Wild camping and Beer – Munich to Hirten

I’m anticipating that I will enjoy writing this post a lot more than the last one, and I hope it’s more fun to read!

The knee is on the mend, and we’re a team again, YAHOO! I have had a fright though so we are having a few weeks of lower miles, and Ryan keeps cycling with his hand on my back up the hills. Thank you to everyone for sending me encouragement, it was so lovely to hear kind words from people back home and stopped me feeling too blue.

After being spoilt by my dad for a few days in Augsberg we headed to Munich for the beer fest where Bex Sheldon awaited us (thanks Bex and Dad!). The Oktoberfest is totally mental, the tents are more like giant buildings and the whole place is a circus of drunks. We had more than our fair share of steins (well it was Bex’s birthday) and spent most of the night dancing on the tables – it’s amazing how well the beer sorts out a dodgy knee!!

We met up with another friend, Tom Smith, who happened to be in Munich on Saturday night and I managed to split one of the only two pairs of trousers I have. I’m not talking a little tear – I managed to rip them up the entire inside leg around the crotch and a few inches the other side, and I had to stumble home trying to hold myself together. Hilarious at the time, obviously. The next day saw me in H&M having a brand new shopping experience. As I entered the shop floor I scoured the room… past all the sparkly tops, floral dresses and jeans and my eyes landed on the corner full of dowdy anoraks and tracksuits, BINGO! As I began the selection process there was no “does my bum look big in this” or ” I wonder if these go with that top” – I felt the fabric, predicted how long things would take to dry, how small they would pack and how much they weighed. The colour was obvious, the most washed out dirt black colour I could find.

After the Munich blow out it was great to get back on the bikes with a rested knee and we headed east. We had our first wild camp deep inside a forest and I am VERY proud to say I experienced only a 30 second panic during the night, the irrational fears were of course:

1) A lumberjack man wearing a plaid shirt and dirty jeans (the cockroach bloke in MIB) is waiting until I fall asleep and is going to drag me out of the tent and attack me

2) I was about to be the silent witness to some horrific crime, Ryan won’t believe me, and so I will have to go out in the rain to investigate where something horrific is awaiting me

3) We are so well camouflaged that a bulldozer is going to plough over the tent killing us both, or even worse just Ryan and then I would have to finish the trip alone as a tribute, ARGH!!!

I know all the men reading this will think I was being irrational, but I am truly impressed the fear only got me for a short time!!! I managed to settle into a solid 12 hours kip after that and was excited to wake up the next day feeling like a little explorer in the woods. I’m sure we have many more wild camps ahead of us, and I will eventually feel at peace with the whole thing.

We continued east for a few days and are staying with some hosts in Hirten. I am continually being amazed by the generosity of people, this our 5th night since leaving home that we have been given food, a roof and wonderful company out of pure kindness and we’re still on the doorstep of England. I genuinely can’t wait until we are able to return this kindness to others once we get back home.

Crossing Germany – Den Bosch to Munich

Whilst Bex has (not) been enjoying her inter-railing mini break I’ve been crossing Germany by bike. After cycling through the first four countries in six days it has been nice to spend a bit longer in a single country to get more of a feel for the place.

We’ve crossed Germany from the west to the south east (as seen on our route map) and have followed river cycle paths where possible. After an obligatory look round the impressive cathedral in Koln we joined the Rhein, which we would follow for the next three days. It’s a massive and busy river, full of huge boats struggling along whilst weighed down by heavy cargo. Freight trains also rumble down the tracks that follow each bank which made for several noisy nights in the tent – I woke a few times thinking that an airplane was landing nearby!

Despite this, the Rhine made for scenic cycling. Steep green vineyards enclosed both sides of the valley and castles were perched high up overlooking the river. Each kilometre along the river is marked by a huge sign which I guess shows the number of kilometres from the source. At first it was satisfying to see these go past, however after several hundred they soon lost their novelty.

A quick check of the map in Frankfurt confirmed there was a challenge ahead – we had three days to get to Augsburg in order to meet Bex’s Dad and Grandma. This doesn’t look too bad as the crow flies, or at racing bike speeds. But on a loaded touring bike (typical average speed 12 mph) this meant some long days in the saddle were ahead. I decided to do two ‘quite long’ days and one ‘very long day’ on the basis that we wouldn’t have to camp and cook once we got to Augsburg.

The long day certainly lived up to its name – I set the alarm for an early start and got some kilometres under my belt during a cold, clear morning that required my winter gloves. Gradually a hot late summer’s day emerged with not a single cloud in the sky. The route that day consisted of mostly farmer’s tracks through endless rolling fields full of corn. A hairy descent on a gravel path brought a big grin to my face – it must be 10 years since I rode a mountain bike down a country lane, I’d forgotten how fun it is! The kilometres and sunburn accumulated whilst my food and water supplies diminished. Late afternoon brought with it the inevitable tiredness, so I played my favourite album for an immediate injection of morale.

All day from my saddle I had watched the sun rise up from the east and arc high above my head – it was now sinking in the west. Cycling through shadows had the same cold feel as the morning air many hours earlier – this was a full day spent on the bike, grinding out the distance. Despite multiple snack stops, the fact that a passing Burger King smelt like heaven confirmed I was hungry for dinner, but I resisted the temptation and pressed on. There was still 20km to cover and the only direct road was an autobahn… I did consider taking my chances on the hard shoulder for a few seconds before deciding on the indirect route using bike-friendly roads. The album was now on its second spin, but still having the desired effect of keeping the pedals turning. Finally, after some aimless cycling around the city centre I arrived at the destination – it was 7pm and it had taken 11 hours of cycling and eating to get there.

