Planning the #hatsradtour

I was asked how I went about planning the route for my tour, so I thought I’d write up on what I did.

Firstly, I did a lot of staring at google maps while I decided roughly where I wanted to go.

berlin-hague

I toyed with the idea of visiting a friend in Darmstadt, but that made the route quite long.

berlin-darm-hague

Eventually I opened ridewithgps.com and plotted an extremely rough route.

Next I had a think about where I would be staying. Initially I thought I’d do no more than 100km a day but it was often hard to find places to stay in suitable locations! Other than a hostel in Berlin, I stayed at Airbnb places, so I opened up the Airbnb site and had a look at where I should stay.

I had to ride a bit further on the 1st day as I wanted to stay to the right of this map, but could only stay at the place on the left.

brandenburg

Once I’d booked my accommodation I marked all these on my ridewithgps route and made the necessary adjustments to the route. I then had a think about where I might like to go through on the way, and fiddled about with the route until I had a rough plan for the whole thing, which looked like this:

ridewithgps

I then kind of forgot about things for a while as I had quite a bit on with work!

In the week before I set off, I broke the route down into individual days and tweaked them to include points of interest along the way, and diverting away from main roads wherever possible. This is one day:

melleenschede

Of course, when it came to it, there was quite a lot of freestyling, especially towards the end of each day as I headed into a town. Every day before I set off I would look at the route and if I knew that a particular place was really nice then I’d head there instead of following my route precisely.  I also took recommendations from people along the way, or followed signs (in the Netherlands in particular). This cycle route through the woods was recommended to me on the way out of Amersfoort and was lovely!

In hindsight, I wish I had spent more time on the route. Most of the time I was on quiet roads or cycle paths but there was the occasional busy road and a few muddy off road bits that I could have done without. With a Garmin (Garmin Edge 800) and OSM maps it’s easy to change route, and the battery life on the Garmin is excellent. I had it on from 9am until 6pm, with a lot of looking at the screen and navigating, and it only started to run low on one day (I had a battery pack with me anyway just in case).

Now if only I could stop looking at maps and thinking where I want to go next!

Royal Parks Winter 10k Series: Greenwich

I’ve entered a series of 10k races this winter, the first of which took place on Sunday.

All the other runners were either wearing the free tshirts we were given at registration (what did they arrive wearing?) or were wearing FULL WINTER KIT. Long sleeves, tights, jackets, woolly hats, gloves, buffs, long socks. It’s not winter, guys! Save that stuff for when it’s actually cold! Me, I wore shorts and tshirt, although I broke the Hardness Committee rules by wearing socks.

I didn’t exactly cover myself in glory at this race, but I hadn’t really trained and at least the contents of my stomach decided to stay on the inside for once.

Here is some race analysis (a picture says a thousand words, but a MS Paint monstrosity says, well, this):

greenwich10k

The next race is in a month and hopefully I’ll look less silly in the race photos.

#hatsradtour: my winter summer holiday

#hatsradtour

I don’t know what gave me the idea, or what possessed me to do it in late autumn, but for my holiday this year I cycled from Berlin to the Hague, timing it so that I began my trip the weekend the clocks changed.

A few people I know have cycled from Berlin to Amsterdam before; I enjoyed cycle touring in the Netherlands last year; I wanted a big adventure… This year I turned 30 and I wanted to do something momentous to mark the occasion – originally I wanted to take the Trans-Siberian railway, but the ongoing conflict in Russia required a rethink.

So I cycled over 500 miles, on my own. And it was brilliant.

High points: the scenery, sweet little towns and interesting cities, endless snacking opportunities, seeing an owl, sunrises, sunsets and the sense of accomplishment.

Low points: the cold, the mist and my garmin misbehaving. And all forms of transport other than my bike.

Days 1 and 2: A day each in Paris and Berlin, with an unexpected fuck up by Deutsche Bahn.

Days 3, 4 and 5: Berlin to Hanover, the mistiest and coldest days. Included a fair bit of cyclocross, some at sunset (do not recommend).

Days 6 and 7: Hanover to the Netherlands. Getting in a fight and disappearing off the map.

Days 8 and 9: Crossing the Netherlands, powered by cheese, stroopwafels and Indonesian food. In the sunshine!

Days 10 and 11: The Hague, where I ran a bit, chilled out and fell down the stairs.

