Austria 20th -24th May

The hills were indeed alive. It was like something you would draw as a child. Big, green, sweeping hills with a token house and the sun in the corner. We didn’t know what to expect from Austria. Neither of us had been here before. The clues to crossing the border were the change in beer signs at the bars, and the architecture. The houses instantly changed, they became, well, typically Austrian houses. Alpine like, with big overhanging roofs. Cycling along the river and not on the main road means you don’t see the usual signs to inform you that you are in a new country.

A lot of the riverside paths we wanted to take were closed due to the volume of rain. Big diversions were put in place. There is always a bit of dilemma in these cases. ‘Is it really that bad ahead?’ you ask yourself. ‘Risk it?’ we say to eachother in unison. Once you wheel your bikes round the bollards there’s no turning back. Our experience of this yields mixed outcomes. Today was manageable with the added benefit of a million frogs (I didn’t count them). Their group conversation was a beautiful symphony of rivets (Hannah’s words, not mine). It was getting late and it was time to make the call. Try and find a campsite or wild camp. We chose the latter as the map showed a lot of green areas along the river. Three hours later and getting dark we chose our spot. It was not ideal. The green areas on the map turned out to be incredibly steep forest areas that not even hikeable let alone cyclable. We laid out our sleeping bags in the long grass (never ideal, my Brother Craig knows only too well about camping in long grass, ticks!). As we opened up our kitchen and started the stove, the ants and flies came in droves. This was not going to work. We packed up and rode in the dark in search of a) a better spot, b) a camp site or c) last resort, a hotel. We were gifted only a kilometre later with a farmhouse and a camping sign. The cutest little spot next to the house was a god send. We cooked up in the dark and under stars. And relax…

The bridge we were to cross the next morning was non-existent. The owner of the farmhouse took us across in his boat and sold us a shot of his homemade walnut liqueur, it sat nicely on our porridge filled bellies. I told Hannah that I dreamt that a peacock was screaming in my ear in the night before. It was no dream apparently. The scenery in these parts has blown us away. You could be in New Zealand. The river cuts through towering forests. We look around mouths open. Austria by bike or boat along the Danube is highly recommended. Hannah was finding it harder to enjoy the surroundings as she had developed a pain in her thigh which was only getting worse. She’d had the same problem before on a previous tour and was worrying about the repercussions for the rest of the trip ahead. We stopped early at the next campsite we found which ended up being one of our favourites to date. It was a wake-boarding lake and we enjoyed watching the skills of the locals as we caught up on some admin and serviced the bikes in to the early evening. As the sun set over the lake we were appreciative of the break that was forced upon us. We had yet to take a day off the bikes, maybe the continuous pedalling was taking it’s toll…

The following day had it’s ups and downs. The stunning views continued as we hugged the river through more natural beauty and picturesque villages. Hannah’s thigh however was getting worse. We were seriously thinking that a couple of days off may be in order. Saw our first dead snake on the path. Hannah’s enthusiasm for wild camping was now as dead as the snake. We rode through beautiful vineyards and tried to scope out a spot to hide for the night. We stumbled across a restaurant selling wine from the neighbouring vineyards. My Mum had given us some money on the day we left with instructions to spend it on a bottle of wine on the ferry from Dover. We were so tired on the ferry we thought it would be wasted. Here was the perfect moment. Mum would have agreed. The wine was outstanding and we stayed a lot longer than anticipated. I rode behind Hannah, laughing as she zig-zagged her way on and off the path for the next few kilometres to our campsite for the night. I told her this was not the time to try and ride no-handed, too late, she crashed in to some vines. The campsite was too crowded for our liking, but we’d bought a bottle of wine from the vineyard attached to the restaurant, situation saved.

Cities are not fun on our big heavy touring bikes. You can’t weave through traffic, you can’t quickly change direction, you don’t really know where you’re going, and you can’t really leave your bikes for a wander around. Vienna was a city we both wanted to see but like most big cities they warrant a lot of time to get to a real feel for. I’m not really a fan of going to big cities for the weekend as I never really feel like I have properly seen it. Big cities, for me, need to be lived in to be understood. Not having 6 months to hand, we rode through for a glance. On the way in to the city we noticed a naturist area on the banks of the river. I love naturists. ‘Why not!’ is my opinion. We again hunted out a wild camping spot as we rode through farmland away from the river. We were aiming for a national park as figured the land would be public and easier to sleep in. Two attempts failed. The first due to swathes of lakeside mosquitos. The second due to a nearby structure that looked like a bomb. It wasn’t a bomb, obviously. But we didn’t know what it was and our instincts had taken over. So we ran away as if it were about to explode…

We were awoken by the sunrise as we lay in our sleeping bags in a national park car park. We had failed to find the idyllic spot the night before so settled for a hidden patch of grass on the edge of a big concreted area. It’s not all glamour this lark…

…and chill.

I’m slowly learning how to relax. It takes time. To switch off from a day-to-day life where you feel there is always something to do. Something that needs doing. I’m guilty of replacing something on my to-do list as soon as it’s ticked off.

