The rough seas continue in Romania.

** Before you read on, please do read the previous post. Go on.**

Amongst the flurry of messages between me and Siria that afternoon was the offer to crash at Sammy’s family home in Arad. Admittedly it would mean falling 30km short of my mark, but on the plus side it would mean not having to ride one of the most dangerous roads in the county in the middle of the night. The realisation of losing an hour on crossing the border had served perfectly to knock any remaining wind from my sails and I was happy to accept the compromise. Bleary eyed I turned onto the main road into Arad, suddenly all to aware of the comfortingly close passes of the eighteen wheelers from Hungary which came thundering past my left shoulder with alarming frequency. Thanks to the wonders of urban sprawl I crossed over into the city limits but still faced a 10k slog across an industrial waste land before reaching the blinding lights and familiar sites of downtown Arad. Somehow I made the theatre at the top of Boulevard Revolutie where Nata met me at that unseemly hour,a beacon of hope to guide me in.

I have only a faint memory of collapsing into bed when I arrived, reasonable at the end of a day that topped out at around 285kms.

After expressing my gratitude and eating a huge breakfast I was on the road again, the tank still feeling empty for the final ride into the village. What’s more I was confronted by a block headwind which came rolling over the plains to wreak havoc with my forward progress. The ridge of hills at the bottom of which you will find the village nestled seemed to inch closer in agonising slow motion. All I could do was long for the final sweeping right turn that means you hit the smooth tarmac and take in that magnificent view of the castle perched above the village. Always a welcome sight at the end of a hard days work, and even more so for the road weary cyclist.

It’s a challenge to convey just how beautiful it is to be welcomed back into the community I used to live in as though I had never been away. People come and go and the organisation moves forward, but between the Romanian staff and volunteers I found more than enough familiar faces to seamlessly slip back into the rhythm of the place when I was there. Seconds after I had made it through the gate of James and Susie’s house Sammy came bouncing out of one of the cars to greet me. He had nearly put it in a ditch earlier in the day and was in a rush to make it back to the centre on time. It was like I had never left.

In the end I was having such a good time being back that I stayed a couple of nights longer than planned. The bike got some love, long overdue catch ups over coffee and some great friends even got engaged whilst I was there. But I could never have anticipated the knock on effect this would have by time I actually did pull myself away.

That Saturday morning was the first hot one of the trip, and by anyone’s standards I was dragging my heals. Eventually I could delay no longer and set off accompanied by Sammy for the first 10km, taking the road that snakes along the bottom of the ridge line with views across the vineyard lined hills.

A brief goodbye in Paulis and he was gone. Just me and the bicycle. Plus all of my half formed thoughts and emotions from Budapest the weekend before, and the experience of coming back to the place which used to be home. That had been held in check by that epic ride, great company and happy memories; but now they would hit me like a raging torrent.

Between bouts of weeping by the roadside I managed to eek out just 40km,all the while fighting the urge to turn back.I crested a small rise on the road to Timisoara and found a table and benches, so I sat gazing back at those hills through tear stung eyes. I can only say that I was emotionally defunct. Broken. Empty. Defeat seemed close.

My gaze would flick back to the bicycle and I could think of nothing more pointless to do than to continue hauling that lump of steel, rubber and plastic even one kilometer further. Let alone the thousands of kilometers still separating me from the Indian subcontinent. I was supposed to meet long time suffering riding partner Rob in Istanbul the following week, yet even this failed to provide even a flicker of motivation. If I could have shaken a magic eight ball, no doubt “outlook is bleak” would have been the outcome.

Such an emphatic loss of forward momentum and drive is something I had never experienced before. And being accustomed to setting myself a challenge and overcoming whatever obstacle is necessary to meet my target, I still felt utterly unprepared to handle this situation. In an instant all your motives become questionable, and the ability to reason seems to just leave you. It feels uncomfortable even to recall it now.

