BIKE Mag, October 2018
After four years in the Big Smoke, we had a niggling desire for adventure. This desire had been growing throughout our lengthy architecture degrees that ate up the majority of our twenties. There was a sense we’d missed out somehow. This, together with realising our modest savings were a mere drop in the ocean for a flat deposit in the capital but would fund a whole heap of adventure, our decision to take a year out and shun adulthood for one last hurrah was made.
Initially we couldn’t agree on what form that adventure should take. Coming from a road cycling background, an extended bike tour was my first choice. This took some tactical negotiation with non-cyclist Becky who was unsurprisingly unsure about this mammoth undertaking. I wasn’t without my reservations about the realities of such a trip either.
Commuting to work by bike helped nurture Becky’s love for cycling, which we tested further with extended UK rides. We devoted our evenings to the wealth of information online regarding gear, routes and hacks for cycle touring which helped demystify our fears for what lay head. The notion of a adventure by bike became more and more attainable, and soon consumed us. Serving the notices to our landlord and employers turned this idea into a reality. Before we knew it we were standing on a makeshift start line outside our local London pub surrounded by waving friends and colleagues.
Our route started on the signed Eurovelo cycleway from the Netherlands following the Rhine river into Germany where we crossed onto the Danube taking us toward the Black Sea via Austria, Hungary, Croatia and Serbia. This was an excellent ‘soft start’ to the trip and popular among many cycle tourers. The route is mostly pan-flat with all the familiarity and convenience Europe brings. As our confidence grew we peeled away from the signed routes and began meandering about on our own path, linking together places from tentative research or the road or word-of-mouth. This took us down through the mountains of Bulgaria, into the Greek mainland and onto the island of Thassos.
We set out with a general aim to make it to the equator. Our loose idea of the route beyond Europe was and still is constantly evolving, influenced by the likelihood of obtaining visas, costs, anticipated climate, but above all else, the support and advice to be gained by others on the road or seasoned veterans.
“There’s a great sense of community among fellow cyclists and their willingness to help has been astonishing.”
From local riders passing by in the street, to a dedicated WhatsApp group with so many members that there is a ‘one-in-one-out' policy. It’s a direct consequence of this community that we’ve decided to head for the Pamir Highway - an old Soviet road transversing central Asia - something that wasn’t even on our radar before. From there we’ll likely head towards south-east Asia via China, Nepal and India. All this could change of course!
We are far from experts on the whole cycle touring game and we’re constantly learning on the road. Our first realisation (seemingly a rite of passage for any bike touring newbie) was that we were carrying too much stuff. Being bogged down with gear is expensive in the first instance - better to save money and buy on the road if and when required - and puts extra strain on the bike and body. Although everybody’s threshold for comfort will differ, we now know that you have to be pragmatic about what you’ll need. We ended up sending a box of unused items home, totalling nearly 8kg.
Secondly, we have learnt not to over-plan. General research ahead of entering a new country is wise but trying to precisely plan each day or week only leads to frustration when things end up not going to plan. We rarely plan further than few days ahead accounting for changes in terrain, weather or general morale. We often find this more fluid approach leads to more fortuitous encounters, such as recently when we were welcomed by a local to join his family for dinner after choosing to cycle the quieter road rather than the one originally planned.
In relation to having an adaptable attitude, we’ve also learnt to be realistic with time and budget constraints. Committing to the Pamir Highway meant we had to skip some of central Turkey using coaches to allow us to get there before winter. Some people may insist on never using other means of transport but for us it was a toss-up with getting the best and varied experience from our available resources.
We couldn’t recommend cycle touring enough to anyone wishing to do some extended travelling. Believe all the cliches; the speed of a bike is the perfect way to appreciate changes in the environment, moving under your own steam gives a huge sense of achievement and can suit any budget. We have pushed the boundaries on our physical endurance. We have been humbled by the perceived vulnerability for a tourist on a bike that attracts kind gestures from locals. Most of all, we have loved embracing the unknown and are excited to see how far we can take our adventure. | M
Article featured in the October Issue of BIKE Magazine.