After a wee while I am finally sitting in front of my macbook typing those words into the it. Yes, I have been on the road again. Yes, it was winter and the conditions were rough. Yes, I have slashed yet another personal record. And yes, it was a great trip. If it wouldn’t have been I would leave this space open, I love bikes way too much and wouldn’t tell you about a trip on them that went wrong to put you off. Maybe it is good to start with the last words from my post about the rather epic LEJOG trip in summer: ‘If you plan on doing the ride yourself, just do it. Don’t waste your time planning it, the true magic lies in the cycling, not in any planning, fund raising or blogging about your once-in-a-lifetime experience. I was bold enough to take only one gear and a simple bike, and it was a great trip.’
I could stop here, those words are still accurate, even though the blogging kept me going sometimes this time. If the summer adventure was mainly spontaneous, the last trip was even more! My preparation: being off sick after I had seriously thought I could ride the West Highland Way in one day in November with a cold already in my bones. A day later I was busy enough with coughing my brain out, and unfortunately the cough remained for quite a while. It was so bad that my flat mate was seriously thinking of searching for a new flat mate soon, and bad enough to injure some muscles in my back. So there I was, the once so proud ‘cyclist’, coughing and not able to sit up properly as my back was sore too. This went on for a while, I couldn’t even be bothered to fix anything on the bike, or thinking about what I would need to make the bike ready for an epic trip. As I hadn’t booked any ferries or accommodation and the holidays were approaching fast, I silently looked for flights back home. I didn’t speak to anyone about quitting yet, but in my wildest dreams I was already sitting in a comfy Ryanair seat bound for Düsseldorf Weeze to have some lovely two weeks off in Germany, without the bike.
The reality was that I passed Duesseldorf Weeze twice, on the bike. Without even thinking about flying for a single second, even with a stiff headwind blowing right in my face. While I passed it I still hadn’t booked any accommodation for the night to come, the only thing that was fixed was the ferry journey back to Hull, anything else in the trip was dealt with on the road. If I had thought that the last LEJOG and Islands trip was extreme, this one would have jumped off the scale to rate it. By no means is cycling 445k in one go an easy thing to do, neither are the 2,600k in 13 days. But still it was great fun most of the time, and even more important, a great adventure!
A week before I was meant to set off I took a quick ride in the fresh snow that had just fallen the night before. I rode along the Union Canal, usually I cycle home along this route from Stirling to Edinburgh at least once a week. It felt strange after being off for such a long time, and I was seriously knackered after 50km on that day. When I returned home I thought about where I would be in a weeks time. North Berwick? Possibly, but it really depended on how ambitious I would be about the route. I knew that I will set off in a weeks time, but had also scrapped my plans to go over Ireland. When I finally looked at possible routes the ferry from Newcastle to Amsterdam seemed to closest option, and riding from Amsterdam to Schwobfeld could be done quickly as well, at least I was sick for such a long time and not really fit for more. But then I remembered that none of those enduring trips had ever started well. I was unfit and hungover when we crossed the Highlands in 2006, the first day on my epic New Zealand trip across the South Island started with riding off the saddle for 70k because I was too sore to sit down, in 2008 I was recovering from a severe accident when I started the trip from Auckland to Wellington, I had problems with my knees before the two big trips in 2010 and had never ridden a singlespeed properly before my last Xmas trip. So now, after more than 14,000 km in my legs alone in 2011 I was winging and trying to take the easiest way. I remembered the sign on my brothers door: If there are two ways, choose the difficult one. I typed Dover into Google Maps and had found my route: from Edinburgh to Dover in four days, with the ferry to Calais, and then straight home to Schwobfeld. I also resisted the temptation of booking a return flight and contacted the press department of P&O Ferries instead to secure tickets for the Zeebrugge to Hull crossing, as that was the only boar to sail on 30 December. As soon as I was set my body got better and my health improved significantly in the week left to go. I cycled home on a stormy and very wet Tuesday night to test my new lights, and I absolutely loved it.
With a week left and a full-on work schedule there was not much room for improvement on the bike, so I took what I had, and it worked fine. After almost a year I put the rack back on, turned the tyres around as the back tyre was worn already, lubed the chain and greased most moving parts, and that was it. I had some spare break pads, a spoke and tubes, that would be enough to fix problems on the way. All I needed is getting the panniers ready and packed, empty the fridge and set off. I managed to speak to Rebecca McQuillan about the trip and to do a quick photo shoot on Calton Hill for the Herald. I also talked to Christian Werner from the Thüringer Allgemeine about how mad my trip was, and then treated the bike and me to a good night’s sleep.
On Saturday morning I got up and went to get the paper. There I was in one of Scotland’s biggest papers, the mad German that can’t be bothered taking the plane to get home anymore. I drowned some coffee, had a big breakfast and was off. It was a chilly day, there was some snow on the road side and more to come on the road. I was pedalling myself in the mood for the days to come, when I suddenly recognised my back brake blocking the wheel. The bolts hadn’t been fastened tight enough, and fortunately I recognised the problem before the first fast downhill. I felt even more lucky then before, listened to some great music and pedalled across the Scottish border.
What happened in the days after that was tough work, but sometimes pure magic. I truly enjoyed arriving in Dover with the magic White Cliffs lit up at night, talking to people on the way doing their best to help and encourage me. I fixed too many punctures to count, but still believe in the ability of my tyres, after all they have been a brilliant choice. I discovered hostel gems in Gent and Helmond, where Frank’s Tango hostel reminded me of the great New Zealand hostels I had enjoyed so much. I fed myself on Belgian Waffels, struggled on the cobbled streets of Flanders and was filled with joy when I walked into the first German supermarket. I was proud of the country I was born in for its great people and even greater roads, and I was truly relieved when I sank down on the couch on Christmas Eve. I crashed on trams lines and ripped two pants, which have even more character now than they had before. Even though the numbers speak their very own language, they cannot tell how great it is to catch a ferry after being up for 36 hours and in the saddle for 24.5 hours. All of this can only give you a taste what real adventures are, now step in front of your door, get on your bike and experience the magic yourself!