Finding my way

No ceremony for border crossings in Europe. Quick picture in the rain..

Slight hiatus from the blog but I’m back!

Two weeks, around 800+ miles, 30,000+ calories burned and still going! I was acutely aware after a week of cycling in France I was still firmly in ‘holiday’ territory but now on country number 3 (France, Switzerland, now Germany), it’s feeling like more of a cycle tour and I can finally say I’m getting used to the routine. The bags are packed so everything is where I need it, the mileage is less of an effort every day, and I’m settling in to the saddle so that I would almost say it was comfortable (but not quite).

One of the biggest challenges so far hasn’t been the packing, the camping, or even the cycling really, it’s simply getting from ‘A’ to ‘B’. Now, I love a map, and the idea of plotting my route before I left, point to point, road to road, and making notes, filled me with joy; but it soon became clear that on the road, because of the scale needed and the distance I planned to cover, I would need to tow a trailer just to carry all the maps I would need! So, I decided to go 21st century traveller and put my faith and control of the navigation in to electronics, somewhat against my better instincts. The results have been mixed, to say the least.

The basic idea is I pick the ‘waypoints’, every 20-30 miles, and an app decides the best cycling route between them; I can then display the route as a rudimentary line on my little GPS. It doesn’t show place names or distances, just a line, and I am either ‘on course’ or ‘off course’. This meant I still had to pay attention to signs, place names, and generally keep my head up, and struck a good balance, so I thought.

Now, before I get up on my soapbox, I should say that 99% of the time everything has worked perfectly and it’s been exactly what I needed. True to human nature though, it is not the 99% when things go right, that we remember, it is the 1%, and the 1% has been testing at times!

For rather than taking the well trodden paths with the other cycle tourers, or even the roads less travelled, occasionally I have been routed down more ‘adventurous’ tracks. In the last couple of weeks I have joined the farmers, the foresters, and sometimes just animals on lanes, tracks, and paths that have tested my bike control and my patience!

One particular time that comes to mind was the afternoon of a 30°+ day last week. I was keen to get the miles covered early in the day to avoid the worst of the heat but it was mid afternoon now and I still had around 20 miles to cover. The line on my screen suddenly took a sharp right, turning off what seemed like a perfectly good road; I pulled up at the side of the road where the path diverged to see where it was sending me. When I looked right it had all the signs of being a farmers track, and I couldn’t see far to see if it led anywhere, but like the modern slave to the computer, I thought it must know something I don’t so I did as it said and continued right.

It was slow going at first, mostly dried dirt ground with scattered stones I was keen to avoid. I startled a couple of cows who were lying close to the fence and clearly don’t get many passing cyclists. The line went left so I went left, now there were several patches of deep gravel and the bike bogged down trying to cross one patch turning the front wheel and sending me tumbling to the dusty ground. I picked up the bike, irritated at the situation. *Deep breath* “I’m sure I’m just cutting the corner to another road” I thought. On I went, another left. Now the occasional pothole became constant potholes, like a metal detectorist had scoured the area, and me and the bike were like the ball-bearing from screwball scramble (for those that remember), a victim to the terrain! A right turn. Now I could see where the lane went… I don’t know why I continued cycling as I was now picking a line between recently harvested crops, but I had invested so much energy, I felt like I had to bring it to a conclusion; I was in the middle of a farmer’s field. I cycled, following the line on the screen until I reached the bottom of the field; a fence, a stile.

With the sun hot on my back, the prospect of hauling my bike over a fence to who-knows-where was not my preferred option I realised so, begrudgingly, I turned and pushed my bike back the way I had come. Back on the original road, one hour since I was last there, the day still hot and 20 miles still to go. I vowed to double check all the routes in the future!

The view from the end of the lane where the GPS took me

I think of when I cycled across the UK 10 years ago, with a map and some route notes. When I almost got lost cycling in to Chester, unsure of where the hostel was, I managed to strap my phone inside my bike helmet, with my dad on the other end giving me turn-by-turn instructions using what was presumably a fairly basic version of Google maps, until I arrived without one u-turn. It makes me wonder how far we’ve come!

Anyway, another one of those learning curve moments – I’ve made some edits to the routes and bar the occasional wild excursion to keep things interesting, it’s been more plain sailing.

More regular updates and anecdotes from now on…

Rich x

2 thoughts on “Finding my way

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