Passau cobbled street

Too old to party in Passau

I was looking forward to Passau. A beautiful Bavarian town steeped in history and, importantly for us after staying in some horrible caravan parks, the chance to stay in a beautiful riverside campsite where only tents were allowed.

We arrived mid afternoon and chose a fantastic position just by the waters edge and read our books in the last of the day’s sun as the river gently bubbled below the bank.

In high spirits we headed into town in search for a place that would serve a traditional stein and for a cheap meal. Hunger overtook before we could find anywhere that sold one litre lagers. Nevertheless, we’d given ourselves a rest day in Passau, so there’d always be the next night to find one.

Beautiful Passau

Beautiful Passau

 

 

We returned to the campsite after our meal to find that it had been overrun by ‘youths’. Tents were crammed everywhere and they continued to arrive.

We learned from a Dutch couple we’ve been meeting along the Danube that they’d been warned when checking in that tonight was likely to be noisy as there was a festival going on nearby.

In fact, there were about 4 lacrosse teams there. And, all of the blokes had a resemblance to the character Stiffler from American Pie. They were all pissed and, as we tried to sleep, more and more people arrived and the noisier it got.

Now, in years gone by, I may well have been tempted to join in and swig vodka from a 2-litre bottle and snort tequila through my eyeballs (or whatever they were doing) but, now that I’m an endurance athlete(!), a good night’s sleep was the order of the day and that’s not what I got.

The low point was probably around 3am when a further group arrived and decided it was a great idea to put up their tent less than a metre from ours, tripping over our guy ropes and singing as they put thier tent up.

The morning after the night before (our tent is in the background)

The morning after the night before (our tent is in the background)

The next morning, having barely slept a wink, Emily and I decided that, as last night’s antics were just the warm up to the next night’s proper party, we should reluctantly ask for a refund of our second night’s camping fees and find somewhere else to stay.

The trouble was, the campsite office only opened at 6pm so there was no clear way of getting a refund. That was until I spied a member of staff and asked her how I could get a refund. “Not possible” and “Come back when the office is open” were the replies to my request. Then I suggested either she or the café gave me a refund and when the man from the office returned that night she could get the money from him. A simple bookkeeping process one would think. However, my suggestion was met with (literal) shouts and screams of “This is not normal” before she finally stomped off, slamming the door in my face.

I returned to help Emily pack up the tent, asking her if she might be able to go and reason with the woman however before she had the chance (I think to Emily’s relief) the lady came bounding out of the office and, with tears in her eyes, threw (yes threw!) the 18 Euros at my feet shouting “this is my money! I work hard for my money!” before storming off.

Maybe we caught her on a bad day. Or, quite possibly, she hadn’t had any sleep either. Either way, we finished packing our tent and headed into town with an audience of bewildered campers wondering what on earth I could have done to provoke such a reaction.

The cathedral in Passau is claimed to house the ‘world’s biggest organ’. Now, there’s a confident boast for you. Realising the only real way to measure organs is with a tape measure, we sat on a bench outside eating our packed lunch and could only imagine the size of said organ as we heard a man playing furiously with it behind the cathedral’s closed doors.

We decided the best way to get a good night’s sleep was to cycle 20km downstream to a campsite that was marked on the map at Pyrawang, just over the border in Austria. As we passed the Austria sign, I released I’d not managed to have a Bavarian Stein, so it’ll have to wait until a visit to Katzenjammers upon my return to London next year.

Germany Austria border

Crossing into our fourth country: Austria.

london to cape town by bike-10

We arrived at the Pyrawang campsite at a time when they were setting up for an Ibiza-style ‘Danube beach party’ so we continued another 10km to find a nice little campsite alongside a marina at Hütt-Siedlung.

Here we met a lovely Austrian couple, Ilse and Manfred, who’d canoed all the way from Innsbruck and plan to navigate the majority of the Danube then pick up bikes and continue their journey into Georgia and on to Iran. They’re both teachers and we learnt that teachers in Austria can opt to receive only 80% of their pay for 4 years then take a year’s sabbatical in the 5th year receiving 80% pay. There’s no limit to the number of sabbaticals they can take. So, in effect, every 5 years you get a year off. This is a concept I may suggest to my boss when I’m back.

