Cambridge Warsaw

 [Author's Note:  This is the complete set of posts that I made on my 2022 bike trip from Cambridge to Warsaw.  I've left in the original spelling mistakes and oddly worded sentences -- it's important to remember that most of this was written in the evening after 150km+ on the bike that day and a number of glasses of wine...]

And So It Begins

I'm riding from Cambridge to Warsaw on a bike I built from bits off the internet.  2,000km self-supported and solo.  This is almost certainly a Bad Idea™ but, having committed to it publicly (well, amongst my friends), there isn't really any escape.  

I had planned to do this in 2021 and I was going to go from Cambridge to Moscow.   However, a number of things conspired to make this a much harder enterprise than it might have been. Obviously the whole global pandemic thing made it pretty much impossible. There were times when one needed to self-isolate in a hotel for 10 days on entry to the Netherlands for example.  Given how quickly the pandemic rules changed, I had visions of being stuck for a week in some Soviet era hotel in Minsk living off potatoes.

The other issue which reared its head in 2022 was Vlad the Mad and Bad invaded Ukraine.  I was intending to ride there and get a flight back — I’m not such a complete idiot that I would do this trip both ways.  Banning flights from Russia within European airspace was another nail in the coffin of the big trip. I had also had a little dose of realism from Tim Moore’s book The Cyclist Who Went Out In The Cold. Tim’s books really inspired me to do a self supported long ride but this book opened my eyes to the trials and tribulations of cycling in the FSU.

So Cambridge to Warsaw it became.  Apart from the first bit from Cambridge to Harwich, I would be following the Eurovelo 2 route.  The Eurovelo organisation creates routes all over Europe which are, in some places, mapped and signed but in others are somewhat sketchy.  This is a very worthy cause and they do a good job at it.  However, their website is like something out of the 1990s and the map that you have to buy to get access to the GPS tracks is useless.  It's hard to overstate how clunky the whole thing is.  I suspect I will be doing some on-the-trip-mapping-and-route-finding...

So what do you need to do something like this apart from an irrational belief in your own immortality?  Surprisingly, some elements of the trip require much less planning than a typical group ride trip.  I know roughly which way I'm going but, beyond the first night on the ferry, I only have one hotel booked.  After that, I'm going to rely on stopping when I'm tired and finding a hotel room.  You just can't do that with 10 people.  It will also be nice to not have to do the, understandable, dance of negotiation and accommodation with other people.  If I feel good then I'll keep going longer, if I feel bad, I'll do a shorter day.  If I want to eat Chinese food or pizza five nights in a row, I'll do it.  

However much fun that will be, the much harder bit will be travelling for upwards of 14 days carrying everything I need.  During the day I'll be wearing my cycle gear and therefore all I'll need in the cycle bag is a pair of trousers, shoes, t-shirt to change into in the evening while I wash my cycling kit and dry it overnight.  Some very light toiletries and the cables and chargers I'll need for 

  • Bike power meter
  • Garmin
  • Phone
  • Watch
  • Headphones
  • iPad
  • Lights
Add in a really light bike lock, tools to fix the bike and a spare tube or two and the whole lot comes in at less than 4kgs.

Weight is everything on the bike especially on the hilly bits so I have spent as much time as possible trying to get the weight down.  The trousers I taking are horrid nylon monstrosities which weigh almost nothing but look like something a tramp would wear on a bad day.  There is a tiny nagging voice at the back of my mind reminding me that I could have eaten a bit less lard for a week and I could have taken much better trousers and still had the same "system weight".  

And, with that, I'm ready to go.  It's the day before I leave and I'm trying to work out what I am likely to have forgotten and wondering what the weather is going to be like.  I'm not very worried about anything but a little bit worried about everything.  Will the bike work properly for 2,000km, will my legs work for 2,000km, will I be able to find a place to stay each night, will I get crashingly bored and be forced to be one of those weird loners in hotels who strikes up conversations with strangers.  "Hi, I haven't spoken to anybody for four days, would you like to listen to a stream of gibberish about how sore my arse is?".  Not one of the classic conversational gambits.  

We will see how it goes.  Into the unknown...

Cambridge to Harwich

 The Stats:

  • Distance: 112km
  • Average Speed: 22.6km/h
  • Legs: 😕
  • Undercarriage: 😐
  • Bike: 🙂
All dressed up and ready to go.  It was time to leave at 3pm for an 8pm boarding at Harwich and an 11pm sailing.


I’d already taken care of my sports performance nutrition.
 

Some of my ex-colleagues at Cantab very kindly turned up to wave me off and, after all the prep and worrying about it, it was time to actually turn the pedals and start the journey.  The first 10 or 20 km were on roads that I cycle a lot around Cambridge so they were a a good test of how I felt and how the bike felt.  The answer to both those questions was…shit.  Riding a bike with an extra 6kg attached to it is not great.  The big kidney bean shaped thing on the back weighs nearly 5kg and it wobbles about and makes the bike feel terrible.  It was humid and my legs really didn’t want to do this.  Which is fair enough because they’re going to be getting a bit of a beating over the next two weeks and therefore some reticence from the legs is to be expected.

Eventually I got into the groove and it started to go better although if I got out of the saddle on a climb, it felt like I was wrestling a hippo.  An angry hippo with the kidney-bean-of-doom attached to it.

Cambridgeshire turned into Suffolk and the kilometers to Harwich ticked down slowly.  There was a sudden burst of wildlife when a hare ran over the road in front of me and a flock of birds burst out of a hedge giving me a shock.  A fully grown deer bounded across the road in front of me and a butterfly got stuck in my helmet. I was half expecting a Velociraptor to bound out of a ditch and go for my throat.

Due to the proximity of Duxford, there’s always a few old planes flying about Suffolk.  Today was pretty special since there were two Spitfires up practicing close format flying.  I know the distance makes it look very close but if I was flying one of the few priceless icons of the Second World War, I would probably take it a bit easy on the “I can scratch the other pilot’s nose from here” distances.

Suffolk is annoyingly rolling and, although there was nothing huge, I would repeatedly roll down into a hollow and then have to wrestle the angry hippo up a long drag.  It's tiring but luckily there was maximum security prison in Suffolk about half way and the shop outside sells Irn Bru.  I wonder if there’s some correlation?  Irn Bru is well known as a hangover cure but it’s also a great sports drink as long as you can cope with your teeth dissolving. 


Anyway, gradually Suffolk got a bit flatter and my pace rose a bit but, unfortunately, the quality of the driving in Suffolk (and subsequently Essex) deteriorated dramatically.  It went from “A bit annoying but not too dangerous” to “full-on Italian driving round Rome in a beat up Fiat Punto”.  On single track roads, drivers would come swinging round blind corners at 50/60mph and then slam on the brakes as they saw my terrified face.  On two lane roads, drivers would come right up behind me at 70mph, and either (a) slam on the brakes and rev their engines loudly or (b) just barely pull out and zip by at 70mph.  It was pretty trying.  The constant soundtrack of thumping house music played through speakers and amplifiers which reduced the "music" to distorted mush was not great.  Also, there seems to be a bit of a thing with drilling out silencers to make cars sound louder.  Those growling exhausts (occasionally augmented with a 8000rpm top-note from the organ-donors bikers proving their worth on quiet country roads) was…dispiriting. 

I stopped and took a picture of a church to try and reduce my adrenaline levels a bit. 


I had spent quite a bit of time — you have a lot of time on a bike — thinking about why Cambridgeshire, Suffolk and Essex get bucolic English countryside scenes so wrong.  It’s as if the Cotswolds and Surrey are "Waitrose scenery" and Suffolk/Essex is “countryside done by Aldi”.  Every time you a lovely farmhouse would appear, there would be an horrendous corrugated iron shed stuck to the side.  The fields — which are each the size of Belgium — would look lovely until you saw the half a dozen lorries gently rusting in the corner or the giant pile of chicken shit.  It was vexing but it did pass the time.  As the sun went down and the shadows lengthened, everything looked more beautiful and warm. Maybe I was putting Suffolk down because I was tired, hungry and grumpy.  In the red evening light, it looked lovely. Happy now Suffolk?

Finally, the rolling Suffolk hills were done but they did have a sting in the tail for the end.  After swooping down into a village in a hollow, it turned out that the road out was a 12% climb.  12% is hard enough but with an osmium kidney bean on the back of the bike it was an exceptionally hard pull.  Quite a lot of “oops, there goes the red-zone-heart-rate warning” on that short and brutal climb.

I crossed a tributary of the main Harwich estuary and ended up in Essex, deep in Brexitland.  The quality of the driving deteriorated more and almost every house had a St George’s cross outside.  One house even had a garden full of extremely inappropriate statues depicting racial stereotypes.  It’s a different world there.

I was hoping that the route would just take me down the edge of the estuary.  Estuaries, rivers and railway tracks are the cyclist’s friend because they’re flat but for some reason, the route took me away from the estuary and into the rolling hills behind it.  Thanks topography!  That’s just what I needed.  Frequent but incorrect road closed signed were a final kick in the nuts. 


The cranes and ships of Harwich appeared on the horizon.  A time-trial-of-death down the A120 got me to the terminal although some lorry drivers had a good old try to stop me getting there by turning me into a very flat squished cyclist.  Stenaline made it easy to to check-in although I did have to bring down the misanthrope curtain to avoid picking up some cyclist “friends” as we checked in.  Everything went swimmingly getting into the boarding area and I’d arrived almost perfectly on time.  However boarding was delayed for 90 minutes and, as far as I’m aware, professional cyclists don’t hang around in a windy car park, thirsty and hungry for 90 minutes after they’ve done their thing.  Those 90 minutes were miserable even after I had found a vending machine which contained liquids. I was, by now, less dehydrated but cold and very hungry. 

Boarding was very cool when it finally happened.  Cyclists are first and we rode up the huge ramps that get the lorries on.  I gave the elderly couple who wanted to be my friends the slip, got to my cabin, showered and changed into my “other clothes” — of which more in a later blog.

I had splashed out for the ‘Captains Cabin for Three” just for myself which I considered 89 EUR well spent what with the misanthropy ‘n’ all.  It was actually pretty good with a comfy bed and a hot shower and, let's face it, I don’t really need much more.


I’d burned 2,174 calories in 5 hours and therefore I was justified in loading up at the buffet.  The food tasted as bad as it looks but the two tiny bottles of wine went down pretty well.  I’ll need sleep tonight even though it wasn’t a huge day.

Tomorrow…Holland.  I have a big stage tomorrow.  I’m meeting my friend Gideon Richheimer for dinner in Arnhem.  Gideon runs Autofill which was a great cohort company in the very first DeepTech.labs programme.  Very smart tech indeed.  They’re based in Amsterdam but Gideon has very kindly offered to drive down to meet me for dinner in Arnhem.  The only issue is that Arnhem is 200km from Hoek van Holland.  It’s going to be a tough day.

Hoek van Holland to Arnhem

 The Stats:

  • Distance: 189km
  • Average Speed:
  • Legs: 😐
  • Undercarriage: ☹️
  • Bike: 🙂
I was woken at 4:30am by an announcement on the ship’s tannoy.  A lugubrious Liverpudlian explained that it was 4:30am, we would be docking in two hours and thirty minutes and breakfast was being served.

I rushed down to the breakfast buffet and paid my €15 to stuff my face.  I was surrounded by a group of about 50 tiny Spanish teenaged girls who were picking at some fruit salad.  They looked on in horror as the shattered long-distance-cyclist stuffed bacon rolls and black coffee into his food-hole.

Breakfast of Champions

I packed up the kidney-bean-of-despair and got the bike ready to go.  I literally rolled off the ship first, had a 30 second wait at passport control and I was off.  After some slightly undignified faffing about in the car park, I found the start of the EuroVelo Route 2 and I was off.  

Almost immediately I joined a special cycle path and for the next 189 km, I was rarely off them.  The cycling infrastructure in Holland is just astonishingly good.  Bikes have right-of-way almost everywhere and, if the road is painted red, then bikes have priority.  Roundabouts have special bike lanes.  On narrow lanes next to canals or rivers, they paint two wide bike lanes down each side and the cars have to fight it out over one lane in the middle.


I’d like to comment on Dutch driving but, to be honest, I hardly saw any of it.

Last view of the sea

The route runs up the coast towards Den Haag.  The bike path runs through the coastal dunes and reminded me of the Northumbrian coastline.  Lots of people were out on their bikes, running on the beach, walking their dogs and prepping for picnics.  To be honest, it was pretty chilly at 8:30am but that was going to change.  Oh yes.

The EV2 route is called the “Capitals Route” and therefore the northward deviation was fully on brand.  I don’t really know anything about Den Haag apart from what I’ve seen in the dramatic ending to The Hitman’s Bodyguard.  Since Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson and Gary Oldman weren’t blowing things up and shooting people, Den Haag seemed quiet.  I was through it pretty quickly and back out into the countryside.

It is fair to say that Holland is the neatest place I have ever been.  The farms are neat and tidy.  All the fences are straight and new.  All the fields are tilled or sown with almost geometric precision.  There’s none of that “let’s put a rusty lorry in the field” or big piles of poo.  Farming in Holland also seems to focus on very high productivity and very high value.  Near Hoek van Holland and Den Haag, there are greenhouses as far as the eye can see.  All new, all well maintained.  Inland even tiny pockets of land are maintained and used for something.  I saw a small field (maybe 1/10th of hectare) with four llamas on it.


 As the route pushed eastwards, it was primarily along the banks of canals and rivers.  Holland is densely populated so there are a lot of houses and every single one of them was fantastically maintained.  I didn’t see a single badly maintained house and the gardens were all perfect.  Each house had a huge spray of blooms, a manicured lawn and some neatly trimmed bushes.  I don’t just mean “a lot of them” or “most of them”, I mean “all of them”.  Even houses in more modest areas were neat, tidy and have a lovely garden.

