Monday, 31 May 2010

Tour de McFrance

On Wednesday morning we arrived in Dover bright and early to catch our ferry to France. It was grey and drizzly, and we had an hour to kill, so we went to look for a café with internet access to check our emails for the first time since we left home. The only place with free Wifi was McDonalds, so we headed there. Unfortunately this has set the theme for the last week, as we have spent far more time at McDonalds than in the previous 30 years combined. We even get excited now when we see the golden arches appear in the distance, and sometimes we pull up in the car park when the restaurant is still closed just to check our emails.

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On the ferry, we found a nice spot with a power point to charge up our laptop. Our days now are pretty much defined by trying to find supermarkets and bakeries, power points, Wifi access and accommodation or campsites. The ferry crossing only took a good hour, and we were in France. It was just as drizzly in Calais as it had been in Dover, and we quickly left the town and headed into the French countryside.

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We took the next day off, staying at a campsite in Ardres, not far from Calais. It was not really a campsite, more a holiday park where people rent little cabins and either stay there for several months or come down every weekend to fish in the nearby lakes. We were the only “tourists” there and occupied the only spot for a tent, surrounded by little cabins with gnomes in their neat little gardens.

On our day off, we went to the local market in Ardres and treated ourselves to local French specialties: beautiful creamy cheeses, fresh bread, and granny-style blackberry jam. Over the next couple of days we headed further East, camping and battling a headwind and some unexpectedly hilly days.

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Yesterday we decided to treat ourselves to a hotel, as it was raining and we needed to wash some clothes and recharge our batteries, laptop and phone. We arrived in Le Cateau-Cambrésis at 2pm, determined to make the most of our afternoon at the hotel. We arrived at the first hotel, which was closed. The second hotel looked very fancy and was out of our budget. The third and last hotel also had the shutters down. Whilst standing in front of the hotel debating what to do next, the owners spotted us. They told us that all hotels in the town are closed on Sundays (!). When they saw our disappointed faces, they decided to let us stay anyway, so we parked the bikes in the garage and got a lovely big room with a heavenly comfortable bed.

We washed our clothes, hung everything up to dry and then checked the Wifi connection. It didn’t work. We asked the hotel owner. “The Internet doesn’t work on weekends, it will work again tomorrow morning. It only works Monday to Friday.” We tried not to laugh, as literally everything in this town was shut on the weekend. We headed into the city centre to get some food, but all cafes and shops were closed. After hanging around for a while, we saw some movement in a closed kebab shop, and luckily the owner opened his shop for us and saved the day by making us a kebab and a tuna sandwich.

This morning we cycled off into the rain again, and guess where we are now – at a McDonalds close to our campsite. The town we are in now seems to be closed on Mondays, and with McDonalds being the only place open, we decided to dry our clothes here before we head to our campsite. Over the next 4 days we will cycled towards Metz, where we hope to arrive on Friday.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Early Days

Sunday morning we finally closed the door to our flat for the last time. We loaded up the bikes and said goodbye to our neighbours, Martino and Emma. They even made us some muffins and waved us off as we wobbled around the first corner. ||

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The bikes were slightly heavier than during our test rides. They felt fine on flats and downhill, but uphill we really went at snails pace. We cycled out of Ealing and through Notting Hill and Hyde Park. Arriving at Buckingham Palace, the Changing of the Guards was in full swing when we met Gerry and Dom who had come out to accompany us on our first day’s cycling.

We took in more highlights of London, cycling down The Mall, past St. James Park, waving goodbye to the horses standing guard at Downing Street and turning the corner to see Westminster and Big Ben striking noon. We crossed Westminster Bridge, taking some photos of the London Eye, and continued to follow the river to Tower Bridge. We stopped for lunch at Greenwich and then cycled out of London towards Dartford, our destination for the first day. It was a leisurely 50km bike ride, and a beautiful day. We left London with memories of blue skies, sunshine and 27°C.

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We had arranged to stay at Andrea’s house on our first night. We didn’t know him yet but had connected with him through Warmshowers.org, a community for people offering a place to stay to passing cycle tourers. We were a little apprehensive as we had never done this before, but arriving at Andrea’s lovely house, we instantly felt comfortable. He was a great guy with a keen interest in cycling. He had even researched our favourite meal on our website, and so had cooked us a delicious tuna pasta. We had an early night and got up at 6am the next morning to cycle out together. Andrea took a detour to cycle for 15km with us before cycling to work. It was a great start to the day, and we were a bit sad to say goodbye, but happy to have experienced such warm hospitality, thank you Andrea!

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Monday was another hot day, and thanks to our early start, we made good progress through the countryside of Kent. It was a 60km day, and we arrived at our campsite at 2pm, got our sleeping mats out and had a nap, as we felt pretty tired from all the excitement of the first few days! One more day of cycling and then we will take the ferry from Dover to Calais on Wednesday morning.

