In theory it only takes one short pedal revolution to set off on a ride of this magnitude. Just the same as a four hour training ride or a five minute spin to the shops. But I think somewhere in the build up to that moment, nervous potential energy abounding, that simple action becomes far tougher. So you need to somehow break the behemoth down into steps.
Now, whilst I was volunteering in Romania I was taught to weld by a great Dutch man named Hans. I knew he was living somewhere back in Holland and in the days before I set off I managed to make contact with him. He and his family would be waiting for me in a small village outside of Zwolle, my first beacon to head towards on this long solitary road. It was a beautiful moment when I first glimpsed his well used yellow VW van cruising down the road towards me; kitted out exactly the same inside as when we had sheltered from the harsh Romanian winter over coffee. A brief moment of calm after the first four days, and all the madness in the build up.
I stayed two nights with Hans and his beautiful, tight knot family. Reminiscing about the time we worked together, and talking about what might lie on the road ahead. The Jaspers all love to be on the road so I couldn’t resist the big sell of a road trip down to France and then up across the UK next summer before I hit the road again, bound for northern Germany.
After spending a night camped out of site on the edge of a village football field it was just a short ride to a non descript border town and over to Germany. I had read about the R1 euro velo route which runs from Amsterdam as far as St Petersburg. It runs east west across Germany and then swings northward to Berlin. Perfection; I thought, as that was my next major target. In hindsight I can see that such an ambitiously long cycle route might succomb to the odd missing signpost or want for clarity. At the outset though I was convinced it would be plain sailing.
I should add- at the very first tourist information office I visited, in the first town I entered in Germany I was offered the chance to buy the custom map for the bike route. For reasons which now escape me, I declined. I mean, how hard could it be ?
Initially the signage for the route was plentiful and I was happily diverted left and right to enjoy the best possible view of every stream, meadow and castle. It was so enjoyable that even when muddy track – doubtless dry as a bone come summer- became better suited for a mountain bike race than a fully loaded touring bike it was no problem. But all of a sudden the route began to intersect with other bike routes, seemingly going to the same town by different means. In the name of efficiency I opted to try and follow the shortest option, and rejoin the main R1 route in the given town. Brilliant plan.
Naturally such a simple and ingenious plan was bound to come unstuck. Not long after I found myself committed to following what was becoming an increasingly “agricultural” track. Sticky mud, slowly forward, squelching, slipping, sliding. Not one for making U-turns I ventured on and sure enough found myself in the middle of a freshly ploughed field; finally admitting that I may have taken a wrong turn. I got out map and compass, and after some more walking, dragging the bike behind, and a short traverse through the back garden of a farmer I rejoined a road. Sadly I couldn’t say “the road” implying that I knew which road it was, or indeed where I was. It was one of those days.
And yet,despite this clear failure I was not discouraged from developing a further navigational “techniques”. To catch up the time lost I would use road signs in conjunction with the cycle route signage to finally make some headway. Sadly after two hours of trying this I had only succeeded in developing a very nice but ultimately circular route around the towns just west of Munster. My spirits were not terribly high now, and then it began to rain. Again.
I remember making one final effort to rejoin the elusive R1 route, but found myself trapped in the same village I had been in hours ago. Unbelievable. As the light drained from the sky and my patience even faster I decided it was time to find somewhere to camp. I scoped out the hill above the village, and walked through a small wooded area but nothing was screaming ” campsite ” at me. So I headed back to the village with vague hopes of finding a garden to camp in.
Armed with a translated note roughly explaining my endeavors and my hopeless command of the German language there was nothing else for it. The first two attempts came to nothing but then I found a man outside his house splitting logs for the fire. He briefly pondered the note, and then, with barely a moments hesitation began to explain in very good English the different options I would have in his garden. Amazing. And when the offer developed into using his warm kitchen to cook out of the rain and a cup of coffee, what a had been a frustrating day was redeemed for a most memorable one.