It was a hot, dusty day on the banks of the river Rhine. I was tired from more than a week of back-to-back long cycling days, sunburned, and vaguely disorientated about where I actually was in the world and what I was doing there. I saw a camp site at the side of the river near the German city of Koln, and threw my bike down. “Right, I am stopping here”, I declared.
I started this trip with another cyclist. We had chatted on a cycling website and wanted to do a long distance cycling tour at the same time, so coordinated plans. We met on my second day in The Netherlands and headed down the Rhine on the Eurovelo 15. Now that same companion was looking at me as if to say “Stopping now? But it’s only 2pm…”
Don’t get me wrong, he was a nice guy, and a good cyclist. However, cycling with him really made me reassess what is important to me on a cycling trip.
I thought I was fairly easy-going about travelling companions, and had described myself as such on the forum. I guess spending 24/7 with another person, though, really tests if this is true or not. And at the end of the first week, my companion probably disagreed with my ‘easy-going’ assessment of myself. I, too, realised what was important to me, and that there are probably a lot of thing which I can’t compromise on.
Firstly: SLEEP. On my previous cycling trips, which have only been a couple of weeks long each, I’ve set an alarm and started cycling at about 7am. However, knowing that there was a few months of cycling ahead of me, I knew I needed to recover properly every day. This meant that 7am was unrealistic, particularly as I had to factor in the half-hour or so of packing the tent away and prepping the bike, half an hour to do the life administration of showering, brushing teeth, getting dressed, and twenty minutes to do the all-important task of eating a breakfast fit for a cyclist. I wasn’t prepared to get up at 5.45 am to fit all this in for a 7am start.
I suppose I could have reduced the time to do all of this, eaten some bread and bananas on the road, and only showered at night. The tent and bike prep invariably gets quicker as you get used to playing pannier tetris and learning where everything goes. But for me, it makes for a very grumpy cycle if you leave feeling unprepared in the morning.
Which leads me on to my second uncompromisable item: BREAKFAST. I like having a breakfast first thing which sees me through until early afternoon. My companion preferred to stop for a bakery breakfast mid-morning. This is great… if your budget allows for it, if you are at a location where you can find a bakery, and if you don’t feel hungry in the first hour of cycling. Alternating breakfast techniques would have been fine, and I really should have more assertively suggested this. However, as it was, our trying to incorporate both of these breakfasting habits just held us up on the road more than was necessary.
And then, of course, there is more obvious one: SPEED and DISTANCE.
I cycle regularly, but not these kind of distances. For this, I trained largely on the trip itself. In the Netherlands, we were doing 80 km a day. In Germany, I had built up to about 110 km a day as standard. My Garmin suggested I’m most comfortable at a decent 21km per hour speed. But if something interesting comes up at 60km, I don’t mind stopping – similarly, if I need to push on and cover 140 km, I suck it up and pedal hard at 30km per hour.
However, while stats are interesting, I am not touring for the kilometres, but for the
journey. My companion wanted to do 100km fairly religiously, at a few kilometres per hour faster than me. Sometimes, this meant we missed the nearest convenient campsite and ended up cycling further than ideal. There was also somewhat of a religious routine when we got to a campsite: pitch tent, cook dinner, have a beer, sleep. Now, I like all of these things. But I wanted to throw a few articles of “explore local cathedral”, “find local pizza place” or “attempt to speak German terribly” in there too, when time and money allowed. I guess you could say I am inflexible on maintaining a degree of flexibility in my trip. But the time I got to Koln, I felt like I hadn’t even been to Germany.
So this is why, one day later, my companion decided to push on as I saw the city for a day. He was anxious to cover more ground and start earlier in the mornings, and I wanted to explore the city. We didn’t meet again for the duration of the trip (although in the end he only reached Andermatt, our destination, one day before I did. Them beer slow you down I guess!). Travelling with him wasn’t unpleasant, but it was restrictive, and we probably both felt better for cycling on our own.
And then I started to actually see Germany… (to be continued!).