Tour de France

The Mediterranean See is quite nice, but after more than a week I didn’t mind to go more inland. After Montpellier I headed straight-up north again.

But I was immediately a victim of my own bad planning. I have a tendency to plan things a bit too tight. In Narbonne I e-mailed a fellow-Frisian poet, who lives in Grenoble, that I could be there in four days and if he thought it to be a good idea to have a coffee, maybe even a place for my tent in his garden. I received an e-mail already the same day that he was delighted to hear of my coming. I could have dinner with them and could sleep in the house. It was a most pleasant stay to say the least. He and his wife have been on bicycle trips as well. We had a nice chat about literature, new projects and what not. He showed me around in Grenoble and as a history and geography teacher his knowledge was vast. And he knew a few good pubs as well…

To come back at the bad planning. Before I finally reached Grenoble I had to make quite some kilometers per day to get there in time. Although I enjoyed the scenery of south-east France, especially the last bit to Grenoble between the mountains, I constantly looked at my watch so to speak. On the other hand I didn’t mind, because in that way I got quite a bit inland, which I wanted.
The next day I had made another appointment… I had the honour of hosting a French couple in October last year. They live in Lyon, so they warmly invited me to stop by. I thought, Grenoble – Lyon isn’t that far, it can be done in one day.
And it could, easily. But by train. It was very pleasant to give my feet and myself some rest. And I enjoyed the trip by train. Just a different way of travelling for once. And in Lyon itself I could rest some more, but still got some exercise, since Gael showed me the old part of the city.

After having slept more than a week in my tent, it was sheer luxury to have a bed for two nights in a row. And even three meals with some company. Namely, the night before Grenoble I asked at a rowing club if I could camp in the little field beside it. That was alright. But then came a man from across the road, who explained that he owned the building company there and that the piece of grass belonged to him. I stammered that I asked the coach of the club if it was okay. Sure, sure, he was just checking if I needed anything. I could have a shower, coffee, water or whatever before closing time. At first I kindly refused, but than I thought, a splendid way to meet local people. Since my lost stay was a week ago, I missed the social interaction as well. When I got there for a shower, an employee asked if I didn’t want to eat with him, because he would stay for the night in the building. First he needed to go into town to do some shopping and running. We had a tasty French beer and a lovely chat over dinner. And he pointed me on the fact I was on the wrong side of the river Isère, on the other side would be a cycle path which was a lot better than the busy road I was on at the moment.

After Lyon I didn’t haste so much anymore, so I could even enjoy the scenery more. There is a lot of variety. Mountains, hills, green fields and after Mâcon I cycled through wineyards. The farmers were already busy with getting the orchards ready for spring. The route along the Saône was delightful and peaceful. And I got through areas, which reminded me of the Tour de France. My father always sees that and as a kid I saw of course some fragments when I looked up from playing with Lego. The little villages with here and there a chateau in the middle of that beautiful landscape. My last host in Ageville advised me about the best route to take to Metz and further to Luxembourg. He did a good job, since it was a very beautiful route through Lorraine over the (sometimes steep) hills. Especially when it blowed like hell and I had the wind in the back.

Apart from that I can notice that I’m getting more and more north since the nights are getting a wee bit colder and the trees have less leaves than in Spain and the south of France. After Beaune I had a few times nightfrost and than it’s a bit cold to get out of your tent in the morning and have breakfast and pack up your stuff. I knew I would ‘overtake’ the cold, but I hoped it would be a bit more north than already in France.

But that’s just how it is. I can say with ease that France has treated me very well. Let’s see how Luxembourg is tomorrow.

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Early in the morning I packed up my tent with hoarfrost on it. In the afternoon I pitched it without wearing a shirt…

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Sudden southern hospitality

I began a bit unsatisfactory, but I left Spain with a much lighter heart. Before Barcelona I found an orchard or two where I could pitch my tent. After the capitol of Catalunya the olive and orange trees gave way for green fields. It was still really looking where I could camp (which wildcamping always is), but I managed.

