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17 days in Iceland - Katie

Previous to embarking on our trip to Iceland I tried to get a sense of what to expect and prepare for. 

Remoteness; Changeable extreme weather; Dramatic landscape were the main impressions given. These descriptions were what appealed. But what would it really be like, feel like? None of my imaginings came close to the reality of our trip.

Remoteness
Iceland has only 350,000 inhabitants - that's half the population of Bristol! Most of these live in the capital. The towns are few and far between, on a bike it frequently took us a whole days peddaling to reach the next 'town'. Using the word town very loosely. The towns are quiet and almost have an air of being derelict. But the people are there..... somewhere. 

Along the main radial road we travel, there is the occasional farmhouse but nothing more and these are set back from the roadside on long gravel tracks. On our travels before we would frequently stop at houses for water, or if someone was outside pause to ask directions, but there isn't the same opportunity to do that here.

This absence of human life provides the feeling of remoteness like I have never experienced before. 

More often than not the remoteness is broken up by other tourists. There must be more tourists with hired camper vans, 4x4s, cars and on buses than the population of the island. There is one main road that circles the island and takes in most of the dramatic attractions. It is a popular choice for people to complete the circuit either clockwise or anti clockwise. We choose anti. Normally such a presence of a tourist trail would make me choose another route, but here it provides some reassurance that you aren't completely alone, and should anything go seriously wrong - which it nearly did - there should be someone who can lend a helping hand - which they did....

Changeable extreme weather
I'd heard the wind could be bad,  especially when cycling into it. But I had only imagined this might slow you down. I had heard there could be snow storms in June,  but surely this was a freak occurance and over before it had begun!? I had heard it could be cold, but we were going in the summer so surely the weather would be at its best? My main anxiety was that it would be wet and grey, therefore making our plan to camp every night fairly uncomfortable and miserable. 

On arriving it was dry, hurray! But as we pieced the bikes together, the wind was around us and had brought with it rain. When we made it onto the road the sun was out again, but the wind bitter. I began thinking this is going to be fine, a few showers here and there and maybe a slight wind against you to slow things down, but behind you enough to even things out. Our 3rd day brought glourious sunshine and even a moment of time of being in a t-shirt. However by day 4 we realised, as we rode into head wind for the whole day, this wasn't going to be plane sailing. Wearing a head scarf became an essential every day protection for the ears, nose and mouth from the cold wind. 

The next day proved to be the most challenging and extreme and left us shaken and super aware and cautious of the power of the wind and just how exposed we were.

We had spent the morning hiking in Skartefel National Park. The weather was calm but cloudy as we visited a waterfall and stunning glacier. 
When we got back on the bikes the dark clouds were coming in, but we had seen this before and found the rain dried as quickly as it soaked us, so we pressed on. The wind was behind us, it felt amazing. We were literally flying.  We reached 30mph on the speedometer. Going up hills was no bother at all, we were completely loving it. It was only when we stopped and felt the force behind us that had been our acceleration, that I grew concerned.  It wasn't allowing us to stop and we couldn't turn back. Then we turned a corner - whack. Immediately it hit us in the side taking us off the road to the gravel shoulder. My insticts say lie on the floor in a foetal position, but we need to get out of this situation. 

There is nothing around us, no trees (rarely seen on the island), rocks or volcanoes for shelter. It is barren, flat landscape, open land out to sea. The landscape is so exposed and so are we! We must pedal. Erica is encouraging me from behind, shouting directions, I'm feeling really scared now, but she keeps me going. There is ice in the rain now smacking us in the side, we need to keep moving to keep warm. Everytime a vehicle approaches we want to stop as they cause a throw in the air, that can create an even worse irratic gust. But we can't stop, the wind literally blows us over when we try. We can't keep the weight of our bike up right and it feels without the weight of the bikes it would blow our bodies up and away. As we turn another corner its now at our other side. It's trying to blow us into the course of on-coming traffic - this is much worse!

We are now at an angle that defies gravity, a Michael Jackson beat it moment. We are peddaling at a 40 degree angle into the wind, attacking it so that it doesn't destroy us. But it is so fierce and strong it takes everything to not let it win. Eventually we see the only potential shelter in an hour or so of this battle. We stop just as a truck approaches and fortunately slows and stops to ensure we don't go under it's wheels. We turn off the road to a stone dune and the wind scoops us up over the gravel and up the ridge. We dump the bikes and run to try and find a sheltered spot. Low down on the other side the wind eases. 
As we begin to get our breath back, it is immediately taken away from us, as we see what was hidden over the dune. The overwhelmingly, shiver down the spine sight of a glacier lake and magical icebergs floating with their vibrant bursts of colour, shining through even on this grey stormy day.

As we attempt to put the tent up the wind fires the pegs into the air and bends the poles... we can't stay here. We must push on and get help. The wind seems to have calmed, perhaps we can make a break for it. Back on the road our confidence returns, maybe we could still make it to the campsite? We are nieve, we pause in a car park to marvel at the icebergs, a group of lads approach us. 'Wow you guys are so cool' we really aren't, we explain! 'To cycle anyway but in these conditions, that's awesome!' It's really not, we say, it's a bit of an accident!! We need to make it over the bridge, it looks like there is an information centre there. The wind has picked right back up and a gust mid way over tries one more time to push me into an oncoming car. Unfortunately the information centre has just closed. There is nothing else for it.... it's time to start asking for help, we knock on campervan doors to ask for a potential lift. The first a 'no, we are already full'. The second is a 'we can't travel anywhere tonight in this wind...but you can shelter here for a while'. We couldn't be more relieved and end up spending an evening sharing food, stories and being rocked to sleep by the wind. 

The wind continues to be our most difficult force on the trip. Reappearing when we think we are sheltered, turning direction when we think we have it behind us, making us pedal hard into it downhill and harder still up hill. The snow and hale storm was the final showdown that yes this was definately the coldest summer in 40 years. Some icelandic folk told us it would normally be 20-30° this time of year, however others say, this is iceland... The cold gets you quick we sometimes wore waterproof  trousers just for an extra wind buffer. Camping was inevitably cold wearing all of our layers inside our sleeping bags. Lunch stops and breaks had to be quick before we froze, trying to find the most sheltered spot. We struck it lucky at the top of the largest mountain climb finding a hut to shelter and take time over our break. It even had a bunk bed in it, tempting us to stay in its tiny four walls longer rather than head out into the snow and sleet. But we pressed on.

Dramatic landscape
Volcanoes meet glaciers, meet black sand beaches, meet open moor land, meet bright blue fjords, meet dramatic waterfall after dramatic waterfall, meet snow capped mountains, each alone an awesomely stunning setting. Seeing these landscapes change from one to another so quickly and having such a varied textural coloured vision in one small space is mind blowing.  In a car the transition must be hightened, however the detail of transition would perhaps be lost. On bikes it never ceases to amaze and keep you interested in the journey, with so much going on around you all the time. The birds don't stop darting about you, running angrily at your side to mark their territory, swooping bravely through the sky. The sheep and horses a constant distraction when working up the hills. 

When combining cycle touring, remoteness, extreme weather and dramatic landscapes, it really does provide an uncomparable experience of unique value. Everyday a different challenge, with its resulting reward. An impossibility to plan and know what lies around each corner. Perhaps we were unlucky to have so much thrown at us, or perhaps it was lucky to be able to have been tested to our limits of endurance, shown just what awesome forces the weather holds and how these should be respected. Putting life into perspective. 

Katie - what we spent...

The cost of travel 


Having totted up the spending it appears we did the whole 6 month trip, including travel (trains, ferries, coaches, taxi from hospital), accommodation, food, bike repairs and general sightseeing adventures for £1,650 each! 
That's an average of £275 a month or £9 a day.

The purse strings were held on to tightly, but I never felt this reduced our experience, in fact it only enhanced it. There were two main reasons I was so keen to stay within budget:
1. Its great to know just how affordable a trip like this can be and...
2. Its so much fun! 
Keeping in a budget means a greater challenge, you don't just pay out for the most comfortable option, you learn to survive on the basics. You could buy a bottle of water from the supermarket, or you could knock on a door and ask a stranger. You could find a b&b after searching for somewhere appropriate to camp with no luck, or you could push on, ask locals and find amazing wild camping spots. Money offers an easy option but the experience (i find) ironically is always richer without it. 

It's all about having a reason to say hello, keeping it simple, pushing boundaries and exploring further.

So how did we do it?
It turns out we only ate out 3 times, slept in a hotel once and very rarely bought alcohol. 
£900 each was spent on food 
£350 each on accommodation
£300 each on travel
In fact having carried out a mini analysis of the trip we paid for accomodation 48 nights (41 of which were campsites, 1 hotel and 4 in hostels), 
wild/free camped 40 nights
Warm showered 50 nights
Friends and family 20 nights

We then volunteered for 23 days and nights, this really kept costs down as food and accommodation are provided. 

The majority of our meals were
Cerial and yoghurt for breakfast (usually a whole packet of granola between us). Yoghurt pots used as the bowl.
Lunch, wraps, bread with cheese and salad. Later we discovered making bean paste.
Dinner, cooked on the trangia, it turned out we ate pasta, veg and tinned makeral 42 nights and noodles 23 nights. 

We found life on the road, on a bike, living simply is a cheap one. In fact it's a lot cheaper than staying at home! In the first week of being back in England I think I spent what I had in a month on the road and Erica spent the same as she had on the whole trip getting her car back on the road!



Some extra stats
We cycled 95 days (half of the trip). 
39 of these were hilly 54 were reasonably flat, 8 were mini mountains, 4 were proper mountain climbing.
We had 32 rest days.

Weather
We had 24 'Rainy days' (classified as persistent rain, that had a significant impact on the comfort level of the day)
The wind was directly behind us on only 1 day, when we went our fastest ever.

Distance
We cycled 4810 miles.
Our furthest distance in one day was 85 miles, this was completed with our longest time in the saddel of 10 hours.

Erica - England 4,810 miles.

24 hours on the ferry and we wobble out into the great british evening october air, it's dark it's cool but it's not raining. We're back but we are not back, still two days ride from Brilliant Bristol it's a real mixture of feelings that lay erking behind our smiling faces. 

We're welcomed home by our final warm shower stay with Alex and Andy, who in a perfect loop are preparing and about to leave for their next adventure just as we are ending ours. 

No matter what we do in life, our friends and family make it better.

We left Bristol and our very favourite roll for the soul bike café five months and 22 days ago with 40 people cycling along beside us and in two days we'd be cycling back in again. We sent out a message to say we would be at the Bath end of the Bristol to Bath path at 2pm if anyone fancied a sunday cycle. Thinking maybe one or two of our more hardy friends might be up for a late October evening ride. 

Our return to England was a ride seen through the eyes of a travelling tourer. We've spent so many months crossing boarders and marvelling at the unique individual character of each and every one of the 14 countrys we've visited. I've always loved the UK, my only real cycle tour before this one was a five day cycle round South Wales's rugged coast line, a coast line I'd consider as beautiful and diverse as any we've visisted this whole trip. These two days were certainly no exception. The cycle route took us through small villages and market towns the autumn leaves providing the perfect backdrop to a white sheet in the middle of the path, hang on, why is there a white sheet in the midle of the path?  

We were cycling towards Romsey the only thing on our minds, good old English fish and chips.. But there's this sheet, a shaking laughing sheet, equiped with party poppers and welcome home ballons there stood the marvellous Jones's. Our cycling amegos, how fitting that these grinning faces would be joining us for the final two days. 

But it dosn't end there, Carol mentions she'd like to see the cathedral, Salsbury Cathedral. We're so amazed to see their smiling faces we don't even question where this sudden love of Cathedrals has arisen from... wait a minute, I spy a Kerry O, a Kerry O sauntering out of Salsbury Cathedral fully equiped with a bottle of cava, our ever faithful picnic blanket (aka tarpaulin) gets one last outing as we 'sip' CAVA straight from the bottle sitting on the cathedral grounds before heading back to the hostel... "Oh Hello" Mel casually wanders out of the hostel's common room, unbelievable... what a way to start our return home.

The next day we all cycle up to Bath clearly wanting to stretch every last inch out of returning home we arranged to stay with Tony in Bath on saturday night, this afforded us the time for one of my very favourite things. Sunday morning breakfast with the Ggees, here we prove that peoples generosity of spirit returns home with us when after breakfast we wander into a shop in which G'ma tells the women that we've just returned from 6 months cycling, "well" she says "I think that deserves a celebratory snaps" our reply, "absolutely, yes".

We'd hoped we might be lucky with the weather and despite the time of year gather one or two friendly faces together for our final leg, cycling back into Bristol down the Bristol Bath Path. We were humbled and amazed to be  joined along the way by 27 friends all of whom cycled with us straight back to where it all began 'Roll for the soul' where Rob very kindly opened up on his only day off so we could celebrate with good old bristolian cider and truly great friends. leaving Little doubt in either of our minds that friends were most definately going to soften the blow of returning from such an incredible trip.

Returning to where we started made all the easier by the fact that we live in Brilliant brilliant Bristol with even more brilliant bristol people. The last six months already feeling like a dream, it's almost as if we cycled out to Bath had a kip by the water dreamt of cycling round 14 different countries, woke up smiling and cycled back to Bristol.... 

Leaving the best till last, next stop our childhood homes, sisters, brothers, Mums and Dads and of course the ever growing, ever amazing, ever giving little ones... For now we are shattered, euphoric, happy, sad and a little dazzed. We peddled on home, well and truly tucked up in our very own bed by 9pm! Both of us hoping the age old adage rings true, This isnt the end... its simply just the beginning...


Erica - The Basque country and North Spain .... miles

Well and truly settled into holiday mode, we take a leisurely peddle along the stunning and ruggedly hilly Basque coast line. Kept leisurely by a local metro ride to reach another of Katies friends Roanna. With no plan other than our ferry destination of Santander in a week's time, we decided to spend a few days with Roanna and soak up her local knowledge. We spend our days walking along the coast, picking apples, lemons, wallnuts and grapes. Taking in the magnificant flish, rock formations from the joining of tectonic plates. Sampling pinchos, local wine and the cider, drank in small amounts poored from high above the glass to carbonate the liquid, fair to say its an aquired taste! We swam in the sea and got suitably bashed about by the waves, learnt a little about the basque country and the importance of its own individual identity. Two days is not long enough to fully explore this incredible area but with a ferry to catch and just three days to cross the 'mini mountainous' terrain, off we go.

I dont know if its five months worth of hard muscle breaking, stretching and building, the fact this is the final stretch or simply that the suns still shinning in October but I can genuinely state I loved every minute of this massive mini mountain climbing, up, down up again and, Oh look, another hill, stupendous coast line. Nothing was wiping the smile off my face this week.

We wild camped twice, in the most incredible locations on the side of the cliffs overlooking the crashing waves bellow us. The Basque country open coast line lending itself perfectly to sucluded spots of raw beauty and once in a pilgrims hostel. However, not on the pilgrimage ourselves this felt a little uncomfortable. Though we were welcomed, we were surrounded by people all on a very specific journey and shared experience. One that we do not share and as such, should, I believe, not have disturbed, lesson learnt.

In San Jan we were adviced to visit the church on an island, informed that its possible to sleep in the church or camp on the island with an incredible view along the coast. Sounds idylic, right? Right it is, as im sure the other hundred odd tourists will agree, each one ringing the church bell as they assend the 200 steps up to the island. Sleeping in a bunkhouse with bells ringing and people coming to look at us throughout the night wasnt overly appealing, so we turned round and headed back down the steps and back down to sea level. For a reason unknown to any of us we'd brought our bikes down the almost vertical tarmac/gravel path, rather than leaving them heavily loaded at the top whilst we walked down to check out the site. Ergo we had to get them back up. With sections so steep the front wheel lifted off the ground at any attempt to cycle it was 4 very sweaty, out of breath, heart racing cycalists that made it to the top just as the sun set over the rocks.

Thankfully a quiet old road just at the peak of the hill took us round to the first of our amazing camping spots, who needs an island when you have a wealth of wave breaking, bracken filled cliff tops.

We dont cover many miles over these days cycling, its time to sit back and enjoy the ride. With all those up hills came some pretty amazing down hills and with the sun shining good company and plently of energy balls, coffee, crisps, olives, sea side stops, fig picking and the odd fizzy drink its been a fitting final chapter to our European ride.

Our final night is spent on the cliff opposite Santander, a view of the city lights shinning bright from our tent. Its time to get the ferry back to England, to Bristol, to home.

Erica - East to West France ..... miles

Heading into our final weeks we knew we'd need something pretty special to hold off the sinking feeling of the end of this magnificent trip. And we found it in the forms of James and Lisa. James one of Katie's oldest and greatest friends is currently living and surfing in Vieux-Boucau. Joining him for a few days in and out of the water, would, we knew, give us the perfect start to our final leg. Second,  our great friend Lisa, and her friend Steph, who have been cycling down the west coast of France to meet and join us for the final furlong around the coast of the Basque country and northern spain. So off we set with 5 days to peddle ourselves across the .... miles of South France to James, Lisa, Steph and the sun the sea and the surf. 

Our first two days lulled us into a a false sense of ease as we had a gentle 30 mile first day and an unbelievable flat road on the second day. With mother nature's helping hand, we were quite literally grabbed from behind by a consistent north westerly wind and blown all the way to Toulouse. This slice of joy is almost unheard of, the wind usually blowing to the left, the right or full on head wind, occasionally just occasionally we get the wind behind us for 15-20 glorious miles. Never before, a full day, 72 miles, hardly had to peddle, felt like we had a motor, flying wind at our backs.  

We should have known this was never going to last! The next day brought with it, side winds, hills, hills and more hills, punctures and just to top it off, que the rain...

We knew it wasn't going to be a smooth flat run across country but we were totally unprepared for the amount of hills we were about to encounter. We'd organised a warm showers stay around 75 miles from Toulouse and figured with an early start we should make it there for 6ish. By 12 o'clock we were well on our way, with 30 miles under the belt we were more than confident we'd have plenty of time, even with the up and coming hills. 3 hours later and only 20 miles covered our confidence though still optomistic was a little dented, another 2 hours and just 15 miles the dent widening, we text to our warm shower host to say its looking more like 7pm arrival, then Katie utters those infamous words.. "ugh, ive got a puncture". 

