Monster Middle triathlon: race report

I’d had my eye on the Monster series of races for a while. They’re based in Ely so when I was living in Cambridge it seemed ideal, and even now I live in London, it’s nice to race somewhere that is familiar, and I can combine it with visiting my parents.

Last year I did sprint, olympic and middle distance triathlons. So far this year I’ve done a few running races (including 5 half marathons) but no triathlons, so I jumped straight into a middle distance. Was this to be a big mistake?!

Pre-race

At 04:45 my mum very kindly drove me to Ely, where it was dark and rainy. I registered and stuck the requisite stickers on my bike and helmet, then said goodbye to mum and went into transition. Once I’d laid out my stuff I wriggled half into my wetsuit and queued for the loos, feeling nervous, then walked to the swim start, about a mile downstream.

On the walk I got chatting to a man doing his 59th race. He was super inspirational and good conversation, which helped take my mind off my nerves. We chatted to his club mates and another random they’d picked up along the way, a young guy who’d signed up the night before.

Briefing done, the first wave (inc. me!) were told to get into the water, which wasn’t as cold as I thought it would be.

pre swim2

Swim

Although I’m not a terrible swimmer, I’m not confident in open water swims, and I’m also not at all well-trained. This year I have swum five times: 1) with a sprained ankle, just before the marathon, 2) the day after that, 3) one 1km swim a few weeks ago, 4) at a spa with my mum, where I mainly did handstands, and 5) at the lido last week but I decided it was a bit chilly and didn’t stay in long.

I therefore didn’t have high hopes, and when the swim got underway I felt the beginnings of panic. But amazingly, I was able to ignore it! I swam along and felt quite relaxed. I focused on breathing, although I did a lot of breaststroke (my front crawl sighting is pretty bad) swimming towards town.

I have no concept of time when swimming, but knew that the second wave were starting ten minutes behind, so tried to work out when I might get overtaken, hoping that it wouldn’t be until near-ish town. I enjoyed the cheers of people on the river bank and watched a family of swans swimming imperiously through the wetsuit-clad swimmers. People on boats were watching – it must have been surreal for them.

The course went upstream for 1.5km, past the exit, around a buoy and back 400m. By this point I was looking forward to getting out, and although I’d been kicked a few times, I was still calm and happy that I had survived the swim. At the exit, I reached up a hand and a man pulled me out. I then staggered about a bit and another man caught me, and then another, with me ricocheting around the slipway like a pinball, trying to shake the water out of my ears.

T1

There was a walk back to transition from the swim exit and I struggled to get my wetsuit off my arms. Once I had it down to my waist I jogged to transition and then struggled to get the stupid wetsuit off my legs. I chucked it on top of my bag (containing my post-race dry clothes, doh) and toweled myself down. Garmin on, jersey, hat, helmet, gloves, shoes, glug of water and off I went. Somehow this took four minutes? I definitely didn’t feel like I was rushing, maybe I should have been.

Bike

I’m more of a cyclist than a swimmer or runner, and normally, the bike is the thing I don’t worry about in a triathlon. But I was worried about this one. I’ve not ridden my bike much this year – two days in Wales (less than 100km each day), a ride from Bath to Andover, and two trips to Regent’s Park, where I was shocked to discover how slow I am. I have been finding cycling nerve wracking of late, something I’m yet to get to the bottom of.

The forecast was for strong wind – 15-18 mph – and this was correct. We cycled north with massive crosswinds, then west directly into the wind, south with crosswinds from the other side, and then finally a tailwind for the final stretch (the course wasn’t a perfect square so this bit was, of course, the shortest bit). It was really grim. I hate cycling in strong winds, I’m always convinced I’m going to get knocked off. And every time I was overtaken (which was a lot) I lost more confidence and motivation.

My legs had no power and while everyone else sped past, hardly affected by the wind, I was locked in a battle, my (slightly too big) mass against the force of the wind.

Halfway round the first lap I thought I might not do the second lap, partly because I was worried about not making the time cut off (which is incredibly depressing) and also because I was just not enjoying it. I was eventually lapped at the very end of the first lap, which added an extra layer of depression. But I went on to the second lap.

It was slightly better on the second lap but my hands were numb from gripping my handlebars too tightly and I stopped every half hour to shake them out. I managed to eat one peanut butter bar and one gel.

By the end of the bike course my legs felt tired, every pedal stroke had been an effort. The end of the course had a little uphill and a sharp turn around a mini roundabout, which I nearly toppled off at, to the disgust of a motorbike behind me. Then downhill and weaving through traffic to transition, where I could finally ditch the bike…

T2

Again I took my time. Bike racked, helmet, gloves, jersey off. Tshirt, sunglasses, hat, fuel belt on. Bike shoes off and socks and trainers on. Sitting down, because why not. And then off again.