Finally on the “neatness” thing, I had noticed that the roads and verges were pretty clean around about Utrecht, I thought I would start counting the roadside trash I saw.  In 100km I saw one fag packet and two coke cans.  In 100km!  In both the UK and Mallorca where I am most familiar with the roadside littering, you’d see half a dozen fag packets, a McDonalds carton and 10 beer cans every 5km…

Den Haag to Utrecht was pretty good.  The temperature got higher.  I saw my first windmill.

They do have windmills in Holland

And I saw my first indoor ski park on stilts.


Actually, that’s a lie.  I’ve seen the one in Tokyo.

As the afternoon progressed, it got a lot hotter and I started to suffer.  The faceless bureaucrats planning the EV2 route seemed to delight making the route more wiggly than it had to be. “You’re on your way to Arnhem sir?  Why not take a detour through these hilly woods on gravel trails?  They’re lovely”…

Around 130km, I had foolishly run out of water and was feeling a bit the worse for wear.  The problem with scenic bike trails is that they avoid the towns and hence avoid the shops which sell liquids to an increasingly delirious long-distance cyclist.  My average speed was getting slower and slower and the dreaded “pottering” was taking over.  

Suddenly, in the middle of a wooded track, I came across two young Dutch girls selling cakes and cans of coke.  Luckily, their English was better than my non-existent Dutch -- it was probably better than my English to be honest.  I bought two cans of coke and two cakes.  It came to €3.15 so I gave then €10 and told them to keep the change for saving my life.  Well, not saving my life but stopping me getting into an even bigger mess. 

These girls saved my life.

As I got increasingly delirious, I started to obsess about how tall the Dutch are. I have always known that the Dutch are the tallest nation on Earth but it just started to weigh on my mind.  As my speed dropped further, I would be passed by beautiful tall, leggy and bronzed men and women on their sit up and beg bikes.  I would look over the canal and there were four tall, bronzed, older men playing padel.  I’d cycle past a tall beautiful women tending her lawn.  They were everywhere.  When the younger and serious racing-cyclists whizzed past me on their high-end carbon bikes they would look like Lycra-clad stick insects on the largest possible frames.

This came to a head when I stopped at a set of lights.  I was still 35k from Arnhem and I was sweaty and tired.  With a swish and a skid, a vision of loveliness arrived at the lights and asked me where I was going. She told me that I should take a short cut and would be able to cut it down to 25k.  Not wishing to blub with gratitude, I pulled away from the lights and fell into the gutter.  It was an ignominious end.

The final 25k went slowly.  Especially slowly since the vision of loveliness hadn’t explained that there were some rolling hills on the short route.  Admittedly only 3% but after you’ve spent most of the day with the incline indicator pegged at 0%, these came as a shock.  The Garmin told me that I was going through NudePark which promised a lot but seriously underdelivered.

It is an industrial park…

I rolled down into Arnhem and using a bastardised combination of Garmin and GoogleMaps I found the hotel.  The Ibis Styles in Arnhem is one of those hotels which is stamped out of a mould somewhere and then shipped to Holland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark.  Soulless but I couldn’t really complain.  Except when the receptionist explained that I couldn’t take my bike to the room and it had to be left in an unlocked courtyard round the back.  When I mumbled something about Ibis taking responsibility for the loss, the receptionist guffawed in my face.

One shower later I felt a little more human.  I washed my kit — which was still wet at 10:30pm…. There has definitely been some…er…undercarriage damage today.  I’ve applied SudoCreme to the affected area on the basis that SudoCreme worked wonders on the kids’ nappy-rash.  I hope it works and that my kit dries by tomorrow.

After a bit of a wander round the (unsurprisingly) spotless downtown area of Arnhem, I met Gideon for dinner.  He had booked a fantastic Italian restaurant and, burning 3000+ calories a day meant that I could lay waste to both the pasta menu and the desert menu.

I’m the one smeared with pasta sauce and the second giant beer.

Tomorrow is supposed to be Münster.  It’s another 200k and I’m not sure if I’ve got another 200k in my legs especially since it’s not nearly as flat as today’s stage.  We shall see.  I might be able to cut the distance down by ignoring the EV2 at strategic points.

Here is the strava segment for obsessives.

Arnhem to Münster

 The Stats:

  • Distance: 153km
  • Average Speed: 22.5km.h
  • Legs: ☹️
  • Undercarriage: 😕
  • Bike: 😐

Despite the picture of Arnhem Cathedral making it look like a lovely day, it was cloudy when I woke up. Sadly, my overnight washing and drying plan hadn’t worked too well for my shorts and they were still decidedly…moist.  This was an improvement on my socks which were decidedly…soaking.  I have been given some tips involving towels and twisting so I’ll give that a try later on today.

I’d prepaid for breakfast (woo hoo) and attempted to stuff as many calories as possible into my gob to fortify me for the ride ahead.  I did some mapping while I was feeling a bit sick after speed eating one bacon roll, one cheese roll and one jam roll.  I realised that the EuroVelo 2 route was 209km from Arnhem to Münster but creating a route on Garmin it was 150km.  In other places I might have gone with the Velocrats’ route but the infrastructure is just so good in Holland (and presumably Germany) that I was pretty certain that doing a “popularity routing” route wouldn’t leave me scrabbling along the edge of a 6 lane highway as amphetamine-fuelled truckers blasted past inches from my left elbow  

Rolling out of Arnhem was pretty easy and, as predicted, the straight route remained on the (bewilderingly good) Dutch cycle infrastructure.  In the 300k I rode in Holland, I was never on the same road as cars unless it was a very clearly marked shared car/bike path where the bikes had priority.  Amazing.

20k in, I was feeling a bit hot and so stopped in Beeks for some refreshment. 

 If there’s one thing I won’t miss about Holland — and it’s only one thing — it is that the contactless card systems in Holland are crap.  They only take “Maestro” cards.  So, for the first time in 3 years, I had to get some cash out of a cash machine,  

The Coop.  Purveyor of fine liquids to the thirsty traveller.

Two large bottles of full fat coke and I said goodbye to Beeks. And Beeks said goodbye to me.

Right outside Beeks there was the first climb of the day.  It was only 1.5km at an average of 3% but after that lovely day of Dutch Flatty McFlatface it felt like the final kilometre of the Planche des Belles Filles. Part of the trick to long distance cycling is to avoid going into the red zone  Low heart rate (<130bpm for me) and keeping the power below 200w makes it possible to do 7 to 9 hour long days  The devil’s kidney bean means that 200w up a hill doesn’t get you anywhere and thus there was a bit of a relapse regarding my Cyclists Tourette’s™ I’m afraid.

Once I had got my breath back it was a return to the long roads which all looked alike. 

This.  Just this.  For a long time.

For some reason this appeared to be tiny-horse country.  I saw loads of these midget horses.

Not everything is tall in Holland

I was looking forward to the border.  I had it all planned:  I’d get the selfie stick from the cursed kidney bean and take a snap of me beaming like a mad-man, the bike and the sign that said Deutschland.  That would be one for the blog and the family album.

However, there was nothing there.  One minute I was riding along a bike path called Europaweg and then it turned into Europastraße and I was in Germany.  When one is in the Schengen Zone, borders — and all the attendant noise that’s generated by idiots (yes, I am looking at you The Conservative Party and Nigel Farrage) — just seems so…last century.  

More water stops ensued.  After taking out money from the bank, it appears that Germany is fully up to speed with Apple Pay and it looks like I’ll be carrying around €300 in cash for the rest of the trip.  I saw a lot more litter too.

Depressing after the cleanliness of Holland

The cycling infrastructure deteriorated a bit.  In Holland, it’s all custom built and well maintained.  In Germany it’s more the case of a path down the side of a busy road or country roads with low traffic.  Still about 1,000,000 times better than what we’re used to in the UK (or Spain for that matter) but a step down from Holland.

A lot of this

And a small amount of this

Most of the cyclists on the roads and paths were elderly couples on electric bikes.  They’re limited to 25km/h and so I could definitely take them on the flat.  On the rises, the twinkly old couples would destroy me -- much to my chagrin.  It got hotter but a strong westerly wind started to blow behind me.  Oh thank you God Of Cycling, you have made my day.  It wasn’t strong enough on the second hill of the day to negate the drag of the kidney bean of doom but it did help a bit.  There were even a few drops of rain and when it is 30C, you really welcome the rain.  I put my iPods in and listened to some appropriately loud and energising music.

Germany is bigger than Holland.  Much bigger.  So the farming is less intense and they’ve obviously managed to keep a lot of woodland.  The woods are old and not a little scary.

Little red riding hood country

As I barrelled along singing power ballads out of tune, I totally forgot the key feature of strong tail winds: when you turn left, they turn into a Sneaky Side Wind™.  At the end of a straight path, there was a right angled bend, it was a bit gravelly and the Sneaky Side Wind grabbed a hold of the kidney bean of death as I was wobbling round the corner, I hit the gravel, slipped and ended up in a hedge.  

I got up and prepared to give the kidney bean a foul-mouthed and richly deserved shoeing.  I’d just delivered the first kick in time to a great beat from Prince when I realised that (a) my iPad was in the kidney bean and (b) somebody was tapping me on the shoulder.  I turned round to see a twinkly old bloke holding his top of the line electric bike, looking concerned and motioning me to remove my headphones.  I was preparing my stock German phrase (which ironically is “Es tut mir schrecklich leid, aber ich spreche kein Deutsch.  Sprechen Sie Englisch?” which translates as “I’m sorry, I speak no German, do you speak English?”) when he interrupted and said (in perfect English) “I hope you are alright, that graze on your leg next to the old one looks a bit worrying, would you like a plaster?  Also, I find that abusing one’s equipment is a bad strategy for long distance cycling”.  Clearly some of the foul-mouthed adjectives had made it out of my mouth before the first kick.  I apologised and blamed my lack of food.  To be fair, it was 4pm and I hadn’t eaten since 7am but I think I might need to adjust my fuelling strategy if only to avoid upsetting the locals with my Cyclists Tourette’s™. 

At great length, as the dreaded “bonk” took hold, Münster hove into view.  I took the headphones out and spent a adrenaline-filled 30 minutes working my way to the hotel.  Münster had saved up some cobbles (or pavé as it is known in the trade) for the final 500m.  My undercarriage did not thank Münster for that.

Oh great.

The hotel is ok but once again, I couldn't take my bike to the room but have to leave it in some bike park 500m away from the hotel which was a giant pain in the bum on top of 150km of cycling which had already pained my bum. 

I unpacked and washed my clothes including my spare socks and pants which were unfortunately covered in toothpaste probably as a result of the loss of temper with the kidney bean.  That’ll teach me to lose my temper with inanimate objects.

The receptionist at the hotel was a little reserved when I asked her for a good restaurant. I think my expression of displeasure at having to walk 500m to park my bike had soured our relationship a bit. However, after a grovelling apology and a description of why I had been a little tetchy when I arrived, she understood what I wanted. 

Beer and…

…stodge. 

Two very large and very strong beers later and a lot of stodge, I was feeling a bit better about the world. One of the great things about Germany is that everybody eats early. At 8:20pm people are going home. Thank god I’m not in Spain and I can eat early without looking like a Nobby-no-mates who eats…early.

As I walked back to the hotel, full of stodge and beer, I felt good about Münster.  The populace was out and about, sitting in the setting sun outside in the twee little cafes and restaurants eating their own stodge and drinking their own beer. They looked happy and contented.  And so was I.



Tomorrow I’m going to try to get to Höxter. On the EuroVelo 2 “let’s go the long way round” route, it’s 210k. My route is 150k.  Take that Velocrats!

The Germany part of today was an introduction to the rolling hills that I’m going to be “enjoying” for the next three or four days. Not looking forward to fighting the angry hippo and the kidney bean of desolation up and down hills. 

I had planned to do a round up of my experiences of Holland in this blog but I am going to wait for a few days. Let it all settle and think about it for  a while. If there is one thing I have more than enough of right now, it’s time to think when I’m riding along.






Münster to Hoxter

 The Stats:

  • Distance: 152km
  • Average Speed: 20.5km/h
  • Legs: 😕 — But I’ve no idea how my legs should feel after 611k in four days
  • Undercarriage: 🙂 — prophylactic application of SudoCrem did the job
  • Bike: ☹️ — see later
Münster at 7am

I’d like to say that the day dawned bright and clear but in fact it was dull and rainy.  This was supposed to be a “heads-down, non-nonsense, mindless boogie cycle but it didn’t look like it was going to be.

For some reason, cycling all day doesn’t mean I sleep all night and so I was up at 6am and banging on the breakfast salon door at 6:30.  Showing superhuman self-control I didn’t know I possessed, I avoided the fried pork products and had 3 cheese and ham rolls.  With four cups of strong coffee.  Caffeine is known to help one metabolise fat although during the course of the day but the other biological effect of caffeine would come to the fore as I disappeared behind a tree 6 or 7 times on the way to Höxter.

I will say this about Germany: it’s pretty empty and so there’s lots of opportunities for “nature wees” which is not the case in Holland. Every time I stopped for a comfort break in Holland Johann Cruyff or the King of the Netherlands would be looking over a hedge mutely asking me to stop despoiling their country.