Cycling all day gives you time. Time to think. Time to forget. Time to zone out and do nothing but methodically, robotically pedal whilst slowly drifting amid your surroundings.

Cycle touring amplifies this feeling. You travel a long way each day and you see so much. It affords you the extra luxury of contemplation. Your leg muscles learn how to let you do this. They adapt. They acknowledge it’s their daily routine with little complaint. You drift, you float, and you chill…you really chill….

And then a fly rockets directly in to your pupil and forces you to swerve in to the middle of the road. You curse nature.

Cycle touring…

Luxembourg 12th May

Hannah woke up cold. Despite having brought her entire winter wardrobe some more thermals were needed. I fixed the stove. Boom! (Not literally luckily, boom in the positive sense).

We were both super excited to be on our way to a new country we hadn’t been to before, visiting new countries and new experiences were a massive part of this trip in the planning stages. We entered Luxembourg. We got lost. We went up our steepest hill so far. It was in the wrong direction. Time to eat. We quickly realised that in times of doing unecassary miles the best thing was not to get back on track as quickly as possible and speed up a bit to absorb the miles lost, no, the better choice is to stop, say oh shit, and then eat, or get coffee, or beer.

We did a supermarket shop. We are taking it in turns to do the supermarket shop as someone has to stay outside and watch the bikes. We both love foreign supermarkets and fight over who’s turn it is. We’re not overly fussed over eating out at the moment as we kind of know what to expect in the restaurants and it would damage the budget a fair bit. For now we are working our way through every pasta recipe we know. The budget for pastries however is separate and i’m smashing my way through every sweet and savoury oven baked beigeness I can find. The joys of cycling…

We were keen to sniff out a wild camping spot tonight as there were no campsites near, only flashy hotels. We ventured off a forest path that felt right and stumbled across the most beautiful hidden spot overlooking a valley. With the sun about to set we cooked up (pasta.) before making our bed for the night at the last minute before it got dark. It was Hannah’s first night properly wild camping and she was a bit bervous but felt comfort in my comfort. She likes to push herself. We opted for our bivvy bags which are covers for our sleeping bags that allow you to sleep without a tent. A deer wandered by. We slept under the stars and over the valley. A memorable night.

We woke to frost covered sleeping bags and iced water bottles. It had gone down to the minuses over night. We were wrapped up and slept well. We quickly moved on without leaving a trace and made coffee and breakfast a few km’s later (note that miles have now disappeared as a measure and kilometres have taken over. So continental European).

Luxembourg city was frustrating. We were trying to stay on the Eurovelo route to save us navigating on our phones or using maps. Making sure we were staying on the route took the fun out of exploring the city and although it was beautiful to pass through I left with the hump that I hadn’t enjoyed the experience. Lesson learnt.

Aaawwwww Germany now please…

The rest of Belgium 8th – 11th May

Only a short day in to Ghent to meet our friends Robin and Miet who we havn’t seen since our wedding day. Along the way it chucked it down and Hannah’s trusty waterproof jacket turned out not to be trusted… some shopping to do in Ghent.

A man stopped and asked Hannah where she was going. She told him, China. He laughed. She said she was serious. He looked concerned and asked if she had children. No she replied. You must have them by 34 he said. Ok she responded. We must get to China in four years she told me. Ok I said.

We arrived at the front door of Robin and Miets home. Such a warm welcome. It was wonderful to finally meet their beautiful children. We caught up over tea and chocolates. There was a lot to catch up on. We reminisced and then the beers came out. I was super jealous of Robins motorbike/bicycle workshop where Robin quickly took to fixing a couple of already occured issues on the bikes. We were cooked for as the beer and laughs flowed. It was just like old times when we had travelled together in South America some six or seven years ago.

Robin was able to join us on our 125km ride the next day and had planned a super nice route predominantly along the river. It was so nice to have some really long chats together and get to know him even more. What a cool bloke. Such a nice ride. Miet and the girls drove to meet us in the evening and we made a camp fire in a very cool spot in the woods Robin knew of. We were left to camp here as we said our goodbyes. We were incredibly grateful for their hospitality and adored the time spent with them.

We were missing our tour guide the next day as at some point in the afternoon we found ourselves a fair way off the route Robin had planned for us. China was feeling further away, not closer. We eventually picked up the Euro Velo route we were looking for. We planned to take these vast collection of cycle routes all the way to Istanbul, if we could stay on them. We went through a beautiful place called Namur and very early on in the trip started making a list of places to return to. We also srarted a lessons-learnt list. 1 and 2 on the list were, eat before the other gets hangry, and leave camp earlier. Point 1 will remain top of the list I feel.

The Ardennes were just wondeful, and the ups and downs were a welcomed warm up for what was to come. We encountered stove issues far too early on in the trip for my liking which led to a 3 course meal with a starter of 45 minutes of taking apart and rebuilding of stove followed by a sumptuous spread of cold cheese sandwiches followed by a dessert of f-words. Memories made.

