Saturday 30 June 2012

Day 4 (19.06.12)–Day 14 (29.06.12)

I have not proof read a single sentence, please forgive all my usual errors.
Do excuse walls of text, as much as I try I can't get more than one line break in at a time!
Day 4- 19.06.12: (I’ve given up converting now, get with the KM program guys!) Distance Cycled – 104.51km; Average Speed - 18.19; Max speed – 68.65; Elevation Climbed – 558.2 metres; Elevation Descended – 618.2 metres
I woke in Norman’s bay feeling like a cycle touring/wild camping pro. I was finally getting the hang of making omelettes with my limited gastronomy equipment and the spot I’d camped on was so perfect that it even had bathing facilities (the English Channel).
My ferry was at 9am the next morning from Dover, and I planned to stay the night in Temple Wells with Rebecca and David, two kind people who offered me a room through a website called Warm Showers is pretty much the same as ‘Couch Surfing’, but for cycle tourists, with the emphasis obviously being on the fact one will be able to have one’s first shower in days.
I’m so behind with my blogging that I can’t remember anything spectacular that happened that day, but the evening was great. Once I arrived at Rebecca’s I had a quick shower which was sublime; I washed twice. Then she told me that we were driving over to her sister’s in Canterbury to watch England Vs. Ukraine. Absolute winner. I had hoped all day that I’d be able to watch the match. Not only did we watch the match, but Rebecca’s family cooked a vegetarian curry especially for me, thank you guys!
My only photo from that day, I wish I’d taken one with all of Rebecca and David’s family.

Day 5 – 20.06.12; Distance Cycled – 108.11km; Average Speed – 18.83; Max Speed – 46.5; Elevation Climbed – 434.4 metres; Elevation Descended – 419 metres
Getting to the ferry was easy, it was only 8km away. Cycling through the ferry terminal was fun; there was a designated cycle path but then it weaved through multiple truck lanes and over many ramps. Once I got my boarding pass in the check-in area I found my designated lane, 213, at scooted past all the queued cars. I was then ushered on to the ferry as the first person on!
Boarding Pass
Looking back down the ferry
I was also told that I’d be the last off since cycles and motorised vehicles aren’t allowed on the ramp at the same time. I didn’t mind too much as this gave me more lounging time upstairs. The ferry journey was nothing special, I filled up my bottles and spent my last Pounds on a map of Northern France and some White Maltesers.
The White Cliffs of Dover – Goodbye England!
Arriving in France I really didn’t have any plan as to where I should go, apart from somewhere south east of Calais. My map only showed fast roads in and out of the city so that was pretty useless. The map did, however, show a river leading out of Calais, and it went south east! Perfect.
Calais actually seemed quite nice, I was sort of expecting it to look like the refugee camp that one often hears of on the news.
Following the river was obviously pretty flat and very quiet. Eventually the river turned into canals; lovely cycling but so boring, field after field of the same crop.
Somewhere on this road I met two cyclists who’d come from Lille who were  having lunch under a tree
By now the river I was following on the map disappeared and I ended up going along a lot of dirt tracks through fields: as long as they went in the right direction I didn’t mind. I noticed after a while that the wind was blowing to the South, so I gave up on heading south east and just went with the wind.
I did eventually grow tired of not knowing where I was actually going. While it is true that I was going in the right direction, without towns or roads to aim for I lost all sense of progress. For this reason my first two days in France weren’t the most fulfilling.
One of the problems of following a canal is that if it turns in the direction you don’t want to go and there’s no bridge then you just have to go without, and keep pedalling North until you find one!
That night I slept at the end of a dirt track next to a field. I got there quite early before sundown so I put my dark green tarpaulin over my bike to try and blend in with the bushes behind me while tractors and joggers passed in the distance.
A panorama of where I slept
Day 6 – 21.06.12; Distance Cycled – 30.8km; Average Speed – 17.4; Max Speed – 42.36; Elevation Climbed – 128 metres; Elevation Dropped – 144.5 metres
I slept really badly that night. First of all I woke up in the middle of the night having rubbed my eyes in my sleep due to my hay fever. They were so swollen that my vision was blurry, when I got up to go the toilet that town lights in the distance twinkled like the stars. I was desperate for something to help my eyes; some frozen peas or a sink of cold water. When I did get back to sleep I dreamt that the local farmer came and found me in the night, but thankfully he didn’t mind, he just charged me 3 Euros.
That morning was rough. I just remember waking up and standing outside my tent for ten minutes, not knowing what to do with myself. My eyes were still swollen, I was sweaty and smelly, I had no idea were I was and to be honest I felt rather homeless.
I cycled south until I found a main road, and there are saw a sign for Bethune, 20km away. I decided that I was going to have a day off and a night in a hostel to clean up and gather myself.
On the way into Bethune I saw a couple of hotels offering reasonable rates, but I was keen to stay somewhere in the centre so I could use the local amenities. After half an hour or so of cycling around the town I gave up, there was only one hotel, ‘Hotel de Ville’, it looked expensive and I couldn’t work out how to open the front door. I ended up staying in ‘Tour Hotel du Golf’ on the outside of town which was pleasant enough.
That evening I made good use of the hotel’s internet, googling key French phrases to help me get by and skyping with my parents. They helped me come up with the idea of aiming for a particular town/city that I would like to see every few days so that I had something to look forward to. I felt a lot better after talking to them. (Later on in the trip I would realise that it wasn’t just not having somewhere to aim for that reduced my enjoyment of the trip, it was the quiet French towns I was going through combined with boring landscapes and a lack of stimulus/people to talk to).
Dinner in Bethune
The square in Bethune. There was a terrible concert going on that evening. Nice fountains though.
Day 7 – 22.06.12; Distance Cycled – 98.5km; Average Speed – 19.2; Max Speed – 41.9; Elevation Climbed – 581.4 meters; Elevation Dropped – 488.6 metres
Day 7, a Friday, was a lot better. When I spoke to my parents the night before I said I’d aim to get in Luxembourg in 3 days; 100km a day assuming I stuck to the route. Most of this day was spent pedalling through fields upon very mild hills, my most pleasant day on the continent yet.
Annoyingly my VDO Cycle Computer (speedometer etc.) broke in just half an hour’s light rain; not impressed! I had to use my GPS only for the next few days. My GPS always gives the distance at the end of the day at about 95% of that given by my cycle computer. I reason that my cycle computer is more accurate since it records every little turn, left and right, whereas my GPS might record straight lines from points taken every few metres.
Again, I camped at the end of a track in the middle of some fields, but this area had something rather peculiar about it. I can safely say that I have never slept next to anything so weird. It might look like sawdust, but see if you can guess what the lighter heap is made of (the darker is cow dung (I know it seems horrible to camp next to, but it meant that the insects would, for once, be attracted to something other than me)).

