The second half of my ride across Europe began with a couple of laps of Zurich city centre. This wasn’t some ploy to rack up some extra mileage. It was just me getting lost as I tried to find the start point of my route! I soon found the correct route through the maze of streets and tram lines and headed out into the suburbs of Zurich. The conditions were much better than the previous day’s misery. The early morning sunshine shone merrily as I made my way through fields and picturesque villages, gratefully digesting my first proper breakfast in days. Today was set to be a 3 country day, Switzerland, Germany and France. Whilst planning my route I had factored in a couple of recovery days, recovery days being 50mile days where I could sleep more and eat more. Today was supposed to be a recovery day but after the success of the first half I decided to change plans and see how fast I could ride to Dieppe 600 miles away. So after 35miles I crossed my first border of the day. This particular border crossing wins the prize of most picturesque crossing of the trip. I swept down a twisty descent through a pretty medieval town and onto an ancient bridge across a tree lined river that marked the boarder. I took a few moments to enjoy the view and the peace and quiet. I knew what to expect in the first half of the journey, however moments like this were pleasant surprise on the unknown roads of northern Europe.
The rest of the morning was spent pedalling through the Black Forest. The occasional climb was compensated with an awesome twisting descent. The roads were almost deserted and I felt as though I was the only person in the whole world cycling along in my personal sunshine forest. The illusion was soon shattered by the wind and rain. As the Black Forrest thinned out into rolling farmland the weather closed in. I had no other option but to put my head down and crack on. A few hours passed by and I took the opportunity to stop for some food. Germany has fantastic bakeries and I defy any hungry cyclist not to stop if they pass one! I gained some funny looks as I stood in the queue with puddles dripping round my feet. Fortunately the lady behind the counter took pity on me and served me first after a broken conversation in English. It seems a bike covered in luggage attracts lots of attention and as I was tucking into my first pastry of the sitting an old man entered the shop. As he waited for his order he began asking me questions in German. I gave him a blank look and the lady behind the counter kindly explained that I was English. With a sudden look of understanding he burst out the shop door and started gesticulating frantically towards his car. I was beginning to think he might be a bit mad when suddenly the door opened and in walked a beautiful blonde haired, blue eyed German woman. I hastily wiped the pastry crumbs from my mouth and tried to look as manly as is possible when standing in soaking wet cold lycra! After a brief exchange of words with the man she turned to me and told me, in perfect English that the man was her farther and he was impressed that I was riding in these conditions and that she should speak to me. So the next ten minutes were spent explaining that I had cycled from Zurich that day, which caused much shock that I had cycled so far! They were even more shocked when I told them where the trip had started and where I was heading! She explained that she grew up in the next village but now lived in Berlin and suggested that it would be a great place to cycle to one day and I could stay with her and with that our all too brief conversation ended.
Heading out into the rain again was much easier after my lunch break. I had more of a spring in my step and certainly more energy in my body from the 3 pastries, a coffee and a large slice cherry tart! I calculated in my mind if I could divert to Berlin which distracted me for a good hour or so and took me to the highest point of the day at a little over 1000m. I was really looking forward to this point as it was all downhill and flat for the rest of the day! The road became busier as I descended and I passed through a few long tunnels that I'm not entirely sure I was supposed to be cycling on. It was warm and dry inside though and I had plenty of lights so I wasn't overly concerned. Eventually I decided it would be more sensible to find a smaller side road which was rewarded by the rain stopping and a tail wind picking up, happy days! The next 30 or so miles to Offenburg flew by as I cruised along the super smooth and wide cycle paths which cover Germany and run parallel to most main roads.
