The final countdown is on. There is just over a week left until I embark upon my cycling adventure. In a last ditch effort to get some extra time on the saddle I took an evening trip to a beautiful lake on the outskirts of a town called Meriden.
The bike felt good on the road, especially with my new, thinner tires. My legs felt good. The weather was gorgeous (Summer in well on its way) and I found an old phone box that had been converted into a tiny library… which was awesome.
I still have a lot of things to sort out before I leave. Boring things like travel insurance and essential things like finding a lightweight, waterproof tent. (Yeah, true to my usual self I’ve left a lot of things to the last minute).
I’m going to try and get out on my bike as often as possible, but I think sourcing equipment and tying up loose ends will take up most of my remaining free time.
On Friday evening I neglected going to the pub after work in favour of a ride around Draycote Water. A few pints on the way home on a Friday is a tradition of mine that I thought nothing could get in the way of. The challenge of cycling through Europe, ominously lingering in the distance like a dark storm cloud, has rightly forced cycling to top of my priority list.
Draycote water is a huge reservoir in the middle of England. It measures 650 acres (263 hectares) and holds up to 5 billion gallons of water. The route around the perimeter is roughly 5 miles and and makes for a perfect cycling track. The scenery definitely beats cycling around the busy streets of Coventry.
It looked beautiful as we coasted around the water, especially as the sunset came into full force and twinkled off the surface. It would have felt like Summer if the wind wasn’t lashing us. Luckily, all was well; the abundance of sunshine more than made up for it.The sun was nearly gone by the time we finished circling it for the second time. And even if we wanted to go round for a 3rd time (we didn’t, it was time for a drink) we had to leave because Draycote was closing for the night.
Since this trip on Friday I’ve made some changes to the saddle (raised it even higher and bought it forwards) and it’s made a big difference to my cycling. These modifications combined with my slightly increased personal fitness levels means I’m finding it easier and easier. The distances I cycle are getting further and the intensity is getting higher.
A challenge I’ve set myself is to cycle to work and back one day soon. It’s roughly 20 miles to work ( Coventry – Southam). I commute the distance daily and it takes anything from 40 minutes – 1 hour to drive. I’m sure I’ll be absolutely knackered in the evening but on the road in Europe I’m aiming to do the equivalent of this and more every single day.
When I first started training for my European cycle adventure (just over a week ago) hills were my true nemesis.* I could poodle along nicely on flat roads but as soon I encountered even a low incline my heart would drop. I just didn’t have the fitness to make it all the way to the top of even the smallest incline.
Half way up these hills, as I climbed off the saddle in agony like a jockey with a hernia, all I could think about was how much I regretted my decision to cycle across Europe. I mean, if I couldn’t cycle up a hill WITHOUT all my equipment (and not a particularly steep hill at that) how could I do it for real with all my possessions strapped to the bike?
Well, it’s a week on from my first cycling trip and I have to say that things are looking up. Today I climbed a hill without getting off the bike – and I didn’t have to dig particularly deep to do so. This milestone isn’t down to increased fitness; I’ve changed the saddle position, which has worked wonders. I’ve also learned which gears are best for certain gradients and I’ve learned a bit more about cadence and rhythm. (Oh yes, my technical know-how is increasing).
I’m not getting ahead of myself. I understand that life, like a hill, has its ups and downs. I’m feeling positive now but I know on another ride soon I could find myself in the pouring rain, with a flat tire and two legs full to the brim with lactic acid. I should just relish these moments as they come along and feed off the positivity while it lasts.
Less than a month to go before I leave England. There are many more trips planned before then and a lot more hills to be conquered!
*Hills are still my nemesis. They’ve just been slightly downgraded in nemenisity.
In roughly 1 months’ time I’ll be cycling across Europe.
“Wow! Is it a trip you’ve been planning for years?”
Not quite, no.
“Are you physically prepared to cycle miles upon miles day after day for months on end?”
Again, it’s a no.
I’ve pined for adventure since I was a teenager, but bar a few small road trips here and there I’ve never pursued it. There have always been excuses. And if there haven’t been legitimate excuses, I’ve created them.
This time, in spite of some glaring excuses, I’m charging headfirst into the cycling adventure of a lifetime.
Time has marched on quickly and I’m not getting any younger. If I don’t do it now, there’s a big chance life will get in the way again and I’ll regret it.
What is the plan?
The plan is simple. I will start off in Calais and head East on my bike. I’ll camp along the way and see where life takes me. I am ultimately aiming to reach the Black Sea but that’s not compulsory any means! I’ll keep going until a) The money runs out or b) I get sick of it and decide to head home.
What could go wrong?
If I listed all of things that could go wrong I’d be here all day. For now let’s just focus on two issues: Physical fitness and cycling experience.
I can count the times I’ve been on a saddle over the past decade on three hands. I used to cycle regularly when I was 14 years old, but now I’m closer to 30 than 20 and have spent the last few years working behind a computer for 8 hours a day. You can imagine what this has done for my fitness levels.
If it’s a choice between the combustion engine or the leg engine, it’s the warm, planet-destroying metal box every time.
Cycling up hills and mountains against the wind and rain with all the extra weight I’ll be carrying (tent, food, water, fear etc.) is going to push my body to its limits. The physical task ahead is daunting to say the least.
If it’s a choice between the combustion engine or the leg engine, it’s the warm, planet-destroying metal box every time. On the road I won’t have that choice.
Over the next 28 days I’m going to have to cycle every day in order to take my leg muscles and cycling ability up a gear. I want to be less Nick Frost and more Nick Gates by the time I eventually set off. To not prepare properly would be a stupid thing indeed. I need to show this trip some respect in order to give myself every chance of succeeding.
Oh, I also need to order a tent, pannier, gas stove, spork, water bottles, bike tires, inner tubes, cycling shorts, a rain mac, tools… all that general bicycle touring gear you see suggested on lists found on cycling websites.
There’s no time to lose. Got to get as much time on the saddle as possible.