Yep, that’s right! You guessed it; it’s a pile of millions of crushed egg shells – Really creepy

Day 8 – 23.06.12; Distance Cycled – 110.5 km; Average Speed – 19; Max Speed – 55.5; Elevation Climbed – 1490.3 metres; Elevation Dropped – 1398.4 metres
I soon worked out that, even though I’d done 100km the day before, I had a lot more than 200km to do before I reached Luxembourg. About half way through the day I guessed it to be about 230km all together, for that day and the next. So 115km today and 115 the next. Well I did 115 km, and it was really hard, but I had a lot more than 115 km to do the following day. I passed through France, Belgium and ended up again in France.

I remember, around 8pm that day, being so incredibly hungry that I couldn’t wait until I’d finished climbing the hill I was on and found a spot to camp. I pulled over on the side of the road and set next to a war memorial. It had never previously occurred to me just how many memorials there are in France. I ate two Twixes and had one huge Royal Gala apple (my new favourite) but the second one I tried to have was mouldy so I spat it back out. I actually waited for the traffic to pass as I didn’t want the locals to see me spitting on their memorial.
I managed to find a forest with a sign reading something along the lines of “community forest” so I thought it’d be a good place to camp. I have to admit that not a single night has gone by in which I haven’t heard distant gunshots while wild camping. I assume it’s something farmers do for a reason. I was particularly alert this night as, while I was wheeling my bike through the woods, I got caught up in what I thought was a trip wire. It turned out just to be a really strong piece of cotton which someone had threaded about 40cm of the ground to signify their land, or so I think. In my slightly panicked mood, I trod all 40ft of it into the floor, just to be safe.
As you may notice, my tent is far from properly set up. It was only last night (I’m writing this on the 30th) that I think I actually got it right