There was nothing else to do but forego trying to summon my own strength and rely upon someone else for help. No doubt this happens all the time when you travel, but this was something else. I have my girlfriend to thank for keeping me on the road that day, and another friend who’s parents lived only 20kms further up the road. After two hours of going nowhere I somehow rallied to start moving again. I spent a few nights staying at the house on the outskirts of Timisoara, just trying to process all that had happened which culminated in me being stuck at the side of the road. And it took many days of riding after that to start to feel even remotely normal. I was certainly finding the challenge I had sought after.




Not all plain sailing.


Julting over slick cobblestones away from the Gothic architecture of Vienna, I headed east under damp grey skies towards the Hungarian border. The flat road marked the beginning of the vast Hungarian plain which I would ultimately follow as far as the Zarand mountains in Romania where I had spent the majority of post university life. Along the way I would be hosted exquisitely by the family of Miklos, the Hungarian mechanic that I had worked with back in that bike shop in west London. A great mechanic, but more importantly a fantastic friend.

I traced a path further east along the Danube, swinging north to take in the magnificent Danube bend. That evening I camped river side, woken up the following morning as the rising sun warmed the tent from the far bank.

She had flown from London and we spent the weekend together in Budapest; followed by the most harrowing goodbye I have ever had to say as we parted again at the airport. The ride on the bus back to downtown was sweltering, tears rolled down my cheeks the entire journey as bemused strangers looked on. As I drifted back to the apartment I could think of only one way to overcome this melancholia. The following day, I said to myself, I would attempt to ride the 300km section to my home from home in Romania in a single day. The knowledge that I would be back amongst old friends that evening if I could pull it off was the only thing that would keep me going.

Morning came and I put on the zaniest pair of socks I could find, braced myself for a fresh round of tears as I hit the trunk road out of Budapest and set off into the already warm streets.

I have ridden a similar distance on several occasions in the past, but under the circumstances this would be a somewhat audacious attempt. Fully loaded on a bike weighing in at over 50kgs, some of the heaviest tyres known to man, the need to make the route up on the fly as well as knowing I would be sure to ride many hours in darkness if I was going to make it. But in my favour were this incredible pair of socks, and the stubborn single mindedness to keep going and hold to my plan.

Zipping along on smooth tarmac and appreciating the faintest nudge of a tail wind the day started well, and the roads became steadily quieter away from the capital. There is no real trick to riding so far, save for minimising the time you spend going nowhere, and maintaining a constant steady effort. Plus if you can detatch yourself from the notion of distance, at least until you are comfortably 2/3 of the way through, then you can save yourself from the mental anguish of thoughts like “…ahh, only 250kms to go.” Never a comforting thought.

Things were going well until the middle of the afternoon when I opted to go straight on at a crossroads. It was a smaller lane which would cut off two sides of a triangle and shave 30km from the full distance. An irresistible manoeuvre. Perhaps after half an hour of following this road the surface started to deteriorate but I pushed on and a short while later it had become little more than a farm track. Pot holed and rutted, necessitating a zig zagging pattern of riding to negotiate the largest craters. Progressing at such a fantastically modest pace I knew how damaging this could be to making the huge distance by the end of the day. In frustration I sat down to eat a little and consider the options.

Fighting off my desire to plough on regardless, I opted to turn back. I dislike back tracking with a passion, however on this occasion I am glad that head managed to over rule heart. Rejoining the main carriageway I began to make steady progress once more, late afternoon easing aside to give dusk its hour.

I pushed endlessly on as the light faded, pausing only to drape a hiviz jacket across the rear panniers and switch on my lights. I had never intended to put myself in the position of doing any significant amount of night riding, but as I was fixed on the goal of reaching the village of Siria that night I was willing to make the exception. I fired off a few texts messages, wheels still rolling, to see if the crossing I wanted would be open and where I could most easily lay my head – knowing it would not be the most social hour when I arrived.