Although camping is part of such an adventure, another part is to get in contact with local people. To get to know the country and its culture. Unfortunately I have to say that finding a Warmshower-host was really difficult in Spain. A usual honk or a waving hand was actually all the interaction I had with passersby.  I thought that people from Spain would be more extrovert, so to speak, but I found out that they keep quite to themselves.
But there was one Warmshower-host in Barcelona with a positive answer. A very friendly German guy offered me a bed, although he and his girlfriend were very busy. That didn’t matter, I was most grateful I could stay there and not having to leave Barcelona the same day. We could have a little chat while making and having dinner.
The next day I met Sam, a fellow-WWOOF’er from Denmark. Before we had lunch I could enjoy the sunshine and dry my clothes and tent on some benches. We had a nice chat and good food. He inquired where I would sleep that day. In my tent, but where I would put it, I didn’t know at the moment. If I didn’t want to eat and sleep at his parents place. Just sixty kilometers north from Barcelona, a small village called Santa Susanna. Well, with the beautiful weather I could easily make it before dark. So, of course I kindly accepted the offer. While calling his mother he askes me if I speak a bit Spanish. No more than ‘gracias’, ‘cerveza’ and ‘adios’. I concluded that his parents didn’t speak English all too well. That would be interesting.

And interesting it was! With hands and feet and Google Translate we came really far in communicating with each other. They were lovely people who did all the effort to make me comfortable, give me tons of food and all the southern hospitality you can imagine.
That chance meeting was a real pleasure. I could finally talk with local people and have a little insight in their lifes. I even experienced a little squabble when I asked if they felt more Catalan or Spanish. He wanted independency, but she thought Catalonia is just a part of Spain. He ended the argument by saying to me ‘it’s a problem, it’s a problem.’

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I left their home quite early and the weather turned from bad to worse. But when I ate the sandwhich from a big lunchpack they gave me for on the road, it made up for the hard rain.
And than my last day in Spain with the grand finale, called the Pyrenees! It was a hell of a fun ride! The climbing, the views, the fact that there was less traffic, going downhill and what not. Really great fun. Next time a bit higher up to Andorra. What helped was that the weather was much better. Quite some fog in the morning but it got better at the beginning of the afternoon. Having to camp with a bit of sunshine makes just all the difference.

So I hope I find the same friendly people while crossing France to get to know more of the inhabitants, culture, habits and so on and that I find the some nice weather and lovely roads to ride on.

And now I’m really off!

After spending a few very nice days with my sister and brother-in-law, my nerves were cooled down and I got some extra fat of all the good food. I left Tuesday morning. Although the coast from Alicante and up is called the Green Coast and is therefore quite beautiful, I chose to take the inland route up to Gandia and than to Valencia and so on. Just for the variety.
When I was one pedalstroke off the drive I was directly back in my element. Like I never did something else in my life, so quickly you’ve got the same routine back again. The difficulty of getting out of a city (Alcoi this time, Valencia was really easy!), the rythm of the pedalling, the adaption to the ways of the Spanish traffic, finding a nice spot for a break, checking the map while riding, enjoying the view, a chat with a local, filling the watersack to have water for dinner and washing and all the other little routines who come along with this easy way of living.

The first day the sun was out, the wind had died down a bit, although it was still there, but fortunately I had mostly tailwind. It was a fabulous ride (apart from navigating through Alcoi). The Spanish drivers give you so much space, that I sometimes fear they’ll go off the road on the other side.
And how I love to climb. Slow and steady you go up in that neverending rhythm of the pedals. You sweat like a pig, you pant like a sixty old whore and you feel like a million bucks when you’re up the mountain to enjoy the view. And than the sweet treat of going downhill. Can’t we get any mountains in Fryslân?
The scenery is magnificent and places I go through are not so touristy (yet), because it is still only Februari. And therefore it is not so hot, but just very nice to roll up the sleeves of my jacket.