Just as we’d erected our tent the ‘youths’ in the caravan immediately adjacent to our pitch turned on their own Ibiza-style music to number 11 and started to get stuck into their Vodka Red Bulls and Jeagermeisters. Again, a (very) small part of me wanted to dust off my copy of Ministry of Sound’s Clubbers’ Annual 1996, get a 6-pack and pull some big-box-little-box shapes with them. But, as we’d left Passau a day early and continued an extra 10km to avoid noise, that thought was short-lived and I was, in fact, a miserable old git so went to get ‘someone in charge’ to tell them to shut up. Fortunately, the lady at this campsite was helpful and she told them to keep it down. The kids dutifully turned the music down but, as is the tactic for any party host when they’ve been told to keep the noise down, they gradually turned the volume up by one notch at a time until it was soon back up to 11 again.

We went to sleep with earplugs in. It then pissed it down so, for once, we were glad for the rain as they retreated inside.

Today (Sunday 2nd August) was soggy. We packed up our soaking tent in the rain. We cycled in the rain. And we passed through one of the highlights of the Danube (the river does a series of hairpins in a beautiful gorge) in the rain and sadly with clouds at tree height restricting our views.

Nevertheless, it was a mostly tranquil day by the grey Danube aside from an insect that collided with my face at speed and managed to sting me on impact.

After a day worrying that we’d be sleeping in a soggy tent, we arrived in Linz and I was astonished that Emily opted to camp rather than stay in a cheapish city-centre hotel room I’d found online. Exactly three weeks in and I think we’re getting the hang of this!


If you’ve enjoyed reading this blog post, please donate to World Bicycle Relief. Every penny goes to the great work the charity does in Africa – not to fund our expedition in any way.

 

 

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Life on the Danube

29th July 2015 | 1,399 km | Written by Emily

Germany is a country I knew very little about before leaving home, and it’s not heavily marketed to us Brits, so we don’t tend to visit much. I had visited Munich and a small place called Friedrichshafen on the Swiss border a few times for work, but other than that, if I am honest, it has never been a country on my “must-see” list. For this reason, I was both intrigued and excited about the prospect of spending 10 days cycling through the Black Forest and along the Danube River – to see some of Germany had I been missing.

We knew instantly we’d arrived in Germany when we bumped into a couple with bikes laden with VAUDE panniers heading to the bike paths within minutes of crossing the border. We were going to fit in here just fine. In fact, we’ve been the envy of many of our fellow cycle tourers when they see all of our great VAUDE kit – we’ve been stopped a few times now!

Our first few days in Germany were beautiful but hilly. I’m not sure Germany got the memo on mountain road switchbacks that we all dream about cycling up as roads have been straight with frequent 20-25% gradients, making it tough going when we’re carrying our worldly possessions with us. At times my heart was beating so fast I wondered if it might leap right out of my chest onto the road in front of me!

The Danube is the second-longest river in Europe. It originates in Donaueschingen in the Black Forest of Germany, and flows for 2,800km to the Black Sea in Hungary. Once a main frontier of the Roman Empire, the river is the lifeline to 10 countries from central to Eastern Europe. We have been tracking it for 10 days now, and it has not failed to impress.

The source of the Danube (Donauquelle) is an underground spring that is encased in a well outside a stately home in Donaueschingen. We went to take a look but, but it sadly was undergoing repair work. However, we took a moment to reflect beside the water that would be our route marker for around 2,500km. We were unsure what to expect ahead, but we were excited to get going.

James and Emily at the Donauquelle: the source of the Danube

James and Emily at the Donauquelle: the source of the Danube

From there, we left the concrete jungle, and the path took us offroad, on mainly well-managed gravel paths through a simply breathtaking gorge steeped in Geological history. Once upon a time, I would have been able to tell you more about the surroundings, but long-term memory fails me; my Geography teachers will be most unimpressed. We could not stop smiling as we made our way along the river alongside the other cycle tourers on their summer holidays.

Biking the Danube

Cycling down the beautiful Danube Gorge

A quick pit stop in Sigmaringen was our first taste of the beautiful towns that lay ahead; we celebrated with pizza and a beer before heading back to our campsite.

From there we headed to a town called Ulm where we were due to spend a day. Much to my excitement, it was also one of the only towns along the Danube in Germany that does not have a campsite, and so, by the time we realised we’d overshot the Youth Hostel by 5km, we were forced to stay in a hotel for a night. A mattress meant my first proper night’s sleep since Alsace, and it was pure bliss.

