Hell on Wheels and Heaven on Country Lanes – a Restrospective.

Empty spaces – what are we living for? Abandoned places – I guess we know the score. On and on!
Does anybody know what we are looking for?

Wondering through the streets of the outskirts of Hamburg there is a man walking barefoot with a bike on his shoulders, carrying a pair of soaked road shoes in his left hand, some dirty and stinking socks that carry the Saltire, asking people for directions and slowly navigating his way to the next possible bike shop. The sky is covered with clouds, every now and then there is a glimpse of sunshine, but the rest of the time there is rain, thick and persistent rain, sometimes torrential. The feet that carry the man have seen a lot in the last three days, but most of all they have covered more than 750km so far, an average of 250km per day. They are tired, sometimes numb from being compressed in tight shoes more than 10hrs a day. Navigating barefoot through an urban jungle is a welcome distraction from the everyday routine on the bike, even tough there is no real room for distraction. At an average speed of 27km/h and adding in a few breaks, there is no room for errors like this, when you aim for 250km a day. There is only one thing you are meant to do the whole day: Pedalling. Further. Faster.

There are those moments when you are about to go mad. Those moments when you are about to throw your bike in the ditch, throw away your shoes and cry out loud. Moments when you would like to destroy your ambitions, violently. Then are those moments when you reach the door to a friend’s place after a long day in the saddle. Moments of great achievement, satisfaction and happiness. In between there are many things: Endlessly starring on your computer to roll over to the next kilometre, hour and gaining an 0.1 increase in average speed, people you have never met before and you will never meet again, beautiful landscapes, wind, angry car drivers, torrential rain, thunder, lightning. And then there are all those half-sung songs in the absence of an iPOD. There are sad songs, happy songs, all keep you going and keep you sane. There is pride when you see the Saltire on your formerly white socks reminding you of the long journey. There all all those thoughts you push away in everyday life, but now you have nothing else to think about on those long long days.

It’s the same thing every morning, the same routine. You try to leave early, but something stops you from being the earliest bird out there. But there are very human things holding you back. Friends. It’s much nicer to have a great breakfast with them before setting off, especially if you only see them once or twice a year, or possibly not even that often. It’s that very moment when you first question what you have signed yourself up to. You know it’s going to be another long day, it will be dark when you arrive. Then you check your bike, stuff the last food in your jersey, which will remind you of leaving your good friends behind some hours later. You say goodbye, promise to text them when you are at the next destination and then you enter reality. You don’t think about the distance ahead of you, as that would scare everything out of you. You make yourself comfy, battle yourself through the first 10 kilometres and get annoyed with your ambition. A hot coffee would be better now. Then you do 10 more, 20 more, 50 more, and suddenly you have 75 kilometres on that computer. You get the first bite to eat, keep the break short and aim for the 3 digits on your computer. Once you have reached the 100, you push your average speed by 0.1 until you check the time pedalled so far, then you switch back to the total distance and again to the daily distance. In between you think, you sing many first lines of songs (as you don’t know all those lyrics), you greet poeple, you pull your middle finger to show appreciation for nasty petrol heads. You think about comfortable cars, beds, woman, your life. But all you really do is keep pushing those pedals, stroke by stroke, fast and powerful. Suddenly you have reached the 200 kilometres, and there is only 70 left now. You’ve done so much already, so the remaining distance is a piece of cake. But it’s getting dark. So you start thinking again, you distract yourself. And then you are there. Shower, towel, food and friends. They never felt so good, and you carry the good feeling over the night until the next morning, and so you start again.

Maybe you can feel what the last days on the bike were like for me. They have sometimes been the ‘hell on wheels’, sometimes ‘heaven on a country lane’. I have cycled 500 miles, and almost done 500 more. I have sung the Proclaimers song on lonely country roads, slightly altering the lyrics with the word ‘cycle’. I have smashed my biggest critic – myself. I was sick even thinking about the distance I wanted to cover in 6 days, and now I am hungry for more. Gone is my placebo pain in the left knee. It’s been an amazing time, I had fantastic friends who gave me food, towels and had time to chat, I have met locals that could never imagine the distances I cycled, I had great support from Montane and great gear to battle rain, wind and sun. It has been a great experience, and even the return to Scotland was epic. First of all I had to carry a massive bike box, change trains four times, and thanks to Mother Nature my flight got cancelled. I met great poeple that were hit by the same disaster, and finally reached home a day later.

I have some great pictures that tell the story, even though there was no real time to take them. I did interviews with newspapers, radio stations and had a quick stint on the evening news on television. If all that publicity gets some people on their bikes, I am more than happy. I am fired up again to plan the next trip, and to reach my second target of raising at least £400 for BENN and Re-Cycle, which needs help from you. Feel free to help me with that if you have managed to get as far as this reading. Donations can be made here. Now it’s time to unpack the bike and cycle again, the show must go on.

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