In our seven days’ riding so far, we have notched up the following juicy little numbers :
Distance covered : 867 kms , 210 of those on one epic/ill-advised day from Saint-malo to Brussels
Vertical climb : 7562 metres. That means that although we’ve been going through what they told us were the low countries, by tomorrow we’ll have cycled up (and down) Everest.
Max Speed : 64.5 km/h (it sounds more impressive than 38 in old money)
Countries visited : 5 (yes, Luxembourg counts)
Showers taken : 1
Athough this was the winner of today’s on road caption competition, It was bone dry, a scorcher, more parasol than umbrella.
Our day started with a parting of ways. Our domestique left us mumbling something about an unfair split of prize money so we were left to fetch our own water bottles. 600+ miles done, he hopped on the train and later, we’re told, did a ‘victory lap’ of Brussels, and a few hours spinning the other side of dover ‘for the craic’. Expect Hamlet cigars to be on the Wada banned substances list shortly.
A morning of smooth traffic free trails led us towards Schegen, a village that’s in Luxembourg, France and Germany all at once, and is known the world over for its fantastic area. As ever, close to the country border all signage disappears as each country helpfully assumes the other will cover that section. Nevertheless, proud Europeans that we are, there are plenty of non-border photos coming up at our next computer stop.
Then we entred Germany. And it was so terribly German. Call me Clarkson, but we enjoyed perfect signage, cracking traffic-free paths and wonderful hospitality. We followed the Saarland Radweg for most of the afternoon, which included a wee siesta and a spot of cricket using tiny apples and a rolled up mosquito net. No sticks of rhubarb here. We even found a backstreet icecream shop selling hooky cornetos at bargain prices! Oh Germany.
We sped onwards towards Saarlouis, undertaking some of the toughest climbing thus far, arriving in town just late enough for all the shops to be shut. Cheeky meal out, where Ben was delighted to find that Germans make pizzas out of fadge (potato bread) before a nightime spin along the river to own camping spot, which might just have a nice view in the morning. Joyous.
Tomorrow we head into wine country.. the main aim being to teach Ed how to spell Gewurztraminer. More posts coming soon, including our impressions of EuroVelo so far, and our Sweat-o-meter of the facilites offered to touring cyclists in each of the countries we pass through.
So we’ve been in Belgium for the past few days. Ben feels very much at home, not because he has Belgian heritage, but because he has been living in Brussels for the past year or so.
Local knowledge should therefore have ensured getting lost would stop at the French border. Think again.
After a breezy spin through southern Flanders on some of the best cycle track so far, we hit Eddy Merckx country. The route turned “sportif” to say the least. An icecream van at the top of one steep climb our only restbite in what turned out to be a hellish afternoon. Sixteen hours and 205kms later we arrived a Ben’s place.
After our mammoth previous day we thought we deserved a rest. The first bed, shower and proper meal since London helped recharge batteries and enabled us a bit of planning time. The plan was to spend the next two days journeying towards Luxembourg.
In the morning we enjoyed a leisurely tourist route through Brussels before meeting the EuroVelo team at the ECF HQ. We were greeted with tea and medals before finally setting out for the day around noon.
Ben had a quick chat with some friendly tarmac while the rest of us enjoyed a superb forest trail south. The afternoon was unusual in that we didn’t get too lost before stopping for an evening beer in Namur.
As darkness fell we prised ourselves away from the bar to find a suitable spot to bed down. After climbing for a while we stumbled upon a track which provided enough cover for the three of us.
We now sit in a cafe having been on the road for a couple of hours, following the river Meuse south to Dinant. Next stop Rochefort, famous for such originally named beers as rochefort 6, rochefort 8 and rochefort 10. Once some of us stop faffing…
We are up and underway after a slap up breakfast and a warm send-off at ‘look mum no hands’, east london’s chic-est cycle spot.
Lunch was a Weatherspoons special. The handy menu has the number of calories marked next to the dish so the choice is easy – go big! Steak and kidney pie has a delightful 1165.
Onwards along the south bank of the Thames, Gravesend being our first afternoon pause. We met Nikki who chairs the Gravesend RLNI rundraising group and had a go on her Tombola. Our luck was in and we walked away with a pack of Polos. Minty fresh!
We later steered inland to Gillingham, travelling swiftly through the beautifully sunny countryside. A few wrong turns followed before we stopped for a well earned pint in Faversham.
A nightime search for a camping spot was perhaps not the most clever idea, though we were lucky to happen upon an idyllic setting on the edge on an orchard. Food cooked and eaten it was time for bed – our first border crossing tomorrow!
So it’s tomorrow that we leave London with Istanbul a distant blur in our minds. Ben is getting in later so I have some time to kill and have popped down to CyclePS, a new coffee shop / bike workshop on the Cycle Superhighway 7 in Kennington.
Harvey, the manager, tells me the that they have been up and running for about 9 weeks. Attracting hoards of commuters during rush hour, the quieter afternoons are spent repairing bikes. Tonight, Friday, is the late night evening when the cafe/bar stays open for a more rowdy crowd.
Having been served a delicious toastie and cheeky cider, we discuss our expedition. Krzysztof, who also works here, kindly found me some spare spokes and taught me how to fit them. I was also given a CyclePS hat which I’ve promised to wear on our travels.
A wonderfully moist Victoria sponge followed and I retired to the corner to get scribbling. You can see why libraries are getting less and less popular with places like this popping up like mushrooms. If they had the Ashes on I would never leave!
Check out their website cycle-ps.co.uk and find them on twitter @cycle_ps.
A question asked by everyone we’ve spoken to about the trip. Cyclists are an often misunderstood bunch and excitement at the thought of cycling 4500km in four weeks with infrequent access to showering facilities seems a tricky concept to convey. So, I put the question to myself – what is the motivation behind the trip?
For me it’s simple. I want to cross a continent under only my own propulsion. When put as simply as that, it sounds epic! With so many complications in modern day life, a stripped back adventure of pedalling 4500km unsupported and outside the constraints of tolls, traffic or timetables is, to me, the most appealing holiday I can think of.
In addition, there is an environmentalist aspect. We are both keen to approach our lives with sustainability in mind, from recycling our beer bottles to re-homing some quite horrendous woolly jumpers! Cycle tourism is the ultimate in sustainable holiday making and something we hope to promote during our trip, both in the UK and more broadly in Europe. It is fair to say that the EuroVelo network is still very much in the development stages. The guys at the EFC are doing some monumental work to get a signed infrastructure up and running and it’s up to us the cyclists to get out there, use it, comment on it and help it develop into a fully operational European-wide network.
It is a truly unique concept and makes our American and Australian counter-parts green with envy. A whole continent connected with criss-crossing routes which enable the two wheeled adventurer to visit some of the most spectacular sites in Europe is a tremendously desirable amenity. What’s more, the fact you measure the cost of your journey in miles per flapjack as opposed to miles per gallon of petrol means that it is an affordable means of exploring a country in these days of ever increasing fuel prices. And let’s face it – the price at the pump is only going one way.
We leave in four and a half months and have a great deal to organise. We want to get in touch with cycling contacts in the various countries we plan to cycle through (a draft route can be found here) in order to promote EuroVelo in that particular country so please get in touch if you can be of any assistance. A more detailed route will be coming soon.
In the mean time, happy pedalling!