Its 6pm, we're pretty shattered, there's a good hill filled 20km ahead of us, the sun is setting and the last remaining light is being blocked by dark clouds. We're quickly realising we'd underestimated both the hills and the distance but in the middle of the countryside not a soul around we've no option but to push on.. que the rain, gentle and managable at first but soon turning heavy, on narrow dark winding roads, this is way less than ideal. 

Heading down a particular steep hill my breaks (long overdue a tightening) started slipping. This day was not going to end well. At the bottom we spot a barn and farm house, at the very least we figured we'd try and shelter in the barn whilst considering what on earth our next step could be. A lady in the farm house waved us into the barn as we gestured the need for shelter, within a few minutes she takes pity on our bedraggled forms and calls us over
to the house for coffee. 

We, at least katie with her stilted french and the lady, Christelle, with her stilted English chat over coffee and we explain our predicament. Katie had also text our warm shower host to say that we were stuck, he had responded to say he was at a meeting but could come in an hour with his trailer. We were unsure if this would be a car trailer or a push bike trailer, was he coming to get us or coming to show us the way? Though I didn't want to be ungrateful I was definately ready for being saved rather than guided! 

Christelle's partner Jean Michel, was highly amused to arrive home to find two cyclists pooling water on his kitchen floor. Jean Michel a french bee keeper with 400 hives, immediately said that he would take us to our destination in his flat bed van, bikes strapped to the back and a jar of honey in our panniers we could not have been more grateful and undeniably relieved. The fact that our warm shower hosts lived in a beautiful old farm house where they have created a community of yurt building, chicken farming serenity was a quietly added bonus.

The next day we make it to James, four days of sand, surf, standing up, falling off, Katie's first green water wave, pop ups, pop offs, energy balls, 1Ä cleaning spray, beach beers, sun sets, Caribbean suite, currys and non paprika powder. 

Lisa and Steph join us on the beach and for our final day of cycling France. We find the perfect camping spot right on the edge of a ledge overlooking the sea. Deserted if not for few surfer vans parked in the car park beside us. The guy who owns the house above joins us for an English tea, telling us the local bobby doesn't clock in till 9am so till then the ledge is ours.. On to spain and holiday time. 

Katie - The puncture inconvenience

Thorns, glass, stones and ??? what did cause that puncture? 

As we get towards the end of our journey and I get yet another puncture en route, I have begun to reflect back on the various punctures I have had along the way. Each puncture marked a particular point along the trip and had a different story. So here is a little summary of my puncture moments when they occured, how much stress was encured and just how much of an inconvenience did each one cause.
Erica by the way has had zero punctures.... but the trip isn't over yet.

Punture 1 - Copenhagen. Front wheel
Where?  On arriving into the city my front tyre deflated. We decided to push our bikes through the city for several miles instead of fixing it on the busy streets in the rain. I was able to sit on the floor of a dry flat and take my time repairing the hole.
No cause found.
Stress rating: 2  
Inconvenience rating: 3

Puncture 2 - Copenhagen.  Back wheel. Slow puncture
Where? The back wheel continued to slowly go down, but kept pumping it back up, didn't fix till after Erica's crash 5 days later in the comfort of Peter's garden.
No cause found.
Stress rating: 1
Inconvenience: 2

Puncture 3: Brusand Norway,  back wheel
Where? Bike packed up ready to get on road, spot flat. Deload and fix in campsite field. Can't find hole so have to fill cooking pan with water to locate. 
No cause found.
Stress rating: 4
Inconvenience: 4

Puncture 4 & 5: Stavanger, back wheel
Where? Tyre which was fixed continues to go down, fix again, and again down it goes. Decide time for new tube. All in the comfort of a garage with a track pump to hand and when we were having a rest day. 
No cause found.
Stress rating: 1
Inconvenience: 0

Puncture 6, 7 and 8 Estonia, back wheel
Where? Bike loaded up to leave camping early to get to ferry across islands (only 2 run a day). Notice flat. Unload bike quickly repair, could still catch the ferry, reload, it's gone down again...unload,  fix again more stressed, putting tyre back on snake bite arggggghh, new inner tube reload,  500 meters down the road.... What the!? ARGHHHH!! Unload, whilst shaking, we will never catch the ferry! Erica tells me to walk away from the bike, she will calmly mend it to avoid another snake bite. Reload. We then power cycle 20km and onto ferry as it begins to depart.
No cause found.
Stress rating: 9999
Inconvenience: a zillion

Puncture 9 Vienna, front wheel
Where? Outside the apartment of our warm shower hosts. Had loaded bike and all set to be escorted through the streets of Vienna, it's down. Calmly unload, whilst our hosts brew up some of their home roasted smooth coffee. Bowl of water supplied, find puncture, drink coffee, reload.
No cause found.
Stress rating: 2
Inconvenience: 4

Puncture 10: Danube, Austria, same day as 9, front wheel
Where? Feels heavy going along a flat cruisey Danube path, realise have slow puncture slowing me down. Turn flask coffee break stop into puncture repair stop. Same area as mornings puncture, new innertube.
No cause found
Stress level: 2
Inconvenience: 2

Puncture 11: Auch, France, Front wheel
Where? Top of one of the many hills we climbed that day. Decided for swiftness to swap in the new innertube Erica had been carrying all round Europe. This went down quicker than it went up. So fixed original innertube and swapped that back in, just as the rain began falling and darkness started setting in. The time taken meant we struggled to get to our evening destination and had to shelter in a farm barn, rescued by a bee man who gave us honey.
Found a thorn!
Strees level: 7
Inconvenience:8

On reflection the punctures on the whole haven't caused too much stress or inconvenience,  but it's strange only once did I find a cause. I do wonder if i will find a pin in Erica's pocket, it has given her the chance to tell me and everyone we meet, just how great her marathon scwabe tyres are.

Erica - South coast of France 4,210 miles

340 miles of sun, sea, rain and the infamous ALPS.... or almost not as the case became. We discovered that it is no longer possible to cycle through the tunnel on the road between Limone in Italy and Tende in France, the only way we were traveling over the Alps was through the middle, on a train!  Unsuprisingly, I could probably have lived quite happily in the shadow of, "well, we were going to do the alps but the tunnel wouldn't let us" Katie was however gutted, ergo, out came the map, how could we climb the Alps, when we're not allowed to climb the Alps? Unbelievably, or not so unbelievable when you know the determintation of this girl, there was indeed a way. Not just any old way, no no, this way was the most ridiculous road, straight up the side of the mountain with no less that 40 odd hair pin turns. 

"NO... Katie, seriously, I can't"....... The next morning we cycled up every last twist and turn... The reason! I was promised that if I cycled up here, I could justifiably have this photo....




From Tende we had the most fantastic ride down through a valley of rock faces to Southern France's stunning, mountain backdropped coast line. Though beautiful was far from our lips that first day... dog mess, driving rain and the infamous 'tunnels of Monico' with just a thousand infuriating steps for pedestrians, there really is no way above, below or around them we were forced to take a deep breath and hope for the best as we headed straight into the fume filled, car racing, underground miles of madness.

On we cycle, clinging to the hope that there is a cycle route following an old train line from Nice to Toulon,  sure enough we find the route and the sunshine just west of Nice. With the sea never far from our side we spent the rest of our coast line journey cycling a bit, swimming a bit and eating ice creams 'a bit'.



We rested for a day in the hills behind Cannes, where our warm shower host was happy for us to spend a rest day by his hill side pool over looking the coast. Incredible. From here we skirt round Saint-Tropez and on to find a campsite, closed.. next one, closed.. ahh, what!.. rubbish (or other less acceptable adjectives) October! possibly should have done some research! We finally find on open site, tired but undisputedly relieved, our tent goes up in the dark, right next to four retired brits. Four retired brits who greet us with wine, apple pie, orange juice and sausages. Splendid! 

Our final stop on this leg of the tour is with a childhood friend Johnny, who now owns a resturant in Beziers. We'd planed to get there for lunch but in true cycle tour fashion we'd totally underestimated the distance. We had also been slowed by a section of path effected by the Montpellier floods; cycling along an enclosed path, fences either side and water rising over my feet i had no option but to just keep peddling, hoping that the water would aleviate.. little did I know, Katie, who had held back to let me go first! had managed to stop, grab hold of a passing fence post and watching my wheels, peddles and feet submerging in the rising water had balanced herself with one hand and removed her shoes with the other, the next two days I suffered the pure joy of cold wet shoes. Needless to say we did not make lunch in Beziers.

Johnny had a house full with his mum brother and partner all visiting at the same time, but our tent was welcomed into his garden not least by his 4 year old son Charlie, who struggling to maintain his excitement ran straight inside as soon as the tent was up, only to swiftly re amerge hand over nose "ohhh it smells in there"... ah a childs truth!!


Our east coast french leg was brought to a magnificent end with home made fish and chips in Johnny's resturant La Charnère.

Photo's:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/118887963@N02/sets/72157647887055920/

Katie - Bon chance!

I've written a blog about happy coincidences before, and the trip has been full of these moments where we question 'really, is this for real!?' 

But last nights story was so super lucky I have to share it.... 
We had had a leisurely day cycling around the cote d'azure, stopping to swim in the sea and meander around the coast line and little towns. Having picked a dot on the map for a warm showers host, (who had responded to say we would be welcome), we hadn't looked at where exactly it was, or the terraine we would pass through, we just knew it wasn't far. Getting closer we began to see the distinct hills ahead of us and realised we would need to crack on to get there before dark. The road presented us with a lot of climbing and ups and downs, but rewarding us with stunning views back over to the coast and valleys and hills stretching out ahead. 

As we got closer we thought we should really look at the details of the location more closely, all we had was a name and grid reference, and on zooming in on the reference it looked like perhaps it was just a post office and simply the centre of the town. 
Hmmmm so now we found ourselves completely in the middle of nowhere, with just a name of a person who might live somewhere in this town.

We realised this is actually quite a big town and rather spread out. We had no other clues apart from this random grid reference, so as any good detectives would do, we started with our only shred of evidence. At this grid reference we found 40 post boxes, what else could we do but look with the only other shred of information, his name... There it is!! Number 34 Matthieu... It has to be him... we locate the house down a road and knock on the door...

A lady answers, "Bon soir.... Matthieu?"
She looks confused, I realise quickly this is not Matthieu and he doesn't appear to live here. With my poor french and her none english it takes more confusing communication and a little time to figure out what we want. We show her the name, ahhhhh Matthieu Berthet?... amazing she seems to recognise the name, she then goes on to spill out a load of directions in French as to how to reach him... then on looking at our bewildered expressions she suggests to take me in the car to show the way. At this point I'm still not sure if this will lead us to our host... we drive off, leaving Erica with her husband and the bikes. The drive takes us beyond the town and into a housing reserve with a barrier gate. Wow this place just got even more stunning! We eventually reach a house... knock on the door nothing, but on walking around to the back of the property I find him... "Matthieu"!? Yeah! Its him!
He had sent two texts to me that day, but it turned out the phone number I gave was a digit short, so I never received them.

Here I discover the extent of just how lucky we have been: 
1. The post boxes we found are the only external collection in the whole town. 
2. The lady we ended up with happens to have the surname Matthieu, hence us arriving at her house via the postbox number.
3. This lady is about the only person on that side of town who would have known Matthieu as her son went to school with him.
4. As we arrived Matthieu was leaving for the evening to go swimming training,  5 minutes later and he wouldn't have been home.
5. We ended up off the coast line, in one of the most idylic spots of our trip where we wouldn't have even cycled had we not linked in with him.

Erica - Italy 3,870 miles

"Caio bella" we've been scooped up and loved all the way from the east to the west of italy, from the most incredible traffic free cycle route we've ever cycled on, through to the expressive horn tooting, waving caoi calling locals. We've called hello to all 564 miles of this wonderful country.

You surly know somewhere is going to be spectacular when you enter surrounded by the moutains of three neighbouring countries, Austria to our right, Slovakia to our left and the Italian alps stretching ahead of us. Better still this 'us', well at least the 'me' part of us, is sitting comfy down in the valley safe in the knowledge that we're not going up the cliff edge off any one of them. Happily basking in all the stunning beauty with none of the leg breaking climb. My mind pushing all thoughts of the up and coming french alps way way back into my untouchable contiousness. 

It's all downhill to the coast, following an old railway line made all the more enjoyable with its rich dark smooth tarmaced surface. Here we quite literally glide along and down our very own path cut into the very edge of the mountains, through motion lit tunnels, over rivers and under bridges. There is something pretty incredible about sailing over an old viaduct with a wide swooping, crystal clear river flowing beneath you.

It's an almost effortless 150 mile ride down to northern Italy's coast line, so much so that when we find ourselves 12 miles off route we barely bat an eyelid, a far cry from our standard reaction to a wrong turn of this magnitude! Instead we calmly head off to find a campsite, spotting several campervans and a tent (on top of a car) right by the beach, we ask if we can join, we're told its not strictly legal but.... So here we camp, sea sun and shade! 

On to Venice, we camp on the lido for a massive Ä28 per night but who cares, we're in Venice! A ferry ride over throws us straight into tourist mayhem, we scurry through the masses and thankfully find the quieter inner streets. Venice is like two citys running parrallel to each other, often there is one bar for the tourists and another above or behind just for vinecians. Always one street with all the shops bars Cafès and tourists another running parallel with just houses the odd Cafè, the odd local and of course the odd tourist not wanting to be a tourist. Its here we find a beautiful bridge where we sit with out 80 cents cans of italian larger and Ä1 olives, with a group of local teenagers hanging out in their boats below us and a pianist playing from the window above.

on the bikes and we head along the islands back to the mainland and the bike frenzy that is Chiogga, everyone's on bikes! Scooters run alongside electric bikes and electric bikes pull along those on push bikes. We get out of here as quick as we can, straight onto the river Po here we follow the river through the middle of Italy's countryside. The path follows a dyke protecting the hamlets along the rivers course. Sitting up above the landscape is a great way to see Italy's tiny villages, towns and farms.

The banks of the Po river also offered us excellent wild camping spots. With northern Italy's dense population and limited camping sites we were ever grateful for the guarantee of poplar trees and river side bushes which ensured we were never without somewhere to sleep. Several evenings were spent cycling till dusk and sneeking off the path to basically hide in a field or behind some trees, where we promptly got into the tent and put on the torch, suddenly we're lit up like the only illuminace green bauble on an empty Christmas tree. 

We've stayed with a host of different people in Italy with the distinct lack of campsites we turned to warmshowers. Once again we had the opportunity to meet a great range of locals. Half way along our Italian journey, in the beautiful old town of Mantova, we met Antonia and Luka, here we took a rest day which turned into a drunk day when we joined Luka and Antonia in a 1/3 gin, 1/3 red martini and 1/3 campari cocktail, our heads having clearly become unaccustomed to alcohol, nearly fell off at this little treat! The next day they cycled out with us to a city built by a prince who wanted to create a utopian city of arts and theatre. Luka charmed the ticket desk to allow us a sneek peek inside the theatre.

We've stayed with an Australian and an italian family in the heart of the italian countryside, two firemen in two towns and a girl on the cusp of becoming a cycle tourer. Not to mention our warm wheels saviours from 'ill in Kill' Deborah and Xavier who found us on the road and treated us to a road side picnic. The second fireman Roby marked our last night in Italy, treating us to yet more amazing Italian home cooking and the open hospitality that we now and always will associate with this incredibly friendly, warm and sociable country. 

On we go, to the french border and the beconing Alps.

Italy photos:

Erica - Austria 3,225 miles

Almost all of our photos, memories and writings take in the beauty, the sunshine, the coffee and croissants the absolute wonder at spending a life outdoors. But in truth, nobody at least most bodies wouldn't cycle in europe without expecting their fair share of cold wet windy weather and ours arrived right here in Austria, our camera unable to withstand rain stays packed away, our ever selective memories pulling mainly on the sunshine moments and our coffee unusable, as the trangia, fire reliant, will not tolerate the torrents of water. And so begins our 378 miles of mostly wet, cold, bedraggled cycling, but cycle we will. 

Our last day of sunshine could not have been better, breakfast on a verander overlooking a small town with a mountain backdrop, treated to breads, cheese, local honey and of course happy coffee before a short gentle cycle, deep into the heart of the national park following the crystal clear river flowing out of the mountains straight to a secluded campsite and firepit in the heart of the park, here my selective memory will gloss over the molten wood sap burning to our pans as we make a shocking attempt to cook over the open fire. My camera perminantly at hand this day is captured and filed under amazing amazing Austria.

And here the rain begins, we wake to that dreaded noise. The rain so heavy its hitting its self before the ground, the shadow of a thousand stands of mini rivers flowing down the sides of our tent. A little water never hurt anyone, right?! On go the capes and off we set. Having clearly not learnt a single damned thing from our Norway short cuts we decide to cut across the winding cycle route.. straight up the side of a blooming great hill, clearly there was a reason why the road went round! The following 4 days are spent feebly drying clothes and attempting to dry shoes knowing all the while that they'll be soaked again in moments, but there's something about the foot sinking into a cold soaking wet shoe that makes this fruitless ritual feel imperative. Luckily we do get a restbite in the form of our warm shower host's Christian and Andreas, here even our shoes almost dry out!

At the top of a Austrian mountain with views across the italian boarder we finally submit. Here we find Joachim and Hemma, and their visiting son Berni, well strictly speaking they find us, late at night on a dark mountain road, cold, wet, tired and hungry. Here we pause, here we pick wild mushrooms, visit mines, eat home cooked meals, drink wine and play the drums, guitar and piano (least Katie and Berni do) here we end our Austria leg.

It rained and it poured and we loved every last second of it, well at least the bits our memories select. We will return to Austria, its spectacular parks, mountain ranges and simply incredible people.





Photos:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/118887963@N02/sets/72157647043591797/

Katie - The highs and lows of cycle touring

Cycle touring can take you on a major roller coaster of emotion. One minute you are having the best day ever ever EVER!! The next you are left peddaling along with the biggest cloud hanging over, you can't remember why you are doing this, where you are going and who the hell decided to put that town at the top of a mountain! 
Luckily the former type of days happen more frequently and the later are few and far between,  but when they do happen, man you know about them.

Que this trips worst day ever ever EVER... with hindsight there were many contributing factors which built into this bad ass day.

