This is maybe the only post you want to read if you’re after advice for budding cyclotourists. If you want more in depth accounts of our struggles and adventures I recommend other posts, but this is the one with the substance and morals.
Sarah and I started out as completely freshfaced newbies. Our joint training rides amounted to just over 150km, and our individual efforts consisted mostly of short shuttles to work or the supermarket.
On top of this, Sarah was a completely inexperienced camper, and had to buy and borrow all of her gear.
Nonetheless, we managed this trip. Here are the lessons we learnt.
1) training is indispensable.
Yes, I just told you we didn’t do any training beforehand. However, this meant the first week of our trip was our training period. We built stamina and muscle while on the road. While this is perfectly possible, I wouldn’t recommend it. We had sore butts, overtired thighs and aching backs while also sleeping on a mat less than an inch thick at night and having to pay 50 cent for every three minutes of hot shower water.
How nice would it have been to manage the bulk of training beforehand, when we still slept in real beds and had unlimited hot baths at our disposal?
2) everything takes longer than you think.
Yes, we were cycling more slowly than we envisaged. But more seriously, daily life took a lot longer to manage. Just getting up and leaving in the morning seemed like an arduous task.
Normally, this would be a matter of walking out of the bedroom into the shower (1min), washing and getting dressed (10min), preparing and eating breakfast (10min), gathering bits and bobs in a bag for the day (10min) and finally leaving, in just over half an hour.
This became peeling yourself out of the warm sleeping bag, loosening up the stiff muscles and bracing the cool morning air (10min), finding clean clothes, towels and soap among the pile of bags (5min), finding the shower building, waiting for a free cubicle, looking for change in the right currency, returning to the tent for a 5 kronor piece , finally having a shower (20min), boiling tea water and porridge on the trangia (20min) and then packing up all belongings including mats, sleeping bags and tent and stowing them on the bikes (45 min). Add into this smooth going any difficulty like a sudden rain shower, wet laundry, a particularly chatty tent neighbour or the morning rush at the washing up basins, and you understand why we never left earlier than two hours after waking.
3) buy some fucking maps.
Yes, we didn’t. We navigated with help of street signs, downloaded PDF copies of googlemap excerpts and in Sweden, my iPhone. We saved a lot of money this way, but we also had to ask for campground locations almost daily.
If you don’t want to buy maps (but you should!) consider bringing a camping guidebook for your country of choice.
4) know what to compromise on.
This might be a bit more cryptic. I think we saw on our trip that you can never have it all. You have to choose between nice food, athletic achievement, sightseeing, friendship, sleeping in, travelling cheaply, moving quickly and a few other things. It’s of utmost importance that you and your travel buddies agree which ones are important to your trip and which can fall by the wayside!
For us, the main goal was to reach Herräng as friends. We couldn’t just go less far, and we didn’t want to split up or continue as mere travel companions.
We also valued nice food and adequate amounts of sleep very highly – mostly because we probably couldn’t have remained friends when hungry as well as continually exhausted!
This meant that we sacrificed athletic spirit somewhat and took the train a few times and rested on other days. All in all, we travelled about 1500km by bike (still an impressive feat for us!). We also spent more money than initially planned and stayed in hostels or ate out regularly to give us a break from lugging all our food about.
The last thing we compromised on was sightseeing. We simply weren’t in the mood to take in museums, famous castles or ancient churches. We greatly appreciated the subtly changing landscapes of Northern Europe and we loved strolling about in the little towns when looking for supermarkets or bike shops, but we did almost no classic tourist sightseeing. We were simply too tired to seek out art, history or design.
5) enjoy yourselves.
This trip was crazy. I know that because every single person I talked to told me so.
Yes, I know we could have taken a car, train or hovercraft. We could have taken a shorter route, trained more, taken less luggage, not gone dancing at the end of it, or at least had the decency of taking a young man with us to take care of such vulnerable young girls. Well, we didn’t.
Sarah and I have talked to many people about our journey and another dancer asked us “wow, how was that? Painful, or amazing?” and we replied at the same time: “painful and amazing!”
Every day had moments of struggle and hard work, but we also had crazy giggles, hilarious encounters, glorious views and real friendship in every day, and the 4 cycling weeks both took forever and just whizzed past.
6) do it with someone you love.
Sarah was an amazing partner in crime. We had similar levels of fitness, similar budgets and more importantly: similar attitudes to travelling.
We slept no more than a foot apart for four weeks and still fought for adjoining beds in Herräng. We shared every meal, many, many icecreams and the last sips from our water bottles. We built each other up when we were tired, applied sunscreen to the other’s back and watched the bikes when the other went to pee in the woods.
We did argue a few times (hey, we’re only human), but we always made up. We grew incredibly close over the course of our travels and it feels like we’ve both discovered Northern Europe and each other.
No matter how much we swore we’d never touch a bike or tent again, in the comfort of our cabin on the ferry back we were already spinning new travel plans.
Watch this space!