Now I don’t proclaim to be an expert on planning adventures, if there even is such a thing. The very essence of an adventure is the unknown, the constant anticipation of what lies around the next corner, forcing you to keep pedalling, dragging you up the hills when your legs are screaming to stop. Things which you take for granted at home, where you will sleep that night, what to eat for dinner and who you will share it with, are a daily mystery. Each small decision offering a tantalising opportunity to experience something new.
That’s the reason I have taken three months off work this year with the aim of cycling solo across Europe. Do I know how far I will cycle? Not a clue. Which route I will take? Certainly not. Or even how long it will take? Only my best guess. I can tell you that I hope to cycle through at least 12 countries via Switzerland and Budapest, and that google maps thinks it would be 2500 miles by car. Apparently it can’t compute a bike trip of that length.
There have been a lot of factors to consider in the planning process. For me the biggest obstacle was undoubtedly getting the time off work. Although in the end this turned out to be much more a mental barrier than anything else. For weeks I managed to avoid the conversation under the pretence of waiting for the perfect moment when in reality I was being a massive wuss, knowing full well that it was the biggest step towards this enduring goal that I have ever made. In the end I needn’t have worried. My work have been incredibly supportive and signed me up to do a talk to the whole office when I get back. At the end of the day if you don’t ask you don’t get.
For me the biggest obstacle was undoubtedly getting the time off work
Once I had the time off approved, the considerably more exciting process of route planning could commence. Having the freedom to go absolutely anywhere you want is a real privilege and one of the huge benefits of travelling alone. Europe is well geared up for the novice cycle tourer with a network of 15 long-distance cycle routes traversing the continent like a spiders web. Initially I will stick to this network until I’ve gained the confidence to forge my own path. For me, staring at a map of Europe with three months to fill, is how a teenage shopaholic would feel being let loose in Topshop with a limitless budget. Even with three years to fill it would be impossible to see everything Europe has to offer – don’t even get me started on the rest of the world!
My planned route keeps changing as I discover new roads to ride and places to see. Originally I had planned to end my journey in Istanbul but unfortunately due to the current situation there, my new finish line will be Athens. Although I had originally wanted to reach the Asian border it seemed unfair to put my family and friends through the extra worry for the sake of a technicality. Cycling through Greece will also give me the opportunity to confront my life-long dislike of olives.
Over the last few months I have visited almost every bike shop in Bristol. If you live in Bristol you will know that is a lot of shops! I am not getting a new bike but using my trusty hybrid, misleadingly named ‘Rita Queen of Speed’, despite her rather big-boned frame. What she lacks in quick and light she makes up for in sturdy and reliable, and almost feels like an old friend as I’ve been riding her for four years. She’s undergone a ‘pimp my ride’ style transformation with various new flashy features including bomb-proof (hopefully) tyres, super-comfy handlebars and clip-in pedals. In order to counteract the few extra pounds she packs I’ve purchased some new lightweight camping equipment and will only carry three pairs of pants!
One of the questions I get asked most often is am I doing a lot of training? To which I rather foolishly reply, ‘None’. Trying to fit in planning around my already hectic lifestyle has been hard enough, never mind going out for hours at a time on my bike. I figure I will get fit soon enough once I start. And I do live at the top of a really big hill which I cycle up everyday. That counts right? Despite the lack of training I have been using the trip as an excuse to eat huge amounts of food. Justifying the extra calories as needing to stock up on energy. This has been the case for two months now and if I don’t leave soon I risk not fitting into my new shorts!
I figure I will get fit soon enough once I start
The journey begins on the 1st of August 2016 with a two day meander along the east coast of England, from London to Dover. I will be joined by friends and family at various points for the first week which will hopefully make the transition from bustling Bristol to the lonesome road a little easier. After that it will just be me, Rita and a lot of ice cream. And what an adventure it will be.