1. It had been raining for four days,  we had cycled on through this and got continually soaked. Our clothes smelt damp, the tent smelt damp, we smelt damp and everything was damp.
2. We had cycled for 6 days without a rest day off the bikes. I had thought the 2 days when we only did 30 odd miles each day had counted as rest days. But it seems the body and mind did not agree with this logic.
3. Having not taken into account the hilly terrain now away from the flat course of the Danube, I had been a bit over ambitious with what we might achieve. 
4. I had received to disappointing and sad news that I thought cycling through would help me process.

So the day went like this;
We awoke in our tent, in a garage on a campsite, with the rain steadily falling around us. I was feeling quite chuffed with my ingenious idea of pitching the tent undercover to avoid camping  on the waterlogged grass and help the tent and our stuff dry out a bit. Ignoring the smell of the massive food filled skip to our left, the high pitched squeeling animal deterent noise that went off when we moved and the gravel hard ground we had laid on for the night, it was a fairly comfortable stay.

We doned our capes and put our soggy shoes back on, paid up our 18euros and 10 cents (this didn't include a shower, which you have to pay an extra euro for...I washed in the sink).
Tra la laaaaa and off we go. I'm feeling fairly positive about the day, we should make it to Lili's parents tonight (our warm shower host's in Vienna parents) it doesn't look that far. Bad Gastein (25 miles away) for lunch I think, then a train through the mountains (it's the only route, so the train takes cars, lorries, people and bikes), cruise on down the valley before a short climb up to our destination (60 miles in total). Brilliant, what could possibly go wrong....

We move slowly along the first section even though it is flat there is a strong headwind. Then we begin to climb up country roads, skirting the hills, they roll up and down, Erica is clearly not enjoying them as much as me. As the morning presses on, the route provides us with many more ups and downs, on one particularly steep and gravely path I decide to race to the top, jog back down and give Erica a helping push up, because I have endless energy... 

We are usually good at taking a lunch break and properly refueling, but because we have Bad Gastein as our lunch target we keep pushing on. The town seems to remain a distant dream, it is 3pm by the time we see a sign informing us it's just 5km away. Next we have the town in our sights and it is quite clearly on the edge of a mountain.  We follow the bike route which takes us up and up a steep gravel path, this climb is then all in vain as we decend back down to meet the road only to have to begin the climb again. It becomes clear that my energy isn't limitless and I may have got carried away with my earlier heroic gesture. I'm done in, but we need to get up, this was supposed to be the lunch stop and it's gone 4pm now!

We do make it though and gorge ourselves on honey and bread, with the waterfall of the town flowing beneath us. The sugar rush is enough to get us up the next climb to the train station before the next crash....


We enquire at the ticket office about the trains, 
"no train for your bike untill 7.40pm".... 
what!? but it will be dark, how will we do this? 
"Ticket office will shut in 1 minute, do you want the ticket"
What? Close uh? But it will be dark, is there no other train?
"Ticket office is closing,  you want ticket?"
But.... err...no it will be dark...but...
Ticket office window blind is immediately pulled down.
I then have an exasperated break down, Erica calmly pulling me back into shape, we look on the wall at the train times. It seems there is a train in half an hour, this should get us in before dark and enough time to cycle up to our destination. 
This train however is 3/4 hr late but we have no problem getting us and our bikes on. The train ride is stunning and we begin to laugh about the whole days events.... que one final hidden hurdle.

It's dark when we arrive at Velloch station, but that's ok we do have good lights and though we know there is a climb it's only 20km up the road, at our average pace that should take an hour and a half max so we should be there by 9pm (there's that over ambitious optimism again).... we get out of the city and onto the pitch black country road, it steadily begins to climb....and climb and climb. Climbing in the dark is quite a different experience as you can't see the gradient. We look down over the view of Velloch and realise how high we are, the air is getting colder around us but the climb is certainly not over. 

We check in with our map at 9pm and see we have hardly moved along it. There is a good couple of hours ahead of us, what else can we do but keep climbing. Although exhausted we slump into an accepted awareness that we probably won't get there till midnight. We inform our hosts by text and keep peddaling on and up and up. 

At 10pm It starts to feel like we have begun to plateau, you might even call it flat. A car approaches in the distance, it looks like the passenger has a blue flashing light on his head?.... he's putting it on the roof. "Is that the police Erica? Do you think there are complaints about us being on the road at night.. is it illegal? " The car passes us and pulls in up the road, with it's blue light flashing on top. We wait...."maybe they aren't interested in us, shall we go? Yeah let's go." We continue on our way, soon we sence a car behind us..."Erica does it have a blue flashing light? Is it the police?" We don't look and keep cycling (it's the slowest police chase in history), the car then presses forward and drives at our side, the window is drawn down and the man inside says "are you the two english girls cycling?"....."yes...are you the police!?"

So a happy ending we are picked up by our hosts in a car! They are doctors in the village, hence the blue flashing light. They had sent a text to inform us they were coming to get us and would have a blue light, but I hadn't checked my texts. They drive us the final leg and we realise just how much more climbing we needed to do to reach there house on top of a mountain!  But safe and warm inside being fed cheese and bread, with relief we can safely say that was a tough day. :)

Katie - The Danube - 3,056 miles. A tale of 3 cities

We cycled 369 miles along the famous Danube cycleway (eurovelo 6), taking in the cities of Budapest,  Bratislava and Vienna, 3 country capitals in 3 days! 

The Danube route begins at the rivers source in Tuttlingen in Germany and follows the rivers course all the way to the Black Sea. We initially picked up the route in Estergorm, having crossed the border from Stúruvo in Slovakia to Hungary. The border of Slovakia and Hungary lies along the centre of the Danube, so in the middle of a bridge we entered Hungary. We were heading east along the flow of the river to Budapest, having decided our legs needed a mini break. Budapest would mark the end of our time in eastern Europe before heading back west...ish. 

Picking up the eurovelo route 6 signs quickly we were thrown into a false sense of security, both that the route would be well signed and that it would be a cruisey traffic free, tarmac surface. Unfortunately a large section on our way down to Budapest took us along a busy main road and at times we got confused by the signing and went the wrong way. However this did lead to us meeting Richard from Rugby, cycling to China, he joined us for a stretch, as well as a few beers in the capital. 

Budapest- we arranged an air b&b for 3 nights, our first ever roof-above-our-head paid for accomodation, allowing us time off the saddels, a bed and comfort. For just 19£ a night we got the use of a whole appartment allowing us to lie in bed, watch a cheesy film, cook breakfast, eat at a table and have a shower at no extra cost, simple things we really appreciated. 
Turned out the two days off our bikes would be the wettest yet, but it made us appreciate not being on the bikes or in a tent even more as we heard the rain lashing down outside. This did mean however that we didn't see Budapest in all it's glory, but we did rest and saw snippits of it's grandness, when running from door to door and jumping over puddles. We also randomly came across 1000 yellow rubber ducks let loose along the Danube, creating a small yellow colour stream as they drifted along.

Heading on from Budapest we cut across country to Kórmarno (60 miles), making up our own route of quiet roads.  We leave Hungary the next day over another bordering bridge and continue our Danube experience, this time going upstream. Unfortunately this is short lived as it is a slow and uncomfortably bumpy gravel track. We try to get back to the road but soon find ourselves in murky muddy and wet territory! Our bikes get caked in mud and the puddles cover the wheels at times they are so deep. Eventually, for what feels like a hundred miles we break out of the torture and mess and seek out a garden hose to save our precious bikes. We leave with clean bikes and as many pears from the garden trees as we can possibly carry (given not stolen). We stick to the quiet lanes for a while before giving the Danube route one last chance..... Success!! From here on in the route surface and signing is smooth and crispy clear.  

The route takes you high on a dyke on a bike, pretty much all the way to Bratislava. We glide effortlessly into the city along the route. We usually spend a lot of time navigating in and out of cities, but this route makes it easy.

Bratislava- we instantly fall in love with the city.  Erica taking more photos here than any other town or city. We meander through the old town streets, which aren't overun with tourists, and each corner offers a new interesting character filled charm. It feels like it might be Europe's hidden treasure. We eat an ice cream sitting on the floor outside Thomas Cook to celebrate. 

Bratislava for lunch Vienna for tea!  It is only a further 70 flat and cruisey kms along the Danube to Vienna.
There is a long long boring section, that stretches out straight as far as the eye can see, on and on, with the same view of trees to your left and right. The end seems continually so far away and hazy mirages of waterfalls and camels begin to come into sight...Once on the outskirts of Vienna you see the river again and there is a hive of activity all along the banks to snap back to reality with interest.

Vienna- Our warm shower hosts Konrad and Lili encourage us to stay another day, with their excellent home roasted smooth coffee its impossible to refuse. With the sun shining we explore the city by bike and so cover a lot of ground. We treat our hosts to our cooking on the second night, nearly smoking out the whole flat they politely seem to enjoy the now named 'pancake cake' I made and compare it to an Austrian speciality. We pick up some excellent route advice here, inspiring us to completely change our course.

The Danube route is one of the most popular cycling routes in Europe,  providing cyclists with a clearly marked, mainly traffic free safe and flat surface. There are mountains of options of places to stay, eat and be catered for, you might even decide to jump on a boat to save tired legs. It is however completely chocka block full of cycle tourers. Suddenly you are 1 amongst a million other tourers, where we would have always stopped to talk to any tourer we had met (few and far between) now there is hardly a hello. The constant flow can detract from where you are, however this may be a welcome distraction along the less interesting parts. We were there off season and have heard it can be much busier in the summer months.

So we stick to the rivers course for a couple more days (120 more miles) taking in by far the best section, about 100km west of Vienna when you hit the vine yards and hills, providing stunning landscape views and romantic cycling terrain. We then fulfill our urge to break away from the common stream, seeking mountains and diversity we head south. 

Katie - Happy coincidences and changing directions

Continually we are presented with a thousand different options and decisions, from where to stay at night, which route/road to choose, to step forward and talk to strangers or to just keep cycling. This can be said for every day of our lives, but when at home you so easily fall into routine and habit which can be so hard to break direction from. Here, on the road, I constantly feel like i'm in one of those 'choose your own adventure' books we read as kids, if you choose to say hello to the stranger turn to page 123, if you choose to take the road on your left turn to page 87...etc. Each choice leading you to a different outcome. You can't help working backwards through your story and what brought you to this point on the map. 

I am now sat writing this blog deep in the centre of an Austrian national park (we had never originally planned to go through Austria), where we cycled 15 miles along a gravel track through a dozen dark and dripping old railway tunnels, following the clearest of rivers to the only small patch where it is legal to camp (hefty enforced fines in Austria for wild camping in national parks). We are alone here in amazing tranquility, with a river running by the tent, a fire lit to my left (wood, axe and firepit provided) and quite literally miles from anywhere and it was all a bunch of happy coincidences and changes of directions that brought us here.

I had been all set to rocket along the Danube river from Budapest to West Germany, moving ourselves swiftly along back towards home and clock up the 5000 miles we had targetted for our trip. The Danube is a beautiful route (eurovelo 6) from about 20 miles east of Bratislava (further east the route is less established and harder to follow) it is tarmaced, traffic free and signed really well. It guides you along the banks of the impressive and grand river. It is also a super highway for cycle tourers,  we were there off season in September and we were still passing 100's everyday. It's not surprising as it is a superb route, however after 3 days we were keen to break from this main stream and get deeper into the heart of Austria. 

Having stayed with and got superb route advice from a lovely Austrian couple (Conrad and Lille) we decided to totally change our plans, get off the Danube and follow one of the other fantastically (but less tourist trodden) signed routes through the country....  first step to arriving where I now sit. 

We left Vienna with our new route mapped out, we momentarily take a wrong turn and meet Chris (young guy from Putney, on a short bike tour before going back to uni) who has also momentarily taken a wrong turn (happy conincidence no 1), but we set him straight. He cycles along with us and soon it seems we will have company for a while. Time flies with conversation and so do the miles as road rider Chris sets a very good pace.... second step.

Having sent out warm shower request for host along our new route we await to hear back from a guy I have text messaged. It is getting near to the end of the day when we hear back and unfortunately he is out of town leading bike rides in the Italian alps. We set to finding a campsite and pause outside a pub to look at options. A lady approaches us to check we are not lost,  we explain we are just looking for somewhere to stay in the next town and she immediately suggests we can stay with her, she just needs to settle her bill and will cycle there with us. We chat away on the cycle home and she explains she wouldn't normally cycle on that side of the water but fancied fries and a pint at that pub today (happy conincidence number 2). Her partner is away at the moment leading bike rides in the alps..... hold on a minute (happy conincidence number 3). 

We have a perfect evening being fed and offered home made raspberry and walnut snapps. We are also invited for breakfast at her mum's cafe (with her mum), on a terrace looking over the perfect town of Steyr. Anita is an inspiration having cycled all round the world with her partner for 2.5 years. We talk of our ongoing route plans and she suggests an alternative into the national park and a stay at this secluded campsite ....step 3

Erica - Slovakia 2,676 miles

After changing our orginal plan of heading west through Poland we decided to head south through Slovakia. High time that I became a little more involved in the route planning. I set about researching where to go, taking advice from different cycling websites I planned a route that would see us cycle along the stunning Tetra mountains, pass through mountain towns and old mining villages. Katie thinks that slovakia has been some of our best cycling yet, in terms of roads, changes in senery, places weve visited diversity etc. I'm not saying this is just cause I planned the route, just that I did totally plan this route. 243 miles of 'who knew Slovakia looked this good'.

Our first morning and it looked set to rain, but with our capes at hand we set off seemingly undeterred by the darkening sky. With no shops open we were forced to eat pizza at a small village resturant bar, with no idea what we were ordering my peach topping was a bizarrely pleasent supprise, better still we narrowly avoided a spectacularly heavy downpour. 

on the road again and my ever breaking bike fails again. This time the gear leaver becomes stuck, do we go 3 miles back or push on? We push on, then the cable completely snaps right at the bottom of a ridge. With the chain now stuck in the lowest gear without the cable's tention the previous quick fix pannier screw is catching on the chain (the original screw having shawn off and stuck in the frame back in Warsaw, I now have a new hole drilled above with a flat head screw which is holding my pannier rack in place but is not allowing my chain to run smoothly in the lowest gear) and so were pushing the heavily loaded bikes up, up and up. The rain soaking our legs and shoes, at the top I am at least able to free wheel back down. With no sign of any towns or shops we enter a small village seeking shelter from the cold rain to see if we can fix the gear cable. Knocking on a door of a house with a garage a man comes out to help, he has a small workshop but the cable is well and truly stuck in the mechanism. We tie the cable up so the bike is not stuck in the lowest gear and head to the nearest town, here the only bike shop has a sign to say it is closed for the next week!

And so reluctantly we turn our backs on the beconing Tetra mountains and plan to spend the following day of promised sunshine searching round city bike shops. The day is made even less barable when we arrive late cold, wet and tired at the worst campsite I have ever stayed on. It's a grotty square of grass behind a posh water park. It's so bad that when we pointed out that we couldn't shower as we risked coming out dirtier and none of the toilets worked, they not only refunded us but the staff said they didn't know why the site was open! A successful visit to a speedy and cheap bike shop, new gear cable fitted we head back up to the mountains the smiles slowly but surely returning.

No more grotty campsites, on this day 1000 meters up we returned to wild camping, finding a small clearing tucked away from the road with the Tatra mountains creating the perfect backdrop to our first night of wild camping since leaving the Baltics. It rains all night but holds off for an hour whilst we pack up.


Time to climb again, I find that i'm so cold and wet that cycling up brings with it a suprising joy, warmth! Suddenly im happy going up!! though, and here comes the enviable 'but', with the rain getting heavier and the temperature dropping, the decent brings a whole new heart ache, frozen toes and frozen fingers! It's two very wet, very bedraggled cyclists that seek refuge in a posh mountain side hotel at 1200 meters, we are pleased that no one questions the trail of water that leads to our table as we order two large hot coffee's and even more relieved that no one batts an eyelid as we drape sodden clothes over surrounding chairs and door handles. I cannot begin to describe the effort it took to go back out to the bikes two hours later, but back out we went facing the elements quite literally head on, our perseverance paying off as we break out of the freezing mountain rain into misty sunshine. Our dampened spirits lifted further when we step into a bike shop to ask for directions, meet a tour de france champion and stay in the most beautiful village in all the land. 

Once we finally drag ourselves away from the fairytale village of Niza Boca we are faced with 2 options follow the new car filled road snaking up the side of the mountain or go straight up, as in directy up, no turns, just up, on the car free old road. Clearly we are not ones to take the easy option as we barly give it a second thought and head out along the old road, within minutes it is clear that we are not cycling out of here, the road even defeats Katie, who's arms simply aren't able to keep hold of the bike whilst managing to keep the peddles turning. But even the rain returning can't wipe the smiles of our faces today, we're stuck halfway up the steepest road to date unable to move as torrents of rain water flowing down the road causes our wheels to slip from beneath the bikes but there is truly no where else i'd rather be. At the top the mist parts just enough for an impression of what the view might be like, but the weight of the rain means we're not hanging around long enough to find out if there's more. Gliding down the mountain fingers clenched round our breaks we find a sunny day down in the valley and a welcome warm showers stay with yann and Ivita In the beautiful old town of Banska Bistra.

The sun looking set to stay for our final full day of cycling in Slovakia, we make the most of it and it is without doubt one of the best days so far. We start by heading up to an old mountain town with cobbled streets and views over the mountains, it is a fantastic lunch stop and blueberry ice cream, before a gradual and speedy decent down into the slovakian countryside. We find ourselves on what must have been one of the main roads through the country but a new motorway close by leaves this huge open road practically car free. We fly along it the roads sweeping us down through stunning mountains to our left and sunflower fields to our right. We even find time to pop in on our Slovakian neighbours before a night time cycle as we decide to crack on and reach the Hungarian border.
We cycle with the sun setting behind us, as darkness falls my ridiculously bright torch lights up the road in front of us, casting a gigantic Katie sized shadow over the tree's. A massive 85 miles cycled (8.5 hours in the saddle) we arrive at the border to find the campsite is 27 euros, for a tiny square of grass for one night, no chance. At half nine at night in pitch black we get back on the bikes and book into our first and only hotel, it's only a tiny bit more money with an 'all you can eat breakfast' which after not being able to find any shops open and only having a meagre cheese sandwich for our dinner we most certainly made the most of!