Actually enjoying a German meal

Actually enjoying a German meal

Ulm is a stunning 12th-century town on the riverbank full of hidden gems around every corner. Apparently, it has the tallest church spire in Europe. It was undoubtedly impressive; walking around the streets felt more like I was in an Italian town than a German one – why had I never heard of this place? More was to follow with the following few towns we passed – all should go onto a holiday visit list – Donauworth, Ingolstadt and the most impressive of them all, Regensburg.

We’ve slowed down a bit since France to allow us to enjoy the surroundings – we don’t want to miss anything – cycling for 4-6 hours a day instead of 8-10 hours has made a real difference. However, it does not take away some excellent moments that only tiredness can produce, such as James getting on his bike backwards and I lost my sunglasses for a good 10 minutes before finding them on my head.

Regensburg is the oldest town in Germany and the old capital of Bavaria. We checked into a campsite for a couple of nights to spend a day looking around the city. In Bavaria a can of beer costs 40p – around half the price of a can of coke. As my Grandpa would have said, “It would be dangerous not to”, so we enjoyed a few beers and cooked a feast at the campsite and enjoyed a rare a lie in the following morning before heading into town.

Regensburg

Regensburg

Naturally, being a rest day, it rained nearly all day, but that did not take anything away from how magnificent Regensburg is. The cathedral was a highlight, dating back to pre-1100; it is home to world-famous medieval stained glass windows dating to 1230.

We are currently around 60kms (and one puncture) further along the river in another charming town called Straubing, again home to a beautiful church and an idyllic walled town centre with cobbled streets lined with cafés.

Before you ask – no, sadly, we are not wining and dining in all these towns as budgets do not allow. But it’s been an absolute privilege to travel through them and experience their beauty with a packed lunch!

We have been camping on and off for nearly 3 weeks and are now into a routine. James has almost managed to work out how to pack his panniers in under two hours every morning whilst I have time to dismantle the tent, have a shower and do my nails :-). It was with much excitement that, 5 nights ago, we finally worked out how to put our tent up properly. We have been enjoying some good sleep and making the most of German campsites with hot showers and fresh water as we are fully aware that, before long, these luxuries will disappear.

So, naturally, being the man, James is in charge of fire and map reading (for those who know me well, you will all agree that both these things are good responsibilities for me not to have; otherwise, we’d have burnt down the tent and be cycling towards Norway). I am mainly responsible for the relatively safe kitchen duties; chopping vegetables and washing up. And no, I have not cut my fingers off with a knife yet!

It’s safe to say, we are having the time of our lives and loving every minute of this adventure so far. We’ve met some great people along the way already. I don’t think we will ever get tired of seeing people’s expressions when they ask how far along the Danube we are going, and we tell them we’re cycling it all and then continuing to Cape Town. It’s been especially great to meet so many families out here, all cycling together – some with kids as young as 2 years old.

Smiles by the Danube

Smiles by the Danube

Germany is as slick and efficient as you might imagine. We’d highly recommend it as a place for cyclists to visit – whether on touring or road bikes. The national bike paths are incredibly well signposted and take you to some unbelievably beautiful places, and nearly every major road has a cycle path alongside it. If you fancy cycling for a week or two without any cars, this is the place to come!

Ahead of the storm

Tomorrow we head about 110km further along to our last stop in Germany, Passau, which is meant to be Germany’s answer to Venice. We shall mark our last day in Bavaria with a Stein, a few sausages and some Sauerkraut. After that, it’s on to Austria, and we hope to be in Vienna by next weekend.

Thank you, Germany; we can’t wait to come back again someday.


If you’ve enjoyed reading this blog post, please donate to World Bicycle Relief. Every penny goes to the great work the charity does in Africa – not to fund our expedition in any way.

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Reaching 1,000km

Yesterday we reached the 1,000km mark.  We’ve got quite a few more to cycle before we get to Cape Town!

cycled 1000 kilometers odometer


If you’ve enjoyed reading this blog post, please donate to World Bicycle Relief. Every penny goes to the great work the charity does in Africa – not to fund our expedition in any way.

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Guest blog: Big Game Hunting by Bicycle

My big brother, Jeremy, joined us for a couple of days cycling as well as looking after us exceptionally well with his wife Marie-Agnès and daughter Laurie-Anne at Marie-Agnès’ family home in Alsace.

He wrote us a blog, we hope you enjoy reading it!

