Thursday, 28 May 2015

Days 1-9: a summary

As I lie on my inflatable mattress listening to water tumble over rocks and bird song fill the air, I thought I would give you a brief summary of the past few days.
Here goes.

Day 1 started in Calais, France, in the damp rain/mist. Richard and I were heading for Ypres in Belgium. And got there.
By lunchtime the crosswinds had simmered down and the rain/drizzle started to ease, and when we crossed into Belgium the sun came out, which made our entrance into Ypres that much better.
We watched the last post being performed in the Mennin Gate memorial. No waffles were had but beer and steak was consumed.

Day 2‎ was a cracker weather-wise, light breeze, sunny and 26C. Richard and I mostly followed the river south towards Frasnoy. The Detour de Jour was off a beautiful stretch of road onto some original cobbles, or pavĂ©, as seen in the cycling classics. Was a long day, 120Km.
Mussels and chips and coke for lunch.

Day 3. Ashley, Richard and Victoria left me today to head home. Thank you for the company folks.
This is were the real game begins Kevin!
Rolling day through the Ardennes, 123km in 6 hours, 1200m of climbing. Loved the tailwind. Original destination had nothing open due to public holiday, so rode onto Charleville-Mezieres and tucked into (the tail-end of) the local beer festival. Another beautiful, fortified town.

Day 4‎. 1100m of climbing. Tough day on the bike, never warmed up even with the sun shining. Air was cold too. Felt sick with flu.

Detour de Journey was through Brandeville en route to Verdun - what a find! Painted pillboxes, fresh water, clean and quiet forests, and a great descent. And farting cows.
Saw lots of WW1 military cemeteries ‎and saw a couple of jets buzz overhead, must be a military airforce base close by. 
The citadel of Verdun is HUGE. 

Day 5. Struggled to get up and go today, head wasn't in it. Was even colder last night and body felt miserable. Managed to get going and as I got closer to Metz, the day warmed and the legs felt better. Detour de jour was along the Meuse river, single track, past a naked swimmer. The climb to the campsite in Nancy could/should be included in the Tour de France - 15 minutes in donkey gear at 5 km/h. Nice campsite and sunset as a reward.

Baguettes eaten: 3

Day 6. Nancy - Celles-sur-Plaine (82.3 km) Legs feeling tired and knotty today. Two pain au chocolat for brekkie as well as the usual cereal and water. Hot day today with constant crosswinds, stopped in Saint-Clement for lunch. A quiet town in a string of quiet towns encountered today. The road finally turned north in the last 15km, providing me with a nice tailwind all the way to the campsite.
Only one in the campsite, apart from the killer mozzies, a suspicious-looking cat and some birds.
Ravioli and peaches for dinner, not mixed. Church bell in town rang every 15 minutes.
Detour de jour was along a canal path over a waterfall and through shoulder-high grass, I don't think this path is used that often. Nice rain during the night.

just tasty

Baguettes eaten: 5

Day 7. Celles-sur-Plaine - Colmar (102.5 km) Legs felt good this morning, which is a good thing as the road went straight uphill from the start. Overcast and humid, with a tailwind.
Lots of climbing today, which meant lots of sweating,
which in turn attracts lots of little bugs. Beginning to think I am a magnet for all insects on the road.
Descending into the Rhine valley was amazing, looked across to see the Black Forest hills/mountains looming. They can wait until tomorrow.
Campsite was noisy (next to the highway), but Colmar old town is amazing. Old and Germanic, beautiful to walk around.
Lots of agriculture everywhere - barley, wheat, vegetable crops, cattle and vineyards. And castles on the hills.

Day 8. Colmar - Schluchsee (96.7 km) Left France, entered Germany.
Today went like this.
Pedal uphill. Repeat.
Over 1500m (5000 ft) of climbing today, the road just kept on going uphill. First day I didn't make my destination. Overcast day and my body never warmed up. Was cold the entire day, and as I climbed higher the air got colder. Misread the map at the top of the climb, and rode 10 km the wrong way around the lake (Schluchsee). Met a guy on a bike coming in the opposite direction and asked him where the campsite was. "It's on the other side of the see" he said, pointing to the exact point I had started my detour from. He then said to follow him and disappeared in a cloud of dust.
You are probably wondering how an elderly gentleman is so fast on a bike.
E-bikes. My first encounter. (I would grow to despise them.)

He came back to fetch me and pointed out the little engine nestled above his bottom bracket, and then apologised for racing away. I think a little bit of me died when I saw how effortlessly he rode the same path as me. He got me to camp safely though and then headed home, 40 km away!
Dinner went down clapping hands.

Day 9. Schluchsee - Zurich (90.1 km)
Quite glad I stayed in Schluchsee, my original destination, Hausern, had no camping facilities.
pretty big wood pile
When looking for a nice route down to Koblenz, a cyclist appeared at my elbow and asked where I was headed. He tutted and scratched his chin and then suggested another route to me, before turning and heading off in the opposite direction. "Take ze Alb river road, is gud. You alone und no cars." He wasn't wrong.
This was by far the best road I had ridden so far on this tour, 25 km of downhill, accompanied only by the sounds of a bubbling and gurgling river and birdsong in the trees.

Friday, 22 May 2015

Feeling lucky

I am feeling two things at the moment. The first is the fact that tomorrow I will be cycling in Europe, and will be doing so for a month.
The second is the feeling of a nasty cold invading my body.

In less than 24 hours, I will be on my loaded bike, actually doing what I have spent years thinking about, and the last few months planning for. I am excited, nervous and stressed, but the best feeling is how fortunate I am to have this opportunity to make a dream a reality.

Quite often we talk about things we would like to do, and usually assign them to a mental list to be done 'one day'.
A few years back I wanted to do this trip, but lack of planning and timing and possibly a few other things got in the way, and the dream never took form. I had told everyone that I was doing this trip, talked a good game, explained everything I wanted to do, and then let them all down by not doing the trip.

The feeling that I had let my friends, as well as myself, down stuck with me and continued to nag me over the years. I decided to dust off the original plans, freshen them up a bit with new locations and commit to completing this this year.
Work was kind enough to give me the required time off, and motivation from colleagues and fellow travelers fueled the fire.

A lot of time has been spent looking at maps, finding interesting places to visit and mountains to climb. A similar amount of time has been spent dreaming about actually being in the places I have only seen either online or in 2D on a map.

Tomorrow the 3D version is released.

Feeling lucky.
Woop woop.

Friday, 15 May 2015

The final week

It is now 1 week until departure, and there is still loads to do before I can walk out of my front door and know that I have everything packed and organised.

The list of things that needs to be completed is as follows:

  • finalise route
  • load maps/route onto Garmin
  • track my compression sacks (apparently en route from China)
  • clean bike
  • make sure everything fits into the panniers
  • get a bike rack for the car
  • make sure both bikes fit nicely on said rack
  • get Euros
I am sure there are things I am missing, but that will have to do for now.