Day 1: Cambridge to Harwich…again

So it begins again…

  • Bike: 🙂
  • “Contact points”: 🙂
  • Route: 🙂
  • Distance: 114km 😐
  • Climbing: 976m ☹️ — To be honest, didn’t expect this amount of climbing!

After last year’s mad 2000km bike trip to Warsaw, I honestly thought I would never do this sort of thing again.  There were lots of lovely moments, a challenge and a real feeling of achievement but...there were also miserable moments and it took me nearly three months to regain feeling in my hands after the ulnar nerve damage.

However, never underestimate the ability of a stubborn middle-aged man to gloss over the past and gird himself up for yet another stupidly long and sketchy bike trip.  

By Christmas 2022 I was already casting my eye over the map of Europe and, rather ambitiously, the map of North America.  The constraints were only that it had to be reasonably flat, reasonably densely populated, logistically possible and not pass through countries that were at war and controlled by a madman.  Sorry Vlad, Warsaw to Moscow is once again out.  The Great Lakes certainly ticked the “flat” box but the logistics were a nightmare.  Nearer to home, I thought about continuing from Warsaw through the Baltic States to Tallinn but again the logistics would be hard.  You need to get your bike somewhere — with its associated bike bag — and then somehow get the bike bag to the place you are going to end up.  

So…Stockholm it is.  Relatively flat between Cambridge and Stockholm and Sweden is not at war with anybody.  I can send the bike bag to a hotel in Stockholm and then follow the prevailing winds eastwards. The dates were booked and I started getting everything together for the trip.

Having done this once before, I had a few “learnings” from the previous trip.  Firstly, Topeak bike bags are utter garbage.  The bean of doom had been binned and I had bought a new bean — of which more in a later blog.  Less tools (eek) and, surprisingly, a small lightweight rucksack were the only changes I made.  The horrid nylon “Angela Merkel Trousers” and the world’s least cool shoes were brought out of the dark dark drawer in which they are hidden stored and pressed into service again.  What would a trip like this be without looking like a complete twat every evening?

The bike is, once again, the Bat Bike™.  A couple of weeks ago, I took it entirely to pieces, cleaned everything in my cool (but basically pointless) ultrasound cleaner, greased everything up and build it back up.  This goes against all the tenets of aerospace maintenance.  When you maintain something, it’s just an opportunity to make some mistake and screw up badly but it did mean that the bike was clean, silent and looking pretty mean.  

Basically the car from the Dark Knight but with two wheels.

Today dawned, I spent five hours stressing about what I was going to pack, checking the bike, re wrapping the bars and then…it was time to go.  I’d been thinking about this for about five months and but it was a bit daunting when the time came.

I had my traditional breakfast of champions

My body is a temple

Wendy, Fulvio, Alex, Teky, Jake, Isabel and Ewa were all there.  They gave me balloons (one of which seemed to say “Enjoy the Afterlife” and another said “Tell The World About Jesus”!) and we drank sparkling tea and then…it was time to go.

[Due to the 1990’s era internet on the StenaLine ship, I can’t download and add the video that Teky took of me leaving.  Maybe they ration the water and oxygen too…]  I’ll add it later.

Before I left, I’d mentioned to my friend JJ that my first day was from Cambridge to Harwich.  He immediately said “I’ve got a route, it’s great, you should do my route”.  There are two problems with that. Firstly, JJ often just slips in a couple of unnecessary climbs into his routes and secondly…it wasn’t *my* route. Having checked JJ’s route for sneaky detours up the Puy de Dôme and finding that it was only marginally longer than mine and marginally more climbing, I decided to do it.  Literally the only reason for doing this was so that when I sat down to write this blog, I could throw some shade about how pointless it was to hand craft bike routes and turn the snark knob up to 10.

The way out of Cambridge and the South Cambridgeshire route was very similar.  I passed through Six Mile Bottom which — sadly given my age — always makes me snigger.

Eventually, the JJ route and my route diverged and it became clear that JJ’s route was better than mine. No..wait...much better than mine.  Those of you who read the first day of the 2022 trip will remember the crappy Essex towns, the dangerous drivers, the slightly “down at heel” feeling on the way to Harwich. There was none of that today.  It was all tiny country lanes, beautiful cottages and houses, wooded drives and achingly quaint villages.  

Oh, how lovely is this?

I just rolled along marvelling at the beautiful British countryside

Oh great, a ford.  Not much fun going through this

There were a few bad moments.  A 30cm deep ford didn’t exactly fill me with confidence but I didn’t fall over so I guess that’s a win.

Yes, a village with a green and a pond.  

It turns out that spending a bit of time working out a bike route really does pay dividends.  Who knew? The only downside of this is that all the snarky comments about bike routing are now defunct. Chapeau JJ.  Grrrrrr.

Eventually, even the routing genius of JJ couldn’t avoid the run into Harwich.  I didn’t take the town route and once again had a battle of wills against amphetamine fuelled truckers driving along a single carriageway at 70mph while I avoided the roadkill at the side of the road attempting to avoid ending up as yet another squished mammal on the A120.  It was…well, I’d like to say something cool like “tense” or “challenging” but to be perfectly honest, “terrifying” is the best word.  

Finally the trucker-rollerball road ended up at a roundabout and I rolled down to the checkin kiosks, got the card for my cabin and then waited for 90 minutes for boarding to commence.  

There were effectively the same people waiting for the ferry as last year.  A few wiry cycling couples with way too much stuff attached to their bikes.  Some fat middle-aged men on motorcycles.  Being fat and middle-aged seems to be the default setting for motorcyclists.  Some families in overloaded cars getting fractious as the wait to board lengthened.  I just stood and tried to look superior to the wiry couples with too much stuff.  "You should have all your stuff in a neat and aerodynamic bean you fools" I silently said.

Boarding the ferry is actually pretty cool. The cyclists are supposed to lead the way but the fat middle-aged men on Harleys really didn't like that so they zoomed on ahead scaring the living crap out of me as they came past gunning engines through their borderline illegal exhaust systems.

These boats are big engineering and I really like this sort of stuff.

Fat middle-aged man on a hog.  Surprise!

Bike tied up, I found my cabin and exploded my bags all over the four (!) bunks which I seem to have in my cabin.

It’s luxury Jim but not as we know it.

The food and drink on the Stenaline ferries is certainly trucker-oriented. Lots of stodge, lots of beer.  I stuck with the cyclists favourite:  A Diavola Pizza.  It wasn't bad to be honest.
Tasted better than it looks.

And it’s 11pm, the boat is about to move, I’m full of pizza and wine and not really looking forward to tomorrow.  It’s a big day (188km) and I’m going to be woken up at 4:30am by an announcement on the tannoy.

Today was -- apart from the much much better route -- pretty much the same as the start of the Cambridge Warsaw trip.  Hard to write about and since I didn’t hit anybody, didn’t eat anybody’s breakfast, didn’t vomit and therefore not really a high blog content day.  Let’s hope tomorrow changes.



  1. Oh no! I didn’t make into the blog mentions. I’ll need to work harder next time!


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