Once darkness had fallen it became so much harder to gauge distances, and the time it took to haul the border closer dragged on imperceptibly slowly. As tiredness crept in my mind hand given in to the temptation of endlessly recalculating the remaining time and distance. Head, hands and backside numbing. Still the cranks turned beneath me. Willing myself not to stop.

I think it was just before midnight when I found myself in a slight stupor beneath the ghastly flood lights of the border control point. Pupils hastily contracting to deal with the intensity. I slipped through the Hungarian side, and proceeded to stun the dude on the Romanian side – an English guy, on a bicycle, speaking Romanian. It had been a while since I had spoken to anyone in Romanian but it was great to be fully understood. The immediate downside of this was that I understood in no uncertain terms that I was probably still three hours ride from my goal, and that on crossing the border the time would immediately jump forward by an hour.

Nevertheless I lingered a while on the far side, angling my headtorch to illuminate the ROMANIA sign for a photo, all the while relishing the fact that this was now the second time I had ridden as far as Romania and comparing the very different circumstances. Finally I turned and headed into the darkness towards Arad, city of dreams, suddenly aware of the barking  dogs and the scampering of their feet not far off the road. My heart pounded in my chest. Yes, this was most certainly Romania.







South of Berlin.


After three nights of German beer, artisan coffee and some great times with Jack and Gus the sun finally reappeared in the sky over Berlin and it was time to continue my journey south. Despite being well rested, bike thoroughly cleaned and fettled by the local bike emporium (shop being too small a word for Stadler in Berlin, Google it) and a place to stay in Vienna the following week it was still tough to leave good friends.

I think to cycle across Europe without dropping in on the many friends I have made whilst working in London or volunteering in Romania would have been a great shame. But already at this point I was reflecting on how difficult it would be to settle in a place for a few nights with a good friend, before setting off once more into the unknown. In effect it was like a series of fresh starts, with emotions felt almost as strongly as the initial jolt out of my London orbit. An experience far removed from that of spending the night in the kitchen or garden of a complete stranger at the end of the day.

Nevertheless that was the option I had chosen and I set off to pick my way through the bike lanes of hipster friendly east Berlin which eventually spill over into the beautiful green countryside beyond. For the next three days I was met head on by a savage wind, but I was rewarded by a covert mission to explore some coal freight trains by the side of the road on the second day and some beautiful spots to camp. The first night I read my Dervla Murphy book whilst watching a fly fishermen plying his craft and the second night I was pitched next to a small sailing lake as the sunset between pine trees on the far shoreline.


Approaching the border with the Czech Republic the hills which I had so far avoided since leaving the UK started to make there presence felt. Little did I know that as I cycled across Moravia in the eastern part of the country that the hills were here to stay. It is as though the landscape of the Czech Republic was created by spreading a range of different sized balls across a flat surface at random and then draping a stunning cloak of greenery over the top. The result being a never ending series of medium size hills, laid out in such a fashion that the road ahead is perennially obscured by those undulations lying closer on the horizon. Stirring up uncertainty and intrigue in equal measure as to what the road ahead would bring. The natural tendency to start building settlements close to a water source meant that entering a town usually meant a precipitous descent into a valley, crossing a river and then wrestling the bike up and over an absurdly steep ascent on the far side.


Fortunately the climbs tended to top out at around 450m, a comparatively gentle introduction to propelling my bike uphill compared to the sterner tests which I knew lay ahead. The friendly people and comparatively low prices kept my spirits high as I skirted south and east, opting to leave Prague for another adventure and sticking to a more rural track. On the second night in the country I was searching for somewhere to put my tent for the night and seeing a woman stood outside her house in one village I decided to try my luck.

Within about ten seconds of her reading the short note I had translated into Czech a broad smile had spread across her face and she was ushering me into her yard. No questions ask. Here I was faced by her two enormous dogs, each of them weighing easily as much as me and curious about my arrival to say the least. This turned out to be just the start of her animal collection, which would more accurately be described as a zoo. Goats, chickens and a Shetland pony living outside and no end of snakes,spiders, lizards and even a giant tortoise were inside the house. I was more than a little nervous when her five year old daughter presented me with a lizard to hold, she took more than a little delight in my very obvious discomfort. I don’t blame her!