Once through Offenburg the next big target for the day was the border with France. I crossed the river Rhine just north of Strasbourg. The sun made a rare appearance breaking from behind the clouds and forcing me to stop for a second to take a photograph as trucks thundered by. The boarder French/ German boarder is very abrupt. One second the road is silky smooth, then next all your fillings get rattled out by the roughness! It was late evening by know and cycling across a country in a day was beginning to take its toll so I decided to stop for some dinner. The only restaurant that I could find in the small villages I was passing through happened to be a curry house, just the ticket after 150miles on the road. I was still keen to hit 200miles in a day so I ate my curry as fast as possible and headed back out into the dark. By now the rain had set in once more and continued to get heavier. I'm surprised I didn't puncture such was the amount of debris that was washed onto the road, more over I was surprised I could actually see the road such was the amount of water present! An hour or so later things were getting ridiculous, I was soaked, all my belonging were soaked and the rain seemed to be getting heavier and heavier. I knew I'd freeze if I stopped so decided to push on into the darkness until I found a town where I could bail into a hotel for the night. The town I happened to stumble into was Saverne. At the time I didn’t even know the name of the town, I just saw lots of light so headed for the centre. I staggered in to a rather grand looking hotel and stood dripping and forlorn looking on the fancy entrance carpet. I'm guessing I was not the usual cliental judging by the look of the other smartly dressed guests but I didn't really care and thankfully the lady on reception took pity on me and gave a (budget blowing!) room for the night.
After a good night’s sleep I was relieved to see that the rain had passed by overnight and celebrated by destroying the breakfast buffet and packing as much extra food as possible into my jersey pockets. Today’s route was set to take me into Luxembourg. I had pre booked a hostel in Luxembourg City but was determined to push on and see how much further I could get. Saverne turned out to be a lovely town with ancient streets hustling with early morning traffic. The day started with the Col du Saverne, a nice 600m climb out of the city, and up onto a windswept ridge. The road I was riding on followed the ridge for most of the day and as usual the wind was straight into my face. This was the most frustrating day of the trip, riding directly into a headwind on a rolling road. Any speed I gained on the down hills was totally lost at the bottom and I then had to grind up the other side before repeating over and over. What the route lacked in scenery it made up for with history. I was following the route of the Maginot lines, a series of defensive bunkers constructed in the build-up to World War 2 to defend France against a German invasion. Every few miles I would pass a concrete bunker, some in ruins, others intact the rest merely concrete lined holes in the local farmer’s field. The Maginot lines slowed down the Germans, they also slowed me down. The miles ticked by painfully slowly and it soon became apparent that I was running low on food as the dark tunnel of the bonk started to draw in. I ate every last Haribo on me and pushed on towards the light at the end of the tunnel. It came closer slowly but surely, and as I approached the light turned in to two arches, two golden arches. I then realised that I wasn’t hallucinating but had stumbled across a McDonalds! 10 Euros and 2000calories later I was still hungry but at least I had some fuel in the tank.
I was running low on energy for the rest of the day and when I finally reached the Luxembourg boarder I’d had enough. I staggered into a petrol station just over the border, one of 3 within 100meters of each other due to the lack of VAT in Luxembourg, and proceeded to grab any food I could lay my hands on. It’s here in this petrol station that I made an important discovery, waffles! 1 small waffle contained 200calories, endurance riding rocket fuel. 5 waffles, a bottle of coke, an orange juice, 2 bars of chocolate and a bag of crisps later I was back in the land of the living but had lost all motivation. 100mile into a head wind had taken its toll so I decided to stay the night in Luxembourg City to re-fuel and recover.
I rose early on my 7th morning on the road. I was disappointed that I had stopped the day before; I could have carried on with a bit more attention to food and a little more will power. To compensate I woke before dawn eager to make some big miles that day and half thinking of riding all the way to the ferry at Dieppe 300miles away. I ate a couple of waffles, my new super fuel, and headed out into the empty streets of Luxembourg. The drivers of Luxembourg seemed to struggle with the concept of someone cycling on the road as I rode into town the day before so I was glad the streets were traffic free. The morning was very dark and misty. For the first time on the trip I was a little concerned for my safety on the roads given the drivers attitude and the lack of visibility in the thick forest and fog that surrounded Luxembourg City.
