although it was certainly weird to think that we won’t be seeing England again for over a year.
Once in France I was pleased to note that within an hour of landing I had eaten a pain au chocolat, spotted an excellent example of a euro-mullet, and had the beginnings of a sun burnt face. More to Bex’s taste were the flat roads that we found in France, Belgium and Holland. We definitely haven’t seen a hill since rolling down the ramp from the ferry, and in Belgium and Holland I don’t think we’ve even had to cycle on a road – their cycle path network is incredible. This isn’t like London, where a badly painted strip along the side of a narrow road passes as a cycle path – we’re talking wide, smooth and sign posted roads for bikes, separate from the main traffic. Not just in towns either, you can cross whole countries just by following bike sign posts to the next town. It’s not surprising that bikes are so widely used here when the set up is this good. The best bit is whenever the bike paths cross roundabouts or junctions, the bikes always have the right of way and the cars just stop! This took a bit of getting used to – having been commuting by bike in London I expect to get wiped out every time I cruise over a road. The first time a Belgian or Dutch cyclist tries to commute in London they must have a heart attack…
We’ve had lots of bursts of rain and strong winds so far, but this hasn’t been as bad as it sounds. Once you’re soaked you just get on with it, and as long as you keep cycling you stay warm. The trick is to keep everything dry, apart from the tent and the clothes you are wearing. It’s surprising how quickly your clothes dry whilst cycling once the rain stops – we frequently went from dry, to drenched, and back to dry again within an hour.
So we now have 2 whole days off before we head for Germany. I was extremely glad to get here to Kaye’s house, but already I’m looking forward to the next bit of the journey (which is good). But first I think I’ll just kick back on the sofa with my book…