It was my favourite over night stop of the trip up to that point and I was only a couple of days away from the Austrian border when I resumed the following morning. The almost never ending series of short sharp climbs finally petered out as I arrived at the border, giving way to vast swathes of gently rolling arable farmland. On my first night camping in Austria I found a spot in a park on the edge of a village which I was sure would be nice and quiet after dark once the local kids had finished playing football. I hadn’t anticipated that there would be a large frog population in the small pond in the park, which seemed to set about rampantly procreating just as I was slipping out of consciousness. My goodness me what a raucous bunch.


I awoke the following morning after a somewhat disturbed night in high spirits, after another 8 days on the move I would arrive in Vienna by the end of the day Рon time and in one piece. The warmer conditions and my burgeoning confidence were making the travelling lifestyle more liveable and it felt great. I spotted the option of a sinuous climb into Vienna via Königstetten which was almost alpine in style and after some graft I was rewarded with a great view across the city, before finally descending into the suburbs.

Cracking Berlin – Pt 2


By the time the alarm sounded at 6am I felt as though I had only just fought off the cold, damp conditions and achieved sleep. Weak willed as ever I snoozed it until 6.30am. Erecting the tent in a far from expert manner as the rain fell the night before meant that I was sharing the tent with some rain for the night. Seemingly not content with the amount of water inside it continued to rain heavily outside, eventually saturating the fly sheet. I was forced to cover the sleeping bag with my waterproof to shield it and me from the worst of the rain. It had been a great tent a few years back. Summer. Summer will come, I thought.

Finally I forced myself to emerge from the warm cocoon of my sleeping bag, fully aware I had no food for breakfast and that forward motion was the only option. As I had come to expect, by the time I had rolled up the last part of he tent my fingers were searing with pain from the cold. I was only too glad to roll away and generate some body heat.

Only two weeks in I was still proudly hanging onto my coffee addiction, so I was extremely happy to find an open bakery in the second village I arrived in. Clutching the little cup with both hands to thaw my stinging digits my eyes poured over the map. I calculated the distance would be well over 160kms to reach Berlin; that’s a solid days ride without 30 odd kilos of luggage for company. No matter, I thought if I could reach Potsdam by evening then I could crawl into Berlin. Most likely anyway.

Shortly after leaving the call of nature inevitably sounded, leading to meet possibly the most upbeat petrol station attendant I have ever met. It’s well known that petrol stations provide an unlikely yet vital refuge for many a long distance cyclist. So I can say I have made the acquaintance of my share of attendants at all times of day and night, and in varying states of physical and mental well being. Often one finds a surly, expressionless character; unwilling or unable to offer much by way of communication. Perhaps they simply mirror the condition of the rider? By compare this woman was alarmingly cheery and communicative. I will admit to deliberately eschewing her route advice, but nevertheless this was surely a positive start.

A combined sense of great optimism and a light tail wind meant that the first 80kms flew by. Even the portly gentleman I spoke to whilst waiting at a small river crossing thought that Berlin was a reasonable target. Surely he should know. As far as 140kms into the day the legs were feeling strong, and around this time I saw a sign for Berlin saying just 27kms. “…crushing it.” I reported to Jack in a text message. And yet an hour and a half later the signs for Berlin Mitte were reading 30kms. Time for me to be crushed.

Late in the afternoon the ominously dark clouds which had shadowed me all day finally unleashed their payload. Twice I was hit by tremendous downpours of hail stones, but somehow I arrive in Potsdam to bright sunshine.