Dawn broke soon enough though and I made my way onto the quieter roads of rural Luxembourg. The roads here were fantastic, silky smooth tarmac, sweeping climbs and thrilling descents and fantastic scenery. The Ardennes was one of the most beautiful and peaceful parts of the trip. I hardly saw a car, the sun was out and the roads good and I knew that I didn't want to be doing anything else. The previous days nutrition problems had been resolved with my patent pending bicycle waffle carrier and a good solid 2000 calorie lunch courtesy of Frances favourite American fast food restaurant. The morning was simply fantastic as I made good time through relatively tough terrain and passed into France by lunch, motivation was sky high. Then I cycled back into Belgium and it rained. It rained and rained and rained and the headwind picked up too just for good measure. This was the grim northern classics type of Belgium. I weaved through small towns and villages, over cobbled streets and flooded roads. Everything I carried was once again soaked through and I drew strange looks and left a trail of water every time I stopped at a shop for supplies. Eventually I crossed back into France at dusk. The rain persisted and the roads got bigger. I wasn't on the biggest roads but most French lorries seem keen to avoid paying tolls on the auto routes so took these instead. The road was rutted and covered in standing water. Every time a lorry passed I was buffeted by the wind and soaked by the spray all the time grinding on into the driving wind and rain. I was determined to reach the 200 mile mark which conveniently took me to the town of St Quentin. Once again I abandoned into a hotel, glad to be in one piece and glad to get warm and dry.
101 miles to go, that's what I wrote in the steam on my hotel window the next day, I was almost right too. I treated myself to a mini lie in before setting of at 9am, 9 hours to do 101 miles and catch the ferry, easy! With this in mind I set out to enjoy my last day on the road. Today's route would take me through the Somme. The roads were once again quieter and meandered through the farmlands still haunted by the Great War. I took some time to stop at one of the many cemeteries along the route. One that I stopped at was the Perone Road cemetery marking a point on the front line that changed hands many times over the period of the battle of the Somme. It’s very sobering standing surrounded by the graves of men who gave their lives for the freedom we enjoy today and as I set off on my bike again I felt very thankful that I was able to freely ride my bike where I desired, even if it sometimes rained.
The day rolled by and I was content to cruise along taking in my surroundings. At 20miles to go I stopped to raid a local super market and whilst shovelling a couple of chocolate brioche I checked my gps, the gps said 40miles to go! It appeared I had slightly miscalculated in my fatigued state of mind the previous evening! I now had a little over two and a half hours to make the ferry home. I stuffed in some more food and set off in time trial mode. The human body is an amazing thing, I was able to push harder than I expected at this point in the ride and even tagged onto the back of two local riders on time trial bikes for a few miles as they blasted by. I was now riding into a cross wind which helped no end and soon enough the horizon gradually grew, I had made the sea! Luck was on my side finally and as I turned to follow the coast road to Dieppe I picked up a lovely tail wind. The last few miles flew by, the sun was out and so were the local cyclists. At one point one sneaked up on me on a short climb and attacked me like he was racing for a win in the Tour de France. I couldn't have that especially as he was wearing a horrendous florescent jacket so I dug deep and clung onto his wheel. I decided to try and leave France in a blaze of glory so attacked hard over the crest of the climb and gapped him on the flat. That final effort took a lot out of me but I knew the end was near so I dug in and pushed onto my finish line the ferry port in Dieppe. A little over 2 hours after I realised my mileage error I rolled down the hill to the port with half an hour to spare. I grinned to myself as I rolled onto the Ferry; I'd clocked 1182 miles, 7 countries, 9 border crossing, countless Haribo and one hell of an adventure. I felt mixed emotions as the Ferry set sail; I was proud to have accomplished what I had set to achieve and felt an enormous sense of freedom knowing that I could ride where ever I wanted. All I thought about for a week was pedalling, eating and sleeping. I can honestly say it was the most mentally relaxing holiday I've ever had, but a little part of me wished I could carry one going all the way round until I arrived back where I started. Maybe next time!