[Disclaimer : the author was riding his shiny Scott Solace (5kg) with a +/- 5kg tyre around his waist; the principle characters were riding 2-wheeled tanks with 50+ kg of panniers]

I very much doubt that when James and Emily set off on their adventure to Africa, they intended that the first of the big game to spot would be the giant cuckoo but that was James’ primary objective on cycling day 10. More of that later.

Disappointed to have missed the Grand Départ in London and having been scheduled to climb 4 cols in the Alps on Sunday, I eventually (after a nano-second of thought) decided a more enjoyable day would be spent accompanying my sister Emily and her partner James across the Vosges to my in-laws in Alsace.

So, I pitched up at 9.15 in Grondexange, which is a typical village in Lorraine (no pictures required) for a 9h30 depart. At 9.45 (which I think is pretty good punctuality for Emily), two figures in white appeared on the other side of the little lake and promptly turned right not left so Marie-Agnès jumped in the car to give chase.

It had been a long and hot week in France so the two protagonists probably cursed when they saw my unladen bike and didn’t appreciate the humour when I suggested a little col over the Vosges instead of the Northern detour avoiding the climbs. A few ‘pain au chocolat’ later, however and the challenge was on.

It was a pretty uneventful journey into the Vosges; some excellently maintained cycle paths and quiet Sunday roads and before long we were slowly climbing to the entrance to the village of Dabo. This is where all the stories one hears about GPS taking lorries into fields became relevant for bikes. Garmin said left, the road went right and fortunately there was consensus that the track to the left didn’t look such a good idea.

Heading out of Dabo village, the climb continued, I enjoyed the leisurely pace and the two tourers behind me no doubt wondered why they‘d let me talk them into taking the high road. We soon reached the Rocher du Dabo (or at least a bit below it), a church unnecessarily built on the top of a rocky outcrop providing a good excuse for discussing the merits (or otherwise) of religion in the 21st or other centuries. Soon afterwards we paused with a few other tourists to admire the view of said outcrop, where Emily – who apparently reacts badly to insect bites, inexplicably lay down in the grass to provide the insects with their lunch. A few more meandering bends and we officially reached the Col de Valsberg (653m) where we would have taken a picture except I was to discover that our cameraman is a rather keen descent specialist so he’d gone and it would have been harsh to send him back up the hill to capture the moment.

A quick descent into a deserted Wasselone in search of some lunch ended with a pretzel and warm sweaty dried apricots. Emily and James then took a unanimous and instant decision not to take the direct route over a few short sharp hills and we enjoyed a leisurely last leg along the cycle path by the Mossig to Bergbieten. After a sunny/cloudy but muggy day the heavens opened with about 2k to go for an early shower.

Day 2 of my mini tour, and the queen stage awaited. Emily & James had spent the rest day diligently cleaning their bikes, checking their equipment and battling my mother in law’s attempts to force feed them. A clear blue sky awaited and we set off only about an hour behind schedule. The pace for the first 3k was blistering with 6yr old Laurie-Anne determined to forge ahead. To our relief she was soon collected by the ‘voiture balai’ and we were able to settle into a more leisurely rhythm.

The plan for the day was simple enough. Find the giant cuckoo clock. James’ Lonely Planet guide had picked out a giant cuckoo clock near Triberg in the Black Forest as a site worth seeing. So there we headed. Now, I was under the impression the lonely planet was a young people’s guide but I’m afraid to say that if the giant cuckoo clock is considered a site worth seeing, the authors were probably escaped from a Saga tour. Give it a miss.

The journey into Strasbourg was pretty idyllic – super smooth shady cycle paths along the Bruche and the Canal de la Bruche. Strasbourg by bike is a pleasure – a bike path almost to the city centre where Emily and James were able to marvel at Petit France, get some photos and wave goodbye to France before crossing the Rhine into country number 3.

Emily Conrad-pickles and Jeremy Conrad-Pickles in Strasbourg

Emily with her brother, Jeremy in Strasbourg.

The scenery changed from sumptuous Strasbourg to concrete Kehl and the bike paths changed as well. All of a sudden the two-wheeled tanks were looking a better option than a fancy road bike, as we hit stony gravel paths. Fortunately I emerged with tyres intact and we took a left at Offenberg and headed away from the Rhine valley up the Kinzig river to the Black Forest, the scenery reverted to beautiful, the bike paths (mainly) reverted to tarmac and the temperature started to rise close to the 40c mark.

