Travelling across a continent takes a lot of energy. Dan & Amy of Eurovelo Couple join us in this guest post to talk about hitting the open road, camping under the stars and taking carb-loading to the extreme.
For a long time, we’ve gone to bed reading about adventurers. Alastair Humphreys who cycled around the world and lived off banana sandwiches. Helen Lloyd who cycled across Siberia in -40 degrees Celsius. Two chaps named George & Ben, who wrote Free Country, and travelled from Land’s End to John o’ Groats in the UK with no money and no belongings, getting by on the generosity of others.
Inspired by these explorers and the stories of many other touring cyclists, we decided to give it a go for ourselves and went on our first overnight bike trip just a few years ago. We started small, picking a warm sunny weekend, bungeeing our tent and cooking pots to the back of the bike and headed down the road for a night under the stars. It was just a short ride from home where we set up camp, sleeping at the foot of the historic White Horse in Uffington, Oxfordshire.
After that, we got braver and started to go a bit farther. We took a ferry over to France in April 2015 and planned to cycle around Belgium for a few nights. Unfortunately, only 50 miles in Amy fell from her bike, we spent an afternoon in a local hospital and the whole thing was called off. While our confidence took a bit of a hit, we persevered with a few more short tours in the UK, until we regained that desire to go bigger.
We’re both in our early 30s but incredibly young at heart. Life was getting just a bit too serious — the mortgage, suit, tie, bills to pay and no time to do the things we really wanted. We wanted to let go of the 9–5 routine as we felt it was preventing us creating lasting memories.
We wanted to recalibrate and exchange our office surroundings for nature, get out of the office chair and sit in a saddle, replace stress and ‘busy-ness’ with slow simplicity. See the world, embrace different cultures, feel the sun on our face and wind in our hair, and push ourselves outside of our comfort zones.
Cycling is a form of meditation for us and it’s the one place we go to find peace and to switch off from it all. A bike tour was what we craved so after a night on the wine we asked our bosses for 12 weeks off work. They said yes on the very day we asked.
It was as simple as that, and a great example that fear of asking can hold so many people back from pursuing what they really want to do.
We settled on tackling the Eurovelo, a network of interconnected cycling paths that cover a huge part of the continent. While it might not be very well known, it makes travelling Europe by bike extremely achievable, and there are countless routes you can take as several of the pathways overlap. For us, the prospect of such an adventure was irresistible.
We didn’t really plan our journey out––we wanted the opportunity to be flexible and spontaneous––so we just packed up our bikes and backpacks, booked a ferry to France and decided to follow the Eurovelo paths from there.
We cycled through France, Switzerland, Germany and the Netherlands, camping most nights and sleeping in the occasional hotel or B&B on others. For us, there was no one country that stood out above the rest, but there were a few favourite stops that stayed with us.
In Rigny-Ussé we camped by an incredible chateau that looked as though it was pulled straight out of a fairy table. In the Doubs Valley in France the scenery was breathtaking–everything was lush and green, the river was spectacular and everything sparkled in the sun. Words can’t do it justice. Utrecht in the Netherlands was another unexpected joy with beautiful canals, a bustling atmosphere and very pretty streets.
But it’s not just places that stay with you when you travel–certain people you meet along the way can also have a lasting effect. We were in Arnhem, in the Netherlands, staying at an AirBnB with our host, Marianne. We were her second ever guests. We turned up at her beautiful townhouse tired and smelly from a long ride.
She invited us in with open arms, offering us English tea and biscuits she had bought in our honour, and bubble-bath so we could have a rejuvenating soak in the tub. We sat down and over a ‘cuppa’ we had a chat about our trip, while she showed us a real genuine interest. In return, she spoke to us about the history of Arnhem, showing us around the basement where soldiers and civilians hid from the enemy troops. The next day we left her house after the biggest breakfast we’d ever seen, knowing that we had met a very special person.
While these were some of our highs, there were of course some lows, but we took it as an opportunity to learn. Particular to long distance bike riding, saddle sores became a big issue, with Amy spending 3 days cycling 300KMs on one bum-cheek. It was a lesson to her and any fellow female cyclists thinking about going on a tour to make sure your bike is setup correctly so that there’s no unwelcome pressure points.
At one point, we ran out of food and water in France. All the shops were closed, we had no where to stay and we’d already ridden 100 miles. Luckily we found the energy to keep going into a city, but it stuck out as a lesson for us to not wait too long before stocking up, especially when opening hours might be different to what you’re used to back home.
And of course, as any cyclist knows, the weather plays a huge part in your experience. We had a few days in a heatwave, which was relentless. There wasn’t any shade and the roads felt like they went on forever. It was so hot some of the roads were actually melting. The lesson there––always make sure you have water!
There’s just something magical that you experience when you’re riding a bike across a country that you can’t capture when you’re driving in car. You feel the country in every pedal stroke, the hills, the terrain, the air and the scents. Everything becomes simplified. All that’s important is finding food, shelter and feeling strong. You more deeply experience the different cultures too, as you’re not bound by the tourist locations — it’s the best way to experience any country and meet the people there.
If you do decide to go on a bike adventure of your own, here are a few words of sage advice. Wear sunscreen. Take a pillow with you — you’ll regret it if you don’t. Find yourself a compact, foldable bowl. While most people might not think to include it, you can wash clothes, dishes, collect water and carry things at the campsite. It was one of our most used items.
And finally, make sure you eat for fuel. Our meal of choice? Nutella (chocolate spread) and pasta, which we ate quite a lot as it worked for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It was full of carbs, desperately necessary when cycling all day and definitely helped us conquer a few hills.
One of our most unforgettable moments on the trip wasn’t anything too out of the ordinary. On our last night in France we found ourselves in a small town called Neuf-Brisach. If you’ve not heard of it, it has a Star Fort which can be fully viewed from above. It’s quite spectacular. The reason it’s so memorable, though, is that we were staying in a lovely little campsite and for the first time in weeks had a WiFi connection strong enough to play music. We spent the evening drinking local red wine, eating snacks and listening to our favourite songs while the sun went down. We reminisced about our trip so far — we’d crossed the width of a country, and gone from couch potatoes to seasoned cyclists.
When we headed out on this trip, we both went hoping that we’d be able to re-calibrate and connect with nature again. To live in the present moment and not worry. We didn’t realise how life changing it would really be.
Some might think ‘it was only 12 weeks away from home, no big deal’, but when you’re cycling across a continent on a bike, with a tent, carrying your clothes on your back, not speaking the local language it really gives you time to think. You begin to notice things that you wouldn’t normally, you learn things about yourself, like your ability to solve problems or laugh when things are looking bleak. It may sound a bit tacky, but the whole thing was very enlightening. We came back with a fresh outlook on life which has helped us in everything we’ve done since we’ve been back. To us, this was quite unexpected.
It’s important to fill your life with adventures for several reasons but most of all, you only live once and by taking yourself out of your comfort zone you have the chance to learn about yourself and others. In a nutshell, it helps you appreciate your life and other people…and gives you some pretty rad stories to tell your family and friends when you’re older.
Map of Dan & Amy’s journey across Europe made with Alpaca Maps.
Banana sandwiches and Nutella spaghetti — how to fuel a cycling trip across Europe was originally published in alpaca.travel on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.