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But that was only the first day. The cycling itself along the coast isn’t quite what I expected (so I was even more pleased with the choice of going inland first). I needed to go on some highways or along a cycle path beside it. I must say, the roads or good and in cities the cycle paths as well. Apart from that is the scenery still beautiful. Mountains on my right and the Mediterranean on my left. So why the ‘but’ at the beginning of this paragraph? One of the routines, a big routine I can say, is wildcamping. And that is not so easy along the Spanish coast. Or have I lost my touch? The first day I did find a spot. The second day I didn’t and ended up on a camping. The third day I found a really nice spot just behind a railway track, but it was with some difficulty. And while I am writing this blog entry I’m sitting in a hotelroom for crying out loud! I rode for miles and miles without succes. Contacted two Warmshower-hosts, as well with no succes. But a hotelroom is most definitely not part of the adventure. It’s nice to have a shower, to sleep indoors, but it is the selfsufficiency, a bit of hardship, the total freedom of sleeping whereever you want that make a cycle trip so great.

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Don’t mind the railway track behind the photographer…

If have the feeling I don’t have much options along the coast. It goes only one way north, so to speak. There are a lot of orchards, but I’m afraid if they spot me they throw me out. I can’t camp near the see for the same reason. There isn’t much space alongside the road and there I’m as well too easy to spot. Am I making excuses? Do I just have lost my touch? I’m I too chicken to try? I know one thing for sure, I need to go looking for a spot a bit earlier. It’s already getting dark at around seven o’clock. I’m used to cycling in summer time, so I have to remind myself that I have now shorter days. This hotel feels like a failure, to be frank. I really have to change either my route, my mindset or whatever it is that led me here…

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And I’m off!

And I’m off! Not quite, since I’ll be cycling on Tuesday. First of all I’ll spent a few days in Alicante with my sister  and my brother-in-law.

Actually, I need those few days to regain my nerves again. All went well with the packing of the bicycle. My usual bikeshop had a box and some bubble plastic to safely wrap the bike up. The band I used to play in still has a trailer and my mother-in-law (yes, I am going on a bike trip again, but not because my relationship has ended, as some people think) kinda took care of the ride to Eindhoven Airport.
So, no worries there, but when we got to my parents-in-law their place I saw that the box wasn’t that solid after all. The front tyre sunk through the cardboard a bit. We wrapped it up with tape as good as we could, but still it was in the back of my head. Off we went right on time. Nice weather, not much traffic. A hour too early we arrived at the airport. We had a coffee, but my anxiety about the box only grew. What if it would tear? What if they wouldn’t handle it with care?

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The time for the check-in came. If I had deflated the tyres? Uh, no I didn’t. It wasn’t on the website. Oh yes, it’s clearly on the website, the woman behind the counter said. No use for a squabble, I had to make a little hole in the proximity of the tyres to be able to get to the valves. We brought the tape along, so while I cut in the box, my girlfriend went back to the car for the tape. The package was now lighter because there was less air inside, but we overcompensated it with a lot of tape. Very environmentally friendly… Flying as well. What the hell was I thinking of venturing a trip like this?
No turning back now, no time for second thoughts or whining. We fixed it as good as we could and put it on the line for odd-sized luggage. I prayed to many deities when the shutter went down again and my precious bicycle was out of sight.
Than I had to wait to go on the plane. While flying you can only think of the bicycle down in the luggage compartment. Is the box still in tact? Or better yet, the bicycle?
Itwasn’t all horrible, I had a place at the window. And it was a clear day, when we took off it was twilight, so you could see the many lights down where people fled home from their work like ants. To worry about your bike isn’t so bad as to worry about your mortgage, your squealing kids and your headaching wife.

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And as always, everything turns out just fine. The box was there in one piece. My sister and brother-in-law were there and took me by car to their summer house. We had some wine and something to eat and of course a nice chat. We’ll probably have some more of that these coming days before I ride back north.