One particularly pretty Germanic castle made me stop for a photo; Emily and James pressed on unknowingly. Of course there was a junction in the cycle path and by the time I got to it, they were out of sight.   It took me 3 different attempts to choose the right path off from the junction, by which time they had noticed they’d lost me and Emily was cycling back to check the ditches. They both decided that scrumping apples and plums was a good idea (justified survival training I guess) – ignoring the ‘local’s advice, that the season wasn’t quite upon us yet; to be fair the plums weren’t far off but the apple was on the sour side.

Through the afternoon we climbed gently upwards, and the temperature seemed to soar upwards. We finally made it to shaded mountainous roads and in Hornberg we came across our first mountain road tunnel – 1.9km long, we gave it a miss and cycled through the town centre. Our friend Garmin lead us to a footpath, which was kind but the detour did add the discovery that Hornberg is the home of toilets … at which point I learned that James’s distant relative invented the flushing toilet – which you won’t find in his bio.

A series of mountain tunnels followed, where there were generally pavements – much to our relief since oddly enough they cut big pine trees in the Black Forest and need very big lorries to transport them – except of course when workmen had blocked the pavement with street furniture.

Close to our target (the cuckoo clock, remember?), we were passed by my support vehicle (carrying daughter, wife, mother-in-law) who were no doubt stressing mainly about those tunnels and lorries.

The objective was achieved at about 18.40 but of course we had to wait another 20 minutes to see the Big Game Giant Cuckoo emerge. Not knowing how much further there was to climb to find a beer (or for Emily and James to find a bed), waiting for the 7pm chime was perhaps a risky choice. And I think it’s probably fair to say that rarely has 20 minutes been worse spent after more than 8 hour’s cycling. Apparently Germany’s highest waterfall is also in Triberg – go see it; it surely can’t be worse than the World’s largest cuckoo clock.

World's Largest Cuckoo Clock

World’s Largest Cuckoo Clock

At 19.45, we were finally installed in Triberg in front of a German lager. We were at 864m and James and Emily had to bravely climb and another 150m to their youth hostel after a couple of beers. By which time we’d been out for about 11 hours, and covered 110km.

3 weeks ago, I was fortunate to spend a couple days cycling with my family on holiday on the Ile de Ré; Sunday and yesterday I had two fantastic days cycling in great company a small piece of London2Capetown.   For me riding my bike for whatever reason is an absolute pleasure; for many in the world, it’s an access to education, to work. If you enjoyed reading this blog, put another £10 in Emily & James’s World Bicycle Relief campaign.

Thanks to both of them for letting me join them & I look forward to seeing the GPS tracker in Cape Town.


If you’ve enjoyed reading this blog post, please donate to World Bicycle Relief. Every penny goes to the great work the charity does in Africa – not to fund our expedition in any way.

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Feeling the heat in the first week

July 21, 2015 | 898 km | By James

For the few months before we set off to cycle from London to Cape Town, I had imagined the first week on the road in great detail. We would both gently amble through the French countryside, the sun gently warming our backs, we’d get the day’s miles done by noon, allowing for ample time to kick back and relax after the last few hectic weeks before we departed. I imagined I’d have Tweeted every hour, written a blog post every day, stopped to take enough photos worthy of winning the Travel Photographer of the Year, and I’d be well into the second book on my to-read list by now.

In reality, our daily mileage has been high, our days long, we’ve battled heat fiercer than anything we were expecting in Africa, photos have been snatched from the side of the road, and we’ve arrived at our days’ destination late (both having a remarkably similar odour and saltiness to the camembert we bought one lunchtime that slowly baked and disintegrated in our panniers all afternoon) and with only enough energy to find a bed for the night or pitch the tent and with mouths as dry as our dust-filled cycling sandals.

Ten days in, and I still haven’t made it past the first chapter of my book. I’ve had to re-read the same page three times as my eyes have involuntarily closed at each attempt, and our sleep has been interrupted by round-the-clock harvest vehicles, church bells and even wild boar surrounding our stealth camping spot in the middle of the night.

Our first week has been hot. Very hot. Temperatures have been at or over 40 degrees all week, making cycling over undulating French countryside with fully-laden panniers incredibly tough and slow!

After crossing the channel courtesy of DFDS Seaways, we landed on French soil very early on Bastille Day and followed the Avenue Vert and country lanes to Beauvais. As everything was closed, we picnicked in our cheap hotel room.