Watch our 1-minute video of Cycle Touring Belgium here…

Dunkirk to Bruges 6th – 7th May

We woke afresh after 11 hours sleep. Clearly needed. As we started making our way towards Bruges it really started to dawn on us… we would not see our families for a long time. As much as we thought about it before and amid the goodbyes, the adrenaline of leaving had slighty masked the current realisation. We were silent for a while.

Our feelings of being away from home were magnified as we rode along designated cycle paths nearly as wide as the roads beside us. If someone was walking on them in front of us we would ring our bell and be met with a wave and a smile. Hannah says she is scared to ring her bell in London. I’m a dinger.

We followed riverways in to Bruges. Hannah took the reigns and led. We got lost. 10kms out the way later we were back on track. We followed our noses to a bar that we loved when we were here six years ago on a trip on the trains around Holland and Belgium.

We camped at a site that Hannah and her friend stayed at previously. We spent our first night alone accompanied by some banging Belgian beers…

Let’s roll 4th – 5th May

We left Kelsale in Suffolk on the 4th May joined by friends and family. A Chinese themed breakfast with a banner and bucks fizz at the Salters is how every big bike journey should commence. Take note. We all rode off like we were in the Goonies and then 50 metres down the road we realised we had forgotten our tent. It was going well. We were joined by more friends and family at a pub in Woodbridge and after one too many drops of beer and the perfect amount of drops of tears, we waved goodbye and hit the road south. Hannah and her sister Lorna couldn’t hide how much they were going to miss eachother, and saying goodbye to nieces and nephews is just brutal.

A mammoth homemade Indian spread was put on by Brother Craig and Sister Tan in Hertford and we enjoyed a wonderful last night together. More friends and family joined us the next day to ride to Mumma’s house for a champagne breakfast. Mum was making it very hard for us to leave. After more tears, and more incredibly hard goodbyes, we hit the road and cycled through London towards Dover. It didn’t really feel any different to a normal days ride around London other than our bikes weighed an absolute ton. Either we were carrying far too much or the last months heavily socialising had taken its toll. Definitely the latter. Probably both.

Brother Craig was joining us on the second part of our two day cycle to the coast and met us in Kent at a pub where we were pitching our tent. To our delight, our 12 year old nephew Ruben was with him and joined us on the cycle. We had plans to take him all the way to China but for whatever irresponsible reasons Craig didn’t allow it. We all camped together in the pub garden. Memories for life were made. It was the first night we had stayed in the tent. It was strange to think it would be our home for the next however many months.

We all cycled together to Dover the following day. It was a lot harder than we expected and we were so proud of Ruben on his longest ever bike ride, and a tough one that ended with us lugging our bikes over the cliffs of Dover (not over the edge, that would be silly). The last goodbye was accompanied by another punch in the throat. We were now on our own.

We boarded the ferry. Shattered. We met a Belgian girl and had a two hour brexit-question-dodging conversation all the way to Dunkirk. We got off the ferry at about 8pm. After two and a half seconds of deliberation we thought it may not be the best idea to commence the wild camping and pitch our tent next to a barbed wire border fence, so we headed to the nearest hotel to get a good nights sleep and contemplated what lay ahead.

After all the planning, researching, bike-building and packing, it was really happening. We were on our way…

Time flies when you’re having fun

Or does it? For me, time flies when you are in a busy routine. Not that my busy routine wasn’t fun, but I was becoming increasingly concerned that time, the greatest commodity of all, was slipping away faster than I liked. I wanted to slow things down. On a long weekend away over Christmas amid a ‘life chat’, it became clear Hannah and my thoughts aligned. The seed was planted.

I’m writing this sitting at a table in a cafe in Belgrade in Serbia, just under a month after we left home on our cycle from London to China. Let’s face it, I’m starting this way later than I’d hoped, but cycling all day every day is tiring!

It took us a while to get around to deciding what to do, when and how to do it, but thoughts eventually came to agreeing we would go on another adventure on our bikes, to see more of the world and spend more time together. A few years back, we spent six wonderful months cycling around South East Asia. It was all new to us at the time but we quickly got in to the rhythm and enjoyed the comfort and security of a cheap hotel, a hot plate of food and a cold beer at the end of each day. This time… it would need to be harder.

We’d spoken many times about places we wanted to visit in life and Central Asia kept cropping up. What better way to see it than by bicycle, and what better way to get there than, well, by bicycle. It was decided. We would cycle through Europe down to Turkey and then onwards through to China, fully unsupported carrying a tent, a camping stove and probably too many comforts.

We spent a good month before we left home spending as much time with friends and family as possible. The goodbyes were horrible. They punch you in the stomach and then in the throat and then poke you in the eye, but they certainly remind you how much people mean to you. Mixed emotions were an understatement. We were excited to go, nervous about what lay ahead, and sad to say goodbye. But it’s all part of going on a long adventure.

Time was about to slow down…