Erica - Just popping in

Long before we left for this trip I've been saying how much I like and miss the fact that almost no one ever just pops over anymore. Apart from our friend Kerry O, she has the art of popping in perfected, every now and then she'll be passing and just pop in to say hi. It's never often enough to feel it's an imposition she only ever stays for a quick hello and maybe a cuppa... it is always, always great to see her. 

We're all so busy all the time, texts, phone calls facebook, it feels like we're keeping in touch; but trying to actually meet up with people can feel impossible, at times a pop in if done well, short and sweet with no expectation can be a perfect catch up in real time, real life. 

And so with this in mind we put the 'pop in' to the ultimate test, popping in on our slovakian neighbours. 

We were enjoying our first day of sunshine for nearly a week and wanting to make the most of the day by getting the miles in. We had peddled 60 miles and were thinking we might just make it to the Slovakia - Hungary border, a further 20 odd miles before night fall when we spotted a house decorated with tibetan prayer flags hanging from every corner of the garden. The second time in one week these flags had been presented to us, it felt like an opportunity not to be missed. Just last week we had stayed with Alicja in Poland, who had given us some of these flags to take with us on our journey. 

Our flags in hand we headed up a side drive to the house where we found a gate. Calling 'Hello' over the fence, a women came round from the back of the house, initially looking confused as to why these two foreign cyclists were outside her home and probably just wondering what on earth we wanted; were we needing help? We explained "we just wanted to say hello....hello". She took the barking dogs away and came back with several other people, we explained to them "hello, we were just passing, saw your flags and wanted to say hello... hello".

They warmly beckoned us into their garden. It was a Slovakian bank holiday and the group had come together to help the owner of the house chop wood for the winter.... 2 shots of local liquor (one for each leg of course), 5 pieces of home made peach cake and several glasses of water later, we explain we probably should get back on the road, the sun was already setting and we had 44km still to pedal. 

Lots of pictures are taken and we are given more prayer flags, the group appear to be genuinly pleased by our short and slightly random visit. before leaving the owner of the house offered to clean my jade necklace, he had crystals already layed out on a mat in the garden which he used to clense the stone he even gave me a crystal to take with us on the journey.


We put ourselves out there and reaped the rewards. Just 4 months ago we'd have glanced up at those flags, maybe given a thought as to who may live in a house like this and wondered what their connection with tibet was but we'd certainly have cycled on by, we'd never have known that the best peach cake and 5 incredibly kind, interesting, friendly people lay right within our reach and all it took to find them was a simple hello. There's certainly a lesson in here and I guess only time will tell if we choose to learn it.

Katie-The day we met a tour de france champion and stayed in the most beautiful village in all the land

camping 1000 meters high at the foot of the dramatic Tatra mountains we awoke to rain on the tent. Today this didn't matter as it just felt great to be camping back in the wild after nights of random and unattractive campsite locations. Here we had views of the vast open valley and the mountains towering over us. 

There is something about being out in the rain that makes you feel more alive and invigorated than ever.... but it also gets you quite cold, especially the long down hills off a mountain. So when we stopped in a town and saw a bicycle service shop sign we decided to take shelter for a moment and ask advice for our forward route. 

We received great advice, but also an offer of coffee and biscuits from the young man behind the counter. We happily accepted.  He then went on to explain his father the owner of the shop had been a professional road cyclist and taken part in the tour de france twice for Slovakia, winning the purple jersey (now green jersey) this was proudly displayed on the wall alongside the bike and photos from 1986. 
Mr Jarco came out at this point and was interested to see our bikes and how far we had come. There was much muttering around Erica's bike and it was then promptly whisked away to the workshop to have the gears tinkered with, while we drank more coffee. 

Rebooted but now nearly 6pm and the darkness closing in with the clouds we continued into the mountains searching for an appropriate spot for the tent.We pulled into a little village hoping to get advice and maybe ask to camp in a garden. We spotted a couple sitting outside their home (they told us later they always have evening coffee at the back of the house, but on this one evening they chose luckily for us to sit at the front). We asked if perhaps they had a piece of ground we could use, after a few moments they made a phone call and arranged with a friend to stay in his little woodshed/cottage 100 meters up the road. The owner had said he liked people from GB (phew) and he had only two requests; one- that a giant bell in the woodshed was rang to announce our arrival (erica rang this a second time the next morning when she bent to pick something up and bashed it on the  way back up) and two- we wrote a piece for the diary of the cottage. 

We couldn't believe our luck (again), a chance to sleep in a bed, get dry and warm and spend time with a lovely Slovakian couple. They invited us to try local snapps in their cottage and explained we needed two shots, one for each leg, otherwise we would be wobbly on the bikes. Their kind hospitality continued as they invited us for coffee and cake in the morning, which turned into the afternoon as the rain kept falling, ever grateful of the shelter offered. 

The village Nizna Boca was nestled away in the mountains, with the hills and trees surrounding and oozing charm and character, i really felt when we were cycling out of the village the next afternoon that this really was one of the most beautiful places id been and i could happily spend a lot of time here even on rainy days.

On this particular day I had been frustrated not to be moving along quicker, with bike problems and the weather delaying us from moving. But yet again a whole day of fantastic experiences was presented to me, being taken into the heart and real true soul of the country and people. Slapping me in the face like the rain and saying, this is the journey, this is what it is all about and this is beautiful. 

Erica - Poland 2430 miles

Poland, the country described to us by almost everyone in the baltics as the country they had to get through to get to somewhere else. The country we considered getting a train through if time started running out on us. In fact most people we spoke to about our route muttered the words 'guess you could just get a train through Poland if it becomes too far'... Poland is without doubt not a country to be underestemated we've traveled through 433 miles of simple beauty and hidden treasures.

Our introduction to Poland was on a narrow, busy, truck filled, potholed road. To be fair, if most peoples over riding view of Poland is via these roads it's little wonder the country is not spoken of fondly. For us however this whole trip is all about the journey, wherever possible we look for the smallest roads, it is along these roads that we find our greatest experiences and hidden gems. Having said that, it was along this narrow busy main road on that first day that we were forced to find shelter under some trees whilst a storm threatened; a family opposite invited us to join them, they were having a bbq under a wooden shelter. We spent 2 hours eating sausages and drinking coffee, warm and dry whilst the storm raged around us, this same day we cycled a storming 81 miles from Latvia to Elk in Poland and the eco village, seems we cycle further when people are kind to us.

Following our stay on the farm we headed to Warsaw, where, Jacob, an old friend of Katies let us have the keys to his flat even though he was out of town, here we walked round the city and learnt about the 'Uprising'. 

Our first night back out on the bikes found us on the most random campsite. We had been to one 7km away which didn't allow tents. They rang ahead and told us to come to this site, we arrived to find it all locked up, huge gates and no one around, the site looking completely empty. Katie spotted a car inside and decided to climb over the gate, with a leg up she managed to get over and found an old man who seemed to be night security though he didn't seem bothered about how Katie managed to get into the site. He charged us 4 pounds for the night then showed us around this huge but completely empty campsite, he told us to use his cooker, toilet and shower in his security hut. Then kept saying how cold it is outside and that we should sleep on the sofa, the sofa in his hut, the sofa right next to his chair where he is keeping watch from all night to an empty campsite, we graciously decline.

We averaged 65 miles a day through Poland, partly due to the fact you cant wild camp and the campsites have at times been 65-75 miles apart, camping has not been our favourite activity, sites are often in citys and frequently deserted,huge metal fences seperating us from the local night life or busy highways. 

Camping aside Poland is a country full of pure charm, cycling along the quiet country roads and lanes its felt like stepping back in time, Men, Women and children working the land by hand, cutting back grass with sythes, Old tractors pulling carts piled to the brim with boxes of apples, small fields of potatoes turned over by hand held wooden ploughs, rows upon rows of apples and plum trees for miles around, v shaped raspberry bushes 10ft high with fruit pickers round every corner and forests full of people picking mushrooms. The quiet country roads dotted with sellers sitting with their produce. Fields painstakingly ploughed with a horse and plough. Chickens running free at the side of the road whilst dogs are kept on leashes or in one case the dog in a large garden cage whilst the chickens roamed free around him. Tiny skleps (village stores) on the sides of peoples homes, selling local produce and everything else you could possibly need. 

Passing through villages it is incredible to see the many different styles of homes in all shapes sizes and colours, its not unusual to see a grand house with pillers holding up the porch sitting dirrecty opposite a traditional old wooden home. Many rural homes are without running water, wells in the gardens providing the only available water for washing and drinking. 

In Pogorék we were lucky enough to stay with Alicja (A friend of Gorsha who we met on the farm). Alicja, lives in an old traditional wooden house in a small village, she has two wells in her garden one for washing and one for drinking, she was painting the rooms in her home when we visited but she was happy for us to camp in her garden, we stayed for two nights, ate our meals in her barn looking out on the coutryside, washed with water heated on the stove, cooked sausages over the garden fire and walked in the surrounding hills.

We left Poland cycling along the dunajec river (and a tourist frenzied cycle path) which marks the border between Poland and Slokakia, we then crossed back into Poland for one last night of 'joyful camping' Before returning to Slovakia and the Tetra mountains. 

Erica - Bikes to balls and back again

football team the amazing Easton Cowgirls and cowboys are playing in a tournament in Stuttgart on the second weekend in August! We knew this before we left, we also knew that to go would or may mean missing a big section of our journey. In Trondheim however, we started to seriously consider if we could make it without sacrificing our trip. Feasibly we thought that if we cover good distance in the Baltics, we could cross Poland by train and cycle down to Stuttgart! Two significant flaws in this plan:
1. Its been over 30 degrees most days some days topping 35, though we have managed a fairly respectable 65 miles a day average we have also needed days off the bike to manage the heat.
2. Poland is most definately NOT a country to just jump on a train and wizz through. 

And so we found ourselves a week before the tournament on a developing eco village in Poland, not wanting to leave but not letting go of the idea of a break out trip to Stuttgart.  Travel in Poland is fairly cheep and without bikes completely manageble, so with the farms support (they will be keeping our bikes and excess luggage here)  we decided we'd head to Stuttgart by any means possible,  coach, train, hitch hiking, buses.

Then just 2 days before departure we found the infamous FC VOVA boys, a lithuanian team well known to the cowfolk of Bristol, described to us as 'a brilliant bunch of nutters',  not only were they happy for us to travel with them but they picked us up from the nearest town to the farm. After a storming 22 hour bus journey with a 4 hour stop in Prague and a 3am camp up on a forest verge, we arrived. 3 whole days of friends old and new, hammock swinging and honeymoon crashing, football, berties, bum grabbing bum bags, hangovers and hairy dogs, beer, cider, sausages, steaks, tined ravioli, pasta and leeks hitting the deck, wheel chair wheelies, best kicky balls and a clean sweep dancing feet, its fair to say this was quite the break from our oh so clean and healthy cycling world.

And now with a 3 hour night time stop in Berlin and the VOVA boys driving through the night, were back on the farm in Poland.

Our ever changing ever shifting world well and truly picked up shaken up and put back down again.

Katie- Another month, another organic farm

So we found ourselves on another organic farm, this time without the help of WWOOF, it was instead yet another warmshowers connection. We only planned to stay for a couple of nights to recharge from our baltic mission, but we somehow became quite settled in this small community. There is no expectation for us to help out, but we quickly volunteered our services to get involved with everything going on around us, from helping entertain the two youngest children (taking them on bike rides, swimming in the lake and organising craft making sessions), to shoveling corn, weeding, erecting a new greenhouse and slapping on clay and straw to a neighbours cob house. Due to this no expectation it feels whatever our contribution it is massively appreciated and we have felt really welcome here. There has even been suggestions that we come and live in the community. 

The farm is located down a few miles of gravel track through a forest and 10km from the nearest town of Ełk in north east Poland. It is 40 hectares in size and this land is available to be purchased for new people to jojn the community and build their own home, once they have spent 2 months of time here and the whole community is happy for them to join. It is a small eco village with just 3 families here at present, 2 of which are still in the middle of the immense project of building their own homes. 

There are a few more houses and farms close by and a lake 2 km away which we visit daily (if not twice) alongside the locals for a refreshing swim. We did begin to get paranoid when getting out of the water when the locals stood and stared and laughed at us, then we realised that actually we look fairly ridiculous with our short tan line legs, swimming in our pants and bras and our english voices all in all making us stand out just a little bit. Erica helped us stand out more by getting half her head shaved, at a local neighbours house who offers haircuts in her kitchen for 10zlotes (3 pounds). Half the neighbourhood watched from the living room. They were less interested in my standard chop.

The owner and initiator of the ecovillage has been here for 20 years and has never wanted to rush the process of growth,  but let it develop naturally, organically.  He farms the land for self sufficiency, just growing enough for the families needs. Meals day and night are vegan and come from the large garden his wife manages (and we help weed). With the added benefit of the greenhouse we helped install this will extend the growing and eating season of the many different vegetables, salad and herbs currently in abundance. 

The village and this type of alternative living is very unique in Poland.
The aim is to have different skills and projects within the community. One family are building their home from clay and are craft folk and have their own pottery and sewing workshop areas and sell their produce at market. They aim to run courses here once established and we plan to return to take the pottery course (looking for a couple more people to join us if anyones interested). 
Then there is Victor and his wife who are building their home from wood, Victor is an actor and his wife delivers workshops in cooking healthy food. They have a very relaxed approach to their building (now in its 3rd year of development) working on it for enjoyment of the process and not wanting it to become a chore.
There are plans to develop community areas, a playground, pond and orchard.

It's been a privilidge to be able to be immersed into the small community here, being part of the families lives day in day out. It's rare to spend so much real time with people. It's been interesting to have an insight to the highs and challenges of this way of life and the perspective of creating this in Poland. For example the government doesn't allow produce that is made in an area to be sold in that same locality. 

So yet again we have found our bikes resting by the wall for a while, but believe choosing to stop and work within the local environment enhances our journey, brings added purpose and allows us to explore the culture even deeper. This is after all more than just a cycle tour....

Katie - The elements of adventure

When we first began thinking about where we were going to travel, i questioned whether europe was adventurous enough. However i'm regularly reminded that adventure is everywhere, costs nothing and available to us all we just need to explore, push our boundaries and expand our vision. 

As I've been cycling along, the concept of adventure has been mulling around my mind. Adventure has always been an important part of my life. I live for adventure, and seek it out, it drives me. This whole trip could be stated as an adventure, but i don't feel this would be true of every day. So where is the tipping point, what sets adventure apart from other journey's, challenges, experiences.  What makes an adventure an adventure? 

I began by laying out the elements which I felt when combined determine a recipe for adventure. 
Challenge- the amount of physical energy, effort and passion put into the activity. 
Comfort level- removal of the securities, norms and comforts of everyday life.
The unknown- exploration, new unchartered waters.
Spontaneity- it can't be over planned,  it can be found when being spontaneous not following the normal path or routine.
Exposure- to the elements, nature and people/strangers.
Low cost- it can't be bought, we can pay to go to far off lands, but what anyone needs for adventure all lies within.
Risk- pushing the boundaries, feeling the fear and doing it anyway.

Adventure is purely subjective.  Each of the described elements is weighted according to an individual, the element of risk, comfort zone, challenge etc will differ considerable from one person to the next, it's personal and can't be judged.

By travelling by bike your own power and energy you certainly highten the chance of adventure and allows you to be exposed to the world around you. Every day presents itself with an opportunity; energy in, a new road to follow, but in order to press the adventure button you also need to keep things spontaneous,  not keeping to a rigid plan letting the day, moment and road take you, pushing the boundaries of comfort, adding extra challenge to the already physical journey, moving outside a routine that so easily can take hold. It can feel tough at the time, feeling pushed to the limit, but it's when you feel most alive,  connecting to the world and putting life in perspective.

Erica - Lithuania 1,998 miles

In the rectory of a small towns church we met Mareta. We had stopped to ask for water and left with not just the water we requested but local sausage and salad grown in the recory garden. Mareta also took us up the church tower giving us our first proper view over the Lithuanian countryside. In regards to this blog she said to me.. "I look forward to seeing what you see as beautiful in Lithuania". A timely reminder to open our eyes and look at where we are, even on this trip, even when we are here to explore, its easy to forget! It's still easy to slip into a routine! Scarily, without these words I might have looked but not really seen the 172 miles of Lithuania we cycled through.

And so I'm looking again, no longer just seeing the long flat roads, the mile after mile of tree's or fields, now I look for the stalks flying along side our bikes, the cars kicking up a dust trail circling from the road and blowing into the landscape. The uncapturable beauty of green Lithuania with fields of bright green grass backdropped by a mass of forest to your left and yellow Lithuania with acres and acres of corn and tree's in the middle distance almost alburn in appearance to your right. Lithuania is stuffed to the brim with character, boeing beams, rickety walls, lakes, forest paths,  friendly, bemused or unresponsive locals,   every home, farm village and town is unique and more fool us if we do not see every inch we pass through.

In a small town we spot what looks like a cafe, turns out it's a small shop with chairs and a table outside but with some universal sign lauguage and a look at our heavily loaded bikes the owner readily agrees to make us coffee. We are quickly joined by locals offering us beer, I act out taking a sip and falling off my bike, laughter and no more offers. We are however given icecream, we are not able to decline, it feels that this would be rude, then a second and third ice cream is produced, never in my life had I imagined I'd be force fed icecream and not feel happy about it! We leave to smiles and thanks before more ice cream is produced. 

One night after a long days cycle in a storm swinging from blasting heat to short sharp blasts of rain pelting down with whipping winds which threatened to blow us backwards we found ourselves soaking wet and sheltering outside of a motel, going so far as to ask about the price, it took a huge effort to resist the temptation of ease and comfort and head back out into the road, the rain a little lighter we stop to ask a family if we can camp near by, we end up being led by the son to a hideaway in the middle of a forest, we are swarmed by horse flies and in the morning we have to pack up and cycle out all covered up in our baking hot waterproofs to avoid them, but out of the woods we emerge victorious. That evening we arrive in Kaunas we are late, hot, sweaty and hungry, Paulius and Vaida our warm shower hosts, meet us in the town, after dinner they take us for a night time swim in a lake just outside of the city. 11:00 at night complete darkness, laying on my back in the warm refreshing water, city lights dotting the horizon and the stars shining above, there really is no other place I'd rather be.