Day 9 – 24.06.12; Distance Cycled 144.7 km (more like 150 with GPS adjustment); Average Speed – 17.5; Max Speed – 47; Elevation Climbed 1879.3 metres; Elevation Dropped 1843.2 metres
This day I went from France into Belgium and then Luxembourg. I much preferred cycling in Belgium, simply because they seem like more interesting people (that is a judgement made without actually meeting any of them, I’m making this assessment based purely on cars and style). In France the only cool cars I saw where the classic old Citroens. In Belgium there were all sorts. I saw many young couples driving around in vintage cars while wearing matching outfits, the men with their hair greased back.
I’m not going to write too much more about this day as I have already written about it in my last blog post ‘How to Slay a Hill’, do check it out; it’s mad.
(Assuming you’ve read previous post). Once I’d decided to continue to Luxembourg I texted my dad to ask him to check my email to see if anyone had replied to my Couch Surfing requests, no one had. Instead, he texted back with the name of the best/only hostel in Luxembourg city and a booking reference number my mum had secured. Parents can be heroes sometimes.
The difference between Belgium and Luxembourg was immediately apparent. As I crossed the border, hooting my horn that my housemate, Gianluca, had given me, all the shops were suddenly open. Rural Belgium on a rainy Sunday evening can be a lonely place. The Belgian petrol station on the border was closed, but on the other side were two open stations, and a third 50m down the road. I reached the hostel around 10:30pm (I had my lights on; front secured to the top of my helmet, at the back to my rear left pannier).
I managed to catch the dying moments of England’s Euro campaign. Watching this had really helped to motivate me. I went into my dorm around 12, everyone was asleep with the lights off, so I proceeded to be as clumsy as possible with my torch while putting my sheets on my bed and unpacking.

