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!

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#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 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 1 and 2: London – Paris – Berlin

Saturday, Day 1

I checked my bike in with EuroDispatch at St Pancras, bought snacks and settled in on the Eurostar.

“Hello, my name is Jerome and I am a train manager. However I’m not your train manager. Your train manager and the rest of the train staff are on another train, which hasn’t yet arrived in London.”

On arriving in Paris I went to the Catacombs and tried not to let the queue put me off. I queued for nearly 3 hours – I was famished and annoyed by the couple in front of me who kept snogging. The catacombs gave a good impression of the vastness of the network underneath Paris and the ossuary was interesting, but I wasn’t sure the time I’d spent queuing was justified.

After saying hi to my friends Tim and Dan, who were visiting Paris, I went to wait for my train.

When the platform was announced, I wheeled my bike to its reserved coach. A group of French teenagers wearing pink tshirts tried to use my bike as a stand for their crates of beer. I looked for coach 98, where my reservation was. Further up, one guard said. Further back, said another. “There’s no carriage 98 today, sorry,” I was told finally. “Get on 117 and we’ll sort it out on the way.”

Coach 117, I noted, was going to Munich. I had an argument with two guards, in French then in German, and stormed into a vestibule to sulk. A German lady asked me if I was going to Berlin in coach 98 too, and invited me to sit with her family. She told me that we’d have to change carriages when the train divided at Mannheim, at 3am.

At 11pm we were told we could change at Strasbourg instead, and we’d have beds from there to Berlin. Hooray! The family – the young girl excepted – were drinking beer and kept my spirits up. We arrived in Strasbourg late (many jokes about French timekeeping) and were told off for being rowdy in the corridor before crawling into our bunks.

 

 

Sunday, Day 2

I climbed out of my bunk when the guard brought coffee. We trundled through the countryside, tracking it on a mobile so we knew what to look out for.

I got out at Berlin Hauptbahnhof and said goodbye to my adopted family. I was sad to see them go, the journey would have been awful without them.

Berlin was bright and there were a few people out running. I headed to my hostel, via a couple of tourist spots.

Checkpoint Charlie

After dropping my stuff off, I went to the Wall exhibition at Bernauer Straβe. It was very moving, superior to anything I saw in Berlin on my last visit (in 2003) and more thought provoking than the touristy Checkpoint Charlie. I cried looking at all the pictures of people who died trying to cross the wall. I remember watching the wall coming down on TV – I had no idea what it meant (I was five years old). Perhaps even after having studied Cold War history as a major part of my degree I still don’t understand.

I could have stayed much longer at Bernauer Straβe but figured that I hadn’t come to Berlin to cry all over the place, and went to the Trӓnenpalast, where another sneaky tear snuck out. This was another fascinating exhibition, lots of personal stories.

Once I was done gorging myself on Cold War history, I met a friend for lunch in Kreuzberg. We had a long lunch with great conversation and despite our sometimes gloomy choice of topics, I left happy.

Handsome chap with his new Brixton Cycles cap!

That evening I wanted to go to a Balboa night that I’d read about and took the cheery little yellow U-Bahn to Werschauer Straβe. I couldn’t find the venue and kept being approached by dodgy looking guys, and decided to leave before I got more creeped out. By the time I went to bed I felt weird, like I’d failed Berlin.

The next few days…