There’s a certain rhythm to cycling 150km in a day.  The first 5k are just trying to get out of whatever town you’re in.  This is always a terrifying dash across junctions where you have no idea where you’re going.  Then the next 25k are checking out how your body is feeling and how the bike is going.  “Oh, the vision of loveliness bruise on my knee is better”.  “What’s that funny scraping noise from the rear mech?”.  “Bit of a twinge in the shoulder-blades.  Wonder if I’m having a heart attack?”.  There’s also a lot of obsessive Garmin fiddling.  “Is it really 130k to go?  Look at all the climbing still to go.  JESUS CHRIST, that was close!”.  This last one is when you’re too busy fiddling with your Garmin to see the junction between the bike path and the main road coming up at speed.  However, mostly there weren’t any junctions and it all looked a bit like this

Lots and lots of this

I’d been rained on a bit over the course of the first 30k so I thought it was time for some more caffeine intake.  I asked for a large coffee and when it arrived, the coffee cup was big enough to bathe a kitten in. Not that that would be a good thing to do with a kitten I suppose.
Without the giant kidney bean, that would be a good looking bike.

Once I left Warendorf, I was on the 30k to 75k stretch.  Always a difficult stretch because there’s still more to go than the distance you have been.  As Warendorf sputtered to an end in a confusing maze of industrial parks and retail monstrosities, the skies opened. I thought it was raining before.  It wasn’t.
This is how wet it was.  For two hours.

It rained and rained and rained.  It’s August!  In Central Europe.  What’s going on? 

My super expensive and lightweight Rapha shell kept my body dry but the rest of me was soaked as bout 3cm of rain fell in 2 hours most of which ended up in my shoes.  As I rode along, a rhythmic squelch sound joined the mildly worrying scrapes and grinding from the chain and gears and by Augustdorf I was miserable, wet and worried about the bike.

There was a lot of stopping under trees

I passed through the magic 75k line which allowed me to (miserably) sing 🎶Wo-ohh we’re half way there, wo-ohh, livin’ on a prayer🎶.  The 75k mark is normally a little psychological boost but everything was dirty and wet.  

These calves and these socks were pretty clean this morning

The first hill came at 90k and it hit hard.  The bean of desolation had performed pretty well and I suspected the kicking I gave it yesterday encouraged some good behaviour.  It had acted as a heavy yet serviceable rear mud-guard so the back of my shorts weren’t ruined but, once the road kicked up, it was back to wrestling the hippo and loudly casting aspersions about the marital status of the death-bean’s parents as it rolled and wobbled underneath me.  It became apparent that 600k in my legs in three and a half days was too much.  No power, no stamina and any gradient more than 3% left me wishing for an even smaller granny gear.

Even though it was raining, the twinkly old couples on their e-bikes were still out and I cursed them roundly as they effortlessly zoomed past me on the hill.  I tried using the selfie-stick that I’d carried all the way here but it was broken for some reason so I couldn’t do an action-misery shot on the road.

100k came and went.  The is normally a moment of celebration (🎶Wo-ohh we’re two thirds of the way there🎶) but not today.  Another coffee stop and I had 50k and two climbs still to do.  It seemed like it would be a good idea to take some fuel on board so I stopped in some nameless town and found the bakkerie.  I was in dire need of a cheese sandwich and a cake but unfortunately I was behind a bloke with his three kids who took 10 minutes to decide which cakes to choose.  My righteous anger raised my core temperature enough to stop shivering.  When I finally got the food, and another coffee naturally, my eyeballs were vibrating with the lack of food...or maybe it was the coffee.  Anyway, I shot some pointed looks at the indecisive family and stuffed cake into my cake-hole.

My AirPods had run out of juice and while waiting for them to charge up, I cycled towards the second hill. The bike was making a terrible noise which I hadn’t noticed due to the banging tunes playing in my ears. I realised that I hadn’t lubricated the chain since Cambridge. Doh!  I normally oil my chain every two or three rides but, of course, it’s about distance, not the cardinal of the rides. I’d done 550k before I realised that I needed to oil the chain. Normally that would be 150k. In addition, the rain had washed off the high performance “dry weather lube” I have. A stop for some roadside chain lubing sorted out most of the scrapes and rattles. 

The second climb was through a military training area festooned with warnings in four languages about the danger of death were you to leave the road but to be honest, there was a danger of death on the road too.  The angry kidney bean was misbehaving, the road was one of those ones made out of concrete blocks and my shuffled cycling playlist was throwing up all the wrong songs at all the wrong times. I was so dispirited and tired, I couldn’t even work out how to shift the songs on to the next one when the wrong type of song came up.  I climbed to Tom Waits groaning and just made do with insulting Ed “bloody” Sheerhan as he moaned his songs out.

The descent was steep and hairy.  Wet roads and cold hands are a not a good combination and descending at 60km/h with a kidney-bean-of-death induced road wobble is seriously scary.  But, since the downhills are “free” kilometres, you feel you have to take them.

I’d started to notice a certain lack of purpose to the route in the final 50k.  There was a lot of wiggling around on quiet farm tracks gazing balefully at maize fields the size of Belgium.  Why would we take the long route between these two towns?  At length it became clear that the cursed EuroVelocrats were to blame.
I see that R1 sign!

Garmin’s popularity routing algorithm had locked onto the Eurovelo route (R2 joins with R1 at this point) and so I was being treated to a nice countryside wander for people who really like maize fields.

However, it’s fair to say that the roads were very nice.  Rolling (grr) but nice.  Some of the downhill bits of the rolling hills were made a lot more scary by these little bastards which fall from the fruit trees which line the farm roads.

You little bastard

These unripe crab-apples drop from the trees and are about as hard as a ball bearing. The first time my front wheel hit one, I had a moment of white knuckled terror.  The bike bucked under me, the front wheel skidded, the kidney-bean prepared to make recovery impossible and…somehow it all came back together.

I don’t know much German but this sign up the final climb didn’t look good.

“Berg”.  Hmmm.

It wasn’t good.  It had stopped raining but I was out of energy and I didn’t even have the energy to swear at Ed “bloody” Sheerhan who was inserting his baleful presence into my playlist again.  I just ground up the hill at 8km/h feeling like I was dead and rather hoping that I was going to be soon.

Every sport has its miracle moments...the moments when everything goes freakishly well.  That night you were on the pool table at the Dog Bother’s Arms all night and even the tricky double shots came off.  That one game of tennis where every first serve went in.  At the top of the final climb, the sun came out and I started one of the most enjoyable 20 minutes I’ve had on a bike. A gradient of 1% down for about 10k on a fresh tarmac cycle path which wound down through woods.  Apple Music had banished Ed “bloody” Sheerhan and I listened to AC/DC as a swooped round the corners sticking my inside knee out like those blokes on motorbikes.  The descent just went on and on and, when it became flat, there was my hotel.

The hotel is a perfect example of a lovely little family hotel which has grown larger over the years.  I didn’t realise that it’s on both sides of the road and so after going down to the 2nd basement and walking through a tunnel and back up again, I met the receptionist who had literally just walked over the road. “You like our elevator Mr Kirk?” the receptionist said. I felt like an idiot. 

There are two things which make a long distance self-supported cyclist happy in the evening.

First thing: A heated towel rail.

I washed everything.  This resulted in a certain “commando” element to going out to dinner but who knew when I’d find another towel rail with an “extra-hot” mode?

Be still my beating heart.

Unlimited all you can eat Chinese buffet is the perfect meal.  No need to use Google Lens to translate the menu, just go up to the buffet and pile your plate up with the stuff that looks good and then go and pile it up again.  The staff at the restaurant looked a little sad that their profits for the night were walking out in my stomach.  They definitely didn’t make money charging me €13.50 for the meal but I guess they made it back on the, now traditional, two giant beers.

I’m going to do a shorter day tomorrow.  There’s only 105k between here and Goslar but there’s 1250m of climbing.  On my current form, that’s going to be enough.

Weather looks better for tomorrow and my shorts, top and socks are going to be lovely and dry.  

Höxter to Goslar

  • Distance: 124km 😐
  • Average Speed: 18.2 km/h ☹️
  • Legs: ☹️☹️
  • Undercarriage: 😐
  • Bike: 🙂
The combination of a surfeit of chicken fried rice with extra pork bits and a radioactively hot towel rail pumping out heat in the bathroom caused me to have a pretty bad night.

When I finally dragged myself out of bed at 6:30, Höxter was looking lovely in the sun.  It made a big change after yesterday and I went a bit mad and decided to change my nutrition strategy.  Rather than falling on the breakfast buffet like a pillaging Viking, I would have a light breakfast and eat along the way.  It was going to be a shorter day and I thought I would try to enjoy it.

A light breakfast with my bean

Of course the gods of cycling laugh in the face of the hubris of attempting to enjoy a day cycling.  

The only bridge in Höxter over the River Waser was completely closed for extensive repairs and neither my Garmin nor Google Maps seemed to be able to work out a way around this.  I blindly struck out in a random direction following the river and after 10km I found the next bridge.  My Garmin unerringly directed me back to the point 75m from where I started but on the other side of the bridge.  That’s 20k I didn’t expect to do and there was worse to come.

Almost immediately the roads began to climb.  The lovely descent that I’d had yesterday had to be paid for and there were some long grinds at 3% and 4% on the tab but these climbs went well because I was feeling good and the weather was nice.  I even shot a video of how nice it was.

A lot of Germany is like this

The second climb took me onto some beautiful logging tracks — all brand new tarmac — which also resulted some video footage.  It’s very hard to capture what it’s like just cycling across Europe in still photos and maybe video is the way to go.

A lot of Germany is like this too

I saw my first sign of the Cold War which reminded me that I was riding through one of the most fortified borders in recent history.  Within my lifetime, tanks performed war-game manoeuvres on these very roads and fields practicing for the day when the USSR rolled across the Elbe and we all turned into radioactive dust.

No idea what this means but maybe if I was driving a tank it would make sense

The day wore on and I started to feel hungry and, although the route took me through lots of little farming villages, there was absolutely nothing open.  No cafes, no bakeries, no shops. As the hours passed I was getting awfully hungry and, indeed, so hungry that I was taking short 3k detours into other small villages which also didn’t have anything open.  It had been five hours since my light breakfast with my hateful bean and any internal reserves I had left were running low.

Eventually, I arrived in Einbeck which appeared to be a retail big box wasteland but out of nowhere a lovely main square appeared and I got some food at a bakery.

No, I really do want two sandwiches..

It took a while to convince the person in the bakery — who was the first person I met in Germany who didn't speak excellent English — that I wanted both sandwiches.

My German is basically the following words
  • Bremsstrahlung
  • Eigenvector
  • Gedankenexperiment
  • Danke
  • Ein grosse bier.
This limited vocabulary doesn’t really help when you’re trying to convince somebody that you want quite a lot of food.

After a lot of humiliating pointing and nodding I got both my sandwiches and felt a lot better.  Out of Einbeck, I rolled along, musing on various things because at some point, pedalling on the flat just becomes automatic.  Your mind wanders and you sort of get into a zone.

🎶The long and straight road🎶

Sometimes you are wondering about weighty matters like politics or science or finance but sometimes about why somebody would throw a used condom out of their car in the middle of nowhere.  “Hans, why haven’t you thrown out that used condom?”  “No idea Helga, it’s been on the dashboard of the BMW for a week.  I’ll just flob it out of the window here in the middle of nowhere”.  “Good plan”!  And with such thoughts you don’t notice that the cycle lane is about to cross the road and…you get another graze on your knee as you hit a barrier.

I blame Hans and Helga.

I knew there was a final big climb 30k from the end and so after a quick smash and grab at a garage for a Twix, I started up the climb.  The first bit was a sustained 6-8% which is hard enough.  This is the sort of gradient that you get for sustained periods during events like the Mallorca 312.  It’s not easy — especially wrestling an angry hippo — but I can cope with it.

Then I saw the dreaded sign.

Bloody hell

15% for 2km.  Even without 750km in my legs and without a kidney bean made from pure neutronium I would struggle up a 15% slope.  I got into the lowest gear and out of the saddle.  The bastard bean rocked around on the back, the bike creaked and groaned and I creaked and groaned.  I completely emptied myself on the first kilometre but then I cracked.  A spectral Carlton Kirby from GCN shouted in one ear “Kirk’s cracked.  He’s pedalling squares.  I think his day is done Sean”.  Sean Kelly’s monotone droned in the other ear “He’s given a hundert percent and he’s been on the rivet for long enough.  He’s majorly hurting here”.  Finally…I walked the walk of shame up the last kilometre.

I tried to take a triumphant self-timer photo at the top but I misjudged how the iPhone timer worked.  I think this premature photo gives a better impression of what I really felt like

Smile please

Even on the descent, I was finished and just freewheeled down trying to recover.  Given the gradient on the other side, freewheeling was a 70km/h white-knuckle ride but I was beyond caring.  Let the bean of doom do its worst.   

As an aside, I am a little obsessed with the whole “statistics” thing in cycling.  I know my FTP — if you don’t know what this is, don’t worry — I know how my body responds to exercise:  power, heart rate, cadence.  I spend a lot of time looking at the various readouts on my Garmin head unit and I think I’m pretty well calibrated.  Once I got to the bottom of the descent, all this stuff was out of the window.  I can put out 900w in a sprint and 220w for 20 minutes normally but on a tiny 2% grade on the way into Goslar, I was struggling to put out 110w and my heart rate was low.  Tired, spent, body not responding properly…just horrible.

Arriving at the hotel was a blessed relief and they put me in a room with a properly huge towel rail.

The best thing about today

Wandering around Goslar in a bit of a daze, I eventually found nice restaurant which does meat based mains with potato based sides which is all I really need apart from beer.

Google Translate calls these “Grandma’s balls”.  Tasty.

The route tomorrow is a bit unclear.  The proper towns with hotels and restaurants are few and far between in this part of Germany and, although I was hoping to cross into the old GDR tomorrow, that would be a good 180-200k which is a bit ambitious after today.  So a short day of about 100k to Staßfurt.  Let’s hope that the bridges aren’t out.  I think I might try to join the EV2 route again.  It’s a bit longer (as usual) but I can potter along.