Run

By now it was very warm, although I probably just noticed it more as it was less windy. My legs had felt tired on the bike but when I started running I felt alright; my feet had been sore while cycling but I was surprised that they didn’t really bother me. Could this last?

I set off on a meandering route through parks and woods, eventually joining up with the rest of the route, where we would run laps through the town, picking up a wristband at the end of each lap. In my head I heard “four wristbands” and thought I had to run four laps, so I was a bit put out when I finally worked out that actually there were five laps (one without a wristband, four with increasing numbers of wristbands). Gah.

I had a fuel belt with Shotbloks, two gels and a packet of jelly beans but it was bouncy and annoying, so when I saw my mum (she went home after dropping me off, but came back for the run) outside the cathedral I decided to leave it with her. She didn’t spot me running towards her and eventually I yelled out “HELLO!” so loudly that it made some tourists jump. Then I posed for some pictures and went on my way.

Although my legs felt alright, I walked up the hills and ran everything else – which meant three walks per lap (one of the hills was probably more of a slope, but these were my rules!!). It was a relief to get my first wristband.

The course went past the cathedral twice per lap, which was cool. The people of Ely were all friendly and there were quite a few retired couples who’d stumbled across the race and were enjoying cheering. Lots of confused looking tourists.

Ely is very pretty, with the exception of the bit past Sainsbury’s, which still isn’t that bad. I went past my brother’s old school. I waved to my mum on each lap. I petted a small dog (who looked like a teddy bear!). I got in an argument with a lorry driver who nearly ran over me and the guy I was running with.

By the fourth lap I was starting to feel tired, it was so hot and there were fewer people still running to chat to. I was drinking lots of water but had only eaten a packet of Shotbloks. At one of the water points I picked up a gel but it was horrible, granular and really thick. Mum drove past me as I ran down the hill towards the start of my final lap and heckled me from the car.

Mum thought the run was 4 laps so once she’d parked, she went to the finish. When she didn’t find me there, she thought something must have happened, so got the marshals all looking for me, radioing each other to report on me. Embarrassing – but also quite funny.

I broke my rule of only walking uphill on the final lap as I was knackered, my knees and hips ached. I said thanks to all the marshals and as I jogged down the hill in the final kilometre I thought to myself: wow, you’ve gone and done it, you’ve finished a half ironman with no training and barely any food – you total moron.

I ran into the park, and turned left to the finish line. At last! My running form was totally pants by this point but I had four wristbands and I was coming for my medal!

run finish

Swim (1.9km): 00:45:55

T1: 00:06:49 (including run from swim exit)

Bike (92.8km): 04:06:46

T2: 00:04:06

Run (21km): 02:20:47

TOTAL: 07:24:23

 

A banana and some water later, I got changed in the carpark toilets and went for lunch with my mum – a massive salad with a heap of bread, followed up by a 99 with a flake.

I’m pleased that the swim went better than expected (actually faster than last year, and no panicking!) and I inexplicably ran faster than the last two half marathons I’ve done (Richmond and Ashridge) – I actually felt pretty good on the run, apart from the final 5km and when I thought I might be sick in a bin after eating that gel. But the bike… I’m shocked at how bad I was. As I struggled around, I promised myself that I would cycle more and get my cycling legs back, which I’m determined to do.

I’m glad I did the race, though it was maybe a bit silly to do without training. I would really like to improve on my time. Perhaps I should join another club…

Bank Holiday cycling in Wales

I’ve not been riding my bike much lately, and I’ve missed it. There’s something delightful about zipping through the countryside on a sunny day. It’s the perfect balance of travelling far/fast enough that the scenery changes, but slow enough that you can take it in. I knew it was exactly what I needed, as it’s been a rough few weeks. Work has been incredibly busy and I’ve been getting increasingly stressed, and I still feel the residues of failure after the marathon DNF.

I thought about going to France for the bank holiday but the prospect of ferry timetables and cycling in crappy ports made me more stressed, so I asked around and someone suggested Wales. I’d never been (I know!) and a friend offered to lend me his copy of Lost Lanes Wales, so the decision was made. Not before spraining my ankle AGAIN though.

Bank holiday weekend rolled around and I worked until 1am on Friday night, before spending Saturday in the park and watching the football. However I was up bright and early on Sunday morning to begin my adventure.

Sunday

I always panic about trains so left myself nearly 1.5 hours to cycle 10km to Paddington. I was worried about my carradice rubbing on my rear wheel, which it did the last time I used it, but it must have been packed wrong as it was nowhere near my wheel all weekend, and by the time I got to Paddington I had almost fought the urge to check it at every red light. Paddington itself didn’t relax me, the ticket machine wouldn’t recognise my card and there were no members of staff around to tell me where the bike carriage was, but these problems were almost immediately overcome and before I knew it I was on the 08:07 heading towards Gloucester, eating a homemade flapjack.