I want to fly my bicycle, I want to fly my bike

Yes, I have a fixed date! On the third of Februari I fly from Eindhoven Airport to Alicante in Spain. There I will be a couple of days enjoying the company of my sister and her boyfriend, who has a summer cottage there. And then I’ll ride all the way back to Fryslân again. I guess I’ll be back somewhere in March.

I’m really looking forward to a new little big adventure. In my previous blog post I wrote that I can lean on a bit of experience. In other words, I’ll just have to pack my stuff and go. But I have to add a little footnote in this post. Because I will fly to my starting point. That’s not that exciting you might say. But what is exciting, is that I won’t be flying alone. In order to ride back up again, I have to take my bike with me on the plane. Therefore it will not be enough to just pack my stuff, I need to pack my bicycle as well. That gives me more to worry about than the whole darn trip. How do I pack it up safely? How do I get it to the airport once it’s in a box? Do they treat my package (i.e. my bike) carefully? In what state do I get my bike back, or will I get it back at all!?

Well, first of all I will ask for a box and advice at my bikeshop next week. From there on I’ll just go step by step. Everything will probably turn out just fine. As always till this far. Before I know my bike and I are safe and sound in Alicante in order to commence my new adventure!

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Preparations

What a difference between the next trip and the last.True, the next one will be shorter and therefore needs less planning. But moreover I have the feeling that I know a bit how such a trip goes. Which gear I need and how to use it. I know about the strokes of the whip as we say in Frisian/Dutch, which means I know the basics and the routines. So, all in all I just have to stuff some clean boxers and tooth brush in my panniers, put them on my bike and get going. I have a rough route in the back of my head and I have a date (more or less, when my tattoo has healed) and a destination. So, that is all the preparation I’m doing this time.
Although not completely, I’ve wanted to do some winter camping to test my gear below zero degrees. In april last year I still had some cold nights. Therefore I wanted to see if I could keep myself warm with an isolation sheet and some other clothing. I brought my gear over to my parents’ place, who have a big garden. The weather forecast said it would freeze, but it didn’t. Hopefully I’ll get another chance before I leave. Otherwise I’ll improvise on the road again. Part of the adventure, isn’t it?

I love it, that I don’t have to prepare more than that. The planning and to figure things out isn’t what makes the journey worth while. Sure, it is necessary, but not part of the fun. The biking itself is.
Therefore I’m happy to say I’ve got some experience and because of that I know a little what to expect. But I still feel to joy of going on a new adventure to new countries and meeting new people. The fact that it will be just a month and a half makes it nice and easy to overlook. No quick and hasty cycling through a relatively lot of countries, but just three (Belgium, France and Spain) of which I’ll make the most of it. I’ll be quite a long time in France and if possible my sister and her partner will be in Spain to show me around. Somewhere in March I’ll be back again to plan my next trip!

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New little big adventure

I’ve been home for a while. Did some other things than riding a bike. Although I have to confess I don’t cycle every single day, the urge to ride is always laying in the back of my head, like a bear in hibernation. And the need to go on a bigger trip is laying right next to it.
I can’t describe it differently than a ‘need’. Now that I know how it is to go on such a journey I can get a little restless at times. The joy, the pain, the people, the adventure, the struggle, the satisfaction etcetera etcetera. I can almost say it has become a bit of a part of me.Since my life situation has altered some I have no need to be away for four months, let alone to go on a world tour. I’ve been way up north to the North Cape (Norway) last summer. In February next year I want to go down south. Final destination is Spain. Madrid, Gibraltar, Valencia? I have no exact route yet. Well, there won’t be one either, since it’s part of the adventure to go with the flow. You get some advice about the road up ahead, you hear about a certain place you should visit, there is a Warmshower host you really like to go to. Only by thinking and writing about it increases the longing to be on my way!
So, first I only need an exact date. When I have one, I’ll let you know.
A thing that ís certain at this moment is that I want to keep on promoting Cycling out of Poverty. That charity organisation is worth cycling for!

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In dire need of going out that confined space