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…

Time to ride

At times it felt as though the start of this adventure would never arrive. Working weeks dragged on and on with our leaving date remaining months away. At some point this changed – September became visible on the horizon and each month passed quicker than the last, with the weeks slipping by at an increasingly alarming rate.

The last 2 weeks since finishing work have flown by in a blur of leaving parties (thanks to everyone who came!), goodbyes, moving out of flats, last minute equipment shopping, packing and bike building. I’ve been trying hard to really appreciate the final luxuries – the last lie in with a warm duvet, last football match watched in the pub with friends, last english breakfast, last gig, last ‘proper’ cup of tea. I’m sure we’ll be able to sample some of these things as we ride, but they won’t be quite the same, and certainly not taken for granted in the way I would at home.

I know that once underway the nerves will disappear as we begin to adapt to life on the road, but I am half excited about and half dreading ‘leaving day’. Excited because we’re finally beginning the adventure we’ve be dreaming about and planning for the last 8 months, dreading the goodbyes to our families and the emotions we’ll all be feeling.

We’re leaving at 10am on Sunday 5th September from Henley (Valley Rd) – if you want to cycle the first bit with us or wave us off, please do! We’ll be heading towards Windsor Great Park before heading south east – ideal for a round trip from Henley, or the first half of a return cycle to London!

Our next post will be our first from the road – it’s finally time to ride!

3 weeks to go…

3 weeks to go until we start riding, and we’re beyond excited. We loaded up our panniers for the first time at the weekend with mine weighing in at 11.5kg and Ryan’s at around 20kg, pretty light for 18 months:-D

Oh, and it’s my final week at work, which meant today’s was the last Monday morning wake up call for a while…wahoo!

7 weeks to go…

There are 7 weeks to go until we start cycling towards New Zealand (leaving day is Sunday 5th September).  We still have an intimidating amount of  kit to buy and admin to sort before we’re  officially “ready”, but we are getting close to being organised and are both beginning to fantasise about riding effortlessly off into the sunset…or at least riding around the M25 towards Dover.

We will be updating this blog as regularly as we come across internet access and will share our favourite pictures and highlights of the journey with you, and of course attempt to make you feel jealous enough so that you come and join us for a leg of the tour!