Goslar to Staßfurt

  • Distance: 12km + 98km = 110km 😐
  • Average Speed: Some distance-weighted average of 14.3km/h and 20.6km/h ☹️
  • Legs: 😐
  • Undercarriage: 🙂 — but I may just be getting used to pain
  • Bike: 🙂🙂
To be honest, I had rather overdone the rosado wine and beers last night so I felt a little rough when I woke but that was all forgotten when I saw the breakfast buffet.  It was so fantastic I had to take a panoramic shot of it.

A cornucopia of food requiring a full panoramic shot. 

Rampaging Viking was back again and I ate bacon sandwiches, some sort of cherry pie, cheese and ham sandwiches, a bowl of cornflakes and three cups of strong coffee.  I wasn’t going to make yesterday’s mistake of not fueling properly at the beginning of the day although I was continuing to forget about the diuretic effect of coffee.

I vaguely heard the dulcet tones of Sean Kelly in my ear.  “I’m not sure if that’s the right breakfast for this type of event Carlton.  Normally the pros have a light breakfast like an omelette…or a sandwich…cheese…maybe jam…or a bowl of porridge…or something else.  In my day in the pro-peloton, we would just have two cups of coffee and a handful of amphetamines and we were good to spend 5 hours on the rivet giving it one hundert per cent.”  

For those of you not into professional bike racing, the legendary Irish hard-man of cycling Sean Kelly now plies his trade as a commentator for GCN and Eurosport.  He is a terrible pundit (mainly through being completely incomprehensible 50% of the time) but pro-cycling fans (and I) consider him an immovable fixture of their viewing  

I was feeling pretty perky after the giant breakfast and I’d noticed that the EV2 route went right past the hotel so I thought I would follow the true EV2 route today.  Well, I would follow the EV2 route after I had cycled back to the hotel to get my gloves…

Almost immediately I was climbing up through the suburbs of Goslar.  5% or 6%, all pretty reasonable tarmac roads and and then I saw this.

So steep it’s got steps

Yes, the EV2 routemasters had done it again.  A 25% slope followed by…a gravel logging path at 10%.  Every single stone a puncture waiting to happen.

WTAF?

It went on.  Gnarly terrifying descents where the bike and the bean of doom were slipping around underneath me and then straight into more climbing up 10-12% slopes on gravel.

Oh yeah, just want you want on a long distance cycle.

I was walking the walk-of-shame on every ascent now as they topped out at 16%…on gravel.  Who in their right mind runs a long distance cycling route through steep un-paved forest tracks.  As you might imagine, I was turning the forests blue with my language.

I looked at the “forthcoming climbs” screen on my Garmin and realised that 10 out of the 18 recognised climbs in the German section of the EV2 were in the next 40k.  And they were all averaging 8% with peaks of 12%+.  

I made the decision I should have made days ago and I was finally done with EV2 from here on. I’d use their town and city waypoints but I was going to work on a new route: EwanVelo 2.  No shit roads, no pointless detours to look at some picturesque forests and no 16% climbs on gravel. 

I worked some computers magic with Garmin Connect or Google Maps and came up with a new route from where I was (the middle of bloody nowhere) to Staßfurt which was my next destination and…surprise surprise…there were no proper climbs at all.  

My EwanVelo2 route took me down a final terrifying logging trail descent and I was on paved roads with reasonable gradients again.  It’s not exactly flat all the way but the rolling well paved roads max out at 7% or 8% which isn’t pleasant but it can be done.  Even with Beelzibub’s bean on the back.

This I can do

As an aside, like John Self in Martin Amis’ classic book “Money” (“Unless I tell you I’m not smoking, just assume that I’m always smoking a cigarette”), unless I tell you otherwise, just assume I’m on roads like this for the rest of Germany.

I saw a lady taking her horse for a walk on a horse.

No saddle, no shoes, but I’ve got my tiny horse.

In the delightfully named village of Zilly, I had a bit of an “incident”.  As I was crossing a junction on the well-marked cycle lane, a driver of a very shiny new BMW SUV was too busy talking on his phone to see the well-marked stop sign before the cycle lane and drove into me.  Luckily he was moving pretty slowly and luckily I had swerved a bit so just ended up on his bonnet.  Neither I nor the bike were damaged in any way.  In another piece of fantastic luck, I had landed on the crumple zone of the bonnet and so I had stoved it in and the bike had left a couple of really deep scratches and dents in his shiny and new bumper and bonnet.  The bloke got out to shout at me and I mutely pointed to the stop sign, the cycle lane and the phone in his hand.  I then got back on the bike and pedalled off.  I was lucky and got off lightly.  I was also lucky that the bloke is probably looking at a couple of grand of bodywork repairs which might make him think twice about driving while texting in future.

Sadly I didn’t get the usual massive adrenaline rush which usually accompanies a brush with death.  That’s probably because it was way too slow and a sedate bump isn’t a proper brush with death.  It was more akin to toppling over in a ski lift by mistake.  I could have done with the performance enhancing properties of a massive adrenaline rush. 

As I said above, it was the same type of roads that rolled seemingly endlessly under my wheels.  I was alert to bad noises from the bike after the bump but it all seemed fine.  Unsurprisingly, I wasn’t hungry given that I had eaten enough breakfast to last me until next Tuesday, but I was starting to get thirsty — maybe bacon for breakfast isn’t a good idea.  I fell into the now familiar rhythm of rolling through tiny villages hoping for a cafe, a shop, a bar, anything but, once again, rural Germany defeated me and I pedalled on smacking my lips and wondering whether raw maize would quench my thirst.

I spent a very thirsty 10km with a German couple on e-bikes.   Mid 40s, the bloke with a chiselled stubbly jaw, the woman with angular cheekbones and long blonde hair.  They were both wearing white jeans and white linen shits.  Visitors to Mallorca will recognise these people as straight out of an Engel and Völkers real estate advert.   They weren’t working hard on their e-bikes, just pootling up the hills at 25km/h and coasting down the hills at 25km/h.  I wasn’t pootling up the hills at 25km/h but I was going downhill much faster than them.  I grew to hate them as I passed them on the downhills and then heard their e-bikes humming up the hill behind me.  They even had full water bottles.  It all just seemed so unfair.  They turned off the main road eventually which is why I’m not posting this from a police cell under charge for GBH. 

The exceptionally unlovely town of Halberstat was large enough to have a cafe and I had a large coffee and four bottles of water which ensured that both caffeine withdrawal and thirst weren’t going to be a problem for the next three hours.

Note the ashtray

As my table had a full ashtray on it and as it wasn’t removed when I sat down, I might as well mention the smoking thing in Germany: it appears everybody smokes in Germany.  Every cafe and restaurant is empty inside and the tables outside are crammed with people smoking.  You can always get a seat in a restaurant inside because everybody wants to sit outside and smoke.  It’s…unexpected…but I read somewhere that because the Nazis were vehemently anti-smoking, post-war smoking was a sign of rebellion and it became a “thing” in Germany. Growing your hair long, listening to shit music and wearing a Che Guevara t-shirt seems the healthier rebellion option. 

With water on board, all I had to do was a 30k grind into Staßfurt — my goal for today.  From about 5k out, it was clear that this wasn’t going to be pretty town and it got even less pretty from there. I cycled through some desolate parts south of the railway tracks looking for my hotel.

When I reached it, it was clear that, although there isn’t a great choice of hotels in Staßfurt, the Hotel Burgas maybe wasn’t the best choice to make from the limited selection. I’m the only guest, the restaurant is closed, the room decor screams “last decorated in 1972” and they have only given me one towel.

However, look on the bright side, it’s most expensive than any other room on this trip so far. Weird. 

A pastel coloured Cumbernauld

I went out for dinner without any plans. Everything was very run-down and unpleasant. Lots of crappy streets with crappy burnt out cars, crappy graffiti and lots of hard looking blokes with sleeve tattoos smoking on street corners. Even when I walked over the railway bridge to the “right side” of the tracks the feeling of decay and decline was still there. There weren’t many nice buildings but those that were nice were covered in tags. We’re not in the Netherlands now Toto.

Sunday evening was not party central in downtown Staßfurt. Almost everywhere that sold food was shut until Tuesday. Those that were open had a rugby-scrum of furiously smoking pumped-up hard men in cap sleeve t-shirts and bad tattoos downing giant vats of lager. 

On the corner of a roundabout and a motorway I came across the Pizza Al Capone. This was seemingly a modern and family-oriented restaurant: sleeve-tattooed hard men brought their sleeve-tattooed chisel-faced girlfriends and their kids here and smoked furiously while the kids ate pizza and ice cream sundaes.  Some of them were 60 year old sleeve-tattooed ex-hard men with their chisel-faced 60 year old sleeve-tattooed wives who would buy their grandchildren ice cream sundaes while smoking furiously at them.

There was space inside the restaurant — why would you want to sit inside where you couldn’t smoke furiously at your kids or grandkids — and I got a quiet table, bruschetta, beer and (the cyclists favourite) Pizza Diavola.

All the major food groups

The pizza wouldn’t have passed the stringent pizza tests of my Italian in-laws but it wasn’t bad. No, it was better than that, it was good. The giant ice cream Sunday was very good too. 

Because I’m worth it

My waitress (with a sleeve-tattoo and “Fuck You” tattooed on her thigh) efficiently supplied me with enough beer and wine that I thought better of Staßfurt and I thought much better of Restaurant Al Capone. This isn’t some twee little village in the countryside and it’s certainly not anywhere in the Netherlands but it’s a proper post-industrial town that isn’t catering to tourists. “Fuck you” indeed. 

Today — apart from the baleful and hateful first 10km of the EV2 — wasn’t too bad. I could be make it to Berlin tomorrow. The EV2 route says it’s 280 and, knowing those dastardly Velocrats, that route will involve going down a coal mine, scaling a cliff and riding your bike through a lake but EwanVelo route is 220km.  Even without the cyclocross routing, that’s going to be too much.

Therefore I’m going to Potsdam on the EwanVelo 2 route. I think it’s worth spending some time where Roosevelt, Truman, Stalin and Churchill decided the course of history for nearly 50 years.

It’s 180km and the radiator which is supposed to be drying my shorts isn’t working. It could be a moist start to the day. But not in a good way.

Staßfurt to Potsdam

  • Distance: 181km 🙂🙂
  • Average Speed: 21km/h 😐
  • Legs: 🙂
  • Undercarriage: 😐
  • Bike: 😄
I had a bad night waking up multiple times with bike crash nightmares.  Hmm.

However, since I was up early and I was the only person in the hotel, I could get the death-bean packed with my stuff, suit up, apply the prophylactic SudoCrem to the undercarriage and be ready to leave as soon as I had breakfast.  In the past, I have tended not to go down to breakfast in my cycle gear because the sight of a man in tight and somewhat damp Lycra is not what most people want to see first thing in the morning.

Ready to go, I got into the breakfast room and found a table set for one with cutlery and a cup.  There was also a pretty good buffet spread with six fresh rolls, a pile of ham slices and cheese slices and a couple of cut up tomatoes.  I wasn’t going to get through all of it but I would make a good try at it since my “giant breakfast, and make it through the rest of the day on a Twix” nutrition strategy was holding up well.   

I had managed three and a half rolls, all the tomatoes and most of the ham and cheese when the Swedish family of five who had arrived later the previous evening came down for their breakfast…which I had just eaten.  I would have eaten my own face off in embarrassment had I not already been incredibly full of illicit Swedish breakfast.

There was nothing I could do but own-up and grovel.  The three daughters — who were caricature of blond Swedish children — looked a quite upset at their breakfast, or lack of it, but the father and mother were pretty calm…considering.  I suggested the Restaurant Al Capone as an alternative — I’d noticed they did breakfast the previous evening — and I offered to take them there and pay for breakfast but the father wouldn’t hear of it.  He said (rather coolly) that he was capable of paying for his family’s breakfast himself.  The long-distance cyclist who has just devoured all the free food, hasn’t had a shave in 9 days and is, charitably, looking a little the worse for wear, probably isn’t somebody you’d trust to take you and your family to a restaurant and pay for the food.  The damp Lycra might have been a factor too. 

Luckily the bike was all ready to go so I could wave a cheery “goodbye and sorry” before pedalling off down the road feeling mortified — but also pleasantly stuffed with cheese and ham. 

The EwanVelo 2 route would take me north to Magdeburg and then I’d head east towards Potsdam.  It looked flat(ish) so I put a bit of effort into it for the first 40k ignoring the occasional stolen Swedish breakfast burp. I travelled through seemingly endless farmland and villages.  It was all a bit boring and even a man like myself who still finds amusingly named places funny, didn’t smile as much as I normally would have over this one.
Ho ho ho.

To be honest, there didn’t appear to be much to smile about in Lust and an old crone set her dog on me for taking a picture of the sign.

Lust was not a blessed place.

Everywhere I looked it was like this all the way to the horizon. 

Fields, sun, wind turbines.  Forever.

Getting through Magdeburg was a nightmare of complex junctions and tram tracks exactly the right width to trap my front bike wheel and make my dentist’s day.

Magdeburg is on the Elbe which was a large part of the inner German border although Magdeburg itself was well inside the GDR. 1,100 people were killed trying to escape to the West and this was only 30 years ago.  I often wonder why states such as the German Democratic Republic and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea have the word Democratic in their name.  The cognitive dissonance required to call yourself a “Democratic” and shoot people who want to leave because they can’t vote for change seems…difficult to understand.  Most people who died were either shot as they crossed or captured and taken away to be shot.  I guess we should be grateful that Priti Patel isn’t shooting migrants in the head.  For what it’s worth, the death rate in the English Channel is about the same as the death rate on the old Iron Curtain.

The Elbe.  Historic in all the wrong ways.

Interestingly, most people who crossed the border were actually sold by the GDR to West Germany for approximately $25,000. The GDR was the showcase of the communist block but even the “best” of communism collapsed economically and selling dissidents for hard currency solved the dissident problem and also helped to prop up the state’s failing finances.