Incredible raw, open and charming Lithuania with its cows, bees and apple trees.

Erica - latvia-1,824 miles

We've made it to Latvia and my backside is feeling every last mile of Estonia, I have the worst saddle sore known to man, well to me at least me!.. We'd knocked out 80 miles in baking heat the day before and crossed the border the next afternoon, a further 62 miles. No more, I could take no more, and so we retired to a campsite for a day off on the beach. Shuffling around, barely able to walk, I needed time off the bike and would most certainly not be wearing my sweat filled cycling shorts for the next 195 miles through sun filled Latvia.

We planned our route down through the middle of the country avoiding the main roads, within a few miles we realised that any road that is not a main road is in fact a gravel path! Dust filled, wheel skidding gravel track. At the end of one such track we found a small village where we buy cerial and yoghurt the women and locals in the shop enjoying our acting skills as katie tries to ask to use the toilet. We are again pleased to have learnt 'hello' and 'thank you', these simple words always raising a smile and a warmer reception.

Without the battle of the gravel path we would not have discovered this friendly remote village. Traveling by bike may force you onto the harder path or the longer road but this is always far far better than the rear end of a lorry that inevitably consumes our view of the main smooth tarmac roads.

After some trial and error we learn that the 'P' roads are a little quieter and allow us to countinue to travel through the heart of the country, though to travel by these roads alone we had to detour 20 miles off route to reach Riga. 60 miles in and 37 degree heat with another 30 miles stretching ahead of us the sight of a train station was too much to resist, tired and broken we crawled onto a train to Riga, happily discovering that this act ment we by passed a busy duel carriageway into the city. Here we stayed with Marika and her sister, taking a day to visit Riga, we walked through the old town, sat on the beach, visited a memorial museum to a family dedicated to saving the lives of Jews in Latvia during WWII, walked around the market and drank coffee in the sun.

Before leaving I made a huge sun visor attachment for my helmet with card and cable ties, this proved to be a huge sucess if a little weird! that is before the rain came and washed it all away! Our last night in Latvia was spent camped up next to and swimming in the river which runs along the border to Lithuania.

Erica - Estonia 1,685 miles

We arrived in Tallin by ferry, an Estonian friend Kaire having mentioned her memories of this "party boat" she wasnt kidding it was an overnight ferry with disco and club entertainment till 5 in the morning, police with breathalyser tests often awaiting disembarking passengers!! 
Tallin is simply beautiful,  we arrived pushing the bikes up the cobbled street of the old town almost deserted this early in the day. We sit on the side of the road listening as one of the windows above us is wide open, the occupant in the middle of a classical piano lesson. After climbing the church tower for a view of the whole city, they allowed us to leave our heavily loaded bikes inside the church freeing us up to wander around the old town.

Kaire's brother Asse and his partner Pilla kindly agreed to be our 'warm shower hosts' in Tallin, they treated us to a rare meal out and we walked down to the beach in time for the sunset. Pilla and Asse joined us for our first day cycling in Estonia showing us the way back into Tallin and out the other side, a great start to our baltic adventure.

Estonia is flat, flat flat flat and far far bigger than either of us had realised, we'd thought we'd wizz through in 2-3 days but 298 miles and 5 days later, weve revised our view.

At the top of one of the copious mountains of Norway, I turned to Katie and categorically stated that I would not be cycling over the alps, to which Katie patiently pointed out that what we were doing right now would not be any harder.. "but I hate it" even as the words slipped out I cringed at the imaturity of it all but it dosent stop me "why would I want to spend my time doing something I hate?" I retort. Katie, no doubt rolling her eyes and taking a deep breath, full of the knowledge that in around ten minutes we'll be at the top and ill be full of renewed energy and excitment at the view and achievement, simply says , lets see how we feel when we get there.

And so here we are cycling along the long flat straight roads of the baltics. Where one long flat road surrounded by trees, leads to another long flat road and I want to drop kick my mountain side winning back to where it belongs, the head of my ten year old self.. I do not complain about the monotony of the flat!! 

These are however miles and miles of monotonous roads between small slices of excellence that makes Estonia simply brilliant. 

We've travelled accross the islands, visited an impressive,  crater, camped in free campsites by the sea, cracked out a storming 80 miles in one day, drank pear cider on the beach, seen more cycle tourers in one day than the whole of Scandinavia, been stung by a wasp and swang high over the sunset.

Weve stoped to ask for help twice. The first time needing directions, the second, much needed water on one of the hottest days yet. These simple requests have found us first camping up in the garden of a beautiful old pharmacy converted to a home by the current owner. We were given beer, birthday cake (left from a party that afternoon) and traditional salads and sausage, the family also got the key for the old medieval church behind the house and took us over to climb up into the tower, stunning! 

Secondly after hours on the saddle not passing a single shop, we stopped at a house to ask for water, we were beckoned towards the barn where in faltering English the lady said, "rest, coffee?" her visiting daughter arrived back and came out to see us with a plate of watermelon,  explaining we would be welcome to shower if we needed, all of this we greatfully acepted, it was incredibly hot in the midday sun and this welcome break spured us on to cycle a massive 80 miles.

Katie - melting point

Yep so I am ill, been pretty nasty but in the grand scheme not really a big deal, everyone gets ill from time to time. But the thing is for me there are a few lessons to be learnt here. They aren't lessons I haven't been taught before and I always understand them at the time, but then when my energy returns and my brain becomes busy again I very quickly seem to ignore or forget them.

So to begin with I had clear warning signs that I was not right. For two days my skin was tingly, pulsed pain at times and my air felt warm when I breathed out even lieing still at night; I wasn't jumping up after our breaks keen to get moving again and I put my head in my hands trying to figure out our route and despaired I couldn't do it. I kept ignoring this and put it down to the the hot weather. Now I realise I had had a temperature for two days, not so high as what was to come, but not good to then push on to carry out a hilly 62 mile cycle one day, continue to ignore the symptoms the following day and push out another 55 miles

So my body got very angry and decided that it's subtle suggestions over the previous days weren't being heard and so it began to shout at me, REALLY LOUD. Firing up a furnus inside it set about killing off whatever was making me ill and stopping me completely in my tracks. I had no choice but to lie in the tent unable to do anything else but occasionally drink from a water bottle and hold a cold cloth to my head, feeling the ice cold water then itself turning warm. It's a shame I wasn't able to harness this heat to some better use, Erica really should have cooked her dinner on me, boiled a kettle, loaned me out as a portable radiator. 

So as I lay there cooking from the inside out I was reminded of the most important lesson again. Remember to listen to your body, look after it and slow down. 

Another lesson, wash your water bottle,  we hadn't at all and as the stomach explosions continued for 5 days even when I was feeling better in myself I started to try and figure out why. Maybe I should give my water bottle a spin through the dishwasher i thought, on taking it apart I realised what might be the causing this prolonged sickness...

So after 2 days of not drinking out of the bottle and resting up more I did a poo! Yea! A momentus occasion! Right, nearly better, let's go and rock out some miles in the baltic then ;)

Erica - as luck would have it

Turned out through some basic internet searches and requests for advice from warm shower hosts in Sweden that getting public transport really is as difficult as people say, the basic rule on the trains being you can only bring what you can carry and our bikes would have to be boxed up. Considering we can only just carry our bags we would have no hope of carrying a boxed up bike too. Coach also possible but again bike must be boxed and the advice was that it would have to be as small as possible and our life would basically be very very difficult. Other possible options included using a currier service to transport bikes or extortionate £400 odd one way car hire. 

Katie's temperature still being sky high was the priority, by early evening I was starting to get a bit worried when there was still no change and a few very warm tears slid down Katie's cheek, a tent in a field in Sweden is not the place anyone should be that ill, the cold damp cloth only staying cool for a few moments on her burning skin. The temperature finally breaking 14 hours later. 

Incredibly, on this campsite on this day, arrived a big beautiful blue VW camper van. Standing out against the sea of white and cream caravans we have become so accustomed to, the GB number plate giving a much needed wave of familiar. Campsites usually filled with people all keeping to their own spaces. Cars and wind breakers shielding personal space does not invite conversation. "Ah, hello, your English" i call, easily starting a conversation with Deborah and Xavier (French) on a trip round the world looking for new adventures possibly even a new life! And there destination Stockholm! You couldnt write this, we haven't seen hair nor hide of fellow English men/women on any sites and today when were tired and broken up they pop. 

However we didnt know if Katie would be able to travel or even if they would want a sick body in their van and did not want to impose but also not wanting to lose what could be our best hope of getting to Stockholm in time for our ferry. So when at midnight an idea struck that they maybe able to take our bikes to Stockholm and leave them with our warm shower host Tomas, I left a scribbled rambling note on the windscrean of their van. The following morning they come to find us, readily agreeing but request that we also travel with them as they would feel better taking us too. We of course are over the moon with this suggestion. 

Texting Tomas to ask about a campsite to stay on as we really dont want to impose an ill body onto his home he finds one for us, but after doing some internet research on symptoms (most likely to be a water bug not a passable illness) and meeting us he says he is happy for us to stay at his. I am just consistently blown away by people. Deborah and Xavier putting our dirty oily bikes in their beautiful pristine Van and then inviting an ill body into their space, whilst turnning down all offers of payment and Tomas having us land earlier and iller than planned, welcomed us in as if nothing was wrong, supplying Katie with rehydration sachets and imodium.. Plain and simple human kindness.

Erica - Ill in Kil

Were sick, properly sick! Katie more so than me! We're on a bit of a time budget, our ferry from Stockholm to Tallin being booked for 5 days time. We needed to get the miles in. 

Our first 2 days back on the bikes after nearly three weeks on the farm and we cracked out a storming 112 miles. That alone would have been fine, this section of the journey although starting over a fairly tiring ridge is mostly rolling hills, the problem, we believe has been the heat, its baking... hot, hot, hot, cant stand out in the sun too long, hot! On the bike with a breeze and slight head wind its easy to forget just how hot the sun is. 

We wild camped the first night, Katie starting to feel the chills of illness and tummy churning, we headed on hoping it would pass, it didnt! luckly we've made it to a campsite before the throws off illness clasp hold of Katies stomach, im doing much better but not straying too far from the toilet block!.. We're well and truly staying put till it passes... think there maybe a lesson or two in there!

Update:
Not so sure its the heat anymore, seems we may have picked up a bug somewhere along the line, possibly something in the river we swam in or something we ate, im steralising our drinking bottles. Still doing okay my end but Katies barely made it out of the tent, her temperature shot up, damp cloths and freezing water in metal bottles holding it at bay. 

Suddenly its down to me to start organising! Up until now I haven't done much, katies arranged who we stay with, booked the ferries, trains, found routes etc ive just enjoyed the ride. (The more I write this blog, all of it, not just this post, the more I realise just how lucky I am. Katie really is a bit of a gem! How she puts up with my moaning and frackly inept planning skills is beyond me).

looks like we're going to have to abandon our plan to cycle to Stockholm. Even if Katie's better tomorrow were not jumping on a bike to cycle 60 miles a day for the next 4 days! One thing we do know is that Swedens public transport is not very amenable to bikes. That said id better get off here and learn how to find out a) is train or coach better b) will they let us on with bikes c) how do we get to the nearest train/bus station d) where are we going to stay??

The war hero's hut

As requested, the story of the hut under the cliff:

I have not been able to fully corroborate all of this information but I believe it came from a reliable source.  We had hiked for 8 hours into the mountains to a hytta, a Norwegian hut (similar concept to a youth hostel). This hut is only accessible by foot or air, here we met a family, the father of which worked for the treckking association. A Norwegian association which maintains mountain trails and cabins in Norway. He told us of a primative hut owned by the association just 10 minutes walk from where we were staying and asked if we would like to join them in a walk down to visit it. 

On the way he told us the story of Joachim Rønneberg a war hero, who is now a cracking 96 years old. World War 2 broke out when Joachim was in his late teens early 20's.  Norway was occupied by Germany from April 1940, in 1941 Joachim escaped Norway by boat to Scotland, here he was trained in combat, Joachim subsequently joined a Norwegian Independent company. Along with two others he moved up into the mountains with the express intention of hiding out there and sabotaging German suply lines, the mountains are close to Dombås, one of the busiest railway intersections between Olso and Trondheim. They awaited orders to blow up a bridge which would prevent the Germans from moving suplies through the country.

We were told that he wrote two letters to his parents the first was a letter stating that he was going hiking in the moutains for 14 days and would then return to England 
(we didnt fully understand the importance of this letter but believe that it brought them some time before the Germans uncovered their plan) the second letter informed his parents that he would be staying in the mountains for some time, a month or so!

The three men used the initial time in the mountains to find the perfect hiding place and to build the shelter which unbeknown to thembat that time, would become their home for the next year. They used materials taken from the tourist huts in the area at that time (the original version of the hut that we were staying in) the hut itself is very basic using the rock face as one wall and just space for four benches which double up as beds. 

There is a small space as you enter which held the basics a pot and a small gass stove to cook on, though food was scarce,  there is little to no wildlife so high in the mountains 1200 meters up the land is baron, there is a lake and the posibility of fish. We were told that the tourist hut further down the mountain, a four hour hike would close in the winter but they would leave excess food suplies in the building so that the three men could hike down break in and take suplies.

Their only comunication was via morse code though they had to hike for two hours to gain a viable signal for the machine to work.

For entertainment the three men would line up behind the rocks with binoculars and throw snowballs at people hiking in the area. Here's were I am less sure of timings and how this fits in with the fact we were also told that the Germans discovered these men were somewhere in the mountains and were searching for them. 

When we visited it was a warm summers day at the bottom of the mountain, though much cooler at 1200 meters, a dash to use the outside toilet at 3am proving that it gets ruddy cold up there in the summer, I cannot begin to imagine what those three guys went through during the year they lived there, let alone how they survived during the winter month's. 

One whole year, 1200 meters high, just a few planks of wood between them and the freezing mountain side, with armed forces searching for you.. So we can enjoy the freedom we have today, that alone is quite something.

Erica- inland Norway 1238 miles

We met Kate and Carol in Burgen. Spending our first night with warm shower hosts Helle and Jan, who kindly agree for all four of us to stay in their home located on the face of the rock overlooking Burgen. Not only a place to stay they treated us to a bbq dinner, fine wine, champagne and a joint effort by Katie and Jan produced a home made icecream dessert. 

First day on the bikes together and we were straight onto the train which took us high into the snow covered mountains to Merdal. Here we reached celebrity status when a group of tourist from China mobbed us and our bikes requesting that we posed for pictures. It was twenty minutes before we were able to move forward, straight onto our greatest nemesis, the gravel path! At times feeling almost vertical in its decent, its all we can do to clasp our breaks tight on whilst pushing or rather being pulled down the steep gradient. A tarmac road down to sea level and Flåm was a welome relief, that evening we wild camped on the edge of the fjord, tucked out of sight of the road between two bolders raising out of the sea.

The following day brought the first of our two mountain climbs, with stunning views of the infamous Sandefjord. On to the top, we travelled along roads tunnelled by snow packed wall's and the open landscape of mountain peaks. Camping next to a frozen lake at 1400 meters, we slept badly on moss covered rocks made bearable by the fact we'd climbed 1400 meters, from sea level, 1400 meters! It'd take more than rocks to steal all of our sleep!! 

We glided down the south side of the mountain, desending through the trees, melting snow creating dramatic water falls running alongside the road, at times breaking through the sea of green trees ahead of us.

Once again foiled by impasable tunnels we took a ferry and bus to Sogndal, where, unbeknown to us a lady on her way to do her weekly shop spotted us and wondered what our story was. Four women kitted out on touring bikes, I guess we stand out! Cramping legs enforsed a layby stop and stretch, que Norrunn, who pulling up next to us was able to ask her questions and subsequently gave us icecream and a place to stay, saying ill need to check but I'm sure by husband wont mind and so we cycled to Norrans home. Halfway up the side of the vally where she lived, we were also hoping her husband wouldnt mind! Sitting on Norunn's varander, we were about to find out as Jarle Accended the steps behind us chain saw in hand! Thank fully were not yet destined to become the next horror film plot.

Fed, watered and rested we headed off to catch a ferry to the opposite side of the fjord, enabling us to cycle along the almost deserted old road. Tourist day, we took a gentle cycle along the edge of the fjord, stoping for walks up to and old church and the sencond highest unharness waterfall in Norway. We had lunch and dosed in the sun, finaly camping next to a mountain lake.

Onto the Roof of Norway. Up we went zig zagging the winding roads which took us almost directly up the side of the mountain. We camped at 884 meters, with the mountain peaks providing a backdrop to our evening feast of bean stew and 'smash' potatoe followed by warm chocolate pancakes, without doubt the best trangia meal to date!  Set us up well for the following  day when the next 450 meters would play cruel tricks to our tired legs, up and up we'd go, then down, down down, up some more then up up up and down! Unable to regulate we were too hot going up, too cold going down, though a kind Belgium couple giving us cans of larger to celebrate with helped to take the edge off!

1434 meters high and the roof of Norway was a welcome and impressive sight,  a fitting end to our journey with the Jones's. We said goodbye over coffee and cake the following morning, Kate and Carol heading back to Burgen we carried on to Otta and our train to our farming placement in Trondheim. 

Three weeks of weeding, herding, painting the windows of a restored farm building, pigglet arrivals and pig depatures, festivals and farmers markets. 
Not to mention a road trip in the farmers car saw us drive up an incredible windy road and complete a seven hour walk into the mountains where we stayed in a hut 1200 meters high.




Here we visited a primative shelter tucked under a cliff face of a war hero, who along with two others lived in the mountains for a year, hiding from German troupes searching for them.
Simply surviving and awaiting orders from london to bomb a bridge which would prevent the Germans from advancing.





The reality of these actions made all the more incredible by spending just 24 hours in such barren and remote conditions.




Discovering that its not possible for us to travel from Trondheim to Stockholm by bike in the time available to us and Sweeden's public transport being less than bike friendly, our advice from the train station on how to travel being "sell your bike"! We now head off to Oslo by train, where we will finally get back on the saddle and cycle accross Sweeden to Stockholm.

