Cycle Tour Europe: Let’s Get Started! Cycle Tour Europe: Let’s Get Started!
Holy cow!! We’ve been on the road for more than two weeks already. Never mind Let’s Get Started…let’s get caught up!!
We set off from NorthWood in northwest London on a somewhat dull day. We were undeterred by the weather though; excited to finally be on our bikes and on our way.
Our plan was to take the train into the centre of London and start pedalling from the iconic Tower Bridge. The first leg however (and indeed the whole first day) did not go according to plan. The trains were running late, very late, and we became unsure if we would be able to take the train into town at all which would mean tacking on another couple of hours to our already uncertain 60KM of planned riding for the first day. Luckily our persistence paid off and we managed to ride the train close to our hoped-for starting point.
There’s so much caught up in that first day. Our brave smiles on the bridge don’t show the nervousness we felt in not knowing what the hell we were doing. Would we be able to cycle as far as we thought? Would we be able to find our way? Would we like it? What the heck had we gotten ourselves into?
Excitement carried us through the small lane-ways and river paths that led us along the Thames to Greenwich where we stopped for lunch. Not knowing what was ahead of us helped push us forward toward Chatham where we had a bed booked for the night.
And then came The Hill. It started out innocently enough; a gentle grade challenging us to take it on, mocking us with its green boulevards and civilized sidewalks. It was, in fact, pure evil. Six kilometres of uphill, never steep enough to warrant getting off the bike and yet pure torture for my poor legs which had already pushed for fifty-some-odd kilometres on the very first day.
I stopped. A lot. And at the top I lay down and willed the blood to return to my legs while at the same time dreading it as it would also mean I would feel them again and it was bound to be pure agony.
We, of course, stopped for a beer for we were still not at the very top and still had a ways to go.
I’m not ashamed to tell you I walked the final kilometre to our guest house. I could no longer ride, my legs were jelly, and tears stung my eyes. We were hours later than expected, sweaty, tired, and spent.
Our hosts (bless them!) took one look at us and rushed to put the kettle on for a much needed cup of tea. We tried our best to make conversation as we gulped back the tea and inhaled the sugar cookies that became our dinner as we had absolutely no energy to find anything else. After a quick, soothing, hot shower we sank into bed without even enough taking time to consider how we were going to manage the coming days.
We reviewed our plans over one of the best breakfasts I’ve ever had the next morning.
Re-evaluating our abilities (or lack thereof) we decided to scrap our scheduled routing for the next few days and instead took the advice of our host, Pauline. We quickly booked train tickets to Canterbury and spent the day wandering around the old town and cathedral, resting our riding legs and gaining back some confidence.
The following day we followed a much less trafficked route on our way to Dover. More fields, more cows, less kilometres, and a better riding day. We arrived at the beach feeling back on track and ready to tackle ‘the continent’.
Crossing over to northern France things became much quieter. We cycled through small villages and historic towns, through many fields, and often didn’t see cars for miles and miles and miles.
The countryside was beautiful and peaceful. Our legs were adjusting to the riding and no longer protested every revolution and, while it wasn’t flat, the hills were manageable and usually were followed by much welcomed downhill.
We snacked by the side of the road soaking up what little sunshine was offered. The weather has been cool but not too wet – we have, so far, avoided getting drenched but surely it’s only a matter of time!
The first tire flat came on Day 11 and was quickly followed by four (!) more on Day 14. Needless to say we have become quite proficient at changing tires. All the flats were in the original tubes in exactly the same place (on a seam) of the ‘Made In Thailand’ pieces of rubbish. We’ve now managed to replace them all and hope they are a little more hardy. Enough is enough already!
Accommodations have varied and have often determined our route and/or the length of a day. There are not a lot of towns or larger centres in northern France so we look at the map, figure out the elevation change in the direction we want to go, determine how far we can ride within the topography and try to find a destination within that range. Then we have to find a place to stay.
Some places are so small that there is only one option so that’s where we end up – luckily they often also serve dinner and breakfast. It is these places that are the most interesting. Usually historic buildings (some more than one hundred years old!!) and often family-run; we muddle through with a smattering of high-school French, enjoy their generous hospitality, and are on our way again in the morning.
(I have to say that France is a bazillion times more welcoming than I was expecting. We had originally planned on spending minimal time here after hearing stories of snobbery and misfortune but have found people to be super kind and extremely patient with us. Many people speak a teeny bit of English and will slow down to help us understand them. They are proud of their establishments and are happy to have us visit. I’m glad we’ve spent more time here and have thoroughly enjoyed it.)
As we crossed into Luxembourg the other day we realized the downside of entering into larger cities…more expensive accommodations…and so we tried out our first dorm room in a hostel. It turned out to be a beautiful, modern, hostel with small 6-bed dorm where we met a nice couple and enjoyed chatting and sharing stories for the evening.
Our trip is evolving into exactly the experience we were hoping for; we’re seeing great swaths of countryside, meeting more people than we ever have before, and are enjoying being well off the beaten track. I’m amazed at what we can ask our bodies to do each day. We take things as they come and don’t get caught up in what we ‘should’ be seeing or doing – it all just presents itself and we take it all in stride.
KM Ridden: 598
# of Riding Days: 13
# of Rest Days: 6
Flats so far: 5
Injuries so far: 1, although not riding related. Jason walked into a door and cut his head. Bummer.
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