I tweeted the trip and really loved all the responses I got – thanks to everyone who kept me company on my #hatsradtour

#hatsradtour, day 10 and 11: Hague, Hook and home

Monday, Day 10

My navigational skills had been surprisingly good all trip, so of course I went completely the wrong way when I went for a run around the Hague, something I only realised a mile into the run.

I spent the day relaxing at Lola’s Bikes, where I read an entire book in Dutch and became suddenly aware that I had my top on back-to-front, then wandering about quite aimlessly but happily. I didn’t go to any museums in the end, but went to De Paas beerhall and also ate a pancake, before going home for another great evening with my hosts, Menno and Elze. They really made me feel at home and we could have stayed up even later than we did, just chatting.

 

Tuesday, Day 11

I was sad to be leaving the Netherlands and my subconscious made a valiant but ultimately unsuccessful attempt to get me to stay by throwing me down a flight of stairs. I was on my way out for a run and despite the blood dripping from my hand and elbow, and quite a sore back and bum, decided to still go out running. Make the most of the adrenaline, I thought. It wasn’t a great idea as I had to detour into a café to get a napkin for my hand.

I packed up and rode the final miles to the Hook of Holland, stopping off at the beach.

I really wanted to go to the Maeslantkering but my back was getting quite sore so I bailed, but got this shot from the ferry.

View from the ferry

Arriving in Harwich, many many hours later, I was struck by what an almighty dump it is, the train station in particular.

So sad to be home. What a rad tour.

 

#hatsradtour, day 8 and 9: Crossing the Netherlands

Saturday, Day 8

I confided in a friend that I felt a bit alone. “Darling,” she said. “You’ve been on your own for days!” Good point. I decided to cut myself some slack.

With every mile that passed I felt better, and even found the endless level crossings (I wish I’d kept count!) amusing, or at least a good excuse to snack on German Christmas treats. I headed for Deventer, which my LP guide assured me was “the Delft of the east”. I loved Delft when I went and had high hopes, all of which were realised. There was a man playing ‘Gangnam Style’ on the hurdy-gurdy and a sprawling food market in the town square.

My LP guide had also said that Apeldoorn was dull (I later found out it’s where old people go to live), other than the palace, so I followed signs to the palace and ate a sumptuous picnic lunch in the grounds – clearly a popular choice as there were other cyclists and motorcyclists doing the same.

I was mainly ignoring my garmin and following the signs from one place to another, and the most direct route to Amersfoort was a really pleasant cycle path near to, but separate from, the main road. There were a few roadies out and they all overtook me, but then they didn’t have 25kg of panniers to contend with!

I dropped my bike taking a photo of an alpaca, getting this chainring tattoo – the shame!

My hosts in Amersfoort were such a lovely couple – cyclists too, and we discussed cycling and travelling around Europe. They recommended an Indonesian restaurant in town, and I headed off there for dinner, where several older Indonesian ladies fussed about me like mother hens. Walking home I saw a woman on a swing in her living room – people don’t seem to go in for curtains in the Netherlands (a good thing, I think).

Strava: 77  miles

 

Sunday, Day 9

Geertje, my host, had made breakfast, and after I’d eaten I fed the chickens in the garden. They ate from my hand! Geertje and I chatted some more and I really had to tear myself away from her house.

The queen stage! Geertje gave me directions to Utrecht on a really nice route that I wouldn’t have found on my own, through the woods with the smell of pines in my nose.

Can you spot me?

Utrecht had lots of students doing sporty activities and was a really pleasant city until I got near Central Station and I got caught up in the enormous diversions as a result of the epic redevelopment of the area. I finally got out of the city and onto a small road that looked exactly like the fens, unsurprisingly I guess. It was extremely windy, so windy that I felt like I might be blown into a dyke. I had to stop for an emergency stroopwafel for energy.

In Gouda I sat by the water and watched a man row his dog down the canal, contemplating the imminent end to my journey.

The run in to the Hague was alternately alongside a motorway (though still on a much nicer cycle path than you’d find in the UK) and through parkland. I took a wrong turn as I got close to the city centre and had to do a circuit of the only slightly dodgy housing estate I’d seen in the entire Netherlands.

But I arrived, and my hosts and I had Indonesian takeaway and watched trashy films, and all was right with the world!