I recommend Stasiland by Anna Funder as a great book to read if you want to understand more about how crazy the GDR was.  Fully one fifth of the entire population were Stasi informers.  There were people who found out that their 15 year marriage was actually a sham once the wall came down.  Their husband or wife had been told to marry them to get intelligence on dissident activities. There were some meetings of dissident groups where everybody there was a Stasi informant and there were no actual dissidents.

It is an astonishing testament to the determination and resilience Germany that they took on the reunification task and (mostly) succeeded in converting a failed state into half of a new country.  I had noticed things getting more run down once I crossed the old border but, astonishingly, I don’t actually know when I did cross the border. Some time before Staßfurt I guess but the fact I didn’t and that in 30 years all trace of the line that could have triggered WW3 was gone…was tremendous. Well done Germany. 

Anyway, this is a cycling blog not a politics blog so…on with the cycling.  Or not.

Once again, the main bridge was out of service.  A little old lady explained that there was no way over the Elbe except going down to the next town.  Or…I could walk through the building site that was all that was left of the bridge…so I did that. 

Google translate helped with “Raus aus meiner Baustelle du Wichser”

There were some pretty strident shouts from the construction workers but I had my stock phrase ready “Ich spreche kein Deutsch” and just kept pushing the bike and hauling it over barriers.  It was a long and sweaty 10 minutes but I was happy to risk anger to save myself a pointless 10km cycle.  After the breakfast incident, I may be immune to social pressure and embarrassment for the rest of my life.

More long, hot and identical roads followed.

These pictures might be boring for you but think how boring it was for me.

I was making reasonable time although the “distance to go” indicator on the Garmin wasn’t going down very fast because it had started at a very big number after all.  As I swept through the fifth or sixth tiny village with no open shops where I could buy water I saw this decoration on the window outside an establishment which appeared to be open.

A man and his giant meat

I had to stop.  Here was a chance to see either a kebab skewer as big as a man or a man who was only as big as a kebab skewer.  Either way, this wasn’t something to pass up especially since he might sell water.  The man in the picture (who was reassuringly normally sized) overcharged me viciously for two bottles of water but I was (a) desperatlt thirsty and (b) still looking around to see where he was hiding the man-sized kebab skewer.

It’s time for a picture of Karl Marx Straße and a dog ornament made out of wellington boots.  Why?  Well, it was the only thing that amused me in about 100km of hot cycling.

Well, he still has a street named after him.

This is a dog.  I think.

I reached half way.  Occasionally the route threw up a couple of kilometres of ugly cobble stones which dented my average speed quite a bit and also dented my long-suffering undercarriage.  

Cobbles.  Cobbles.  Christ I hate cobbles.

Another bridge under repair resulted in a 10 minute walk, fording a small stream and then cycling on sand for while.  It was a fun packed afternoon but at least I wasn’t hungry.  My own breakfast plus two and a half Swedish breakfasts definitely kept the hunger at bay.

Clamber through this or cycle an extra 20k?  Easy choice.

There was more of this

If you assume my entire day was like this, you’re not far wrong.

I hit up some new playlists and remembered that disco-funk in the 70s was fantastic.  I, like many men of my generation, spent my formative musical years in the 70s trying to be cool listening to Bowie or Lou Reed or (god help me) prog-rock.  Meanwhile disco-funk was churning out some of the most amazing songs of the decade. It’s also very striking that Prince took almost all of his guitar tones, bass lines, beats, horn stabs and vocal tics from this music (which was fully acknowledged by the great man himself obviously). I loudly sang 🎶Hot hot hot…hot stuuuuuf🎶 to the trees which didn’t seem that impressed.

Other countries road “furniture” is always weird but I must have seen about 100 of these signs.  What is it saying?  Don’t hit a tree?  If you have the basic intellectual machinery to drive a car then you’ve probably worked this out.

Who knew?  Hitting a tree is a bad idea.

Excitingly, sometimes the cycle path headed into the trees so you could see trees and also stop for a pee behind them.

Lots of trees.  Good if you’ve been drinking a lot of water.

150km clicked up and then very soon afterwards less than 50k to go clicked up and — the thing I’d been waiting for all day — 1,000km on the trip.  I’d done 1,000km in seven days.  I felt pretty good about that. As you can see below, 3,000 calories also clicked up. 2,000 of them had a very definite Swedish origin. 

Meaningless goal?  Yes!!
This little indented bit of prose is a result of thinking about how arbitrary 1,000 is as a goal.  Feel free to ignore.  1,000 just a result of us counting in base 10.  If we counted in base 9 I would have gone through 1,000km about 271km ago (or 331km as it would be in base 9).  I thought about how if you use your fingers as bits, you can count up to 1,023.  But then I thought that it’s odd that we count in base 10.  We should actually count in base eleven because if you’re using your fingers then you have 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, A (using the hexadecimal notation for 10).  I know nobody cares about this but it kept me going for at least an hour wondering if the reason we count in base 10 is because the concept of zero is not fundamental to counting — Greeks didn’t have it for example.

As is often the case, the last 25km went really well.  There’s something strange that happens when the end is in sight.  Your legs get stronger, your undercarriage stops complaining, the roads are smoother and the cycleways pleasant and shady.  Ghostly Sean Kelly mumbled “he’s been on good form for the last number of kilometres Carlton”

It was still trees, trees, trees until 2km from Potsdam and then it was a simple ride right to the door of my hotel.  The Hotel Mercure is a vast tower block chain hotel which, after the Hotal Burgas last night, is a welcome return to well-designed rooms, air conditioning and a convivial bar which unfortunately isn’t open on a Monday but on other days it stays open to the wee small hours — which in Germany is 9:30pm  

The receptionist looked a bit doubtful when I requested to take the BatBike to the room but I pointed out I’d reserved a double and he agreed I could take the bike to the room.  Because I’d arrived at 7pm and everything in Germany shuts at 8pm, I showered and headed out to eat fast.  This burger and chips was fantastic.  It was the first thing I’d eaten since five other people’s breakfast 12 hours ago.

Food that didn’t belong to somebody else.

I’ve decided I need a rest day.  I had thought to have a rest day in Berlin but Berlin is a fantastic city break place and I can go there any time.  I’m not going to be in Potsdam again — maybe ever — so maybe spending a day relaxing here will hopefully show me some unusual touristy sights.  It’s certainly going result in some new underwear and a new t-shirt.  I spilled half my burger down the only t-shirt I have.


Potsdam

  • Distance: 10k
  • Average Speed: 6km/h
  • Legs: 😄
  • Undercarriage: 😄
  • Bike: 😄
Today was the rest day in Potsdam.  The Hotel Mercure does a fabulous buffet spread but, mindful that I wouldn’t be burning up 3,000 calories today, I reduced my customary intake of fried pork products and bread to an acceptable level.  I had a number of things I wanted to see in Potsdam but before that, there was a much more serious matter to attend to.

It’s time to broach the subject of “off-the-bike wear” for the long-distance, self-supported cyclist.  As discussed before, weight is everything on a bike and trying to keep the weight down is a big headache before you start.  Obviously there are the cycling clothes you wear during the day but what to wear in the evening? One could just wear one’s cycling gear but, after a long day in the saddle, your shorts and top are banned by a number of chemical weapons conventions.  

I had gone for a pair of “deck shoes” which were made out of horrible nylon, made me look like a addled pensioner but weighed less than 500g.  I had an ugly pair of trousers from Craghoppers which I was already planning to burn as I bought them but also weighed about 500g.  Finally, I had a light blue t-shirt which, like the trousers, I hadn’t been able to wash since I left.  Oh and one pair of underpants and one pair of socks which had only been washed that one evening when the thermonuclear towel rail had done it’s thing.

Everything was wrinkled and dirty so I got out into the lovely shopping district of Potsdam and found the equivalent of John Lewis.  I got two pairs of underpants (€9 in the sale) and 2 black t-shirts (€10 in the sale), found a coffee shop with a toilet and changed, leaving my old pants and old t-shirt in the bin.  It felt a very “Jack Reacher” sort of moment.  I’d also bought something to augment my SudoCrem which was also shamefully but liberally applied in the coffee-shop toilet.

Undercarriage care.

Then it was out on my cultural, tourist trail.  I’d used Atlas Obscura as my guide.  I cannot recommend this site highly enough.  If you’re in a city for a day or even an evening, it will give you a handful of kind of cool places to go and see.

The first site was the Sanssouci Palace, one of the many beautiful palaces set amid stunning gardens in Potsdam.  I really didn’t expect things like this.

Not a great photo.  Sorry.

The boulevards were wide and tree-lined.  There were hundreds of beautiful villas around the Neuer Garten which would have easily cost £30m+ if they were in Mayfair or Holland Park.

Not the “stack-a-prole” apartment blocks I expected.

I walked and walked through an unexpectedly beautiful city.  One of the only remnants of the GDR to be seen is the little green hatted man that graces every pedestrian crossing in the old East Germany.

A rather sweet thing to leave behind.

I then walked to Alexandrowka which is a little Russian village in the middle of Potsdam.  The history is fascinating and it’s a really arresting sight to see these traditional Russian wooden cottages set in orchards and farm land slap bang in the middle of a modern city.

I drank coffee in the garden of one of the cottages and was served by my first grumpy German.  Everybody I have met so far has been unfailingly kind, amusing and helpful.  I have come to love the smile and the phrase “but I speak English”.  

Realising that the grumpy waiter was over 50 and that one in five of the people currently over 50 in the GDR were Stasi informants, I pegged him as an ex-Stasi informant.  Unfair but hey I had got used to everybody being kind and nice to me. 

Then it was a long walk out to the “Bridge of Spies” so-called because this was where most of the spy exchanges happened during the Cold War.  There’s a film about it of the same title starring Tom Hanks.  I didn’t see Tom but took this photo.

No sign of Tom

That was it for WW2, Iron Curtain and Cold War tourism.  I could have gone to see where that monster Joe Stalin negotiated 45 years of misery and destruction for half of Europe but…some things aren’t really tourism. I’m sure there will be much more (and much worse) WW2 history to come in Poland.

I was done walking so I got on a tram and bought a €9 ticket which allows me to use all public transport in Germany for free for the whole of August.  Isn’t that just a fantastic thing?  Environmentally friendly, gets cars off the road, doesn’t cost much money to implement.  It would be great if we could have some properly radical and popular policies like this in the UK rather than “tax cuts”, “EU rules bonfire” and “send them to Rwanda”…<sigh>.

The final tourist trip was a bit of a Potsdam Pilgrimage for me. The Einsteinturm is a solar observatory set in a beautiful wooded astronomical campus set on a hill (sigh) near the centre of Potsdam. Since it was built to confirm Einstein’s theory of General Relativity and I’d spent a reasonable proportion of my youth researching this very theory, it was a must-see in Potsdam. It’s also an architectural masterpiece or folly depending on your point of view. From my point of view, it was neither. 

Click on the link above for a better picture

The Potsdam Great Refractor was very impressive but very much a consolation prize for walking up the hill.

This is a lot bigger than it looks

I wandered through the grounds and found the research institute cafeteria. As I sipped my coffee I was surrounded by young Ph.D students and researchers all speaking the scientific lingua-franca of English. The main topic of of conversation was where they were going to go next. Hawaii, Italy, Cambridge, Japan…. Sitting outside amid the trees in the gently setting sun I felt like saying “Just stay here in beautiful Potsdam. It doesn’t get better than this”. 

I’m going to break the habit of a lifetime and not go out for dinner. I’m going to eat in the hotel since the menu looks sufficiently carbohydrate heavy to fuel me up for tomorrow. It’ll be an early night since the restaurant closes at 8:30pm. 

Tomorrow I’m going to pull on my freshly laundered cycling kit, load up the bean and head 160km to Rzepin in Poland. I am quite excited to finally get to Poland. 

Potsdam to Rzepin

  • Distance: 158km 🙂
  • Average Speed: 21.0 km/h ☹️. Could have been better without Berlin
  • Legs: 🙂
  • Undercarriage: 🙂
  • Bike: 😄
Because had my bike with me in the room, I had been carefully watching the little slow puncture which seemed to have developed in the front tyre but when I woke up and checked it, it seemed to have fixed itself — thanks tyre-jizz!!

I also had these bad boys to look forward to:

Freshly laundered kit is just 🎶simply the best🎶

After downing a slightly more restrained breakfast (too much coffee, a bowl of muesli and two rolls with cheese and ham), I was rolling on my perfectly working bike in my perfectly laundered kit towards Berlin.  As I left Potsdam, I realised I was cycling over the Bridge of Spies again which, had I known this yesterday, would have saved me an 8k round trip walk for a photograph. 

Still no sign of Tom Hanks

Berlin (at least from the south) is surprisingly undeveloped and wooded.  It was tracks, trails and cycleways through endless trees and forests.

I met my first cyclists!  A young French couple who had cycled from Amiens through Belgium, Holland and Germany and were finishing at the Brandenburger Tor before getting the train home.  We chatted for a bit as we cycled along until we saw lines of police and fire trucks blocking the road. There was a giant fire in one of the forest sections and all of the roads from the east and south were closed.  I worked some magic with Google Maps and found a route which would skirt south and then cut directly up to the Brandenburger Tor.  The French couple were determined to go the way they had planned and skipped around the police barrier and headed off.  Never saw them again.  Hope they didn’t get flambéed before reaching their destination.

My route followed a ring road and then cut up through some more forests.  The ugly secret of long-distance cycling is that one is always glad to see a forest.  All those trees.  All those opportunities to stop and unload some coffee.  Cities can be a bit of a trial without associated forests…

The Brandenburger Tor is one of the classic monuments in Europe.  It says “Berlin” more than anything else.  I probably could have cut 20km and two hours off the route had I avoided central Berlin but I just had to cycle through it.  It felt…important.  I was glad to have seen it but I was more glad to have stayed in Potsdam for my rest day.  Berlin would have been too much.