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Saturday, 22 May 2010

Less is more

We thought it would never end. Endless To Do lists, To Do list to manage our To Do lists, but finally we have parted with our “worldly possessions”, 12 boxes shipped backed to Oz, destined for the folks garage (cheers mum & dad). ||
The good news is we won’t have trouble in the morning deciding what to wear. Our wardrobe is stripped down to its bare essentials: 1 pair of trousers, 1 shirt, 1 pair of multipurpose shoes (cycling, evening wear, disco). It is in many ways rather liberating.

The wonderful things in life are the things you do, not the things you have.”
- Reinhold Messner.

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Now the packing is done the To Do lists are petering out we feel totally exhausted and we haven’t even pushed a pedal. I’m sure the adrenalin will kick in tomorrow when we wake up to our new life on the road, let the journey begin.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

A Night of Adventure

On Monday night we went to “Night of Adventure”, a charity event held in the Vue Cinema in Leicester Square, London. This was a very inspiring evening with 15 professional adventurers, each presenting 20 picture slides about their adventures.||

The speakers ranged from a 24 year old girl rowing across the Indian Ocean, to a guy skateboarding across Australia and a cave explorer mapping unexplored caves in Spain. There was also a guy living in a self-built tree house in England for 6 months, as well as a team of women from tropical countries who skied to the South Pole, a guy who paddled down the Amazon and a couple motorbiking down the Panamericana highway.

One of the most inspiring speakers was Miles Hilton-Barber who is “blind as a bat” and realized at the age of 50 that "the only limits in our lives are those we accept ourselves." He went on to run the Marathon des Sables, a 6-day endurance race across the Sahara desert. He then got his pilots licence and undertook a flight from London to Sydney in a micro-light plane. He has also hauled a sledge across Antarctica, climbed Mt Kilimanjaro and set the Malaysian Grand Prix record for a blind driver. He was a very animated speaker, and threatened to give the whole audience a kick up the backside, challenging us to do something we’ve never done before.

One of the main organisers of this event was Alastair Humphreys, whose books about his 4-year bicycle journey around the world have been a huge inspiration for us. He has been working with Hopes and Homes for Children for many years now, and did a fantastic job arranging such a great line-up of speakers for the event.

We certainly left with new inspiration and are buzzing more than ever. There is more good news too: We did a test bike ride for the first time after my little “operation”, and my back feels absolutely fine so far!

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Thursday, 13 May 2010

The 10-day countdown begins

It’s only 10 days now until we leave the flat that has been our home for the last 6 years, and venture into the unknown. Tomorrow is our last day at work, and then we can really focus on our move and our bike journey. ||

Most people we speak to assume that we have already packed and are ready to go, but unfortunately we haven’t actually started yet. We have been away most weekends in the last couple of months spending time with friends and family, and have generally been busy closing down our life in London. It’s amazing how many companies need to be notified of our departure, and how long it takes to sort through our belongings to decide what to keep!

We have had 15 cardboard boxes delivered from our shipping company, as well as a lot of complicated Australian customs information. However, our flat is so small that we don’t actually have the space to start packing yet – first we need to get rid of most of our furniture. We have sold some and will probably give the rest away on our local Freecycle network next week when we don’t need it anymore.

Recently we have also spent a lot of time on leaving do’s with various combinations of friends, colleagues and family members. It means we have been busy eating cakes, having huge brunches and large dinners.

Unfortunately it also means we haven’t really done any training since Easter, except for some general fitness work at the gym. We’ll just have to take it slowly when we start our trip, and then we will get fit quickly anyway…

Our to do lists are getting longer instead of shorter, and so it looks like we will have a very busy 10 days ahead and no time to get emotional quite yet!

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Saturday, 1 May 2010

Getting in shape

Getting in shape for a big overland bike ride normally involves gym sessions and spending time on the bike. As we found out, it can sometimes also involve MRI scans, hospital admissions and spinal surgeons. ||

I (Frederike) have been suffering from recurrent back pain ever since our Lands End to John O’Groats ride last summer. The problem being that the back pain only shows up after cycling – not a good sign considering our planned trip.

Several months of rest, followed by massages and three months worth of physio sessions didn’t help, so I was finally referred to a sports physician. Being the chief medical officer of the Olympic Association, and a former rowing gold-medallist, he hit the nail on the head with his diagnosis of facet joint inflammation. It’s an inflammation of some joints within the spine, which seems to get more irritated when I cycle.

The diagnosis was confirmed when I saw a spinal surgeon and got an MRI scan. Yesterday, I had to go into hospital to get three cortisone injections in my spine. Now I’m dosed up on pain killers and have to wait for 2 weeks to see if the procedure helped. Fingers crossed it does – as we’re setting off on our big trip in 3 weeks time!

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