Katie - Free range farm legs

as long as I can remember I have chosen not to buy meat. More than content to cook with vegetables, one of my main reasons for this is feeling uncomfortable with not knowing where the meat had come from and more importantly how the animals had been treated. When I have accepted and eaten meat it has been when I have known that it is 'happy' meat (or to be polite), however In general my understanding of what is involved in managing livestock is limited. And so one key thing that attracted me to this placement was to broaden my knowledge of organic freerange farming and knowing exactly what that entails for the animals involved in the process. 

The farm where we have carried out our 3 week WWOOFING placement, Lysklætt provides a good life for it's livestock, the farm owners taking great care and pride over doing the best for their animals. On day one we went out with the farmer Ole who explained he would move the cows to the forest, Ole began to sing and much to our amazement 60 odd cows and calfs began to come from over the hill and followed him into the forest.

The farm breeds pigs, sheep and cows. The meat produced is made into high quality sausages and burgers which are in great demand across the region, both packated to independent shops and a growing customer base at farmers market and festivals where the burgers and sausages are sold in a bun. Having sampled the burger I can without doubt say it is the best burger in the world.

The farm is working towards becoming self sufficient by growing vegetables, salad and wheat, everything you need for an excellent burger. 

With the animals one of our main tasks has been herding them from one field to another proving them with fresh grazing. The farm also has acres of woodland where the animals are able to roam. I guess I had never really concidered how often this rotation would need to happen and what was involved in moving the animals,  it has been interesting to see the different psychology of the animals and learn the techniques needed to guide and shepard them. I think Erica and I are naturals, we havent lost any of them!

Pigs - When a pig decides it doesn't want to move there's no shifting it, this was highlighted by a pig who had been brought to the farm from a life of captivity. Having never been outside or moved much, she is slow on her feet and scared of the daylight, refusing to leave the stable to move down to the field. I found this experience really upsetting and reinforced my belief that farmed animals should have the best possible care. 

Sheep (by Erica) are a law unto themselves, far from the shepards idylic walk down a country road over an old stonebridge accross the village stream. Sheep run, they run and we run with them.


Cows (back to Katie) i've always had a fear that they would charge towards me, in my new role as 'farmer woman' I had to fight the fear and face the cattle plus one BULL! There was a moment when the cows refused to go up a narrow forest track and all I had going round my head was the fact that more people die a year from cow related injuries than get killed by sharks.



Chickens, a daily task has been to let the hundred plus chickens out of their shelter and give them food and water, i delay breakfast in favour of this task, as there is no better way to start the day than all their little faces looking out from within the hatch. 

I have immensely enjoyed the three weeks spent helping out on the farm, even the endless finger blistering weeding, done between herding. Although my life choice of not buying meat remains unaltered its been reasuring to see how animals can be cared for in a positive environment.

Erica - Two's company

On the 14th June we acquired two additional traveling companions. The marvellous Jones's. When the idea of Kate and Carole joining us was initially floated, months before our departure, Katie and I had to consider what this would mean for our trip, did we want to commit ourselves to being in a certain place at a certain time? Did we see this as our trip, our personal adventure? would that change if other people joined? Having spent several trips on and off bikes with Kate and Carol one thing we knew for sure was that traveling in their company would work regagardless of the difference in our situations.

And so we met in Burgen, with a route planed that would see us climbing a total of around 4000 meters and the two highest roads in Norway, . 

Though mostly unaware, Katie and I appear to have spent the last month and a half developing a daily routine. Until this was shifted with the added needs of two more, I had not realised just how important it had become to me. No longer just the two of us, we had to adapt and I was suprised to find an inital bubble of resistence to this change, It felt healthy however for this to be challenged and after quietly telling myself off, I quickly pulled myself together, remembering that just because we develop routines does not mean we 'have' to live within them. Not least for the fact that what feels like ever disappearing time, appears to happily slow down when change is regular and consistent.

As four, we faced the hardest and most stunning section of our journey. Half way up our first 1400 meters and I was already missing the rolling 300 meter valleys, this first climb we completed in one day our desire to reach the top insisting that our legs would keep pushing the peddles. Katie reciting the entire script of the labarith to me to distract from the fact that the top would not come. There however we were treated to frozen lakes with pools of bright blue lagoons surrounded by snow capped mountain peaks.

Two days later we began our climb from sea level up to the highest road and the roof of Norway, breaking this challenge into two days, camping at 884 meters. Leg's now shaking and feeling consistently moments from cramp. Kate and Carols presence released the pressure from tears to laughter at times verging on hysteria, pulling the pleasure out of an otherwise painful battle with the mountain side.

1300 meters high in shorts and t shirts a snack break was brought to an end just five minutes in, our bodies swiftly cooling then imediately starting to freeze, gloves went on, then top, jumper, coats. At the top a massive 1434 meters it was all we could do to jump off the bikes grab a photo and quickly head back down, donning waterproof trousers over shorts in an attempt to keep the freezing air at bay.

Opening and sharing this experience with Kate and Carol has without doubt enhanced an already incredible experience. A fact I should never have questioned, bargin food hunting and experimental meals became a shared experience, expanding mine and Katie's menu of what is possible to cook on a trangia. Wild camping along side us has iradicated any ligering concerns I had and the simple act of shooting off down the mountain side ahead of Katie and I, inadvertently worked towards the ever increading repair of our post crash confidence. Following their tracks, we picked up speed, the spark of free wheeling at full speed starting to return. 

Seven days with the Jones's, proving that although two is company, four brings laughter, tears, mountainous achievements, frozen lakes, out of date food, exploding lemmings, expensive beer, free beer! Leg aching hysteria, immeasurable generosity from both stranger in a layby and the kind heart of a friend, sea, snow, sun shine and bitter winds.

Katie - Pay back time

It has to be said (hopefully without jinxing anything) that me and Erica have been really lucky on this trip, even when Erica crashed it all worked out and we got to spend some amazing time with relatives in Sweeden. We just seem to keep looking at each other and saying "wow, is this for real, when does this ever happen in the real world"? 

But this is the real world and it keeps happening. I keep thinking, that's got to be it now, then out of no where, a lady (Norran) randomly stops us in a layby, asks about our journey, gives us an ice cream from the back of her car, then suggests we could stay with her in her 3 bed house on the side of a hill looking over the fjord and get fed, watered with pear cider, showered and clothes cleaned!!!

But that has to be it surely... Then the train conductor pretends to be cross taking off his hat and throwing it on the side with an exasperated sigh, we have put our bikes in the wrong area and haven't booked on, we prepare for a british moment where we are told to leave the train and would have to wait 5 hrs till the next one, but instead he breaks out a massive smile and dances a little  jig, he then invites us to his office to show the views of the mountains where the snow had fallen yesterday, then waits until we are one stop from where we are getting off and only charges us from that stop, it was a 3hr train ride and he charged us £7 each, brought us drinks and continually made us laugh!!!

We do feel continually fortunate and that we want to ensure this good will is passed forward. We have offered our home to all those we have stayed with (it will be a busy year next year if they all decide to come), and hope that we are able to host other cycle tourers that pass through Bristol. However having now seen there are about 100 hosts in Bristol we worry we may not get much of an opportunity, so we have begun to make attempts at paying back as we travel along. Small attempts, but attempts....

We helped Shane (our warm showers host in Scavenger) bottle up his amazing home brew beer and also helped him taste and sample it.








We helped Helle and Jan (warm showers hosts in Bergen) to trim back their hedge. I also helped Jan make home made icecream for our evening bbq.






We let a dozen chinese tourists at the top of a mountain have there photos taken with us and our bikes for free (this will remain my strangest experience ever).


We provided Norran with a football Erica had carried all the way from England.

We now find ourselves 1200 miles into our trip (milage having slowed due to serious mountain territory) and on a farm near Trondheim WWOOFing (willing workers on organic farms) here we have already weeded the onion patch, herded sheep and cows, fed the chickens and attended to the 400 lettuces and have a couple of weeks ahead of us. Let's hope this is restoring our karma bank which has recently done some major paying out.

Erica -South coast of Norway - 1033 miles

Norway, 16 days and 530 miles of mountain climbing, bum aching, thigh breaking utter stupendousness.. What a country! I hate it and I love it, I want to get out of here and visit it again all at the same time.
I have quite literally felt the muscles in my legs splitting and re growing under my skin offset by the sun glittering through the forest, views over entire mountain ranges and fjord after fjord after magnificent fjord each one more spectacular than the last. We've climbed mountains and eaten crackers with cheese and jam sitting on the very edge of the world.. We've bathed in the lakes, drank from the streams and cried on the mountains. 

Our first few nights in Norway saw us wild camping in the centre of a town! Hidden away next to a church, the locals giving us permission to stay for just one night through to the mountains, not a soul for miles and miles, homes were deserted and shops were closed, thankful we'd stocked up the obligatory pasta veg and crackers! Day 4 and we dropped backdown to the coast and onto the North sea cycle route, this was a relief to the legs with some smooth sailing round the south coast, a warm shower stay in Arendal allowed us a welcome clean up and oh so comfy bed, people said id get used to sleeping on the ground! I have not, far from it I dream of duvets and matterasses waking every hour to my toes freezing and my neck jared into unimaginable angles. Eternally grateful that Ive carried and will continue to carry my pillow.

From there we flew along the coast roads to Kristiansand 60 miles,  our furthest day yet, little did we know we wouldnt come close to doing it again!! After a great day off with bbq and wine at Thor's home, we headed off on our journey to Stavanger.
Here's where the mountains really began, we decided that instead of following the coast we'd go inland where the map appeared to take us on a short cut. 5 hours later and only 24 miles covered our short cut become a little more expletive. The road was one long gravel track, one long, up and down, up and down and up, up, up some more, gravel track! So gravely was this track our wheels would not turn benith us, choosing instead to just spin in the grit.. great! Im sure you can imagine our joy!! 

We gave up after asking some locals for help, their english just mildly better that our Norwegian, in which we have mastered hello 'hey' or 'hey hey' and thank you 'takk'! Told us this was the only road and we must go on. That night we camped up next to an old church/village hall. Initially we started to set up on the grass to one side but a low buzz which got louder and louder forced us off the grass and onto the small gravel car park, putting up the tent with the aid of rocks, was made slightly more bearable by the fact that we werent sleeping in a bees nest!

The next morning and 10 meters of more upward battling found us off the gravel and back on route 1 "Please let us never stray from your path again" but of course we did, straight onto the highway, woops. With no way back we pushed along the busy main road luckly there had been traffic lights so we just cycled when the lorries stopped and stopped when they started, once back on a bike path we celebrated our survival with coffee and an amazing chocolate muffin Thor had left out for us to take. The next challenge came in the form of a string of valleys which we had to get through but there was no way through it, only up and down the sides, four 300 meter climbs, one after the other is no mean feat, a storming 24 miles covered that day. I broke the following morning, on the first little hill, no more, I could do no more, but of course I could and of course I did cause when you are on a mountain with just a bike in the middle of Norway you really can't do much else!

On to Stavanger where we've rested and walked about 600 meters up the famous Priekestolen fjord, we bounded up, the next morning my legs seemed to suddenly realise they hadn't walked for nearly a month and my poor calves couldn't support my thighs, little wobbly!

We are now well rested with exciting times ahead, Carole and Kate are flying out to meet us in Burgen (we are currently sat on a bus with wifi traveling there ourselves, we couldnt cycle as sadly many of the ferries are being cancelled in favour of tunnels, tunnels so long they have underground roundabouts, tunnels a cyclist could and would never enter alone and leave alive) if the weather stays this good we may well make it to the highest road in Norway (aka the Roof of Norway) often impassable due to the weather here! This ride will see us climbing 4 thousand meters! I cant think about this for too long, think it maybe better to just get on the bike and keep on peddling, you never know, one day we might just reach the top!

Oh and weve only gone and cycled One Thousand miles..

Katie - Keeping it simple

My favourite thing about travelling by bike is stripping the needs or wants of life right back. Realising just how little you really need, carrying everything you need on two wheels and having a single simple focus to your day- move and explore.

What's so simple?

Stuff- A couple of months before we left we bagged up a load of clothes to put away to make space, I remember thinking then if these bags went off to a charity shop I wouldn't miss them. We have now stripped that further to just a change of clothes and I don't feel any need or longing for a new outfit. Wash one, wear one, simple. 

The cost of living-  Dramatically reduced. Buying just basic food, the cheapest items we find and remembering we have just one 'hob' to cook on. We haven't eaten out, or bought alcohol since we left. Even the need of cosmetics has been reduced (although to be fair was never much) as Erica stopped using shampoo or any styling products just rinses her hair with water now, her hair has never felt or smelt better. I tried for a couple of weeks but remained a greese ball so had to submit. 
We have paid for accommodation only a handful of times in our 6 weeks. Mainly wild camping with intermittent warm shower stops has worked out a perfect balance. Wild camping providing the most simplest of camping experiences and the warm showers offering opportunity to recharge.

The rythem of the day- the routine get up, pack up, on the road again, moving along with no strict plan. Adjusting in accordance with what the day presents and how we feel. I'm already kind of worrying how I would adjust back to a hectic exsistence where there is more to consider than simply where we will set up camp for the night. It feels healthy on the mind and soul.

In addition keeping it simple makes a trip like this possible and affordable. 
We saved for just over a year for the trip, by being careful for a bit and saved about 3000 pounds each.

So having done some maths we decided we had a budget of 12 pounds a day each to cover food and accommodation (totalling about 4500, or 2250 each), then this would leave a bit of spare money for emergencies (always wise with an erica on board) and ferry or train costs that we might need. We were a bit concerned that maybe this was a little ambitious, especially when we discovered camping can often be over 20pounds in Scandanavia and that Norway in particular was one of the most expensive countries on the planet. However we needn't have worried. We are not only keeping to budget we have totally exceeded it (about 6 pounds each a day on average), even when we include ferries, erica's pain killers, new wheel and bike helmet we still haven't spent what we had planned for. 

We both appreciate this experience, the people we meet, the opportunity we have and to the road ahead of us. If i can take one thing back with me it would be this mannor of simplicity, remembering the perspective of the world, slowing down, looking around, less stress and haste. To rembember the simplest thing, to just be.

Erica - Wild camping

Having never wild camped before, the idea of setting up camp hidden away from the world around you, looks and sounds idylic. The reality however is initially way below perfect, this way of travelling and sleeping takes some getting used to.

Back in the days of highwaymen and green tights, Britons roamed freely and it was common place to sleep wherever their day would end. These days it seems that every inch of our green and pleasant land belongs to someone elses and often they dont want you on it, hence wild camping in England and Wales can be basically trespassing! Scotland is okay on public hill land, so long as you are 100m from a road, and don't leave rubbish behind, makes sence!.. Wild camping in Norway and Sweden is widely accepted and enshrined in the Allemannsretten Ė every man or woman's right of public access, there are some rules/laws that are about common sence and decency, 100 meters from peoples homes and live stock etc. 

  We've been in Norway for two weeks now and spent the majority of that time sleeping in forests hidden from the world by rocks and trees, washing in lakes and drinking the crystal clear mountain water. That right there, is the "looks and sounds idylic" I mentioned earlier. There is however a whole other side of wild camping that no one has ever, ever mentioned to me and that is the reality of lying under a thin canvas sheet unwittingly listening to every single little noise, your mind running into overdrive with the imaginings of the dangerous world you can hear in every tiny little detail but can no longer see.


You imagine the worlds most dangerous person will suddenly show up, even though the chances that some random passer by would A) sees us or B) want to hurt us is practically nil or that a bunch of drunk people are going to show up shouting and being agressive has to be a hundred times less likely on the side of a mountain than in a campsite, where for some weird reason paying someone a bit of money and everyone round you doing exactly the same makes that thin sheet of canvas feel safer!!

Not to mention the wild life, suddenly a fish jumping out of the water is a wild animal right outside the tent licking its lips, a bird shaking its wings becomes a wolf or wild dog panting or blowing out its cheeks or a pine cone dropping from the trees is a bear stepping out of the forest. Even when you know these things could not possibly be happening it doesn't stop your ears pricking up, your heart quickening and your mind running wild. 

Like I said, "This takes some getting used to", even with the incredible locations and perfect mornings drinking coffee surrounded by mist covered lakes, I started to feel like maybe a campsite would be better, as such, our third night took us to a campsite next to the sea. It was a great site and inexpensive, but within minutes of sitting in a field surrounded by lots of other people all doing exactly the same, I was missing the solitude and beauty of your very own private little slice of Norway, the next night we headed straight back into the mountains. The birds still break twigs, pine cones still drop and the fish still swim, my heart still quickens and my mind still plays tricks but it's lessened with time and my anxieties are just about kept in check by my common sence.

This trip is consistently placing me way outside of my comfort zone in ways i'd never expected or imagined. I'd have sworn that if something scary was outside of the tent it'd be me, not Katie sticking my head out, but no, its been Katie every time! I like to think this is because she's wild camped before and moved beyond these irrational fears. 


Without doubt, once you've moved beyond the initial bubbling worry and anxiety, hold your belief that people are on the whole kind and decent and remember that animals are most definately more afraid of us. Wild camping is simply a magical experience which has placed us right in the heart of the country and environment we've been fortunate enough to visit.

Katie - Coffee and waffles

I have already written about the connection of strangers, but now there is another story I just have to share. Its so simple and yet I now can't stop thinking about it every day on the road, every house that we pass. Without over dramatic it was like a dream scenario, one you might conjure up in your mind, but beyond your wildest dreams you couldn't imagine it would actually happen.

  So here it is, our second day after leaving Kristiansand and the comfort of our warm shower host we realised Norway was beginning to get even hillier, the climbs were getting higher, steeper and more frequent. The sun was hot, not complaining but it was hot work on the hills. We decided at the base of what looked like another big climb we would power up with the aid of some peanuts and raisins.  We learnt our bikes up against a shed.  A lady ran down the road towards us from 100 meters away shouting something.  Whoops she obviously doesn't like random cyclists propping their bikes up against her shed. But as she got closer and realised we were English she said, "we wondered if you would like to join us for coffee and waffles"?
She looked at our peanuts and said, "oh you already have a snack" 
No no noooo, we definitely have space for coffee and waffles! 

I'm brimming up again just thinking of it. Maybe I'm just over emotional with the amazingness of this trip and the beauty of the land we have passed through and people we have met. But I still can't believe we were scooped up and taken into a couples home to be fed as many waffles as we could eat (it was explained we wouldn't be judged on the quantity, they didn't know us and no one was watching).

