A few pints in I was getting into our leaving do, it's a shame we had to leave. Straddling the ladened bikes on the start line outside our local in London was one of those surreal, once-removed from reality moments, as if looking at strangers stood on that start line. It could be said that the first idea of this trip, handing in our notice, leaving the flat in London or gathering our kit was the beginning of this journey, but this start line felt the most official. I felt like stopping after the first fews meters, turning back to our friends and saying “imagine if we actually were doing this”. But we were.
Having not had time to do a test run in the UK with all our gear, I was nervous of what Beck would make of back-to-back days on the bike with little cycling experience. Beck is determined but also decisive; she may have well decided it wasn’t for her and cut her losses early. With this in mind I planned the first fews days meticulously; researching the best campsites, looking for the quietest roads and saving the routes on the Garmin to avoid any navigation arguments (we've still had them).
This also determined the first choice of country on the continent. What could be a softer introduction to touring than riding through the Netherlands? The country is pan flat with segregated cycle routes, a mild climate and pleasant campsites. It didn’t disappoint, as Beck touched on in her previous post. After nearly two weeks on the road today, the campsite at Delflanhoeve (our first campsite in the Netherlands) has been one of our favourites so far, and everyone after that has had their own unique charm. Aside from the cycling infrastructure, the Dutch seem to get things right; every village had an inviting, eccentric charm and there was a natural friendliness to those we met.
We spent our final evening in the Netherlands in Arnhem, with Beck’s friends Alice and David, who had made the train journey over from Amsterdam where they lived.
Feeling sorry for the weary travellers, they were extremely generous and treated us to food, beer and even supplied us with Dutch treats as snacks for a long day’s cycle. (Thanks again guys - we demolished the chocolate on Beck’s birthday on our way to Cologne. Next time, beers are on us!)
Although part of its appeal, it’s a shame The Netherlands was so easy to get across in just a few days. It was difficult not to feel disappointed crossing into Germany, and the heart of the industrial Rhine. For unbeknownst reasons Germany is not a hugely popular holiday destination (WW1, WW2, football) so we came with our British scepticism set aside, but there was a tangible change in atmosphere and found ourselves scoffing at the lesser maintained cycle paths and poorer quality campsites. At this point too the weather decided to change for the worst and we experienced our first cycling in the rain. We’d started on a too greater high.
A welcome uplift came in the form of our first Warm Showers experience, a bicycle touring community offering hospitality and good conversation. We met our host in a workers' township nearby one of Germany’s largest steel plants, north of Duisburg. Zach, an experienced cycle tourer himself, couldn’t have been more friendly, accommodating and inquisitive about our trip. With his erudite manner he offered sound advice about the journey ahead and spoke of modern Germany - with a hint of self deprecation. He spoke of his fascination with human interaction, partly the reason why he bike tours and enjoys hosting cyclists whilst back home. We left the next day feeling refreshed from a good nights rest, a great meal (cooked for us) and encouraging words to seek positives in every person and place. Thank you Zach. We’ll apply that to your own country.
Beck’s birthday was spent in Cologne, where we were gifted a hotel room for the night courtesy of my brother and sister-in-law. Cologne has probably been my favourite place so far, a city with a refreshing sense of identity compared to our first few days in the country. We pushed a few big days on the bike after this (133KM’s being Beck’s longest day so far) and we’re now taking our second much-needed rest day of the trip on a campsite in Seltz, France, set around a secluded man-made lake with its own artificial beach. Here the Rhine river forms the border between France and Germany. Our plan from here is to ride to the Black Forest, to the official source of the Danube where the second chapter of our trip continues. M
- Total days on road: 14
- Total rest days: 2
- Total distance completed: 994 Km
- Bike repairs to date: #1 Sheered rack bolt; #2 Cracked bicycle dork disc, jamming the cassette
- Recent Ailments: Funky right knee (due to wrong cleat position).
- Latest argument topic: Whose turn it is to use the laptop..