Strava: 62 miles

Next few days…

#hatsradtour, day 6 and 7: Hanover to the Netherlands

Thursday, Day 6

It took a while to get out of Hanover but once I did I was rewarded with quiet radwegs and a one-on-one encounter with an owl.

It began to get quite hilly and I dragged my overladen bike up the hills.

Let me see your hill face!

I had my only mechanical of the trip: changing gears, my drivechain suddenly stopped. My chain had got stuck underneath one of the bolts holding my pannier rack on! For a moment I thought I’d have to find a bike shop or a garage, but I was able to sort it out quickly and with a minimum of mess, and set off again – phew!

I’d been cycling on the cycle paths when they were there, but sometimes they weren’t convenient: they switched sides of the road with little warning; often the other cyclists were going slowly; the road surface was still superior; and in built up areas they were annoying as it was like riding on the pavement, with paving slabs and curbs. A woman honked her horn at me as she passed me on the road and pointed at the cycle path on the opposite pavement. I pointed at the road in front of me and waved her on. She stopped her car, got out and started shouting at me that I needed to use the cycle path. I told her I wasn’t a child and was perfectly able to cycle on the road. She wasn’t impressed, and I later found out that I was wrong and that you have to use the path where there’s a sign indicating a cycle path. Sorry, angry German lady!

It flattened out as I approached Porta Westfalica, and there was a nice route along the river (my garmin would have preferred me to take the motorway…).

My stop for the evening was a house on the outskirts of a village and I couldn’t for the life of me find the house, nestled at the bottom of a hill. When I eventually got there my host told me that a chap had visited recently on a “very funny recumbent” – the second time this trip I’d been told I was following a man on a recumbent. She had some photos, it looked like a loo roll on wheels.

Strava: 72 miles

 

Friday, Day 7

It was a beautiful morning, misty but sunny. There were horses in the fields and I was in high spirits.

I saw a few signs with what looked like speed limits for tanks, though thankfully no actual tanks. The first part of the day was a little hilly but the countryside became more Dutch, and the radwegs got better too.

Casual goat on a table

I’d decided I wasn’t eating enough fruit and bought some plums, and finished off the punnet. Big mistake! I immediately got a sharp stomach pain and almost convinced myself it was appendicitis. I had to stop to lie down on a bench to try to make it stop hurting. I felt terrible, but there wasn’t far to go, and then I could lie down, very still.

And then I ran out of map. I had 4 maps on my garmin:

  • Europe basemap (utterly pointless map that comes with the GPS)
  • Britain
  • German (recently downloaded and very high quality)
  • The Netherlands (downloaded last year for my tour then)

I was reaching the edge of the Germany map but the Netherlands map wasn’t showing. I was riding into a black void. Of course, it was getting dark and my planned route involved going down a farm track. No!! No more frickin’ farm tracks! I headed down the main road, crossed into the Netherlands (the border wasn’t marked at all) and eventually got the map to show, though the garmin kept bleeping that it was low on batteries.

Enschede on a Friday night made me feel a bit lonely. Everyone was, unsurprisingly, out with their friends. I went to a restaurant and ate cheese fondue, and the two very sweet (and not unattractive) waiters kept checking up on me. Oh god, I realised, this is what it’s like to be an old lady when everyone is nice to you but they’re thinking ‘aww, poor dear, she must be lonely’.

That night I didn’t get a huge amount of sleep as fireworks were being set off and Enschede is where the Netherland’s biggest firework disaster took place.

Strava: 84 miles

The next few days…

#hatsradtour, day 3, 4 and 5: Berlin, East Germany, Brunswick and Hanover

Monday, Day 3

I woke up to the screams of a girl in my dorm having a nightmare. It was a noisy hostel – by 7am there were people shouting and slamming doors. I wanted a coffee but the machine was broken, so I ate breakfast outside and had my foot run over by a teenager with a wheelie suitcase.

Leaving Berlin took forever and I needed a wee. My low mood hung around, finally lifting when I saw Wannsee. Potsdam had a genteel air and there were some fantastic cycle paths on the west of the city, which a friend had recommended to me.

By Brandenburg I’d had enough for the day but had another 30 miles to go. I saw a woman in an owl tracksuit and a man walking a pig on a lead, which cheered me up a bit. I’d planned a pretty direct route for the final stretch, but this meant riding on a path 10cm wide, until the path disappeared. I wasn’t sure about the next 10 miles on a busy road at dusk and checked googlemaps, which told me that there was an alternative route. I set off, through a farm and onto a track.