The famous gate, some random tourists.

Getting out of Berlin going East obviously involves going through the old East Berlin.  The city sprawled and sprawled and seemed to be an endless procession of giant apartment blocks.  Although they had been nicely clad in bright colours, their small windows, the uniform design and lack of balconies tagged them as pre-1989 builds.  It was like cycling out of Cümbernaüld — yes I know about the correct use of umlauts…it’s a joke.

Somewhat surprisingly, in a small copse cutting between two apartment blocks were four shepherds tending their flock of sheep. I did not expect to see this 5km from the centre of Berlin.

Literally 200m from the ring-road.

After about 25k, the Berlin wave of car washes,  cheap supermarkets, big apartment blocks and tram tracks finally broke and it was back to long straight roads lined by trees.  Plus ça change etc etc.

For some reason I had thought that the border with Poland was coming pretty soon but the Oder was still 60k away.  (As an aside, the Polish German border running along the Oder is yet another thing we have to thank Joseph Stalin for.  Completely arbitrary, just kind of thought up in his mad, monster brain).

I ground it out.   Sometimes there were lovely cycle paths through the trees following old railway lines, sometimes it was just me grinding along the side of the road hoping that the cars and lorries wouldn’t hit me although mostly these long and straight roads were very quiet.

An example of a long and straight road

It was on one of these deserted, straight and beautifully smooth roads that I heard an approaching high pitched whine.  Germany has been a bit of a home to biker-blokes cruising in little middle-aged gangs so I knew this was a motorbike.  This whine got closer very quickly indeed before dopplering away as it passed me at 250km/h.  Christ, it was a scary moment.  He wasn’t far from me and, had he been any closer, my cycling shorts would have needed an extra special clean.

You may be wondering how I can be so precise about the 250km/h.  Make yourself comfortable and I’ll tell a story about music and maths.  

I don’t have perfect pitch but I’m good with intervals.  The dominant noise of a motorbike is not the wind or the tyres but is in fact the engine pitch and, amid the sudden terror, I registered that the interval between the bike approaching and leaving was a perfect fifth.  Perfect fifths are what violin, viola and cello strings are strung at and, although guitar strings are a perfect fourth apart, the perfect fifth is one of the easiest intervals to hear.

So let’s do some maths.  Unfortunately this blog software won’t handle embedded \LaTeX so the formatting won’t be great.  Let’s assume the speed of sound is c and the underlying frequency of the motorbike engine is f.  Making the simplifying assumption that I was stationary then the frequency of the approaching motorbike is f_a = f * c / (c-v) where v is the speed of the motorbike.  The frequency of the departing motorbike is f_d = f * c / (c+v).  Creating the ratio r = f_a / f_d and doing a bit of simplification and rearranging, we get v = c * (r - 1) / (r + 1).  The ratio I heard was a perfect fifth which is 3:2.  Sticking r=1.5 and c=1250km/h into the equation, we get v = 250km/h.   Worked this out while I was grinding along the road — except from the final sum of course.  Gotta keep myself engaged somehow  

Anyway, I can’t really blame the bloke.  If I was 21 again, I’d just got my first 750cc rice-rocket and I thought I was immortal, I would probably open up the rice-rocket on a quiet straight road to see what it could do.

I could show you more boring straight roads but there would be no point.  They were all arrow-straight roads through forests.  The villages in eastern Germany show their past.  The cottages are all the same in each village because the basic shape stamped out of a mould.  I had wondered why there were just so many adverts for roofing tiles along the side of the road.  The old pre-1989 cottages all had new shiny roof tiles in a surprisingly wide range of colours.  Some hadn’t made it through gentrification

Communist cottage.  In need of updating

It took a long long time to get to Frankfurt.  This is Frankfurt am Oder which is definitely not the other Frankfurt of the ECB, futures traders in braces and high finance. It’s run down and down-at-heel and all it’s got going for it is the bridge over the Oder into Poland.

On the border between Germany and Poland

Then I was in Poland, a country I had never been in before.  Once again, the magic of Schengen blew me away.  What a fantastic idea the European Union is.  Free travel, free and integrated markets across most of a continent.  Wouldn’t it be a good idea if we in the UK got involved in this?

Presented without comment.

I got a wedge of Zloty and settled in for the last 23k to Rzepin.  Often the last 20-odd kilometres go well and today was no exception.  I was battering down the long straight forest roads at 30 or 35km/h with a spectral Sean Kelly in my ear “Well Carlton, you can tell he’s got the legs today.  He’s hanging out there in front of the boonch giving it one hundert percent”.  

Rzepin is not a large town.  In fact, it’s barely a town at all but I’d booked a room in the “Grand Boutique Hotel”.  Not just any room but their best room for a total of £30.  Rolling through the shattered cobbled streets and seemingly bombed out houses, I was suffering some misgivings but the nearest hotel is another 25k away so it was the Grand Boutique or nothing. 

It’s actually delightful apart from the art. The owner clearly fancies themselves as an artist and I’m not sure how I’m going to sleep with this example of their artistic endeavours above my bed.

In case it’s not clear, this is huge. About 3m by 2m!

There are only two restaurants in Rzepin.  The kebab shop and the one in the hotel and, even making allowances for the owner’s artistic prowess, I thought I would go with the hotel restaurant.  Mystery meat kebab isn’t a good plan when you’re spending a lot of time on the bike.

I wasn’t expecting much but, in fact, the restaurant staff were delightful.  Friendly, joking about our combined lack of a shared language, suggesting things on the menu.  I ended up with beef soup with dumplings and pork tenderloin with cheese and chips and they were both absolutely delicious.

Poland is going to be more difficult than either Holland or Germany.  The roads are worse, the cycling infrastructure is patchy to say the least, and everything is completely incomprehensible.  But somehow I think I’m going to enjoy it.

Rzepin to Posnań

  • Distance: 182km ☹️
  • Average Speed: 19.6km/h ☹️ - blame gravel, sand and roadworks
  • Legs: 😐
  • Undercarriage: 😐
  • Hands: ☹️ - making a new appearance as another part of my body which is getting destroyed.
  • Bike: 🙂
My friend Lee said yesterday “When I read your blog I sometimes think ‘Just stop’”.  Today as I vomited chunks of undigested pizza into a recycling bin in the forecourt of a trucker garage surrounded by the muscular smells of spilled diesel and blocked toilets I was close to stopping.

This wasn’t a day with good stories for the blog or interesting sights to take pictures of.  I’d planned a 120k route but an hour into the morning, I got an email from the hotel to say they were now going to be shut.  I suspect I was the only guest and they’d just decided to bin the whole “open a hotel for one sweaty cyclist” thing.  

I spent 15 minutes in a bus shelter with booking.com and it turned out that the next place which actually had a lot of hotels was Posnań.  Creating the route in Garmin Connect showed that rather than having a bit less than 100k to go, I now had 161k to go.  The bus shelter was treated to some inventive and extensive swearing. 

The new route started promisingly along the now traditional plumb-line straight farm roads.  But then it all got a bit pear shaped.  There were pointless detours and then a sandy wood path about 20cm wide.

Yes, this is a 10% slope.

Then I was thrown onto 3k of cobbled streets through an army counter insurgency training camp.

Yes, those cobbles are the size of shoe boxes.

I am sure this appeared in Top Gear once

Truly terrible roads, pointless detours, interesting landmarks.  This was all pointing to one thing.  Yes, the Garmin “popularity routing” algorithm had thrown me back on the EuroVelo route.  Sure enough after 2 hours of this pain, here was the smoking gun.

EuroVelo R1 and R2 are coincident for about 500km

Obviously all those fucking idiots adventurous souls who were doing the EuroVelo route had put down lots of Garmin tracks and made it “popular”.  I cursed the fact that my own Garmin track would contribute to the popularity of this pain-fest.

Eventually, Garmin gave up on the EuroVelo route and I was on my own with my Garmin route and a Garmin head unit which had…15% charge!  WTAF??  There was no way that would last another 140km and, without the Garmin navigation, I was going to be lost in the middle of Poland.  
Note to self:  after charging your Garmin, turn it off so it’s not spending all night repeatedly saying to itself “oh, I can’t find the satellites, I’d better turn the screen on and tell that sleeping, snoring lump in the bed that there’s no satellite coverage”.
The little villages are dense in Poland and each village has a name that looks like it’s been shotgunned with consonants and diacritics which makes them both difficult to pronounce but also difficult to remember.  They’re also quiet and without cafés and bars which was a problem.

Eventually as the Garmin dribbled down to 5% charge, Międzyrzecz turned up which was a largish town and it had a restaurant which looked open and relatively inviting.  I parked the bike up and asked for a coke and a power socket.  It became clear that a power socket only came free of charge with a pizza and, because it was going to take 45 minutes and I still had 110k to go, I thought I would change my normal nutrition strategy and eat at lunchtime.

All the major food groups.  Carbohydrate, cheese, ham.

The Garmin was at 60% charge, I was full of pizza and I was ready to go.  

The route took me onto very very busy roads

Sometimes this comforting hard shoulder was only 30cm wide

I pounded the kilometres out, mostly on roads like the one above, sometimes on Route 92 which is the main route from Posnań to Germany and this road was 20km of buttock-clenching terror as giant articulated trailer lorries carrying logs went from Poland to Germany where they were presumably made into Billy bookcases or something.  To give the lorry drivers their due, if they could pull out to overtake me they would but if there was another giant articulated trailer lorry coming in the other direction, there was only one loser and it was the bloke with the wobbly kidney-bean on the back of his bike whimpering in the 30cm wide hard shoulder.

The Golden Rule of Long Distance Cycling Hydration is the following:  you’ve got two full water bottles and when the first one is empty, you stop at the very next place which sells water and fill your single empty bottle.  No thinking “oh, that shop looks a bit dismal, I’ll wait for the next quaint café”.  No, that quaint café  may not come for the next 50km so you have to have two full water bottles.  I had forgotten the golden rule and was running on fumes and the horrible flobby dribbles of water in my empty bidons (this is the cool-kids name for water bottles) when I saw a truck stop garage which looked rough and dirty but it was my only option.

I pulled in and bought two bottles of ice-cold peach-flavoured iced-tea (which I have become worryingly addicted to) and two large iced bottles of water.  I was so thirsty that I downed the first bottle of ice-cold iced-tea in one. As it hit my stomach, the all too predictable reaction happened.  The smells of diesel and blocked trucker-toilets, ice cold water on a massively dehydrated stomach filled with a thick knot of dough and cheese…I’m quietly proud that I made it to the recycling bin although I doubt anybody would want to recycle that pizza.

If I had been in the middle of a town with a railway station, I think I might have just taken the train-of-shame to Posnań or maybe, whisper it, Warsaw.  But that wasn’t an option so I screwed my courage to the sticking place and got back on the bike to turn my legs for another 70km.

Mostly the route was along those arrow-straight newly-surfaced roads.  A number of people on motorbikes and cars passed attempting the Polish land speed record and, at the inevitable (and hard to predict) bends, there were sad shrines to the young men who hadn’t made it.

All the shotgun-consonant villages were lovely and consisted of lots of new build detached and semi-detached houses filled with, it appeared, happy young families who invariably waved and cheered me on.  There is a real sense in Poland of progress, building, moving up in the world.  Something which was sadly lacking from the towns in Germany near the border.

More busy roads, more quiet roads, more roads that were well surfaced, more roads that were a pot-holed mess.  Sometimes there would be some well thought out cycling infrastructure with a nice path alongside a highway of death but then it would inexplicably end and I’d be thrown back into the maelstrom of heavy goods vehicles.  I looked at the map and it seemed (joy of joys) as if I was going to leave the busy roads and enter Poznań on quieter roads.  

I was happy — well not too despondent — on the potholed farm tracks but then I ended up on 10k of sandy paths.  

Oh FFS…

10km of the bike squirming around underneath me, the bean-of-instability making it’s baleful presence felt again.  It took me nearly an hour to go 10km and during that hour I had a bit of a sense-of-humour failure.

Not soon enough, my Strade Bianche (more correctly Strada della Disperazione) was over and I was back on the busy road going into Poznań.  Imagine my surprise when this led me over a motorway and it’s associated cloverleaf junction.  Sticking to the correct lane when there were cars going 120km/h on either side of me was another buttock-clenching moment.  Just when I would have given almost anything for some decent cycle infrastructure, the four lane highway into Poznań developed a perfect service road running alongside it filled with early evening cyclists whizzing about in their Lycra.  Sadly the joy of not being on the main road was somewhat reduced with the cycle path having speed bumps every 100m and when your legs, buttocks and arms are completely destroyed, a speed bump is a thing of loathing.

I was down to 3km to go to the hotel and I was cooked (“I think he’s been cooked for the past number of kilometres Carlton” said spectral Sean Kelly) but the route to Poznań  had one final sting in the tail.  

I had switched to Google Maps with the instructions on how to get to the hotel playing in my AirPods which has been my end-of-ride tactic for the past 10 days.  The Google Maps lady got very confused because entire centre of of the town is being dug up.

“Continue straight for 500 meters”.  Right.

That last 3k took me 30 minutes.  Google Map lady got very confused here.

My hotel is somewhere on the other side of that square.  Maybe.

I got to the hotel in the end and I’ve decided to have a rest day in the building site which is Poznań.  I had intended to have two easy days to get here but it’s been one brutal day and I think my mojo needs a bit of re-energising.  Poznań is supposed to be an interesting place and I’ve certainly enjoyed the speciality of the region which is “yeast dumpling with duck”.

This is exceptionally tasty.