Days 10, 11 & 12 – 25, 26, 27.06.12; Distance Cycled – Approximately 50km.
These days were spent in Luxembourg city, I spent one night in the city hostel, then one in Bourglinster, 15km out of town, as the city hostel was fully booked that night, then two more in the city hostel. Resting my knee, which was giving me a small amount of grief, was the main reason for these days off
As I was leaving the city hostel for the first time, I met another cycle tourist, Jayden, who was cycling home. Cycling home from L.A. to South Korea. He started in January, crossed West to East over the States, flew to London, got the ferry to Holland and arrived in Luxembourg the same time as me. We’re actually doing the exact same route to India, so we should hopefully do some cycling together, except he’s nipped West across to Belgium briefly to catch the start of Le Tour de France.
Me with Jayden, about to go our separate ways
Jayden wasn’t actually the first cycle tourist I met, but he was the first one doing a really long distance. In Shoreham-By-Sea I’d met an Aussie guy, Matt, who had cycled down from Liverpool, via London, in four days and was heading back to Cornwall the way I came. I spotted him in the town centre. When you’ve been cycling by yourself and living a lifestyle so different to most around you it’s hard not to get excited when you see someone else with a fully-loaded bike. We asked each other many questions, the most basic things. Questions about camping, using ass butter (I’ll explain another time) and daily distances.
The other person I met was a tattoo artist from Leeds who, having lost his job, decided to cycle from Amsterdam to Portugal on a 3-speed bike he bought for £150 from Halfords. I actually saw his bike outside the hostel when I first arrived, it’s looks like a real vintage machine. He told me that he had some stuff he wanted to ditch and that he’d give it to me in the morning, but I didn’t manage to catch him the next day. Instead, when I went to get my bike out, there was a nice collection of items on my front rack that he’d left for me; a compass, a salt and pepper holder, a torch, moisturiser and a really well made leather tool bag. I gave most of it to Jayden as I already had equivalent items, but the moisturiser was very useful! 
I found a bike shop as I was having some problems with my front brake, it wasn’t quite gripping properly. There were two men there who helped me, Duzellier, a young man who spoke good English and worked on the shop floor, and Philippe, the bike mechanic who helped endlessly.
I told them both about my trip and, with Duzellier translating between Philippe and me, Philippe told me that his son is currently cycling around the world. He started in France, did a similar route to me but went further, to the Pacific, and now he’s in Canada. So far he’s done around 28,000 km, I’ve done just over 1,000 km! The great news is that he’s also riding on a Long Haul Trucker, so at least I have solid proof that they’re as reliable as I thought. Philippe didn’t charge me for any of the work he did which was incredibly kind. There’s something special about meeting and talking to someone who shares one small but rare thing in common with oneself.
A cool kindergarten building on the way to Bourglinster
From the bike shop I had to go 15km to the second hostel in Bourglinster. Between me and Bourglinster stood a 10% hill, the steepest I’d faced so far. With my bike trying to roll backwards, I put all my weight on my right pedal, ready to go. As soon as I pushed down my foot fell to the floor; my chain had snapped. I immediately remember Jayden pointing out one dodgy looking chain link on my bike when we checked each other’s bikes out. I couldn’t believe it though, not five minutes out of the bike shop and I had to go back (I could have fixed the chain myself but I knew that the shop would do it a lot quicker and it would leave me feeling more confident.
I now had the dilemma of keeping my speed up down the hill and then on to the flat road with the shop on, since I couldn’t pedal but not going too fast as I hadn’t tested my new brake set up yet. This caused me to get rather angry when someone stopped unnecessarily at a roundabout. I proceeded to push my self round it while still sat on the bike, drawing horns from multiple cars.
Back at the shop Philippe cleaned my chain and gave me a new chain link. Again, he wouldn’t accept any money. “See you soon”, he joked as I left. Believe it or not I did see him again, the next day. The changes he’d made to my brakes weren’t enough and I knew I had to get a new brake lever, not a small job. He told me to wait a few hours. I sat in McDonalds and wrote my last blog post. When I went back he’d changed both brake levers just to be sure and he gave my bike a once over. While he was finishing I looked for a new cycle computer. Seeing me doing this, he got one out a box and gave it to me, for free. In the end I was left with a bike far superior to the one I went in with, and a couple of friends up too. They said I could come back anytime. Philippe and Duzellier, merci beaucoup! (That’s as far as my French will stretch).
A few hours later I had a flat tyre. I had to rush back from the bike shop, check in again at the city hostel, wash my feet and then go see a physiotherapist in the centre of town. I cycled back, locked up my bike, rapidly checked in, washed as well as I could and got back to my bike not more than 20 minutes after I left it. The front tyre was completely flat. I knew had to run to my appointment, I really couldn’t be late; he’d agreed to see me very last minute and after his normal work hours. I was following a tourist map, crossed over a bridge spanning ten railway platforms, thought I’d made a mistake and went back over, realised I was right the first time and crossed for the first time. By the time I was there I was 15 minutes late and hot enough to be leaving sweat marks on just about everything I touched. 

Patrick, the physio, who is also a cyclist, said my knee problem is a common one and gave me some stretches to help with it. When he looked at my back his expression changed though. He said that my spine was completely wonky. He told me I should be much more concerned about my back than my knee as, although I can’t feel it yet, with 8,000 km to go it will start to hurt soon. I will see an osteopath as soon as I can. It’s either caused by knee hurting (and me compensating for it) or by bending forward on the bike too much. Since, I have moved my saddle forward for a more upright position and am using the drop bars less.

In Bourglinster I met Vanessa, a Canadian girl backpacking around Europe. I would spend the next couple of days bumming around Luxembourg with her, being tourists. That night we went to the only bar in Bourglinster, a tiny little room that had more bottles of alcohol than the largest of Whetherspoon’s. It was a typical small European pub; dark, smokey and with bar staff who knew all the locals. At 1.80 Euros for 0.5 litre of beer (not quite a pint Sad smile ) I couldn’t complain.
I also met an incredible Italian guy called Nicola, who reminded me a lot of Gianluca. He was staying in the same youth hostels on the same days as me. He' had come to Luxembourg from near Lecce as his friend had secured him a job in an upmarket ice-cream parlour in the centre of town. His first day had been a ‘disaster’ as he hardly speaks any French, German or Luxembourgish. Apart from playing chess, my greatest of memory of Nic will be him telling me a quote from ‘On The Road’ by Jack Keronac, which he made me promise I’d read, saying it changed his life.
“-We gotta go and never stop going ‘till we get there.
- Where we going man?
- I don’t know but we gotta go.”
Nic told me that one day he will buy a bicycle and we will cycle on the road together. It’s astonishing how I felt like we understood each other so well after only three days of knowing each other.
Photos from Luxembourg and Bouglinster