Quickly I realised my mistake. The sun was setting fast, and this was pretty off road. The sky was incredible but I wanted to get onto a road as quickly as possible. I came to a minor road and went back onto the main road. It was now pitch black and I hoped the drivers would be alert enough to see me.

I made it to the next town, almost hysteric with relief. I bought some apples and ate two, then set out for the final 15 miles in the dark. On unlit roads. I ticked off the villages in my head, it was about 7 miles north-west, then across the river and another 7 miles south.

Suddenly a thought hit me: what if there’s only a daytime ferry to cross the river? Luckily the ferry ran until 8pm, although I crossed in complete darkness. This is fun, I thought. This is an adventure.

I arrived at my Airbnb, much to the relief of my host, who’d been worried. “Don’t you get scared?” she asked. I just wanted a shower.

Strava: 85 miles

 

Tuesday, Day 4

My host had prepared a breakfast-to-go, four rolls with a different type of jam in each. I ate one roll and we chatted about cats and my housemate’s omnipresent hair, then I set out.

I cursed the cobbled villages of East Germany and stopped by the Elbe, in the mist, for more breakfast.

It got foggier, and soon I could see less than 25 metres. There were lots of lorries on the road but I figured there was no point panicking. I went through a military training ground, with lots of signs warning of panzers and got some quizzical looks from men in uniform. It was 3 degrees.

At a junction my garmin inexplicably told me to go two different ways: a main road going the wrong way (but presumably leading to hot beverages!) and a track in the correct direction. I chose the track. It was sketchy in places but I kept going and eventually got to a village, where I saw a lorry doing laps of the green.

The cycle path reappeared, and the mist had almost entirely cleared up. I watched a woman use a leafblower on the gravel in her driveway.

I wasn’t hugely enjoying myself but I appreciated the feeling of finding it within myself.

The sun came out as I crossed into West Germany and finally found a café! I treated myself to a coffee and amazing piece of cake. Hell, I’d earned it.

I arrived in Brunswick and went to my Airbnb. There was a waterbed in my room! I’d always wondered what it would be like to sleep on one.

My host recommended a restaurant and I meandered off to the bus stop, where I lucked out and a bus came within minutes. A bus, a tram and a replacement bus (though only 20 minutes) later, I was in Brunswick city centre.

I liked the town, it was part old and part new. I walked to the restaurant and read my kindle while demolishing a mountain of Turkish food. Bliss!

I was worried that the bus times meant I’d miss the connection on the way home, but *of course* the timetable had been devised so that all the buses connected with each other.

Waterbed verdict: strange, kind of warm, not sure I’d want to share with anyone in case of waves.

Strava: 70 miles

 

Wednesday, Day 5

I was reluctant to get going, especially as I knew Hanover, my next stop, wasn’t that far. Aside from trying to take me across a railway track (I actually considered this for a minute) and a few miles along a gravel path, the route was pleasant.

Holiday wear

It was windy and grey, with not a huge number of photo opportunities, even if I could have been bothered to take my neoprene gloves off (too much hassle). A café stop in Lehrte was unremarkable except for the pigeon that flew in.

I managed to take the longest route possible into Hanover, which did mean I went through the city forest. It started misting gently as I rode along the canal, and rained in the forest, but the heavy rain started once I locked my bike up and was safely in the dry at the Rathaus, where I took a curved lift (very odd) to the top of the tower, where I’d been promised fantastic views.

Afterwards I went into the main shopping district, where inexplicably I bought some perfume, my second of the trip (the first was one called ‘Isis’). Doesn’t everyone do this when cycle touring?

In the drizzle, I rode to the north of the city, where I was staying. My Airbnb host was really friendly, and asked where I’d come from. “But you can’t have cycled all the way from Berlin?!” he said. He asked why I hadn’t done the trip in the summer. “Respect,” he said. “Big respect.”

I had dinner at an American diner (epic milkshake!) and read my Kindle until it was kicking out time and then I went back to the flat, accidentally ringing a neighbours doorbell instead of putting the hall light on. I slept happily, with warm hands and feet.

Strava: 47 miles

The next few days…