Will do some route planning tomorrow.  A day off and then maybe 3 sub 150km days to Warsaw because, after 10 days in the saddle, anything over 150km in a day is very debilitating.  Today was not a good day but, after a couple of beers and a dumpling with duck, it doesn’t seem as bad as it did when I was doing it.

Poznań

 

  • Distance: 10.7km 🙂
  • Average Speed: 6km/h 🙂
  • Legs: 🙂
  • Undercarriage: 🙂
  • Hands: ☹️ - still tingly and weird
  • Bike: 🙂
As is always the case on a rest day, I woke up refreshed and feeling like I could jump on the bike and do another 180k.  After a hurried conference between my legs, my bum and my hands, that idea was firmly binned and I had a relaxing day of seeing the sights in Poznań to look forward to.

There was a bit of “Jack Reacher” shopping to do.  A new T-shirt, some toothpaste and a three pack of sports socks all told cost me €25 and I could bin the old ones later on in the day.   The “Old Brewery” shopping centre was outstandingly beautiful — and it’s not often you can say that about a shopping centre.

A retail cathedral.

Poznań hasn’t quite done the full “geographic retail sorting” which happens as cities mature.  On the streets there’s occasionally restaurants next to hardware stores, clothes shops next to food stores.  As I was walking back to the hotel to dump my purchases I saw a sign to this down an alley.

The “w” is pronounced “v”.

The Polish word for “bike” is “rowery” or “rovery”.  In the 1880s, a new type of bicycle was invented called the “Safety Bicycle”.  In contrast to the Penny Farthing which should have been called “The Bloody Lethal Bicycle” due to the tendency of riders to “do a header” over the front of the bike and…die.  The safety bicycle had basically all the features that we see today:  two similar sized wheels, the front wheel steered by a handlebar and the rear wheel powered by a chain and cogs from pedals mounted on the bottom bracket. This design hasn’t really changed in 130 years.  The invention of the safety bicycle was a bit of a team effort but one of the pioneers was John Kemp Starley who called his bike “The Rover”.  It was a huge screaming success and that’s why the Polish word for bike is rowery.  In time the Rover Company became Rover Cars, Leyland Motors, British Leyland and then Jaguar Land Rover. 

Update: my friend Andy Sobek — who has Polish ancestry as his surname indicates —  tells me that “rowery” is the plural. So a “bike” is a “rower” which is even better. 

I had three things I wanted to do but first I had to see the fighting goats.  Starting in 1551, at noon, two clockwork goats appear high up on clock above the main market square in Poznań and butt their heads 12 times.

Goats butting on the left, lone trumpeter just visible on the right.

Hemmed in by the inevitable construction work, hundreds of people turned up to watch the goats and film them.  We all clapped and cheered when they went back in their clockwork hutch.

Go goats go!

I stopped in at the tourist information office and asked about the roadworks.  The very helpful ladies explained that they were laying water, gas and electricity pipes all through the city and the city council had decided it was best to just do it all at once.  To put the scale into perspective, it’s like London decided to dig up all the streets in Soho and Chinatown combined.  The tourist information ladies said I should come back in 2024 when it’ll be done. 

It’s a bold thing to do and in the small areas where it’s nearly complete, you can see how beautifully the streets are being relaid with the original cobbles and pedestrians are being given priority over the car — but not the tram naturally.  Partially hidden behind the barriers and the dust, Poznań is a vibrant city with some fantastic streets and monuments.  One has to keep reminding oneself that a lot of the traditional “old” buildings are either new or extensively renovated and rebuild.  Poland spent most of the 20th century having either Russian or German armies rolling over it either attacking or retreating.  Multiple pitched battles inside major cities does not result in a lot of architectural history surviving undamaged.

The main place I wanted to go to in Poznań was the Enigma Museum.  Just down from Zamek Cesarski palace, there’s a (rebuilt) building which contains an academic research facility and a multi-media exhibition about the history of code breaking in Poland and the cracking of the Enigma code.

This is going to be good.

The exhibition is an audio guided wander through a dozen different rooms each with it’s own interactive exhibits, puzzles, historical pictures and stories.  Often these sorts of things can be cheesy and very dumbed down.  In this case it was neither of those things and it was simply superb.  An enormous amount of work, both technical and historical, had gone into this museum and I could have spent a lot more time than the one hour I had to see it.

The one take-away which they are very keen for visitors to understand is that the Enigma code was broken by Polish mathematicians.  In the UK we often refer to Alan Turing as the person who broke the Enigma code. This is not true. It was broken from 1932-1939 by three Polish mathematicians who subsequently and covertly gave their work to the French in 1939 and the French then passed the work on to the newly formed Bletchley Park operation.  Alan Turing was brilliant and a critical part of the effort (especially in designing and building the “bombes” which sped up deciphering a great deal) but he didn’t break the Enigma code. 

It has been estimated that the intelligence produced by the broken Enigma code (so-called Ultra) shortened the war by 2 years and may have saved 10 million lives.  Thanks mathematics!

Over on the other side of town was another museum called Porta Posnania which is about the history of Poznań and the cathedral which (unsurprisingly) has been rebuilt a number of times.  The building itself is a rather fetching brutalist concrete block on the banks of the river.

Well, I liked it.

A very similar location-activated audio tour to the one in the Enigma museum taught me more about the history of Poznań than I maybe had the mental capacity to absorb.  I was getting a bit tired so had to miss the legendary Croissant Museum which was also on my list but I’d missed the tour in English.

And I thought the Derwent Pencil Museum was weird.

Rest days are about having a snooze and so I had a snooze and then ate on the delightful rooftop restaurant in my hotel.

Cycling through a country gives you an opportunity to see more than you would normally get flying into the capital city for a weekend break or a business meeting.  Whilst one has to be careful extrapolating from a few days, there is, to me at least, a real feeling of “progress” in Poland.  The little shotgun-consonant villages are full of new build pleasant airy houses, Poznań is full of groovy restaurants, bars and tech startup hubs.  Everybody I meet smiles indulgently when I use my stock phrase “I am so terribly sorry, I speak no Polish” and replies “but I speak some English so we are good” and we smile together.

The economic gradient from the Netherlands through the old West Germany, into the old East Germany and then into Poland has been noticeable.  Everything gets a little bit more tired but only in Poland have I felt that the direction of travel is upwards and onwards.  Sitting here on the beautiful roof-top restaurant in my hotel surrounded by the upwardly mobile young Poles splashing out on a fancy evening…I love it.

Back on the bike tomorrow.  Headwind forecast but only 130km to a tiny one hotel town in the middle of nowhere.  Hope they don’t cancel on me.

Poznań to Konin

  • Distance: 139km 🙂 - a much more manageable distance
  • Average Speed 20.5 km/h - fearsome headwind and 20km of gravel
  • Legs: 🙂
  • Undercarriage: 🙂 - I suspect everything is just numb
  • Hands: 😐 - Still not right
  • Bike: ☹️

I’d packed everything up before I got to the door of the hotel and with a sinking feeling realised it was raining.  Hard.  So I had to get the damn kidney-bean-of-pain off the bike, open it up, get out my wet weather shell, cap and gloves and then pack the whole thing back up again and get it attached back on the bike.  This caused no small amount of swearing, grumbling and groaning in the hotel lobby.

Getting out of a city is always hard.  The Garmin route is often confusing, roads have been made one way and there’s the ever present terror of tram lines trapping your wheels.  Today was no exception to that rule and 30 minutes after I left the hotel I seemed to only be about 500m from it.  After a while things settled down and there was a nice bicycle path along the river followed by the inevitable quite steep climb out of the river valley back onto the endless plains of Poland.

It had been pouring down but eventually the rain stopped and I realised there were some pretty ugly noises coming from the bike.  This sort of thing strikes terror into your heart when you’re a good 20 or 30k away from a big town.  I stopped and checked.  The derailleur was a bit out of alignment and fixing it involved some very very gentle bending of the derailleur hanger.  If this broke, I was completely done.  I doubt that there’s any bike shops west of Nepal who have derailleur hangers for an unbranded Chinese frame.

That fixed, I turned to the other the big problem: the rain had washed all the chainlube off.  Getting out the chainlube involved unpacking the bloody bean again.  Sigh.  All was well once I’d sprayed precisely 1/3 (I have 3 days to go) of my chainlube onto the chain, derailleur, jockey wheels and, for good measure, the pedals.

The roads were as they always are in rural Poland.  Long, straight and relatively quiet surrounded by agriculture as far as the eye can see.  A headwind had got up which made these long roads seem longer and harder but I knew it was a relatively short 140k day so my spirits didn’t sink too far.

Yes, more of the same

The relative boredom of the day was punctuated when I nipped behind a tree for a “comfort break” only to find a large and very dead deer which had been recently (thank god) hit by a car.  I felt sorry for the deer but also made sure my flashing red light on the back of the bike was still flashing.

After the pizza incident, I decided to eat a bit more healthily for lunch.

Yes, that’s a supersize Twix.  No half measures for lunch.

One of the downsides of Poland being so keen on modernising everything is that you do often come across roads being modernised.  To be fair, I shouldn’t complain since the older and quiet roads are often like this

This is tiresome to cycle on for 50k

However, when the roads are being relaid and upgraded you have two choices.  A 45k detour or 20k on this

Every gravel stone a puncture waiting to happen.

I slithered and slid along for 20k watching my average speed plummet and avoiding the cars which were illegally taking the shorter route — although, to be honest, it was probably illegal for me to be on the road too.

Eventually I ended up here

Yay.

By now the detour would have been nearer to 55k and so I manhandled the bike and the bean (which was behaving itself today after the muttered cursing it got in the morning) through about a kilometre of sand.  Luckily there were no workmen there to shout “Hej, wynoś się z mojego placu budowy, palancie” as they had in Germany.  

The Powidzki Park Krajobrazowy seemed to be a nice place when I finally got to it after emptying the sand out of my shoes.  The sun had come out and there were lovely sail boats on the sun-dappled lakes.  If only I’d stopped and taken a picture but…I forgot.

Days less than 150km are good because the end comes more quickly than usual.  I was rolling through Konin by 4pm and then spending a lot of time working out the one-way system and getting lost.  Konin is not a beautiful town.  It’s like Milton Keynes in the roundabout stakes and it’s like Cumbernauld in the architecture stakes.

I’d splashed out on the best hotel in Konin which turned out to be the student halls of accommodation.

Not hugely pretty

The adjoining restaurant didn’t serve food or breakfast or, critically, beer.  The receptionist directed me to the local Aldi — which is about 1km away — when I asked about food.

The room, however, is clean and has a really great towel rail. What more do I need?  Oh yes, food.  

But the suite at the Four Seasons doesn’t have a towel rail.

There is a Cumbernauld vibe to Konin right down to the ratty park and lack of any amenities 

In Cumbernauld these are all just stained white pebble dash.

The dining options are somewhat limited…in fact, limited to one kebab shop with a proprietor who speaks no English — not that she should obviously. 

Lurid pictures of glistening meat are always a good sign. 

But it was the only choice and with some pointing, waving and shrugging I managed ordered a mystery meal with mystery meat in the “średni” size which I had worked out was “medium”.

This is medium?!?

When it arrived, I got a cone of fried bread containing at least a kilo of mystery meat and three shreds of lettuce at the bottom.  My weak and palsied hands could barely hold it up to eat it.  I gamely fought my way through it and when I was done it looked like this.

Spot the difference.  I.e. none.

If only that Swedish family whose breakfast I’d eaten in Staßfurt were here now.  They could eat like Kungs on the stuff I couldn’t eat.  If the Jumbo-Visma nutrition experts are reading this blog, I feel it fair to point out that this isn’t really a great option for high performance cycling.  When I had shamefacedly handed back about 90% of the food the proprietor had given me, I went into Lidl — the only other place open — and bought some off-brand biscuits and some water and lumbered back to my tiny room burping mystery meat and peach flavoured Lipton tea.

Tomorrow is likely to be a similar day.  The route is 140km with the usual rolling landscape adding up to about 500m of climbing.  I’ve decided to stop in Łowicz which is a little more than half way between here and Warsaw and appeared to have a hotel which wasn’t a dorm.  There’s also a McDonalds which should suffice if all else fails on the food.

Konin to Łowicz

  • Distance: 137km 🙂
  • Average Speed: 19.9km/h ☹️ A completely flat stage but with sand and mechanical issues.
  • Legs: 😐 This is about as good as they’re going to get after nearly two weeks on the bike
  • Undercarriage: 🙂 It appears that full numbness has set in.
  • Bike: 😢😢😢
In every film — maybe every story ever — there’s a moment which is known as “the long dark night of the soul” where the hero struggles to see a path to redemption and how to complete of his or her task.  Today was that day.

The day started at one in the morning when some of the students who were staying in the Dom Studenta #1 came home after partying.  Where they were actually partying in Konin is a mystery since the kebab shop had closed at 9pm.  Then another group came back at 3pm and banged about the corridors shouting and having a great time.  Neither the walls nor the door were well insulated for sound in Dom Studenta #1.  Finally, at 4:30am whoever was in the room next to me had “got lucky” and had returned to their room with a “friend” whom they spent an hour enthusiastically and noisily expressing the…err…physical manifestation of their luuuuurve.  It was a dispiriting night.

I dragged myself out of bed at 7am and found out that breakfast wasn’t served until 9am (or maybe not at all on a Sunday) so started to pack up and get ready for the road only to realised that the kidney-bean-of-doom had saved one last kick in the nuts for me.

You bastard…

The stitching on the critical strap which holds the bean under the saddle had come away and it looked like I was completely screwed.  It’s 7am on a Sunday morning in the most religious country in Europe, there’s an Aldi and a kebab shop and neither of them are going to either be open or sell bike-packing gear.  Thank you bean, thank you Topeak for constructing this piece of garbage, thank you lockdown for making me think of this stupid trip.