Food has been very simple so far – as Europe is relatively expensive we’re trying to use our limited funds as efficiently as possible so we still have some left for NZ! This has meant I’ve been eating baguettes and bananas for breakfast, lunch and snacks (two extra large baguettes does the job most days), and pasta or rice for dinner cooked on our stove. It’s good cheap fuel and seems to be satisfying our needs – fortunately after a long day on the bike almost anything tastes delicious (including our worst effort yet which was rice, pesto and a leftover slice of cheese).

We used warmshowers.org for the first time in Germany (similar to couch surfing but specifically for cycle tourers). We stayed with Michael in Koln and Oliver and his family in Frankfurt. On both occasions we received fantastic hospitality – a warm shower, a tasty meal, a comfy bed and company for the evening – exactly what you want after some wet weather camping!

I feel like I’ve adjusted quite well to long days on the bike (the 90 minutes between snack breaks passes surprisingly quickly) but I haven’t yet adapted to a cycle touring mentality, as opposed to chasing targets on the map. Part of the reason has been the need to pre-arrange a meeting place with Bex (e.g. 5pm at Koblenz station), so then the temptation is to put my head down and pedal furiously until I arrive. Also the enforced high mileage due (explained by Bex in her previous post) means there’s been no time in a typical day for me to do anything other than ride, eat, pitch tent and sleep. I was struck by a particular line from a post by Tom at Ride Earth:

“…the point of travelling by bicycle is not to reach a destination, but to watch the world unfold on the way there”

This articulates exactly why we choose to cycle to NZ but as yet, I’ve struggled to put it into practice. However, hopefully this will change when we leave Munich on Monday – we have no time pressure to get anywhere, so we’ll be covering only as many miles a day as we feel like. It should make for a much more pleasant experience, and allow Bex’s newly rested knees to cycle all the way as well. The total journey will likely be upwards of 20,000km, so the fact that Bex has been forced to miss a few hundred km’s in Germany will quickly pale into insignificance in a few weeks.

We’re now in Munich enjoying a few days at Oktoberfest and over the next few weeks we’ll be cycling down the Danube from Passau to Budapest, which promises to be excellent cycling. Arriving in Munich felt like a good milestone, but we’re both looking forward (especially Bex!) to the next stage of the journey, getting back on our bikes and visiting some countries for the first time.

The first mistake

The cycle to Holland was pretty hardcore as Ryan has already explained, and I really enjoyed getting stuck into some big days riding despite the rain. We have had glorious weather recently but I’ve not been able to enjoy them so much as I wrecked my knee already!! I could gloss over all the pants bits of this trip but I’ve decided that if people are bothered to read this blog I should give them the bad along with the good, so here goes…

I fiddled with my bike a lot the weekend we left, i.e. changed the pedals, added toe clips and moved the seat (accidentally). I pedalled for hours every day regardless of the fact that my knees were getting more and more sore due to my poor position on the bike. I was taking nurofen at the time as I had a bit of a chest infection after the first few days of rain, I suspect being exhausted before we even left didn’t help either. Anyway, the pain killers must have masked what was going on a bit (in hindsight I was a total shambles all round!). By the time we reached Holland I couldn’t even sit on the toilet it hurt so much to bend my knee!  I’ve been barely able to cycle all week, but have had to do the miles regardless as poor planning by me (annoyingly) has meant that we made some over stretched commitments to meet people further down the road on certain days.  The combination of the enforced mileage plus bad knees is that I’ve had to get trains for the middle part of each day whilst Ryan has cycled on his own.

The cycling that I have been doing this week has been incredible and definitely the most beautiful cycling so far. The Rhine is designed for cycle touring, and I loved every bit of it. Admittedly this made it even more frustrating having to stop to get the train when I’ve wanted so much to carry on. If I’m honest I’ve had a lump in my throat the size of a golf ball all week. Cycling alone, painful train journeys, hauling my loaded bike about and logistical fuss trying to meet Ryan is not what I signed up for. BUT, no one said it would be easy and I am determined to push through. I’ve since re-adjusted my seat, changed my pedals and ditched even more kit.  The one ray of sunshine in all of this has been Ryan (yes, this surprised me too) who has been encouraging and boosting my morale at the end of his ridiculously long days (yesterday he rode 153km to make it to meet me!).  It’s also nice to know he chose to do this trip with me because I’m me, and not because of my cycling skills.

I do want to learn something from this week, and after having a think this is what I have come up with:

  1. Shockingly, Ryan is fitter than me and can cycle like a machine
  2. 100km per day sounds reasonable from the comfort of home, in reality it’s too far to ride every day with a loaded bike if I actually want to see anything (other than Ryan’s arse)
  3. Despite the disaster that this week has become, I am still looking forward to the rest of the year with abundance and it has no way dampened my spirits – if anything this has just spurred me on even more
  4. Our downfall was making commitments on our most optimistic schedule, which didn’t allow for getting lost, bike failures or injuries.

Anyway, things are already looking better! Dad arrived to meet us and we have a hotel for a few nights which is just what we both need… and I’m so excited about seeing Bex Sheldon tomorrow. We have the whole weekend off, and from then on we can make our own schedule which can allow my duff knee to recover. Ryan will post another update soon about the actual cycling through Germany!

Wind, rain, hills and smiles! Henley to Den Bosch

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…