It was a little cloudy on the way across the country, but by the time I arrived in Gloucester at about 10 the sun had come out. I set off through a deserted town centre and onto a cycle route by the river, through a nature reserve. The path was a little gravelly in places and there was definitely a bit of boardwalk missing at one point but it was a pleasant route out of town. I saw a couple of runners but otherwise I had the place to myself.
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I passed an equine college and spotted a few nice looking horses, then came to Hartpury Church, which I’d read about as having a bee shelter. I went to check it out, feeling a bit silly clomping through the churchyard in my cycling shoes. At the back of the churchyard was the shelter, a carved sculpture where bees were encouraged to live so that they could pollinate the nearby fields. There were no bees here today, hopefully not because of colony collapse disorder or anything apocalyptic like that.
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I thought I might stop for lunch in Newent but my route went right on by, and so I carried on heading north-west. I was pretty hungry and ran out of energy, getting off my bike a couple of times. It was definitely more of a mental thing as at every hill my mind was defeated well before my legs. I stopped to have a snack on a bench outside a church near Kempley and felt a lot better.
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I crossed over a surprisingly scenic main road, and past what I thought might be a pottery.
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My route went west for a little before turning south at How Caple and along a lovely lane heading towards the River Wye. I stopped to take a picture of the valley and didn’t realise I had three cars behind me – oops.
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There were families out by the river, enjoying the sunshine, and I was tempted to go for a swim, but thought it would probably be extremely cold and not much fun.
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From here it was just a short distance to Ross-on-Wye, where I (finally!) stopped for lunch – a sourdough cheese salad roll and a chocolate crispy cake. In the sunshine. Ah. That felt better!
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Ross-on-Wye had an annoying one way system which meant I did about 50 laps of the town before managing to escape south towards Monmouth. Since Kempley I’d been following a route I’d made up, rather than one recommended anywhere, and was pleasantly surprised at how it wasn’t totally awful. South of Ross-on-Wye wasn’t amazing, but it was still quietish roads. And then… the A40. I don’t mind a dual carriageway, but it wasn’t exactly fun, so when I saw a sign at the next junction to a “hedge maze” I immediately decided that I couldn’t live without seeing the hedge maze and turned off.

The hedge maze was at a butterfly farm, of course, which is something I actually find quite disturbing (I went to one as a child and found the sensation of butterflies landing on me a bit weird) so I had an icecream in the sun instead of looking at the maze or the butterflies. There were loads of kids running around, including one little boy who was being chased by his parent, desperately trying to put a nappy on him. I decided to leave before someone did a poo on the grass.

It was back on the A40 for about 5km, which no one was happy about – I didn’t like it and the drivers didn’t like it either. I passed a sign “Croeso i Gymru” and carried on pedalling down the A40. Not exactly the bucolic welcome to Wales I was hoping for.

Eventually I got to turn off the main road and headed into Monmouth. I rode around for a while and decided it was too early (and sunny) to go to my B&B, so investigated the loud booming voice I could hear all over town. Turns out it was the Monmouth Regatta, and I got down to the river just in time to see the final race.
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Rowers and cyclists appear to wear pretty similar clothes (ie. lycra and garish sunglasses) so I fitted in well, and hung out by the river, watching the rowers be replaced by swans.
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After checking into my B&B, where I was assigned Oliver Cromwell’s old bedroom, I showered and got changed into the dress I’d brought with me (everyone takes dresses cycle touring, right?) while listening to terrible pop music. I went out to explore the town, and wandered through a meadow listening to Fuck Buttons on my ipod.monmouth.png

The owner of the B&B had told me about places to eat in the town, and recommended a Mexican restaurant as serving huge portions. It looked nice and laid back, too, and I had a relaxed evening reading and stuffing myself with chilli and cheese. Then it was back to the B&B, where there was a blues night going on downstairs. I opted for lounging on my bed and was asleep by 11pm.

Monday

I’d said I wanted an early breakfast, saying I’d be down at 7.30 – but didn’t wake up until 7.30! I chucked some clothes on and went downstairs, where I chatted to the lovely owner while eating a (veggie) full english. It’s not what I’d normally eat but I thought it would help fuel me for the day ahead.

I got myself together and got on the road. It was forecast to get warmer so I’d rolled my shorts up so that the tan line would be the same as the day before. Priorities! I had a full change of clothes, which I could have done without but it was nice to not have to put on smelly kit.

Immediately out of Monmouth there were a few hills, but my legs felt a lot happier than the day before. I felt generally in much better spirits than I had the day before, clearly eating proper food is a good thing!

