Germany: Cycling Solo (or choose your companions wisely!)

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And just like that, the Netherlands turns into Germany. No passports required!

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

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Koln: no spectacular paths (or weather!), but definitely a turning point in the journey

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!).

 

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“I cycled lonely as a cloud…” (and had a lot of fun doing so!)
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On your marks…

As part of the fundraising campaign to raise money for the Gryphons Abroad project, I’m attempting to complete 12 sponsored sporting endeavours in 2016.

As the link above details, the Gryphons Abroad project is a life-changing sport and education programme run with the Bambasinani Partnership in South Africa. It gives young students better access to education, and opens new windows of opportunity. It also allows Leeds University students and staff to experience differences and similarities in cultures and values elsewhere in the world – which I think we can all benefit from.

This year, the Gryphons Abroad will deliver two projects: Inspiring through Education, raising educational aspirations, and Cycling to Success, enabling students more increased, affordable, sustainable transport. Students may drop out of education due to walking up to 8 miles to school, so this will be life-changing.

I know there are a lot of worthy causes out there. So, why this one?

Firstly, I know colleagues going to South Africa do a genuine and fantastic job there, so it’s because of personal involvement. But also, unsurprisingly, it has to do with my first love… bicycles.

My cycling obsession started in 2012, when someone bet I couldn’t cycle to London from my home in the Scottish Highlands. The full blog is here, but the basics are: a £50 second-hand bicycle, a little practice while I transitioned from motorbike to pedal power, and seven days later I was in London, bored. A day’s rest, and I set off for Portsmouth, and then I couldn’t cycle any further ‘cause the sea was in the way. Cycling to the other end of the country proved to me that I could achieve impressive physical feats, and – clichéd as it sounds – it was also a vital spiritual journey, helping me to recover, discover and aspire.

Since then, I’ve volunteered at numerous bicycle workshops and co-operatives, gained a decent working knowledge of bikes, and helped others to do so. I’ve cycled to Land’s End, and given talks at Leeds Beckett about women, independence and cycling. As well as fitness, it’s had a huge effect on my confidence and life journey. I’d not have moved to Yorkshire had I not cycled through it the year before the Tour de France, and thought hey, this is the place for cyclists to be.

So I want to support a project to enable others to raise their aspirations through cycling. To help get them to places they want to be, and to help make all places ones for cyclists.

The events I’ve opted for are below. Thank you for any sponsorship you can donate: https://www.gofundme.com/d2fh4y7w. I’m aware it seems like donating money for me to do things I want to do anyway, but I wouldn’t be doing such a challenge in this manner if I wasn’t inspired by this cause. All monies donated go to the casue – I’ve paid entrance fees, transport et al myself, which had totalled several hundred pounds.

I’ll be updating this blog after each event – say hi.

Catriona

 

The chosen twelve

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    Leeds – Land’s End, 2015. “If someone can conquer Dartmoor by bicycle, surely a 10k can’t be too bad…” – the famous last words of Catriona Ward Sell.

    January: Serpentine 10k Road Race, 1st January, London – DONE

As everyone else is recovering from new year celebrations, I’ll be kicking it off fairly gently with a nice flat 10k through London.

Also the Winter Run, London, because one race power month isn’t enough.

Stepping it up a gear (and maybe visiting the penguins afterwards).

Adding some more mud, some barbed wire, hay bales and logs. And a bit more running (should be quite good at that by this point).

  • April: Harewood House bubble rush – DONE

A change of plan from the original planned race, due to being very ill with a kidney infection for most of the month…

Been there done that. Trying to beat 01:49:25 (yes, those 25 seconds matter).

Just for fun – an obstacl

Speaking about being daunted by the prospect of doing my first triathlon, a customer at work told me that one of the best triathlon competitions is in Leeds this year. Not that that helps the nerves at all. Sorted. Beginner distance.

  • July: Bramham cross-country 10k, followed by the Leeds Skyride – DONE

An inaugural race followed by floating about Leeds on a bicycle with lots of other cyclists.

  • August: The cycle starts. UK – Netherlands. DONE
  • September: The cycle continues: Netherlands – Italy. DONE
  • October: still cycling: Slovenia – Austria. DONE
  • November: more bicycles?! Austria – Romania  

A fun one to finish, and back in Leeds. The Christmas 10k… which I propose to do on a space hopper. Not taking this seriously? C’mon, I should have some fun with the final challenge!

 

You can sponsor me killing myself through stupid amounts of cardio here: https://www.gofundme.com/d2fh4y7w