Friday, 11 July 2008

Friday 4th July - Tunbridge Wells to Hoek van Holland

The last week has been frantic. I finished my exams on Friday 27th, meaning I had a full week to sort out all my paperwork, get hold of all of the remaining bits of gear and generally just get used to the idea of living on a bike for 7 weeks; sounds easy enough right? However, I also realised that I had not seen anyone on the long list I wanted to say goodbye to before I rode off for the next 15 months, so it ended up being wall to wall with final lunches and dinners, countless trips to cycling/camping shops, little sleep and a fair degree of pure, yet restrained anxiety. Seeing as I didn’t have a champagne bottle to smash on my bicycle, Lois, Waleed, Lucie and I all christened it on Wednesday in a characteristically bizarre festival of singing and bubble mixture. My vehicle has a name, and her name is Barnaba.

Come Friday morning, my bags are packed and Toby is on his way over. One thing is sitting on my mind as I sit on my hams in the kitchen and look over the suddenly obese Barnaba, hands covered in bike grease and nursing a steaming mug of tea, probably my last decent one for a long time. It’s the weight. No-one told me that this bicycle would be so goddamn heavy! I haven’t been able to weigh it, but with all of my gear attached it must be at least 40 kgs. Disrupting my revelry, Toby phones to tell me the inauspicious news, he’s just had his first puncture. Things are not looking good.

That bike has really let herself go...

It was about 12.30 by the time we got going and with it came the first burst of exhilaration from being out on the open road. Despite her girth Barnaba felt amazing; stable, comfortable and eager to please. There’s something bizarre about riding fully loaded, it’s like the effort to get the bicycle going is the most important surge, as once you are rolling the momentum just keeps it going, with your legs simply acting as fleshy, jointed metronomes. This is of course providing you are not climbing a 20% hill, when it suddenly switches in character from the joy of easy riding to something resembling a punishment dreamt up by the wardens of Guantanamo Bay for a laugh. Thankfully we only had one or two major hills though, and the ride to London was a fairly smooth one.

Rolling into London, finally.

Once we got to the city we visited Brixton cycles, where Iain somehow managed to score a free Brooks titanium saddle, and took the obligatory photo at my symbolic starting point before heading off down towards Liverpool Street for the evening train to Harwich and the overnight ferry to the Hook of Holland. We were greeted on the ferry with good beer (just Heineken made in Holland, where people are apparently more discerning about the quantity of chemicals in their booze) and a pretty great cabin, hanging out for a while with a couple on their first little cycle tour to Holland. We slept like babies for the 5 1/2 hours before the ferry pulled in to dock, sated on beer, food and good old-fashioned exercise. This is the way to travel.

Av. 21.5 kph, Max. 61.2 kph, Time 3.26.53, Dist. 74.01 kms

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