I was cycling parallel to the A40 but a distance from it, but eventually I crossed over and decided that this must be South Wales. There was one very big hill on the agenda for the day and this was immediately after the A40, but I felt a lot more positive and rode up almost all of it, stopping for a quick photo near the top as the views were just so lovely.
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Then I hurtled through some lanes, freaking myself out a bit on the descents. I really hate descending, I have an irrational terror that I can usually keep semi-under control but it will occasionally bubble up into a physical refusal to go on. I went through a farm and round a corner, and faced a 15% descent. And stopped. It was actually kind of difficult to get off my bike as it was so steep but I managed it, sweating coldly and trying/failing to have words with myself.

I could hear voices close by but couldn’t work out where they were coming from. Eventually I managed to get back on my bike and around the corner I saw a car and small sheep transporter in the road. The farmer and his three dogs were rounding up the sheep into the transporter. He was a young guy and we had a brief chat before he had to leg it after one errant sheep who didn’t want to go in the transporter. I was pretty transfixed by the working dogs and the way one corralled the sheep into a field.
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Once the farmer had gone I had a 15% slog up the other side of the little valley, but this turned out be to the final steep hill as after this there were a few km to go before hitting a bigger road into Usk, a further few km on from there.

Usk is pretty small, so small I managed to accidentally cycle through the whole town and miss the high street, and had to do a u-turn outside what I thought was a picturesque castle (but was actually a young offender’s institution). I had lunch in a Sprokwobble’s cafe, enjoying a cup of tea in the sunshine.

Beyond Usk, it got warmer and I headed south, keeping the river to my right before crossing a steep bridge at Newbridge. I stopped to make friends with some cows near the golf course.
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Heading into Caerleon, a village outside Newport, I went past a cemetery and along a lane almost entirely encircled by flowers, before taking a wrong bloody turn and going down an access road for the railway. I turned back and got back onto the right track, a designated cycle way to Newport (how did I miss the signs?!). This was a really lovely route, the path ran alongside the railway and next to the river on a wooden boardwalk. I wish I’d stopped to take pictures as it was so beautiful!

Lots of people were out on bikes and families out walking. A family had left their baby in a pram in the middle of the path but were super polite and apologised to me for getting in their way. Don’t worry about me, I thought! Two young boys cycled past and one wobbled off and into some stinging nettles. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?!” the other asked, in the most Welsh accent imaginable.

The path continued into Newport, kicking me out onto a main road, which was a bit grim but I managed to get back on the cycle path by the new footbridge. There were some signs up detailing the history of Newport and I had a good old read, before heading along the cycle path hugging the water’s edge..
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I have to admit to being a sucker for bridges and other engineering marvels (eg. my longstanding love for the Falkirk Wheel) so I was very excited to see the transporter bridge. There are only two in the UK! From afar it didn’t look that great, but as I got closer I saw the gondola making the crossing, and when I got closer still I heard that the visitor centre was banging out tunes like Gangnam Style and the Macarena. I stripped down to my vest and shorts and sat by the bridge, watching the bridge in action and eating some quasi-healthy sweets.
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From here I got back on the bike, through an industrial estate and onto a long, flat road to Cardiff. It seemed like the kind of road that might be busy mid-week but on a bank holiday it was fairly deserted. There were a lot of horses by the side of the road and I was a little wary of them. I went down Lamby Way, and past the Lamby Industrial Estate, but there were no signs so no photos, alas.

Once in Cardiff I headed for the centre, then saw a sign to Cardiff Bay and followed that. There were so many people out enjoying the sunshine and there was a great vibe. The Welsh Assembly building is very impressive.
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I begrudgingly headed to the station and got some snacks before getting the train back to London, my phone full of snaps ready for instagramming and my soul salved by two days outside in the sunshine.

Procrastination

Six weeks ago, I was cycling to work at breakneck speed, running slightly late as ever. My commute is about ten minutes by bike, which I know makes me extraordinarily lucky, but it also makes me extraordinarily lazy as I leave the house at exactly 08:50 every morning.

I pulled up at a junction, applied the brake, and… nothing… The brake cable had snapped! Serves me right for neglecting the bike and never checking my cables. I skidded to a stop and checked to see if the cable was in any way salvageable. It didn’t appear to be, so I locked the bike up and walked the rest of the way to the office.

Fast forward six weeks and I still hadn’t mended it, despite buying a new cable and having all the necessary tools. This morning I went to ride my road bike but had a flat tyre, and as I didn’t have time to walk, had to dash inside and grab the brake cable, allen keys and wire cutter and get the bike sorted ASAP.

And you know what, it took exactly three minutes to do the whole thing. WHY DID I NOT DO THIS SOONER?!

And is this perhaps a moral for my life?

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.

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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!

#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…