Charity Rides, Europe, Touring

First taste of solo touring, in safe old Europe!

 

Pretext ramblings::

It’s the beginning of a new chapter in my cycle touring experience, the start of my stumble-filled dabbling in solo cycle-touring! So unfortunately I will not be indulging in the psychological comforts of traveling with a touring buddy.
Surely it’s not all doom and gloom, but the task feels a lot less underwhelming as my self-confidence suddenly erodes to a hollow cavern echoing with an ever-present inaudible wail of dread when nobody is present to confirm its solidity.
After the India and Sri Lanka tour I was determined to do the ride for a cause, it would help me stay focused (and feel a like a little bit less of an undeserving privileged fool on a bike, how selfish really) and hopefully help Animal SOS Sri Lanka get some much needed funds along the way. Luckily that worked out and so a massive thank you to everyone that dug deep in the penny jar to help such a great cause!
JustGiving page::
Some images of the dogs fed by the contributors::
Luckily i came across a touring-buddy while cycling through Stratford that lacks the faculties to refuse any adventure! … Ok, it’s more like a mascot, the little Peppa Pig toy proudly hanging from my handlebar-bag (See Image At Top).
Here we go it’s the end of work-season! A huge thank you to Greenbox events for providing jobs that make this lifestyle possible! An amazing company to work with doing the recycling/clean-up for music festivals across the UK. Look at that field, it’s hard to believe that a week and a half earlier a four day event (Shambala festival) resulted in well over 20tons of rubbish, its a lovely green field again! time for some awkward bbye-hugs and start pedaling across Europe! My destination Budapest!

Route:

Keep it vague! That I did, my thinking; best keep it flat…. so follow rivers, that will work! it’s only 1200km in a straight line, can’t be much longer… can it?
Pedal down to Dover, catch the ferry to the Hook of Holland (then a cheeky detour to Amsterdam, naturally), onto the canals until I hit the Rhine and follow that until Frankfurt. Switch to the Maine and follow on into Austria. Once I hit Vienna it’s time to swap to the Danube, this would be the first river that I will follow downstream and it will also get me all the way to Budapest. Too easy!
Of course that is not how it went, the 1200km turned into 2100km as the rivers teased me all the way to Budapest, playfully twirling between the mountains… playful bastards.
rough route vs rougher route

Red line is 1200km…. the river obviously had a different idea, the closer you look the rougher the edges :-/

Setup:

Relatively small setup, two large panniers on the back, a 20 litre backpack as a trunk bag (for food predominantly) and the trusty handlebar bag! It was also the first tour I’ve embarked on without a stove, to cut down drastically on time spent out-of-saddle during sunlight hours. Downsized the living quarters to the smallest option I could consider (because of weight, strength and size: Vango Banshee 200, lets see how it fairs) and no self-inflating roll matt this time!

The Ride:

This has to be the highest proportion of a tour spent on dedicated cyclepaths. Holland was insane, it felt a bit like it must feel to ride on a motorway. Endless isolated lanes, but the views were lovely and the people were friendly… so many cyclists…
This is the first tour where I was committed to an accommodation budget of precisely zero. Camping in Holland was a breeze and cold food was alright to live off this early in. (It was a bit of a nightmare later on though… soo much bread!!) The only time I had any problems camping (and this REALLY doesn’t register on the oh-fk-oh-fk-oh-fk-meter) was when I chose a lovely disused field to pitch in, only to have a drunk 4×4 driving lovely individual arrive home (his gate was close to me) and start telling me that it was private land. (I made it obvious that I would leave in the morning without a trace, it was dark by now, pretty much pitch black and he could see how it was unreasonable to have me move at this rate only to keep the disused field precisely as it was…. disused.) The miles came effortlessly, the terrain was mostly paved with some dirt tracks and elevation gain wasn’t going to happen in this country. One morning I woke to breakfast and milk brought to me on a tray by a lovely Dutch lady, she felt sorry for me for going through Germany as she believed Germans were not very nice… luckily she was wrong about that.
Germany is where the scenery got a bit more varied, the Rhine is infested with cycle-tourists, especially the ebike-rocking 50+ types. The river had an excellent wide path running along it, sometimes switching sides, always dotted with restaurants, cafes and turnoffs to small towns. Camping was incredibly easy, when it got dark enough I could simply lock-onto any bench along the way and be guaranteed a nice flat spot to pitch-up on. Half of the cafes were cycle touring themed and there were a lot of people cycling along the Rhine, mostly in organised group tours. (Small herds pootling about unloaded from hotel to hotel, it was quite nice to see them out really.) Having stocked up in The Dam it was becoming clear that the coffee+cake theme would dominate the tour!
Here I was completely blown away by some of the small towns with beautiful turrets and castles nestled in mountain sides on the river front. Clearly strategic points of interest when trade relied heavily on the river. As beautiful as it was, at times it felt a bit wasted when there was nobody there to share your observations with. That could be defeated by exploring and camping in ridiculous spots, knowing that breaking camp will be as fast as you make it, so in a sense the freedom is more complete, but there is a tradeoff.
Dusseldorf, Cologne and Frankfurt were my favourite bits of Germany on this route, probably mostly because I was busting out the miles as best as I can while totally neglecting to eat properly. I stuffed my face with coffee and cake all the way. I realised that saving on accommodation like this meant that I could spend that bit more on these luxuries, not realising that my body will inevitably resort to digesting a lot of my upperbody mass to compensate for the poor nutritional value of my diet. I know now how important it is to aim for a minimum of 1g protein for every kg of body mass when touring, especially if your really trying to make a point of getting there fast.
Dusseldorf has some amazing beer and generally a nice vibe, plenty of variety in architecture and big enough to have something going on at all hours, without the crowded dirty feel of a city that’s grown past its prime.
Cologne was lovely, sprawling quite a bit with some lovely oldtown-ee bits but something felt a bit sterile about it, a tad too many posh shops targeted at upper-middle-class tourists.
Frankfurt was great, a massive banking district but plenty of hidden gems and excellent street art, there seemed to be harmless mischievous university students dotted around most nooks. beautiful skyline!
I was definitely trying to get there as fast as possible, shortly after passing Wurzburg; I realised how much longer it would take to get to Budapest, as an entirely unreasonable river-bend took me off course and would continue to do so for a large part of a day in the saddle. My original hope to arrive in a week to Budapest was completely destroyed. My prebooked flight back to the UK started to seem like a premature decision, one that meant the pressure was on to get there ASAP as the longer I take to get there, the shorter I get to spend with family and friends. An important part of each tour is crushing your doubts and worries, they are bound to come up and it’s liberating when you finally shrug-them off, so what? Enjoy the ride! How often are you going to be here doing this? Make the most of the moment!
By the time I had arrived in Austria the ride was starting to take its toll on me, I felt a bit malnourished but a nice shower at my warmshowers host’ place got my spirits up. It’s amazing how well you sleep after an extended period of time cycling, I hadn’t had a shower since Frankfurt at that point, sleeping in the small-ish tent has been fine, i got used to not having a self-inflating mat after the first couple of days, but a sofa was a very welcome change of scenery.
I knew that the distance at this stage was almost negligible but the Danube was massive and would only get bigger the further downstream I got, bridges would be scarcer and scarcer until Budapest and river bends would mean a mile detour each time they happened. Slovakia was around the corner and I would surely be refreshed by a chance to talk in Hungarian for a change, my German is poor and I didn’t feel confident speaking it to native German speakers as they spoke with exotic accents and used vocabulary far beyond my grasp.
but those towers;;;
Since the Rhine I had only encountered one group of cycle-tourists, it was their first time. I was desperate for conversation so I stormed their campsite and chatted with them for an hour as they cooked and ate their food. It was a great little group of 4 with mixed out-doorsy interests and a massively varied setup, from a hybrid bike and a pop-up tent strapped to it to a nice German steel tourer with excellent mountaineering camping gear, I like how you get such a variety of people with a shared passion for freedom and the outdoors. (This was a bit after Wurzburg, before a large national park) The next time I came across anyone was shortly before I crossed the border into Slovakia, a solo cycle tourist heading in the opposite direction was mashing his pedals looking aloof. It was the first time he toured solo as well, he was cycling from Greece to Spain. We compared notes on solo touring and it turns out we came to very similar conclusions:
Solo touring pros:
Much more ground to be covered in the same amount of time, more opportunity to explore exactly what we fancied along the way.
Solo touring cons:
Not as much fun when you have nobody to share the experience with, camping isn’t the same either.
Luckily my make-shift touring buddy helped me stay distracted from the negatives!
I had lost some time procrastinating during the day (a slippery slope indeed) partly because of the tours ‘theme’ as mentioned and partly because I was due a little bit of rest during the day as my legs were starting to seize. So I ended up riding late into the night, I wore a good head torch along with my front light as there was excessive barking and noises around me and I wanted to keep an eye on things. It was beautiful, everywhere I turned my head there were little clusters of silent curious eyes peering back at me, mostly deer and I still haven’t figured out for the life of me what was barking…
At one point a group of deers crossed my path one of them very nearly knocking me off my bike, I spotted them a moment before it happened, but my head torch did blind them on their path crossing mission…. lesson learned: turn your head torch to red-light mode if you have it! It’s still as effective at spotting reflective eyes (as they tend to be for animals active at night) but doesn’t cause any of the animals to go blind for a minute, also doesn’t effect my own vision after adjusting to low light.
Sure enough Slovakia was a leap back in time, signage was bilingual with Slovakian and Hungarian print dominating everything from the corner shop to Casino billboards. This was invigorating and almost (and i mean ALMOST) made me oblivious to the fact that EuroVelo route turned into deep loose gravel for long sections, sometimes suddenly turning into fenced off industrial areas that meant a 500m double-back just to go off-road to get around the quiet industrial hubs. Yeah the route disappeared regularly…. This close to the finish-line it was a bit frustrating. At this rate i was very focused on the finish-line so deviating from the river didn’t even cross my mind. I knew the famous river bends of the Danube were around the corner, which would mark the beginning of Hungary. A place where it was tempting to ride across the hills to try and save on the distance, but honestly it would have been too little and too late. So i stuck to the route.
Getting down to Budapest was a bit of a blurr and on arrival I was confused what to do, who to ring, I could ring anyone, surely nobody would refuse me accommodation when I got here by bike…. but an inner voice was telling me to ring my mum, nobody would appreciate it quite the same, so sure enough I did, a quick picture of the parliament and quick extra 20km at the end of the day to get over and pass out in the old family house. I was flagging hard along the way but it was awesome to finally get there!
Total funds raised for Animal SOS Sri Lanka = 778.59 (inc gift aid)
A huge thank you (again) to everyone that made it possible!
Main conclusions;;
An excellent route with easy terrain and no real challenging climbs! plenty of opportunity to meet fellow cycle-tourist peeps along the way, especially if you are going high-season, I missed that and it mostly happened from mid to late Sept.
Cycle touring alone is fine, a bit lonely at times but that’s just another little challenge to get your head around.
Stoveless camping is fine, there must be a better way to do it though…
I’ll do my best to apply my conclusions for the next tour and try to keep a little more focused from on the blog from here-on!
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