I was pretty close to trying to find a railway station and getting on a train to Warsaw.  There was no way I could carry the bean under my arm and  I couldn’t buy a replacement.  What about a rucksack I thought and then remembered that there were no shops in Konin and, even if they were, it was Sunday morning.

After 12 days away, one’s reserves are pretty low for things like hills, bad roads, hotels without towel rails, no breakfast and major equipment failures.  However, undaunted — well, a little daunted — I worked out that if I used the other set of straps and some string I found (read stole) in a store cupboard, I could get the bean on the bike without it fouling the back wheel.  This jury-rigged monstrosity also required using my back light to support it.

 
Not going to register with the thundering lorry behind.

No coffee, no food and bean perilously attached the the bike, I thought that was the worst the day could throw at me.  I set off and immediately stopped again.  There was a terrible grinding noise coming from the bike.  Maybe gears, maybe bottom bracket, who knows but it sounded really bad. I am a big adherent to  the Velominati Rule #65 and noisy bikes make me feel an almost physical pain.  There was nothing I could do beyond squirting more chainlube on the bike and eventually sticking in my headphones and drowning out the noise with music.

It’s a golden rule of bike maintenance that if something is making a noise, something is going wrong.  In a WhatsApp, my friend JJ identified the cause:  sand.  There was sand in the gears — see previous blogs about sand — which was making the noise.  Eventually, after 20km of riding, all the little sand grains got worn down and stopped making a noise.  Grinding down sand grains in precision machinery is not considered standard-operating-procedure but it did stop the grinding coming up through my legs and causing me to shudder.

Until this.

WTAF?

And then this:

You have to be kidding me.

Here’s a video of just how terribly terribly terrible this 15km section was.

On sand the bike squirms horribly

At 10km per hour, I picked my way through the sandy tracks.  The concentration required to stay on the bike on sand is immense and after about an hour, my concentration slipped and, struggling to control the bike, my jury-rigged bean mounting system broke and I was pitched over into the sand.  Worse than that, the bike was pitched into the sand — derailleur, chain and gear side down.

This blog is intended to be a generally light-hearted take on a long, pointless cycle trip however, I’m afraid sitting there in the sand I had a moment of real despair.  I was literally 10km from the nearest proper road and 25km from the nearest railway station.  The bean was fucked, the bike was fucked and I hadn’t had anything to eat or drink all morning.  I turned the bike upside down (breaking Velominati Rule #49), cleaned the sand out of the gears using maize leaves — top cycling tip — and invoked Velominati Rule #5.


I got the bean reattached by tying together the ends of the two remaining straps, I got some more sand out of the gears and got back on the bike.  The bike, me and the exceptionally precarious bean squirmed along to the sound of sand grinding down my cassette and derailleur.  At one point I was riding alongside a railway track and considered throwing my bike onto it so a train would stop and I could get on.  As I said, it was a morning of deep despair.

Sweaty stressed and hungry, I reached a road and first port of call was a petrol station.  Why a petrol station?  Well, they’ve become my standard port of call in a crisis in Poland.  The peri-urban geography is easy to understand and it’s easy to guess where a petrol station might be.  The attached shops are almost completely standardised: yhey all have air conditioning, coffee machines, Twixes and peach flavoured iced tea.  They also have hot dogs which, to be honest, aren’t great but they are some sort of food when you’re hungry and depressed.

I was hungry ok?

I cheered up a bit when I saw my first sign to Warsaw

The end is in sight…sort of.

I got the headphones on and started pedalling a bit harder.   I have found podcasts quite good to listen to because you rack up (say) four episodes and you know that when they’re done you’ll be two hours further down the road.  I thoroughly recommend the Londongrad podcast.  It’s an eye opener.

Lunch was at 85k and was, as usual at a petrol station.

A bike and a bean in their natural natural habitat.

Gradually, the day got better.  I got off the busy 92 road onto reasonably well-maintained farm roads and whizzed through countless little villages with no more than five to ten houses.  All the houses were new and neat with well tended gardens and all very cute.  Clearly the farming in that region is profitable…enough.

It’s difficult to overstate how huge and agricultural this part of Poland has been.  The fields of maize, sunflowers a and cabbage stretch forever.

As far as the eye can see

The villages were pretty and, every now and then, the telegraph poles are made especially pretty by having stork nests on them — I assume this is a stork, I know nothing about birds.

A stork.  Or maybe not.

In one village, I had my first dog attack of the trip.  Two dogs came racing out of a gate at high speed and started properly snarling and snapping at my calves.  All the biking books say that you should calmly spray the dogs with water from your bidons.  This is stupid advice because as soon as you see the dogs snarling at your calves, you get such a shot of adrenaline that you can’t remember about the water trick:  you just get out of the saddle and cycle as fast as you can.  Ethereal Sean Kelly was mumbling “Oi didn’t think he’d go for that intermediate sprint there Carlton but it’s going to do his standing in the green jersey competition a power of good” “Yes Sean, look at the power numbers Kirk was putting out there for 30 seconds.  Quite extraordinary”.

50km to go became 40km to go and then it all seemed possible because 40km is the normal sort of training ride I would do.  I can do 40km in my sleep…at least that’s what I tell myself every day when it gets to 40km to go.

I stopped to take a picture of a sunflower just so I could add some more maths to this blog.

Look kids:  mathematics in action.

The seeds are arranged in a Fibonacci sequence and the fundamental reason is that the Golden Ratio
1.618033988749

is the most irrational of irrational numbers.  Yeah, nobody cares but I think it’s fabulous that something as esoteric as ordering numbers by how irrational they are — a strange concept in itself — eventually ends up causing a plant to grow seeds in a particular pattern.

Here’s a picture of a 3m high doll made out of hay bales to help you get over the maths.

40km became 20km and then 5km and I was in Łowicz searching for the Hotel Polonia.  I just wish that medium-sized Polish towns who want to remain quaint and traditional could get rid of the cobbles.  

Oh great, another bollock-busting 2km until the hotel.

The Hotel Polonia in Łowicz is a very traditional hotel and is actually charming.  The rooms are dated and there’s no lift — a joy when you’re on the 3rd floor and have to carry the bike up with you — but the staff were absolutely lovely and we got by linguistically with a combination of a few words of English, a couple of homages to Marcel Marceau and a lot of smiles and giggles.  There was a big party going on inside the hotel where people were getting absolutely slaughtered on vodka celebrating a christening (I think) but the courtyard restaurant aws sweet and quiet.  The menu is exceptionally traditional so it was Polish sour soup with bacon, potatoes and egg to start and a somewhat confusing chicken dish with potatoes.

There’s an egg in there too.

Napoleon’s favourite dish I have been told.  No wonder he didn’t get to Moscow.  Too full.

I sat in the cute outdoor garden restaurant amid happy couples and families eating my traditional Polish food and drinking a bottle of wine.  The despair of the morning seemed a long, long time ago and somehow not as bad as it really had been.  Such is the way of these things I guess.  Stuck in the middle of a forest 3 hours walk with a bike and a bean under my arm to the nearest place that had food, water and maybe transport was…very difficult.

One more day to Warsaw.  The route finding on Garmin hasn’t been 100% — see for example the 15k on sand when I’d explicitly asked for road cycling — but it looks like 90k and then I’ll be rolling up to the Hotel Bristol and I’ll be done — modulo the bean behaving itself and my gears not getting ground down to uselessness by the sand.

I’ll leave my impressions of the whole trip until I’ve actually done it, but there’s definitely a feeling of wistfulness that tonight is the last night I’ll wash my shorts in a basin, try to work out a route for the following day, put everything in the right place so I don’t forget it in the morning etc etc.  It’s going to be hard to change the routine when I’m done.

Łowicz to Warsaw

  • Distance: 89km 😄
  • Average Speed: 21.2km.h ☹️ — blame the Warsaw traffic
  • Legs: 🙂
  • Undercarriage: 🙂
  • Bike: ☹️
Because I only had 90k to go today, I was hoping to sleep in and start later than usual.  Unknown to me, today was a very big religious holiday in Poland and the two churches in Łowicz decided to have a bell ringing contest at 6:30am.  For quite a long time.

I hauled myself out of bed and, for the last time, applied SudoCrem to my “soft tissues”, stuffed my things into the desolation-bean and pulled on some slightly damp Lycra.  I had hoped that I might be able to do something better with the bean today but there weren’t a lot of options with only one remaining strap.  Ho hum, it’s only 90k…

More of the same

The morning was a reprise of all of the greatest hits of the previous days on the bike.  After the (now traditional) pull uphill out of town I was back on the flat plains of Poland pedalling against the headwind that had plagued me since the German border.  I once again stopped at a petrol station for morning coffee, drank bad coffee and ate a Twix.

By now, my natural habitat

One thing I’d noticed over the entire trip but never had a chance to mention is to do with listening to music on the bike.  Music and/or podcasts are essential on trips like this to help you grind out the kilometres and stop you going mad with all the straight farm roads.  AirPods are fantastic for this since they have a transparent mode which helps you hear the thundering truck barrelling up behind.  However, the wind noise makes the music harder to hear and often when a song starts your brain doesn’t quite latch onto the key of the song for the first 30 seconds or so.  Because you think that the tonal centre is somewhere else in the song you listen to a lot of music in the wrong “mode”. Thin Lizzy in the Phrygian mode sounds very odd until, suddenly, the correct tonal centre resolves.  It’s very similar to when your brain resolves an optical illusion.  Ok, I’ve got that out of my system.  Sorry.

More long straight roads and the distance to Warsaw gradually ticked down

🎶Woah oh we’re half way there🎶

Although it doesn’t really add much to the narrative at this point, I think it’s definitely worth including another picture of some geodesic-straight Polish farm roads.

You can tell this sort of thing made an impression on me.

“Geodesic” = shortest distance between two points on a manifold with a metric and, while we’re on the maths for the last time, I did have a question about the sunflower thing from yesterday.  There’s a fantastic Numberphile video which explains why flowers have the golden ratio in them and why its the most irrational of irrational numbers.  Highly recommended and well worth 11 minutes of your time.  Mathematics is beautiful sometimes.

Gradually the roads got busier, the villages became towns and the towns merged together into one long suburb.  Bikes turned back into objects of sport — Lycra clad fit looking men and women whizzed past me on high end bikes — rather than being objects of transport — me whizzing past farmers on ratty old mountain bikes with chickens and vegetables tied on the back.  For the final time, imaginary Sean Kelly mumbled “Kirk’s been pushing one hundert per cent for the last number of kilometres and oi think the day is over for the chasing group of 75 year old farmers”.

The cycling infrastructure of paths and cycleways got better although stopping at the never ending traffic lights lowers your average speed a lot.

It’s a long way from Cambridge to here

Now I was 5km from the centre of Warsaw and, of course, the kidney-bean of frustration had one final trick up its sleeve.  The last functional strap gave way and the bean was rubbing on the back tyre.

You bastard

I tied the broken ends of what was left of the straps together and rooted around in my bag for my — hitherto unused — front light.  I attached it to the seat post just under the bag and it supported the bean a scant 5mm above the wheel.  It would do.

4km and the bean was holding if I ignored a small amount of tyre scraping when I bumped up and down kerbs.  3km, 2km, 1km…and then I ran into the back of the Polish Army.

An unexpected blockage on the road

In the distance on the right, you can see the Hotel Bristol which was my finish point.  I wasn’t going to walk the final 500m so I cycled down the pavement — something which irritates the hell out of me when people do it in Cambridge and then…I was there and my friend Ewa was waiting to take this photograph.

Done

And then I burst into tears.  Which was unexpected.

The Hotel Bristol was fantastically good.  The room I’d booked wasn’t ready so they put me in the suite which is, I think, the largest hotel room I’ve ever been in.  I paced it out and it was 18m by 10m.  I could have almost cycled my bike round it.

Ewa had arranged for my bike bag to be shipped to the Hotel Bristol and inside I had stashed some fresh new clothes and shoes.  After a shower and an inspection of my impressive tan lines I was good to go out not wearing my Angela Merkel trousers and a ratty old t-shirt which hadn’t been washed in 6 days.

Velominati Rule #7.

Ewa had very kindly arranged for us to drive out to her house just outside Warsaw and have dinner with her Mum and her extended family.  Fabulous home made potato dumplings, meat, the best gherkins I had ever tasted — which Ewa’s Mum makes herself.  Toasts of whisky, Ewa’s mum crying, me crying, Ewa doing simultaneous translation…it was wonderful and overwhelming.  

In a final little coda to the trip, it turns out that the Polish national velodrome is in Ewa’s home town.  On the way back to Warsaw we stopped and — for the first time in my life — I walked on a velodrome track.

I wanted to have a go

No brakes, no gears, no freewheel.

I got back to the hotel and slept the sleep of the dead.  Now I have a day sightseeing in Warsaw with Ewa before returning to Cambridge and then to Mallorca.  I’ll have to learn all over again how to make conversation, not eat like a teenager, not smear my soft tissues with SudoCrem every morning, not to get coffee from petro-stations.  It’s going to be a challenge.

So the trip is done but this isn’t quite the last blog I’ll do on this trip.  I think one more as an overview of the countries, the route, the kit I took, and the kit I wish I hadn’t taken.

Overall, I had done 1,725km.  To put that in perspective, it’s like cycling round Dwayne Johnson’s biceps over 3 million times.  I had expended just under 36 megajoules of energy which, if I ignore air resistance and mechanical inefficiency is enough energy to accelerate me and the bike to about 4,000 km/h or enough potential energy to get me to the top of Everest.  I had turned my legs round 412 thousand times.

It’s time to stop cycling for a bit.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Day 1: Cambridge to Harwich…again

Day 15: Nyköping to Stockholm

Day 2: Hoek van Holland to Zwolle