At length, I finally made it to the boat. What a week. Since leaving the family home from the Village in sleepy rural Staffordshire on a fully laden bicycle it feels more like I’ve been riding a rollercoaster than a bike. I’ve toasted friends’ birthdays, drank endless cups of tea with Grandmothers and conversed with World cyclists. I’ve not even left the country and I’ve already been gifted numerous meals, stayed with a wonderful couple in Rawdon (thanks Dave & Sue) and been loaded up with more cake than you can shake a stick at. People are lovely. I feel blessed.
This first post is actually a lot harder to write than I expected. I’ve not really felt like it and in all honesty it’s been hard to find the time. These initial 21 days have been a series of new challenges that are unique to the solo cyclist. Cycling alone means that you have a bunch of jobs to do that would otherwise be shared. It also means being very friendly and asking favours of strangers, often times something simple like this; ‘Hi, would you mind keeping an eye on this bike for a minute while I pop into the shop? [insert language of country here]’. Quite simply it means that you have to trust people. Happily, people are good and kind and trustworthy.
In the weeks leading up to departure it was very easy to be excited and casually say ‘oh yes I’m off to cycle around the world’. Flippantly, like it’s a walk in the park. The truth is that it’s a long, long way and I’m only just getting started. I’m enjoying the ride certainly but the enormity of the task at hand and the sacrifices made to make this happen are all too clear when each day is stripped back to the simple act of cycling from A to B.
Before we get into the actual story of the trip so far I’d just like to say a word to my family – Mum, Dad, Grandmothers and Sister – thank you. I know it’s hard for us all and that I’ll miss you and you’ll miss me but this trip is absolutely the thing that I want to do and I really will be safe and take good care of myself. Please promise that you’ll do the same. I love you all very much.
As for the adventure, well, I’ve cycled into Germany from Rotterdam which took a couple of days. Five euros for the Netherlands map was perhaps a little unnecessary. The Dutch are wonderful, cheerful people; enjoying a smoke, a beer and possibly a little more Phil Collins than is good for you come naturally. That said the Dutch do have the best radio stations in Europe. Even with all that Phil Collins.
Here in sunny Germany the Really Big Bike Ride heat wave ordering system has really kicked in and the temperature has hit seasonal highs, mid 20 degrees has been the norm so far. I’m sporting a rather fetching sun hat and shades which make me look like a professional holiday maker / burnt out Hollywood movie star trying and failing to keep a low profile. What can I tell you about the Germans? They love wind -engines, solar power, e-bikes and clean streets. Less outwardly cheerful than the Dutch but friendly nonetheless. I’ve been following the Rhein for a few days now and will leave it soon to take a more direct route towards Munich.
I have a deliberately simple daily routine and stick to it fairly loosely. I wake around 6am, breakfast, pack down camp, stretch, drink a large mug of tea, eat some more food then I hit the road. I carry a paper map of a monstrous scale, trusting that a vague notion of direction of travel will suffice, asking locals for their best guess or recommended route when the mood takes me – so far, so good.
I graze regularly throughout the day on a variety of snacks; bananas are the best but closely followed by the peanut M&M. I take two lunches, sandwiches at noon then again around 3pm. On the flat I like to aim for 100km but I’m not precious about it. If I see interesting things, I’ll take a look, or a photograph. The highlight of the day though is my post cycle yoga. I absolutely love it. I’ll prepare a simple meal, usually pasta and a tin of fish, another large mug of tea, this time simply peppermint – caffeine at this hour would see me restless during the night. I’ll read a book for an hour or I’ll write something, like this blog post or my journal and then bed. Usually around 11pm.
It’s taken a couple of weeks but I finally feel like I’ve found my groove. It’s Thursday night, just shy of 14 days since I landed on European soil, I’ve cycled around 900km and I’m sat in a Munich hostel writing for you guys and enjoying a beer that some lovely Kiwi’s just gifted me. I’m pretty pleased all in all.
Now, two days ago I had a battle. A huge battle. Mind over money. I got myself fabulously lost. Get this, I was heading for Meitingen but followed signs for and ended up in Mertingen. And these places are just 30km apart on the same road. What the actual. I was fairly distraught at discovering my folly. The guy I spoke with told me that my map was pretty old. I said your town is very new. This didn’t help either of us. Especially me.
So I was a bit cross with my inner map reader and felt like I should have taken an easier route, like following the Donau (Danube) to Donauworth and then cutting down from Ingolstadt. But I didn’t. I took the direct route that ultimately led me astray. Having discovered that Mertingen is actually very close to Donauworth and that I had in fact cycled a loop of an extra 40km I was all but on the Donau anyhow. I followed this big river to Ingolstadt where I almost, almost, caught a train. I have the paperwork to prove it.
I was now 84km from Munich and with potentially very busy roads all the way I didn’t really fancy it. I’m avoiding roads where possible. Give me the bike paths and off road tracks all day long. I’m in the station and the nice lady is saying ’17.90 euro for the fare then 5 euro for the bike and 50 minutes you’ll be in Munich, easy, the next train is in 2 hours’. I went out to the platform for a sandwich and a stern word with myself…
This indecision, to go one way or the other, to catch a train or not was a defining moment of this journey so far. The inability to make an absolute decision creates an overwhelming inertia – energy sapping, timewasting, life sucking inaction. I can only imagine it as a feeling akin to a nervous breakdown. It’s deeply frustrating and totally counterproductive. But it’s over. And I won. The Battle of The Journey has been fought, the outcome is clear and I will ride another day. I’m not saying that there won’t be any public transport; there may be trains, flights – who knows where the journey will take me. However, getting to the decision will be easier and I’ll be happy to live with that, whatever happens.
The other thing I’ll take from this is the importance of rewards. Clear, you deserve this for doing that, pat on the back rewards. It’s a simple carrot and stick formula. In order to keep pushing that heavy, heavy bike further along that open road you really need to trick yourself with treats. In some cases you might not even feel like the treat when you get there but the carrot must be shown.
I cycled all the way to Munich, on bike paths, following highway 13, some of it through the forest in the dark. It took two days… It was insane fun.