We rose early the next day and followed quiet country lanes through wheat fields towards our destination, Villers-Cotterêts. There, as we stopped for a chilled Coke in the town square dedicated to Three Muskateers authors Alexandre Dumas who was born there, the temperature on our Garmin topped 43 degrees. That night, we headed deep into the Retz Forest and found a quiet spot to pitch our tent. The forest’s described as “home to a wonderful variety of fauna including deer, rabbits, hares, foxes, pheasants and even wild boar.”

Wild camping in the Retz Forest

Wild camping in the Retz Forest – before the wild boar surrounded us at night!

As we cleared our cooking equipment away, a large deer wandered by in the distance, making its distinctive call into the empty darkness.

“What’s the hell is that!” Emily grabbed my arm and jolted me from my deep sleep. “They’re coming!” with panic in Emily’s voice. Listening, I could hear the rustling of the leaves coming nearer and nearer. I urged Emily to keep quiet. We both lay rigid as, closer and closer, movement in what would otherwise be an empty, dark and lonely forest came nearer. There was a grunt. “Wild boar!” Emily whispered.

These potentially dangerous beasts were now surrounding the tent, millimetres of fabric between us, our food and their sharp tasks. They grunted, sniffed and rummaged in the foliage around our tent whilst we lay, hearts pounding, daring not to make a sound.

We’d tied our rubbish up in a tree, so, after finding our presence didn’t bring any food source outside our tent, they finally continued their way through the forest. It was almost impossible to sleep after that; every movement of a leaf would make us bolt upright.

Our third-day cycling in France was also a scorcher, but it was fantastic to cycle through the vineyards of the Champagne region. Epernay was our destination but, champagne was the last thing on our mind by the time we arrived; we would have happily paid champagne prices for jeroboams of tap water.

The cool of the champagne cellar was a welcome respite from the heat of the day

Champagne cellar in Epernay

After Epernay, we had a long 85-mile day, which mostly followed a canal-side bike path. After a very long and tiring day, we struggled to find a camping spot, so we asked some villagers if they knew anywhere to pitch our tent. We were astonished and incredibly grateful to Marylène, who invited us to camp in her garden. She offered us showers, drinking water and even vegetables from her garden!

Camping in Marylène's garden

Camping in Marylène’s garden

As we left the flat bike path behind the next day, we cycled 93 miles over very hilly terrain. We reached our wild-camping spot by a lake exhausted and were munched by mosquitos and red ants as we cooked in the dark.

Wild camping in France

Wild camping beside the Canal de la Marne au Rhin, France.

Emily’s brother, Jeremy, joined us for the next day’s cycling. Although our handicap of panniers ensured the pace was slow as we climbed over the North Vosges Mountains to Alsace. It was fantastic to meet Jeremy, Marie-Agnes, Laurie-Anne, Lawrence and Richard, and they looked after us incredibly well over two evenings and a rest day.

It was a special moment when 6-year-old Laurie-Anne joined us for the first few KMs of the day from the family home in Bergbieten. Again, it was sweltering as we spent a very long day in the saddle as we gradually climbed up to Triberg in the heart of the Black Forest, where our efforts were ‘rewarded’ with the display of the ‘world’s largest cuckoo clock’.

Climbing up to Dabo

Climbing up to Dabo

After so many punishing days in the saddle, we decided we needed a shorter day. Apart from two horrifically steep climbs to the ski slopes above Triberg in the morning, it’s been a descent to tonight’s campsite at Donaueschingen; a town that sits at the source of the Danube; the river we’ll be following for the next 2,500km or so!

Donaueschingen: The source of the Danube

Take a look our the London2CapeTown Facebook page for more photos!


If you’ve enjoyed reading this blog post, please donate to World Bicycle Relief. Every penny goes to the great work the charity does in Africa – not to fund our expedition in any way.

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Ride London 100 route download TCX GPS Garmin

So it all begins

What an emotional two days. And what in incredible start to the next year of our lives. Yesterday morning, along with 100 others, we took on the first leg of our London to Cape Town adventure with a London to Brighton charity ride. The weather was cruel. A head wind all the way to the coast, and rain most of the way there, but that did not stop us – after weeks of sunshine, it seemed almost right that some good old English weather greeted us for our send off.