At this point I was teetering on the edge of bonking, having run out of food, but at least I was lucky enough to find a man riding a mountain bike to navigate Potsdam for me and put me on the road to Berlin. Thank you that man. I can only think he was late for an appointment though as he set the most furious pace. Sprinting away from the lights, then darting and diving through groups of pedestrians on the bike path. I just about clung on to his rear wheel, struggling to see straight, body demanding calories and sugar. That awful light headed feeling washing over me.

After creeping my way up two small hills on the road to Berlin and suffering a further deluge of hail stones I collapsed through the doors of a McDonald’s. Having inhaled a meal and recovered a little I consulted Google maps to see what the damage would be. Shit. Still far more kilometres remained than I’d have liked.

An unfortunate wrong turn saw me take the hilly scenic rout around Lake Havel, but by the time I had realised I had gone too far for turning around to be an option. At last I hit the road dead straight road for the centre. It was dark by this point and my concentration was all but gone, not the best part of the day to hit a bustling city centre. Bike paths meeting and leaving the main road at random, with the occasional appearance of wet cobbles -slick and shiny- to keep me on my toes. I didn’t quite fit in with the tourist crowd at Brandenburger Tor, but eventually bagged a few snaps.

I wove my way through the final kilometres of Berlin traffic with one brake and only partly aware of my surroundings. I knew it was almost done. Up the small ramp on Petersburger Strasse and hit the buzzer for the flat. 184kms, I was done.







Cracking Berlin – Pt 1.

wind t


The learning curve of those first two weeks spent riding across northern Europe was far steeper than I could have anticipated. I continued to wrestle with the wind, rain and constant need to make decisions. Settling in to life on the road was taking some time, and the prospect of finding somewhere safe to camp at the end of each day was an increasingly stressful propostion. Tiredness was creeping in but I felt the need to endure this bedding in period, hoping – though not certain – that a more sustainable rhythm would develop.

I persevered for several days longer with the R1 route, learning to keep a keen eye for the small signs which mark the way. The route was truely interesting and I had managed to find gardens and trailer beds to sleep in along the way thanks to kind hearted German families. Still I was growing increasingly frustrated by getting routinely lost, at least twice a day, and making very slow progress as a result. Both of these things I knew would easily be remedied by switching back to following the road network.
Three days out from my 25th birthday I could feel my grip slowly loosening on the prize of a few days off in Berlin to celebrate. A thorough look at the map suggested that if I dispensed with following the R1 that morning then I might just give myself a chance. I had already lost the trail the previous evening before camping so the seperation was made. Setting off down hill on the Easter Monday felt good, a new start almost. Yet somehow, within just 5km of setting off, the road had intersected once more with the R1. Astonishing. After days of trying to follow it and losing it so often, now that I had tried to purposefully leave it – I had found it again with ease. Tragically like a moth to a flame I was drawn into giving it one last chance. I confidently powered up an offroad ascent, eventually leaving the forest and taking lunch up on a ridge overlooking the road I had negected to follow. This was the life. I set off once more. Hopeful.
Shortly afterwards the path hit a cross roads, and to my dismay (but not surprise) there was no indication of which way the R1 continued. An “educated” guess with the compass only resulted in losing an hours progress and gaining an extra 3km climb. The time had come to leave the R1 for good. Buoyed by finally taking this decision I blasted along tarmac roads for several hours further, at times benefitting from a considerable tail wind – comfortably surpassing 100km for the day. Finding a spot to tuck the tent in to that evening was more of a challenge; inevitably the list of criteria for what counted as suitable dwindled as my tiredness increased. Eventually I took my chance as the road went quiet; taking a sharp 90 degree turn and careering up the track to the base of a wind turbine. I quickly stashed the bike behind it, then crouched down in the grass, breathing hard, my heart pounding in my chest from the sudden effort – I watched for any sign that I had been seen. A few minutes passed with no movement from the surrounding houses, my breathing slowed. Safe. I began to cook, leaning back against the immense steel collumn, completely hidden from view and sheltered from the heavy rain that was falling. The stage was set; around 180km north east of me was a warm bed and good friends in Berlin. Would I make it the next day…