Setting the Wheels in Motion

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.

 

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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.

I was hoping to see some good sunsets during the trip so to get one on the very first night was quite a treat.
I was hoping to see some good sunsets during the trip so to get one on the very first night was quite a treat.

 

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.

Having a well earned rest at the top of the hill

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.

Al emerging from the mist on the way down to Dover

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.

Camping spot for the night

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.

 

Arriving into Dunkirk
Dunkirk Centre
Another rushed photo of Dunkirk
Crossing the border into Belgium. Country number 3 on day 4!

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!

Veurne

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!

 

19 thoughts on “Setting the Wheels in Motion

  • April 8, 2017 at 12:50
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    Thanks Joe, great blog, don’t change a word. Looking forward to lot’s of posts. Peter and Janet

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  • April 9, 2017 at 12:27
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    I’ve really enjoyed reading your travelogue and seeing th photos – glad all is going well. You seem to have covered a good distance, so you must be pretty fit, Well done guys!
    Janet

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    • April 14, 2017 at 19:31
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      Thanks Janet. Not sure if we were too fit at the beginning but hopefully improving!

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  • April 10, 2017 at 08:14
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    Great stuff lads, I was not expecting you to have made it to Belgium already. Nice to hear that the usual hostel and fuel bills are being redirected into fine food, wine and beer, you definitely deserve it. I recommend http://dumpstermap.org :)
    Head reisi mu sõbrad!

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  • April 14, 2017 at 18:07
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    Awesome work boys! Great expedition!

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  • April 14, 2017 at 19:38
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    Cheers buddy! Gone pretty well overall so far, will definitely check out the link. Had a brief attempt in Bruges but was halted by padlocks. Need to drop you an email as may have a permaculture contact for you. May lead to nothingredients but vamos a ver. Näeme Eestis!

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    • April 15, 2017 at 14:50
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      Oh nice, I look forward to it.

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  • April 14, 2017 at 19:55
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    Hi Joe blog is great, enjoyed reading about your last adventures so will look forward to this one. All the best Phil

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  • April 15, 2017 at 08:56
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    Joe, very nice writing! I just checked the map and the way to go… -you are crazy! Take care

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    • April 30, 2017 at 09:37
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      Thanks Inge. Haha,the route may be changing a little mainly because of the cost of each everything in Scandinavia but vamos a ver. I have my Joe Randall husky badge attached to one of my panniers by the way. I wouldn’t mind a bit of help from a couple of your dogs to get me up some of the mountains we’ll be climbing soon! How are you both and how’s Tyron?! Not long until sledding season!

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  • April 15, 2017 at 11:31
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    Well done boys, I’m amazed you’ve got so far in such a short space of time! You must be knackered! Great blog post. Enjoyed seeing your smiley faces, smiling through the pain :)

    Sending you all the love and can’t wait to hear more about the trip. Would love to catch up on Skype as soon as possible too. Buen viaje amigos x

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    • April 30, 2017 at 09:33
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      Cheers mate, yes we must Skype soon. We’ll be in Copenhagen in a few days, maybe then? Hope all is good, let’s chat on Facebook and sort out a proper catch up. Much love back xx

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  • April 15, 2017 at 21:30
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    cool blog Joe! i really enjoy the stories and pictures , its like youre taking me on a holiday to all those places. except for the fact that you guys are doing all the hard work ! see you in Holland in a few days, super! Santi

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  • April 24, 2017 at 14:33
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    Thanks Joe Very interesting to see the real commitment to cycling, as you say it leaves our feeble attempts standing. You didn’t mention scrapes and falls which we hear Alex is leading! How do we record our entries in the ‘Spot Alex’ competition, and what is the prize? – a well used bike?
    Happy Peddling Peter

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  • April 25, 2017 at 07:08
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    Great blog Joe! Keep on posting and peddling. Look forward to reading more. Well done guys. Chris

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    • April 28, 2017 at 20:43
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      Cheers mate, let me know when you run across America. Can I drive the support vehicle?

      Reply

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