James and Emily set off to cycle from London to Cape Town

100 riders, from ironmen to complete beginners, all made the finish line in excellent spirits (despite my brother Harry’s continual moaning about how uncomfortable his saddle was!) to enjoy a pint or three on the beach, despite the rain and wind. It was really inspiring to see so many people take on this challenge.  We had a rider on a Brompton, my great friend Tim on a hand bike, and a few people who had never ridden more than 5 miles before taking on this challenge – I love seeing that smile on people’s faces when they have achieved a personal goal, no matter how big or small. For those who had not ridden a bike before this event, we hope you will continue to enjoy life on two wheels.

Thanks too to the West Group, who sent a team up to take part in the ride.  What’s more, the whole company are doing an exercise bike challenge to raise funds for World Bicycle Relief.

The West Group

A huge thank you to Adam and the team from Tri Adventure for organising the event.  Together we have given our fundraising an amazing boost and have now raised nearly £13,000. This is just incredible and means we are well on the way our target of £50,000. Watch this space, we may be back for another go next year….

The route to Brighton was a little bit of an eye opener for James and I with our panniers fully loaded for the first time; climbing Ditching Beacon was character building. We’ve both been making the most of saying goodbye to friends and family so can’t confess to being at our peak fitness but goodness, it took every ounce of grit, strength and quite frankly pure fear on my behalf. I knew that if I stopped, I’d fall off and then have to push the 50+kg bikes up the hill, I wasn’t sure I would make it. Good God it hurt, but we made it…. just!

James cycling Ditchling BeaconEmily cycling Ditchling Beacon James and Emily cycling London to brighton

Trident Sensors support London to Cape Town

Today our thoughts have turned to saying goodbye to our families. It has been so hard. We’ve known that this day has been coming for a year now but it can never prepare you. We are both extremely lucky to have incredible, loving, supportive families who we see on a very regular basis and although we will be in touch on a very regular basis, we are both going to miss our families like mad. Thank you for your love and support – we love you to bits.

James and Emily cycling from London to Cape Town

Now we await our DFDS ferry from Newhaven to Dieppe – we’re hoping for some calmer and sunnier weather in France. I’ve not got a great track history on boats so here’s hoping the crossing’s not too rough.

Please do follow our live GPS tracker and keep in touch!

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Packing and Penicillin

Nobody ever said that this was going to be easy. Cycling from London to Cape Town takes a lot of planning. I remember what they used to tell us during my Trekforce days: It’s all about remembering the Ps; Prior Planning and Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance.

So, we have planned and prepared for this journey with every minute we have had; however, nothing could prepare us for the past few days. They say there are three stable points in your life, and if you rock more than one, life gets very stressful. We both finished work last week, and today we finished packing up our worldly possessions and moved them out of our home. Alongside all of this, we’ve had builders in to fix a big leak that required re-plastering our bedroom (twice), the washing machine broke (of course it did) and to top it all off, I got bitten on my foot on Friday night.

But this wasn’t any bite, this was a bite from some evil specimen that has caused chaos ever since, and by yesterday evening, my whole foot was swollen, and the swelling was spreading up my leg. I’m now on two sets of penicillin to stop the infection from spreading further; otherwise, I’ll be spending my last week in the hospital instead of with my family. Whilst pretty bad timing, it has also allowed us to re-evaluate the antibiotics we plan to take with us and refresh the information we learned on our wilderness first aid. If this were to happen en route, we probably would have dealt with it more immediately without giving it the option to spread.

one little insect can cause a lot of problems

one little insect can cause a lot of problems

It’s a shame as I may not be able to get on my bike now before we leave. However, I guess we have a year to get practice in. London to Brighton is going to feel like a very long way, that’s for sure.

On that note, we look forward to seeing those of you joining us on 12 July. Let’s hope this sun keeps shining 🙂

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Injections for cycling in Africa

With just four weeks to go until we set off on our London to Cape Town cycle, we made the trip to the London Travel Clinic this week to get our immunisations up to date.

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I’ve always wondered why those that administer injections warn of the impending pain by saying “you’ll feel a slight scratch”.  After all, a needle penetrating 2 inches of muscle is a stab rather than a scratch.

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Nevertheless, with two injections in one arm and a final one in the other, we overcame the ordeal and were presented with African-themed stickers as reward for our bravery.

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London to Cape town first aid course stretcher south downs wilderness

Wilderness first aid training

I’ll never forget the story of a good friend of mine who was commuting home on a London bus when a fellow passenger was stabbed. Although she didn’t witness the incident, word quickly spread down the bus, and people asked if anyone had any tissues to “mop up the blood”.