It turns out we were't their first. Where we had stopped many people do as they know how bad the hill is going to be, i had just guessed, but apparently better maps show it and also the stream of water to refill bottles right by the shed. A few stories they shared included, 2 guys who had walked from the north cape and were heading to the most southernly part of Norway just down the road. A girl who had broken down by the shed when her wheel exploded from a worn out brake pad. They scooped her up and got her all fixed up and back on the road. 

We ended up staying for an hour and a half, hearing about their life, huge family and how they met. The coffee and waffles were on constant refill. The rest of the day was really challenging with a crazy gravel road that went on for miles and miles and was so steep and with the bikes so heavy, we could barely push them up and had to grind cautially down them.  

But powering us through and maybe forever more, was that someone came out to us in the middle of nowhere and fuelled us with coffee and waffles.
 

Erica - Keeping up with Katie

I'm doing it, i'm actually cycling mile after mile, after mile without moaning every pedal of the way! There's a few reasons for this newly aquired aptitude for cycling, firstly we left bristol with lots and lots of people, in a bid to save face, I was forced to pedal on smile plastered on my face masking aching legs and a deep sinking feeling! A further100 miles with some of our fittest, strongest and most adventurous friends, their excitement at the prospect of our trip, pulled me along at a fairly steady pace. Then there was Chris, giving me and Katie a crash course in cycle touring and patiently responding to almost everything i said, with either "Yes you can" or " you're bike is fine, you don't need a new one". 

The thing is with cycle touring, you don't have to be at your physical peak to do it, once you're on the bike and turning the pedals, well, you just keep turning them. You keep turning and your bike keeps moving, slow and steady. It can feel like we're just plodding along but in the greater picture, we've only gone and cycled to Norway!!

Norway however has hills, not just hills ruddy great big ones. Until this i'd been happily cruising along, albeit primarily in katies slip stream, across the open roads of Denmark and the cruisey coast of Sweden. Norway smacked me in the face with a bloody great sledgehammer, filled to the brim of "So you think you're going to cycle over the Alps?!" reality check and man was i moody! Day one, in possibly the most beautiful country i've ever visited and i could not have cared less! Everything paled in my absolute certainty that cycle touring was not for me! We could have seen all of this from a car or better still a van, not only seen it but seen more of it, who on earth thought cycling with this much stuff would be fun? We climbed and climbed at one point the road overlapped itself TWICE looking down over a bridge you could see the road winding below, it would have made an amazing picture but i couldn't even be bothered to take out my camera!
 
That evening we found a spot to camp just off the road, hidden away in the trees we slept by a mountain lake. The following morning brought coffee whilst watching the mist lift from the lake, absolutely stunning. We started on a hill, i promptly expected the foul mood to return but was surprised to find i almost wizzed up. I'd been in such a foul mood at the prospect of hills and mountains and focused all my energy into feeling like i couldn't do it, i hadn't stopped to see that not only could i do it but i was already doing it.
Katie still reaches the top whilst im left battling the middle, but there's a good few seconds at the bottom of the hill when anyone passing us might just believe we'd reach the top together. That is unless, perhaps, they looked a little closer, saw that Katies bike is in its highest gear, mine as low and easy as it'll go, the fact that every now and then the gap between us widens then decreases again, I seem to catch her up with ease though her feet turn slower but we'll not dwell here, for now, I'm just about keeping up with Katie.

         

Katie - The connection of strangers

Cycle touring could potentially be a very isolated affair. Passing through a country and connecting very much with the environment continually surrounding you, but not the people within all the houses and communities, towns and cities that you pass by. A brief engagement perhaps to check direction, but not long enough for conversation and exploration.
Camping can place you in the small world of your tent and when on a camp site surrounded by others, they tend to want to keep the boundary of their plot or caravan, with little eye contact over the communal washing sink.
Plus travelling on each day means you don't build up a familiarity with the local shop keeper or bar tender.

However if this remained the case I really wouldn't feel satisfied about our journey. To me the connection with strangers is one of the most important factors. It is the people you talk to that you can learn from, that provide insight, local knowledge, and their take on the world. Everyone has a story to tell. 

Warmshowers.com has meant we have got to not only meet, but to stay with people along our route. I hadn't intended this to be such a big part of our trip, just a few organised to start us off and give reassurance we had some places to stay in our first couple of weeks. But those experiences convinced me we should continue to link in with people this way as we continue on. 
The word warm in warm showers extends itself further than the temperature of the water sprayed from the shower (very welcome after several days of wet wipe washes and pedaling up hills in constant sunshine) to the overwhelming kindness, openness and generosity of the hosts. We have stayed with 9 hosts now spaced out across England, Denmark, Sweden and Norway (Richard and Alison, Debs and Hassan, Tom, Neil, Harry, Greg, Finn, Michael and Thor) and have a couple more still planned in for Norway. Providing insights into their life, local history, cycling in their area and route advice.
Each of these experiences including the people, the location and what they offer could not have been more varied. The one common theme to get the conversation started 'cycling touring', where have you been on your bike? Where do you hope to go? There is the familiar sparkle in each persons eyes, the understanding magic of travelling on two wheels being able to carry everything you need to live, keeping life light and spontaneous to what the road presents to you.

But it's not just these hosts (or strangers welcoming us into their homes) that we are connecting with, more and more we are chatting to people along our route, them approaching us and us approaching them. A few examples of how those connections are being made.

Us approaching
Coffee break- yesterday we passed a camper caravan parked up, for some reason I just thought I'm going to ask whoever is there for coffee. We had a flask of hot water with us, I had boiled up in the morning thinking it might come in useful along the way. I asked the lady by the van if I could be cheeky and ask if she had some instant coffee for my flask of hot water,  she said no but she had real coffee and she would make us a pot. This turned into spending an hour with Anna (65) and her dog liberty, drinking coffee together, hearing about their travels, her work as a truck driver, her thoughts on cycling as a dutch fresian, her family and why she lives for the day. We could have stayed with her the whole day, but we needed to pedal on. When I mentioned that we really should buy some coffee she said no, it's such a great way to meet people.
 
Water stocks-
In our more remote settings, we have also been knocking on doors asking for our bottles to be refilled. Only a glimpse into a home, a person, but still that pause and simple connection feels important and each stop is memorable.
 
Them approaching us
Frequently when we pause (or sometimes even when on the move cycling up to us), to check our route or take a break someone will approach us to ask where we are going, are we ok? This has frequently led on to them then telling us something of them, or the area.
Jonny, of how he fed Nelson Mandela, worked in Edinburgh for 10 years, died for a year and 7 months and met god, after a bad accident at sea, his head the width of his shoulders. We had only stopped a moment at a junction to decide left or right.
 
Ken, used to play for man united reserves in the 70's came to Norway to play football, drank too much, been clean for 20 years. Showed us a spot in the town looking over the sea where we could camp up for the night. He also did mention 2 people had been shot dead, close by a year ago, who were in a camper van. We had only paused to check Erica's brake's.

And so it continues, there is something about being open on a bike that makes you more approachable and open to people. On top of how these encounters enhance our journey, there is also the fact that is reinforced at every step (or pedal) the vast majority of humankind is good, frikin fantastic in fact. Our media promotes and focuses so much on the horror and bad in the world, but it is important to always remember this shouldn't dominate our view. We can trust and be trusted, we give and take and we smile and say hello. :)    

 

Katie - Amazing amazing Norway!

So we are 4 days in to being in Norway. Getting the ferry across from Stromstad to Sandefjord and cycling off the ferry into glourious sunshine. The song line constantly going around my head is "it's just another day for you and me in paradise"

First impressions
The people are so openly friendly. 
Whenever we pause in Norway, people approach us or cycle up to us to have a chat. 
A lady passed us today in her car, pausing behind us to make sure she would be on the other side of the road when she passed (this space allowance is typical of the drivers here) she then drove along side us smiling out of her window and waving, for a moment I thought I must know her.

There are lots of hills
I love them! They have been the good sort where you pedal up and up and then the downs are long and gradual so you cover miles cruising down. The legs are getting stronger and the hills are getting bigger as we travel along, bring on the mountains!

 
It is stunning
We have cycled past lakes and fjords, woodland and hills all around. You are completely spoilt with great views. This has all been enhanced by the amazing weather we are having. I really thought it was going to be cold (maybe that's still to come). It's been blue skies everyday and with the sun rising at 4am and setting at 11pm it has been hot in the tent since 7am in the morning.

It's not so expensive
Yes it is true it is bloody expensive, but there are ways around this. Stocking up only at big Supermarkets, where its still pretty pricey, but you can get some bits and pieces at a fairish price. Wild camping, we have been popping the tent up in really idyllic spots, just us and for free. It is fine to camp anywhere in Norway as long as you are 100 meters from a house and with a bit of respect and common sense.
Travelling by bike, fuel charges = food.

 
     

Erica -Sweden - 602 miles

In the end we only managed 99 miles on the lovely Swedish coast line. Though my first impression of Sweden was far from lovely, my heart sunk as we roled off the ferry to yet more rain and grey sky. Somehow I'd convinced myself on the 20 minute ferry ride from Denmark that Sweden would be hot and sunny!! It's like my head thinks it only rains in England... Oh and Denmark and now Sweden! But capes on, off we set. 

We had a warm shower stay booked for that evening, camping in Nick and Karins garden. As we arrived so did the sun, not just a few rays, this was full on summertime sunshine. Not wanting to miss a second of it, we set off walking, strolling along the pebble beach we seemed to lose two hours soaking it all in. After seven days of cycling head down in wind and rain, I cannot begin to describe the pure joy of sun on your face. 

Nick printed us off some maps and drew us the perfect route from his place to our next stay, we cruised along beautiful coast lines and forest paths before our cycling in Sweden experience was so abruptly ended.. After the crash and recovery we headed back out for our second and last full day of cycling the west coast of Sweden. It was magic to be back on the bike again with our legs still cycle fit but our bodies well rested we flew along. A night in a campsite that hadn't opened yet treated us to a free nights stay by the coast. The next morning and an 8:00 start saw us on the ferry to Norway by 11 am.


Erica - Getting back in the saddle

Today is Sunday 25th May, one week and three days since the accident. On Thursday I got back on the bike for the first time, we took what would usually be described as a leisurely ride down to the coast and back. 


I knew that getting back on the bike would be emotive however I was unsure how it would effect me and in reality was totally unprepared for it. I had assumed that it would feel different and was expecting it to feel a little scary but I'd assumed id get over that feeling quickly and everything would be fine.. I was not prepared for the newness of the experience, the fear and utterly irrational thoughts that would flood my mind, though not to an extent that I could reasonably react. I didn't want to cry or shout or get off and throw my bike down, I just had to keep peddling with these feeling quietly swimming round my consciousness gently tugging at my stomach. That night my mind would not switch off from the continuous loop of different scenarios always ending with me flying head first over the handlebars. I know that my bike does not shake as I peddle but my subconscious says it does. I know that my handle bars are straight but my subconscious says they're bent. I know that my breaks work and the wheel is not buckled but my subconscious will not agree.

My mum told me that she helped my nephews to leave a message  for us in the guest tab, after she had left the room with Jack, Seven year old Charlie stayed and unknown to my mum wrote another message "I hope aunty Erica dosnt fall over again love Charlie" I promised him that I would indeed try not to fall over again,  a promise I intend to keep!

I have been riding my bike up and down the lane everyday, giving my mind and stomach the chance to catch up with my eyes. Today, the day before we set off again, my bike once again feels safe and stable beneath me, it is simply me who has been a little wobbly. it is clear that only the act of being on my bike and facing the hills will I truly give my mind the reassurance it craves. For me there is no greater feeling than letting go of my brakes and flying full speed down the side of the nearest hill, often lifting my hands from the handle bars and sitting back in my saddle!!!.. it is, after all, only this desire that keeps my legs going and my peddles turning on the way up! I know that in time these feelings will pass and I look forward to that day. Though as Katie rightfully reminds me fear is good, fear keeps us safe! So in compromise to this, from today forward whilst flying down those hills I'll keep my hands well and truly on the handle bars. 


Erica -The recovery

It's been one week and 1 day since my accident. As Katie has written below we spent the first two nights and one day with Fin, who dealt remarkably well with a shaken Katie and a broken me landing on his doorstep.. Just as well really because we had nowhere else to go!.. 2 days later on the Saturday morning, Peter, Katie's second cousin came and picked us up to take us back to his house, which was a 1 hour drive north of where we had the accident. 

We had never met Peter before, Katie had never even spoken to him, except to comment on the same photograph on Facebook. Peter did not ask any questions as soon as Katie sent him a message the morning after the accident to say we were in trouble, he immediately replied saying he would collect us the next day. Peter then sent a message to say he hoped we liked live music because he was taking us to see a musician that he and his partner maria really like. Peter has an amazing can do attitude to life, when we explain that that i may not be well enough to see the musician he responded "of course you can, it will be good for you" he was right, the music was incredible and in an amazing location overlooking the sea. 

  With Peter and Maria we visited the local city, went on the london eye equivalent in Gotenburg, visited Maria's horses and her fathers collection of vintage English cars, just quietly tucked away in his garage, what a treasure trove!We even went to a barbecue festival, swedens finest bbq chefs, who knew you could do so much with coals and a grate!! A truly fantastic start to the recovery, my wheel was fixed in a  local bike shop for a bargain £28, I'd thought we would have to spend upwards of £100 (almost a weeks budget) on a new wheel! We are also now the proud owners of two new bike helmets. 
 
On Tuesday evening Peter and Maria, drove us too Tony and Janny home (Katie's fathers cousin) a further 30 minutes north, so gratefully we are continuing our journey in the right direction! We had always planned to spend some time with Tony and Janny and had planned to arrive here on the 21st of May . As luck would have it this was just one day later than our actual arrival date, so despite the accident we remain on schedule, though we will be staying here a little longer than planned as such we have adjusted our route, we will no longer travel up to Oslo instead we will cycle north to Stramsted from there we will get a ferry across to Norway.

Tony and Janny live on a suburb within walking distance of the coast, here we have had long breakfasts, leisurely lunches, lazy afternoons in the sun and there is always time for coffee and cake. In the evenings we walk by the water or in the woods. It is little wonder I have healed so fast and so well!My stitches were removed today, less painful than I had imagined which was a relief, the nurse who spoke very little English was incredibly kind and gentle one stitch was hard to get out and when I winced she stroked my cheek, what a difference the little things make! 

The cuts on my head, around my eye and over my nose have completely healed,  leaving brand new patches of bright pink skin, Katie says it makes the rest of my face look grubby (all is back to normal again). 

 
   

Erica - The crash

Lets face it, with my track record it was never a case of if I'd fall, rather when I would fall but I never would have imagined it could have been quite as spectacular as it was.. Though also true to style I could not have been luckier in my misfortune... The tarmac I hit was smooth and grit free so clean cuts, a driver saw me crash and stopped to call an ambulance, we were within half a mile of the hospital, our destination was just round the corner and Katies family were close enough to help us... 

What I have found most intriguing in all of this is just how different my experience was to Katies.. I remember the crash in detail which I will not go into but have found singing twinkle twinkle little star over and over helps to manage that feeling.. 

I dont know how it will feel to get back on a bike, i believe that it will feel scary at first but it is something we will both have to do as cycling is so important to us and I have been left with an overwhelming feeling of wanting to do everything, go everwhere and see everything.. 

my first thought after the crash was Katie.. I could see her ahead of me and my desire to ensure she did not disappear around the corner was strong enough to keep me consious and focused, once she had stoped and was returning my second thought was my stuff, I tried to pick it all up, my front bag had spilt all over the road, but I was forced to sit down by the swelling feeling of nausea. Only then did it hit home that I was injured, badly injured, I felt as though I had lost the entire side of my face.. it was weird my thoughts were not about how I would look or what damage I had done, simply that I did not want our trip to be over... Then the ambulance arrived,  adrenaline had well and truly kicked in and the initial shock was starting to pass, I felt fairly safe and sat on the stretcher with a cover around me, the worst of it was over for me all I had to do was to sit back and let the medical folks fix me up.

Katie on the other hand had to fix everything else... It is me who gets all the attention, it is me who everyone feels for and me who people are sympathetic towards, yet it was Katie who experienced the greatest trauma, my fear lasted only a matter of minutes Katies went much further and much deeper.. I will just keep seeing my seven year old nephew Charlie aged 3 standing in a lift in London singing Twinkle Twinkle little star to me and my world will be just fine.


Katie - Reflection

So i wanted to write this down as the whole thing was obviously really scarey and traumatic for me in a different way than for Erica. It left me shaken in a different way and is important to process. We both feel postive about continuing and a lot of learning has come from the experience,  but it was bloody awful (literally).

Being alone to have to work out the situation was tough and the whole incident highlights our vulnerability and every time I look at Erica's face at the moment it is a reminder of the drama. But at the same time we are keen to continue, carefully and slowly. We have loved our journey so far and are aware it's about to get even more physically challenging through Norway, but that's what we came for. It always seems when you have a dream and goal, things are put in the way to challenge it and others question it, but that makes it even more important to carry on work through it and live. If we give up at the hurdles then we would never get very far. It is mentally challenging to push away the doubts and fear, but it's important to move on and keep strong. 


Katie- the best and worse day

So the 15th of May, my birthday.  Birthdays are a bit strange when away from home, not enough people saying happy birthday, no presents or cards (apart from one i brought with me from Anna) so you have to keep telling people :D However i didn't have much to complain about! The sun was shining and the forecast was good for the whole day, first day without capes since we arrived in Scandanavia. 

We had a route mapped out for us by our warm showers host Nick, whose garden we had camped in the previous night. The route was glorious, following quiet lanes taking us to views over the coast, which were looking particularily spectacular with the blue sky. We took a birthday cake break after 6hrs and ate a whole big swedish cake we had picked up at a newsagent. We had been looking for a cafe, for coffee and cake for about 4 hrs, when we asked a guy on the road whether anywhere along our route would be open, he told us about a few places but said they would probably be closed as it was out of season. When we got the the first place he had mentioned (it was closed) he was waiting there for us, he felt sorry for us and gave us a cold can of lager and said he hoped we could find somewhere nice to sit and drink it. We never actually got chance, in fact it was the first birthday in years i didnít have a drop of alcohol.

