I’m about to set off on a journey. Let me explain more using the trusty old question words…
What? — I’m going on a long multi-country bike ride!
Where? — I’ll start in London, cycling down to the south coast to take a ferry over to France. Next, I’ll head south to the Loire valley via Paris, at which point I’ll join the European cycle route Eurovelo 6. I’ll take this east into Switzerland, which I’ll follow east into Switzerland, running adjacent to the Rhine, before heading up into Germany.
At this point, I’ll meet Europe’s longest river, the Danube, and follow it east all the way to the coast on the Black Sea. This route will take me through eight countries- Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, and Romania- and numerous ancient cities, including famous capitals such as Vienna, Budapest and Belgrade.
Once I get to the Black Sea coast, I plan to improvise a route down through Romania and Bulgaria into Turkey, eventually reaching Istanbul and the Bosphorous Strait- the very end of Europe. About 6,000km in total. Sounds like an adventure, huh!
Who? — Me, myself and I. Though naturally I need a bit of company, so I will be anthropomorphising my bike. Henceforth he shall be known as Darren.
When? — From mid June to mid September- I’ll be away just over three months and I guess I’ll spend about two thirds of my days cycling, the remainder being days off.
1. THE COUNTRYSIDE: I’ll get to see some beautiful rural environments. Normandy, the Loire Valley, Switzerland, Bavaria, the rolling hills of Lower Austria, the Hungarian plains, the Danube Gorge, the Black Sea coast- they all sound lovely.
2. THE CITIES: The route will pass through some amazing, historic cities of all sizes and types. From the world cities of London, Istanbul and Paris, the medieval architecture of Bratislava and Vienna, and all the picturesque small towns that line the Danube- I’m excited to see them all.
3. THE PEOPLE: Travelling has introduced me to some of the best people I’ve ever met. Hopefully, as I go along I’ll meet plenty of interesting characters, from fellow cyclists to friendly locals.
4. I ENJOY CYCLING!: There aren’t many things that bring me as much satisfaction as a good day on the bike. I’m well aware it won’t all be fun and games, but I do look forward to cruising along country roads on warm summer afternoons and the adrenaline rush of flying downhill.
5. BETTER ACCESS: I find that a bike is a great way to access some places, particularly rural ones, that I probably would never get to if I travelled with public transport as I usually do.
6. RANDOM EXPERIENCES: One of the most fun things about travel is the random, unanticipated experiences you have, the things that make for funny stories down the line. (Getting locked on a hotel roof, rescuing lost dogs, chasing ticket touts, and drunkenly discussing 90s football players with Belgians on a statue are a few examples that come to mind). Time will tell, but I have a feeling travelling by bike will lead me to even more of these odd occurrences.
7. SENSE OF ACHIEVEMENT: To cross an entire continent under my own steam, to have lugged a fully laden bike up and down hills and across 12 countries- if I can manage it, I will always be able to look back on my life and feel that I did something special.
8. CHALLENGE MYSELF: Life is tough, and frankly sometimes I struggle with it all, as I’m sure we all do. But, though it may be a bit much to ask for, I hope I can return from this journey with a renewed sense of strength and purpose. I want to find out what I’m capable of, how tough I am and how well I can deal with the adversity I will inevitably face.
9. GETTING AWAY FROM IT ALL: The prospect of having lots of time alone just to think, and some quiet rural places to visit, appeals to the introvert side of me quite a lot!
10. LEARN ABOUT THE WORLD: I love to learn about the places I visit, but the capitals and tourist towns I usually end up in probably don’t give a true reflection of a place. I expect to get a better sense of the real Romania, for example, travelling through the countryside than I did in the two cities I visited last time I was there.
Of course, there are many good reasons not to go, too:
- I might get hit by traffic (I’m seriously worried about such a collision in London, because a) I don’t want to die, and b) it would be pretty embarrassing if the thing I’ve been blabbing on about for months ended in ignominy on Day 1.
- My bike or belongings could get stolen.
- I could get mugged and lose all my valuables in the city, and end up stranded.
- I could get melanoma from daily exposure to the burning summer sun.
- The solitude might do strange things to my mind (I’m packing a sock puppet in anticipation of this).
- I could be attacked by wild animals while camping (I read about wolves in Turkey).
- I could step on a landmine in Croatia (apparently there are still some in the area I’m passing through).
- I could be driven to insanity by swarms of the infamous Danube Mosquitoes.
- I might get totally, hopelessly lost.
- I might keel over from exhaustion or dehydration or both.
- I could fall off my bike.
- If I’m following the Danube for so long, chances are at some point I’m going to crash into it.
- Balkan gangs could pump sleeping gas into my tent at night and steal my vital organs for the black market.
- Alien abduction.
- Well, even though those are all perfectly credible threats, and I’ve thoroughly scared myself just listing them, I’ve spent so much time planning this trip I suppose I’ll just press on and await my inevitable doom…
How? — Well, I’ll pedal, and pedal, and then pedal a bit more, and eventually I’ll get where I want to be. But here are a few details of how I intend to make this whole plan work:
- I bought a specialised long distance touring bike for £700. Not cheap, but I guess if I was to make this journey by public transport alone I’d end up spending a lot more!
- I’ll be flying back from Istanbul to Newcastle with British Airways for about £130, and they allow you to put your bike on board as luggage for no extra cost, provided it’s been dismantled and boxed
- I’ll be carrying about 12kg of luggage spread out across the bike: a bag on either side of the rear wheel, one in the frame, another below the saddle, and one on the handlebars
- I’ll be camping a lot, so I’m packing a tent, sleeping bag and air bed. There’ll also be room for a few changes of clothes, toiletries, a few electronics, bike repair stuff, and not much else!
- Some nights I will camp- either on campsites or out in the wilderness on my own- while on others I will stay in hostels and cheap hotels, and hopefully I will find a few people willing to host me using the websites warmshowers.org and couchsurfing.com.
- My main expense will probably be food- cycling so far will certainly burn through way more calories than I’m used to. But I’m sure I’ll find plenty of cheap supermarkets to stock up on basics along the route
- I spent an awful lot of time researching and planning this whole thing. Maybe more than necessary, but I’m an organised person by nature and to be honest I’ve quite enjoyed a lot of it! The following blogs and websites were helpful:
If anyone reading this is interested in doing a similar journey and has any questions, I’d be happy to answer them! Just leave a comment below.