Day 13 – 28.06.12; Distance Cycled 122.08 km; Average Speed – 17.5; Max Speed – 60.3; Elevation Climbed 1383 metres; Elevation Dropped – 1294.9
When I was in Bethune I’d told my parents that I should get to Salzburg by the 5th of July. I was going to stay there for two or three days and they would fly out to see me and my sister. Of course I wasn’t expecting to have three days off in Luxembourg. This has left me with around 100km a day, again. If my knee plays up and I can’t make the pace then I’ll have to catch a train to see them, stay in Salzburg, then get a train back to where I left off. If it really really plays up then I’ll just hitchhike to India. That shouldn’t happen though.
In the Luxembourg tourist office I bought a map of Germany which conveniently displays Luxembourg and Salzburg too. As soon as I got into Germany, after a few honks of my horn, I turned off to sit by a river. There I saw a large sign detailing various cycle routes in the area. I’d heard a lot about German cycle paths so I thought I’d try one that was going roughly east. What a mistake. From my limited experience, dedicated cycle paths in Germany are useless. They have lovely surfaces but take one up endless hills, and steep hills, far more than a road designed for cars would ever go. That said, next to most major road in Germany are superb cycle lanes, also for pedestrians. These have the benefit of using the same route as the roads (so you can follow on a map, plus they cut through some hills). There is a video of one of these paths in my next day’s post.
It’s been really hot in Germany, 27 degrees on this day or 30 the next. At around 4:30 I stopped, lost on a stupid cycle path, and noticed that the sun had disappeared. I looked up and saw the biggest thunder cloud I’ve ever seen, what a contrast with the rest of the sky. I thought that would be it for the day, so I went into the hotel that I was conveniently standing next to and asked if they spoke English. Nope. “Restaurant?” I asked. Nope. “Bed?”. Nope. Ok then, well I’m just going to stand in your doorway while the heavens open. I’ve never heard a storm like it, thunder so loud it would consistently make me jump. And forks of lightning seemingly close enough to make me take one step back into this person’s house with every bolt. I used this time to eat my lunch, taken from the buffet breakfast at the hostel of course, and then carried on once the thunder had stopped.
The day became pleasant again and I pitched up quite late, after ten. I was woken twice in the night, once when I was convinced someone was standing next to my tent (this happens most nights, and it’s bloody scary) although I’m pretty sure now that it was just the local moles doing their thing. The other time was when another thunder storm came over I was camped on the edge of a field, next to tall bushes but no trees in sight. I’ve never wanted my bike (as opposed to me and my tent) to be struck by lightning so much.
This little fella came over to see me. He/She needs to get his/her fringe cut.
Stupid cycle path taking me over stupid hills
Looking down on beautiful German forests from stupid cycle path. That’s fog, by the way, not smoke!
I was in disbelief when I found this. I filled up all my bottles, washed my feet and legs, then stared at it for ten minutes as I tried to think of more ways to utilise it. What a gem.
Lots of fog in the nature reserve after the rains
Day 14 – 29.06.12; Distance Cycled – 130.57 km; Average Speed – 20.2; Max speed – 62.3; Elevation Climbed 878 metres; Elevation Dropped – 1144.4
This day (yesterday as of time of writing) was by far the best yet. It was mostly downhill on a cycle lane next to a fast road weaving out of the hills of Saarland and onto the flats. 30 degree heat, a nice stop under a tree for lunch, a stock up of food from Lidl, refill of bottles from McDonald’s. Everything went my way.
Lush Forests
As you may hear me say in the video below, I passed through a town called ‘Frankenstein’. And I’m about to go through ‘Hokenheim’, although I think it may not be the same one. Warning; turn your volume down, the audio in this video is mainly wind I’m afraid, I hadn’t worked out were the microphone was!

The day ended when I saw a picnic table on my cycle lane and thought it would be nice to eat at a table for once.
The cycle lane and table next to some vineyards
Cooking Dinner (pasta and tomato sauce, of course)
The sun setting over the hills I’d come out of earlier

1 comment:

  1. Really enjoyed the stories and the pictures. Hope the knee (and back) holds up and looking forward to seeing you in Salzburg x