I had spent the day thinking Erica hadn't got me a card, let alone a present. I thought she could have at least have russled up a home made card, turned out she had and got me the most amazing wooden watch. These were revealed as we ate the whole cake. At this point we had cycled over 40 miles so had done the majority of the riding. We continued on moving really quickly towards our destination and warm showers host i had arranged in Halmstad. Finding the hosts homes is always a bit of a mission at the end of the day, but we had figured out where we needed to get to and the roads we needed to get on. At this point we had completed our longest distance day at nearly 60 miles but were feeling good and our host was just down that road, then disaster struck......

I headed off down the road that we knew was just a short pedal to a nice cold birthday beer and bed for the night. As i nearly went round the bottom corner of the road i heard Erica screaming my name and generally screaming, my body went straight into panic flight mode and i dropped my bike and sprinted up the hill, she was lieing on the floor with everything everywhere. At this point a million and one things are flashing through the mind in seconds. Was she trapped under the bike? Is she going to pass out? What is broken? What do i do? What do i do?

A lady passing in her car had stopped and i asked her to call an ambulance. This was lucky as she could calmly explain the situation and where we were. I tried to get things off the road and stop Erica from lieing down, as i thought i shouldn't let her go to sleep. We waited for the ambulance.  When the small ambulance arrived I then needed to try and figure a lot of things out. What do we do with our bikes? What about our stuff? Where can we stay tonight? How do I get to the hospital? 

I hadn't been able to get through to our warm showers host all day, maybe he didn't exist. With a shakey panicked head it was proving difficult to make decisions,  also I was very much alone with this. So brain came to conclusion,hospital is now sorting Erica so I need to sort our stuff and somewhere to stay. I locked erica's bike at the side of the road, she takes her stuff with her, I pedal on with the hope our host does exist and is at home. I get to the road, number 20, I'm looking forhouse 20, there's 19, there's 21, where is 20? Arghhh, the house Isn't even here, I knock on 21, a girl answers. Where is house 20? 20, there isn't a house 20. What, but im staying with a guy a number 20, I show her a previous text from him.... oh 25, I need house 25. It's down there. I get to 25, knock knock, hello, hello? Nothing, I walk around the house knocking on all the many doors. I look through the window, there is someone on the sofa. I knock, nothing, I knock again, the mound moves and tries to see who I am, I wave. She comes to the door, I ask for Finn, she explains he lives in the apartment next door but isn't in, I explain what's happened. Finn is out cycling or walking the dog,  I can wait in his appartment which is open. I then start to think I should get to the hospital so I can check on Erica. I ask if Fin has a car, he doesn't but she does. I ask if she can drive me there and give fin a message from me. She very kindly agrees. When we get there she can't come in with me as she is wearing pj's.  I try and find Erica, but she has brought me to the Main reception. I manage to get through locked doors and corridors to the emergency ward. Ericas is waiting to be seen. I take some of her bags back to the car via a web of corridors and closed off areas and explain it will be a while so not to wait.

Erica has had her neck strapped up as she mentioned some pain, which they have taken very seriously. She gets cleaned up and we can start to see properly what damage there is, there is a serious cut under her nose, where her tooth has gone right through, really really luckily the tooth seems ok! But we need to keep an eye on it. The whole mouth is serious swollen and her head has a tennis ball mound on it. But she seems quite ok all in all. We begin to feel quite relieved about the situation and it looks like after about 4 hours we might be heading home. But the the back doctor comes to have a check before we are released, one move on Erica's neck makes her scream out in pain, suddenly she is told not to move at all, her expensive Rab jumper gets brutely cut off her. It's at this point we both nearly start crying! Her earing also needs removing before xray, 5 nurses and doctors are called in, but no one can get it out, pliers are taken to it, just when the bolt cutters are about to be brought out Erica manages to get it off! 

Then more waiting for the results,  our previous relief in the situation is replaced by anxiety of what might be wrong with her back and also a new pain as the neck brace is seriously uncomfortable And is causing excruciating headache.  It is another 2 hours before it is removed and we are given the ok to get a taxi home. Erica given pain killers to see her through the night.
In the mean time Fin came up to the hospital  to try and find us, though he was told we had been discharged, so left me a message to say his phone was broken but he would leave his house open and had made us a bed!

Back to the good....
So Fin woke us with omelette and coffee the next morning before he went off to work. He said we could stay as long as we needed and left us in his home and with his amazing dog to recover for the day. He couldn't have been more helpful and lovely. Then I got in contact with a distant relative who lived 100 miles north in Sweden who I had never met, we had only facebook between us. I sent him a message at 7am Friday morning and he immediately responded to say he would pick us up first thing the next day and take us to a concert in an amazing location by the coast. We have since stayed with them and been incredibly well looked after, including getting the bike checked out and revealing the mystery of what caused the crash... Erica had a reflective light on the spokes of her front wheel which we think spun round and got caught, the guy in the bike shop said that in Sweden they are banned on the front wheel.. if she been going fast it probably would have just shot off but because she was going quite slowly it jammed the front wheel causing her and her bike to flip completely over the hadle bars.. 

WARNING: if you or your children have anything on the front spokes of your push bike please remove it now

Erica - Denmark - 503 miles.

So we've made it to Copenhagen, 10 days and 292 miles.. It's all become so natural, get up, eat, cycle, see stuff, eat more, cycle again, meet people, eat and sleep... I'm amazed by how quickly Iíve adapted to living with my world in a pannier.. Denmark has been mainly wet and a little windy, though we have still seen some beautiful places and met some really interesting people, staying with Warm Shower hosts has enabled us to meet local people who have told us about the area's we are visiting and the history, weíve visited and learnt about Fredericia the country within a country, designed to defend itself from all sides, even the buildings were only allowed to be a certain height so the cannons could be shot over the city and into the sea, though they fell at the first attack! and Roskilde, this city used to be the capitol of Denmark before Denmark shrunk! Who Knew!!...

And Copenhagen, wow, what a city, we've only had a day here but we spent the day walking everywhere.. itís a city where everyone cycles, bikes have their own lanes and separate traffic lights, everyone obeys the traffic signals even pedestrians, if you stand still everything around you just flows on by... Next stop Sweden.



Katie-Cape crusaders!

So we have had several days now of heavy rain. One thing has kept it totally ok, and even quite fun battling against the elements and that is OUR CAPES!


They are amazing, simple throw over material. But nothing gets through to our tops, even after consistent rain all day - still dry. When the rain starts coming in horizontally it does however catch your legs a little, but on the whole we are home and dry!

They do cause a bit of a drag with the wind against you, but with the wind behind you, you got yourselves a sail!


Katie- Dumpster Diving Tom

 
Our second night in Denmark we had arranged to stay with warm showers host tom. Tom lives in a community housing building which is made of street (two sided) of terraced houses, housing 30 people, all joined by a greenhouse roof keeping summer alive most of the year. Everyone has tables and chairs in the street, and sit out to eat, and the children play out.
Tom had taken off on his bike when he had had enough of work one year and just cycled wherever he felt each day through Europe.

Tom unlike Tom Daley who dives into water, this Tom dives into skips, regularly, most evenings in fact. Everything in Tom's cupboards,  storage and fridge was found rejected in a skip. Tom finds use for the food, gadgets and clothes,  sharing them with his neighbours,  donating to the red Cross and getting his own daily intake of food, coffee and at the moment  coke (20 bottles found).
The food is what stores chuck out because It's past it's date. However there is nothing wrong with the majority of it.
So our evening meal of potato wedges, carrot, apple and pumpkin seed salad, cauliflower,  fish cakes and mushroom sauce all from previous scavenges. 

After Tom took us for a tour of the nearby town Fredericia, he then took us for a tour of his regular skips. He explained that that you go an hour after the shop has shut, as the staff don't like it. It isn't illegal in Denmark,  it's just it gives them a fright to find him in there.
   

Erica - The First Leg, 211 miles

We've made it to the ferry on time! Woooohoooo

Day one and two we had an onterage of friends coupled with food sunshine and family.. this was looking to be the best trip ever, Chris had fiddled with my bike and I am now able to cycle without my breaks being on and changing gears without having to press the chain with one foot and peddle with the other!!

Day three we head off for the first time actually on our own, within 20 minutes we were lost, very lost.. que friendly couple number one, put us back on track whilst offering water, food and a rest in their home, due to needing to get to st alburns for coffee with Jo, Mira and Jeramy we declined (we were only two hours late for coffee).. It seemed that at every lost turn somebody was sticking their head out of a window or door checking we were okay and offering us water, people are gererally amazing and generous..
 
We've been lucky enough to stay with two amazing couples Alison and Richard had us on Monday night and Debbie and Hassan on Tuesday night. These are people who have never met us before and are simply opening their homes to cycle tourers purly for the fact that they too love cycle touring. We were treated like old friends, great food and company, both couples made sure we were fed watered and clean, asking nothing in return. Incredible! A gift we will be sure to pay forward on our return.

My favourite moment to date was a lady who came accross us at a T junction, when we were completely exhausted and totally lost,  she promptly bundled us kit and all into the back of her van and dropped us at the nearst train station. This was Day 4, the most challenging day yet, id spent the morning in hospital after spending the night being unable to lie down or stay in one position for more than 5 minutes my kidneys and stomach felt excruciating.. 3 hours at hospital and "your body is tired and rejecting exercise" was the diagnosis!! Ops!.. We decided to have a quieter day instead of the 63 miles to Colchester, we planned a shorter gentler 20 mile route to Brentwood station and train to Colchester.. 25 miles in, several wrong turns, massive mountainous hills, sleep deprived, wobbly hungary legs, I was at the point of tears, que amazing van lady.. day five a good nights sleep and route 51 of the NCN saw us fly from colchester to Harwich 4 hours early for our ferry ment a well earned rest.. both of us still smiling!


Katie - the goodbyes - 4 - Family

Leaving family feels like the hardest of all. With family living far away, it's always hard to try and see enough of them, so to not be around for a chunk of time feels pretty tough. 

However the feeling of seperation here has been reduced as we are being tracked by a gps signalling device thanks to Erica's mum. This shows anyone interested where we are, were and when every 30 minutes (see our route tab). Maybe sometimes in a little bit too much detail, especially as my dad is watching it regularly and gets anxious if we appear to have stopped moving and with the power of google maps "little man" asked if we had rested our bikes against a toilet block in Harwich- we had.  

Katie - Goodbyes, Number 3 - friends

Saying goodbye to friends was staggered out over a few days which made the loss easier to handle :) 
50 joined us for breakfast at Roll for the Soul on the morning of departure, 35 for a few miles, 15 till lunch and a few for the next couple of days. It was so incredible to have those we love with us for the first part, offering mechanical skills, moral encouragement, songs sung, wise advice and good times, so much so I just wanted them all to come with us! It feels now like they are all part of our journey and although they have headed home, they are without doubt with us in spirit.
With internet and social media it does reduce the feeling of separation, having only to be around a WiFi spot to check in from time to time. I do however hope to take this opportunity to step away from the internet and write more letters, which always allow a more personal and detailed communication. 
 

Katie - the goodbyes - 2

The cat - Harvey


Little ball of chattiness, attitude and craziness, wish I could just pop her in the panier?

So will her love simply move on to the next feeders? And will she remember us when we get back? I hope it is like this....

http://www.oprah.com/oprahshow/Christian-the-Lion-Reunites-with-the-Men-Who-Raised-Him-Video

Katie - the goodbyes

So with long adventures come long time away from family and friends and your cat! 


Number 1- Goodbye to work.
 So much time is invested in our working lives, it is no wonder it can hold us tight. It becomes such a big part of our identity, our purpose, structure, routine and security. Wow! Thats quite a hard thing to break a bond with. 
If you then add into the equation that your place of work is where you meet the most amazing, beautiful, inspirational people that also turn out to be your greatest friends. And then throw in the fact you have space to be creative, where people listen to your ideas and your energy isnt curbed but appreciated. Sounds a bit to good to be true eh? I guess thats why its been 10 years since I took flight for more thsn just a week or two. It is hard to break away from something that isnt broken, but its important. I know the value of exploration, challenge, adventure and to move outside our comfort zone... there lies freedom, reflection, discovery and inspiration .... if you're lucky ;)


Katie - preparation of warm showers

So to me preperation for a trip means, looking at maps, working out routes, planning managable days, scoping a time frame where we will be when.... 


....Where will we stay? I have spent hours on warmshowers.com. A website where people register as hosts for passing cycle tourers offering a bed, a shower, do their laundrey, fix their bike. It works through the concept of paying good deeds forward. Amazing! I have already linked in with 5 hosts across the route of our first couple of weeks who have agreed we can drop by. We are strangers, no connection, other than the world wide web, and yet enough trust is presented to allow us to enter their homes and be made welcome. This to me is the epitomy of humankind. To offer sanctuary and no strings attached, sheer open genorosity. 
Its the bit im most excited about, those good people we will meet along thd journey. Plus they are likely to be cycle tourers themselves through the nature of the site, so we get to hear of their adventures and about their experience of cycling in the srea they live. Brilliant!

Our first ever hosts we will meet on Monday in Enfield, they have messaged to say there is pizza and milk in the fridge for our arrival! 


Erica -The plan

Were leaving on Saturday 3rd May. This gives us 5 days to get to Harwich for the ferry and our first desination, Denmark.. weve arranged a farwell breakfast with our friends at a community cafe in Bristol and put out a general invite for people to join us for the first leg of our trip, this has had a great responce and (as long as its not tipping it down) I think we have about 20 people who are going to cycle out with us, some are joing us for a mile or two, some for a few hours and others are coming as far as the first camp site which is 50 miles out of bristol between Gloucester and Swindon.. what a way to start!.. our second stop is at my sisters, katies parents are traveling down to my parents and we're all heading there for dinner sunday night. My brother, partner and a couple of friends will also be coming that far with us so it wont be until Monday that katie and I will be for the first time all alone on the road and our adventure really starts...

Erica - leaving work

So yesterday we both finnished work! Six whole glorious months stretch ahead of us, yet it still dosent feel real!.. Not sure when it'll kick in.. were going to cycle round Europe. Five thousand four hundred odd miles and I just feel like I do everyother day. I just can not comprehend what this trip will be like or how it's going to feel. The closest thing i have to relate to is a four day cycle round the Welsh coast line and even then we werent camping!!.. The last few weeks have been a bit of a panic. If I could give one peice of advice it would be that if your going traveling, work out how your going to get cash and what accounts you'll use more than two weeks before you leave!! 

Erica -Why....

My biggest question, since first coming up with this plan is Why? Why, if I love the end, do I need such a push to get there?? And If Iím completely honest itís all about the Photo!!! The photo, I mean seriously, am I really going to cycle round Europe so that I can take a few pictures? I think, quite possible Yes! Thatís my drive, thatís whatís made me want to do this, to get some great photoís!!.. The funny thing is, the closer we get to going, the more real it is becoming, the more and more excited Iím getting, the less and less Iím thinking about photoís.... 


And yes I have managed to squeeze in my pillow, albeit a slightly smaller duck down child size pillow, a pillow it is and a pillow I will have!

Erica- Packing in advance, way, way in advance!

Its seven weeks and 4 days till we leave and yes Iíve packed, not only packed but unpacked and repacked several times, though we wonít dwell on this behaviour too much there are in my mind two very good reasons for it, Firstly I have no concept of what this trip is going to be like, I canít imagine it, I thought having the nuts and bolts of it laid in front of me would give me an idea of how this is going to feel, it didnít!..

https://www.flickr.com/photos/118887963@N02/sets/72157641622359444/

The second is space, back to one of my original questions, how on earth is six months worth of stuff going to fit in these tiny tiny bags!? The answer to this is that it doesnít. At least not what Iíd like to take, what Iím left with and what does fit is what we need. This in simple terms is tent, cooking stuff (no plates despite my attempts to buy every type of folding sinking and stacking plate and bowl imaginable, apparently we can and will eat out of the pans) sleeping bag, role mat and clothing.. Two of everything, 2 T-shirts 2- jumpers 2 pairs of socks etc etc.. The exception to this rule is trousers, one pair of combats and one pair of shorts.. I have also sneaked in a shirt, this I have advised is essential to maintaining some sense of identity when your entire wardrobe fits into a 7 litre sack!

Somehow.. I donít know how.. but I will take a pillow, I will fit a pillow into these ludicrously small bags... I must succeed in this one small slice of sanity and I will of course cycle forever in the hope that the tent will be set up and dinner on by the time I eventually catch up.....

Erica - reality dawning..

So, were doing this Katie and I, Katie who I think it is fair to say is the epitome of the cycle tourer, she will relish every challenge thatís thrown at us, sheíll push herself and as such me, to do things Iíd never have considered remotely plausible... ďYou want to go up where, on whatĒ??...

 

I on the other hand have to face up to the fact that I may be Katie's biggest challenge yet! There is nothing absolutely nothing in this world makes me more unreasonably upset and utterly,  irrationally pissed off than being on a bike and seeing Katieís back disappearing over the top of a hill, whilst Iím hungry, tired and struggling to maintain the ever increasing distance between us... For this I have a tried and tested manta 

-          I will learn that I cannot be great at everything!

-          This is not personal, this is not personal, this IS NOT personal

-          Breathe and peddle... breathe and peddle.

 

It helps that Katie never makes me to do things, she never gets upset or annoyed if she wants to go somewhere or do something and I donít...  sheíll just do it anyway, quite simply saying ďitís okay, you wait here, Iím going to have a lookĒ... ďwait, what, no! ..Wait... Katie.. wait, I want to see....Ē

 


katie - A sugar cube a day...

Having worked out that the end of the sugar sachet was exactly 50 miles on the scale of our EuroVelo cycle map, we embarked on mapping out  our route. Going for the 50 mile distance a day seems like a reasonable achievable goal, whilst sitting here at the kitchen table?  
Knowing some days will glide along further and others may be a bit of a slow up hill struggle. However the added twists and turns of reality may result in 100ís of unaccountable miles.  
 
I love this planning bit, looking at a map with no idea of what we will encounter along the lines and contours, who we will meet, what the  weather will be like, where the stories and adventures will lie. Then coming back to the map after the journey and seeing each memory as you retrace over the line. Itís like filling in a picture with mountains of colour and vast seas of sensations.Google earth does kind of take a slight element of that unknown territory, by instantly being able to  pop into the map and see the panorama, but obviously the reality is so much more.  


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