If you’re reading this hopefully you’ve seen the introduction which may give you a slightly better idea about what my overall plan is. For now, I’ll just concentrate on the bike trip part and attempt to offer a bit of an insight into what life on two wheels is really like.
To say I am a seasoned cyclist would be way off and although I did a couple of triathlons a few years ago I’m certainly anything but an expert. Furthermore cycling was probably the weakest part of my overall weak triathlon abilities which may lead you to wonder how much preparation was done for the trip? The honest answer is very little.
Al, who is accompanying me on the trip, and I spent a weekend cycling round the Isle of Wight which was around 70 miles split over 50 on the first day and 20 on the second. On day 2 the number of aches and pains was a shock to the system for both of us. The Isle of Wight was a lovely place though, if a little hilly. We crossed paths with Tim McKenna who was cycling the coast of Britain raising money for the charity, Mind. He was a really good guy and an inspiration to those who suffer with mental illnesses. I think it also gave Al a glimmer of hope as they are both ex rugby players closer in body frames to Martin Johnson than Chris Froome.
With moving out of London, seeing friends and family and various leaving celebrations we didn’t have much time for more preparations. We did manage one practice weekend where we cycled the first day’s route towards Dover, stopping near Maidstone. This little ride actually went surprisingly well and included our first wild camp while on bikes. After that it was a final two weeks of manic preparations, saying various goodbyes and before we knew it, it was time to go.
Day 1 – London – Detling (45 miles) – We set off from our old flat in London and made our way south through Peckham, Bexley and out into the first bit of countryside. It was perfect weather, sunny but not too hot. As we already knew the route we made great progress all morning and covered the first 30 miles to a pub where we met some of Al’s family for an extended lunch break. After being fed and watered we said the final, final goodbyes and set off again. We covered another 15-20 miles before finding a decent wild camping spot. We were tucked neatly behind a hedge on the border of a farmer’s field. Luckily only one walker spotted us and didn’t say anything. We set up camp for the night, cooked a tasty tuna pasta bolognese (anything tastes good to us after a day of cycling) and then settled in for the night. It was surprisingly cold but we still got a decent 8 hours or so.
Day 2 – Detling to Dover (42 miles) – After a quick cereal bar and banana breakfast we packed up and were on the move before 9am. The morning was spent mostly on the Pilgrims Way which took us off road for vast majorities. Sadly the surrounding hills were covered in fog which seemed to linger for most of the day so we kept our heads down and plodded on. After an excessively large pub lunch we made it down to Hythe on the south coast early afternoon. It was far more relaxing cycling along the coastal bike path with no vehicles to worry about. The sun came out around the time we arrived into Folkestone where the first proper climb began. From sea level we huffed and puffed our way to the top of the cliffs having to take a couple of detours along the way due to Google Maps slightly overestimating our cycling abilities. Again, the fog stopped me from getting many decent photos but we were still rewarded with a rest which was better than nothing.
After a quick stop at the British World War II memorial we started the final descent into Dover and then turned off the road and discovered a bike path which lead us right along the top of the cliffs. Getting into Dover we arrived at a hostel which was amongst the worst hostels I’ve stopped in. Nonetheless it sufficed and they let me eat my fish and chips in the adjoining pub so it wasn’t all bad.
Day 3 – Dover to a field a few miles outside Dunkirk (28 miles)
We rode from the hostel to the port and were first aboard the ferry. First on meant last off so by the time we pedalled out of the port of Calais it was around 2pm. We made reasonable progress along flat roads and by 5pm were approaching Dunkirk. It was around this time that Al suffered the first puncture of the trip. We’d jinxed it by talking about who would get the first one only the day before. We made the decision to call it a day so while Al got to work fixing his puncture I sneaked away from the road and into some trees to find a lovely camping spot and got the tents set up. Another delicious dinner this time accompanied with wine and cheese to celebrate our arrival in France made for a lovely evening.
Day 4 – Field near Dunkirk to Bruges (56 miles)
I awoke to the noise of a nearby tractor ploughing his field but chose to hope it went away. Luckily, although we were less than 50m away we were well hidden so were able to pack up and get going without being seen. I don’t think it would have mattered anyway, we weren’t causing any damage to crops or anything and always make sure the place is as clean and tidy as when we arrived, if not cleaner. After a quick 5 miles we had a brunch in Dunkirk. We’re still trying to figure out how much to eat and when but I guess it will come with time. Today was a long day, the longest so far even if it was fairly flat.
Along the way we crossed into Belgium and passed through Veurne, a very picturesque little town before we arrived into Nieuwport where we joined a canal. Al had more tyre trouble but was able to sort it out pretty quickly with little drama. We pressed on until later afternoon and having changed from cycling alongside one canal to another we were able to follow it all the way into Bruges. I visited here last year with Hanna and although it wasn’t quite the romantic visit arriving tired, sweaty and with my equally dishevelled mate, it was still great to have arrived. We met Bart, a local who asked us if we needed help as we were stood looking at my phone for a hostel. He very kindly lead us all the way to a hostel in the centre. In the very, very unlikely chance that you’re reading this Bart, thanks again!
We spent the evening drinking ludicrously strong Belgian beer and eating ludicrously large amounts of mussels as a reward for a successful first few days. So far and without wanting to jinx anything, things have gone surprisingly well. The next stretch will be to Düsseldorf where we should be in the next week or so. In the meantime, if anyone has any feedback on how I can make this more interesting, let me know! I haven’t written anything on here in a long time and this post has been quite rushed so any comments are welcome!