What struck me was not the stabbing itself. After all, bad things happen in London, but the first reaction from everybody on the bus was to deal with the lost blood rather than prevent more blood from escaping. Sure, such incidents are rare, but the lack of basic first aid knowledge in such a crowded environment still shocks me.

The passenger was soon treated by the London Ambulance Service and was patched up. The only serious harm seemed to be to passengers’ Kleenex supplies.

Now, in no way are we expecting any such malicious injuries on our cycle from London to Cape Town (although, given Emily’s history with knives and fingers, I’ll be keeping hold of our Victorinox Swiss Army knife!). But, given that, once we’re out of Europe, we’ll be cycling through some pretty remote areas, we thought we’d brush up on our first aid skills ahead of our trip.

So, this month, we headed down to Southease, Sussex, to attend the Wilderness First Aid course run by the Muir-Walker Medics Co-op.

‘Wilderness first aid’ is defined as the practice of first aid where definitive care is more than one hour away, and often days to weeks away.”

In reality, ‘more than one hour away’ could mean an incident on the Brecon Beacons or even on the South Downs where this course was based.

I’ve done some first aid training before. But it’s been limited to scenarios such as paper cuts or Colin from accounts choking on a sausage roll. What these courses always taught me was never to administer any drugs. Ever.

That’s why this course was such a breath of fresh air and exactly what we needed for our trip. Within minutes of refreshing our CPR skills, we were out in the sunshine jabbing each other with EpiPens, wrapping trauma bandages over lacerations and learning advanced trauma care techniques such as using Quik Clot on gnarly gashes and, yes, using drugs such as adrenaline. (For the pedants, I know that adrenaline’s a hormone and not a drug).

Wilderness first aid course

Emily did a good job splinting my arm.

On the second day, the group ventured up onto Bedingham Hill. With the backdrop of the port of Newhaven where, in just a few weeks, we’ll be catching the Newhaven to Dieppe ferry on the next stage of our cycle.

Upon the hill, we practised splinting broken limbs, treating burns and shock, and I even got to recline in the sun, with my eyes closed, as the group stretchered me down the steep escarpment without toppling me off. My relaxation was short-lived as I was soon on uphill stretchering duty for a new ‘patient’.

London to Cape town first aid course stretcher south downs wilderness

I volunteered to be the patient and was medevaced off the hill 

The course even covered heat exhaustion, poisoning and snakebites, which was a relief as we’ve been warned about the dangers of carpet vipers when camping in the Kenyan countryside.

Wilderness first aid course CPR

Emily practising CPR

The group consisted of people of many backgrounds, but I’d highly recommend going on this course if you’re an outdoorsy-type.
Even if you don’t plan to head into the hills, have a think about whether you actually would know what to do in an emergency. Think about your close friends. Think about your family. Think about whether you would be that person on the bus mopping up the blood or whether you would use your knowledge to save a life.
For us, though, I hope that the only medical intervention we’ll need is a hay fever pill. At least now we’re qualified to carry them in our first aid kits.


If you’ve enjoyed reading this blog post, please donate to World Bicycle Relief. Every penny goes to the great work the charity does in Africa – not to fund our expedition in any way.

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Vaude Ferret 3 tent

The countdown begins – and the nerves have arrived!

It’s now less than 6 weeks until we begin our cycle from London to Cape Town, and it’s a good time to start our blog.

I’m not sure where the time has gone. I remember it being February and packing up our things to take to the London Bike Show and thinking – “hurry up, July, I want to leave!” And now, as I sit here, panic is beginning to set in slightly as the reality of what we are attempting is dawning on me.

There is still so much for us to do. The last few weeks have been completely rammed. We are both still working full time and have busy work schedules, so we have to fit everything into our evenings and weekends. But, slowly, we are getting there. From wilderness first aid courses, practice bike rides, route planning, kit checks, planning our fundraising schedule, and organising our London to Brighton cycle ride, it has been a busy few months.

We are so excited about the expedition and hope many of you will follow our journey along the way. We are lucky enough to be using the same GPS tracker that Mark Beaumont used on his recent epic World Record-breaking Cairo to Cape Town cycle – supplied by Trident Sensors. Once we set off, our location will be updated daily on a link via the route section of our website. But, do not be fooled; we will not be travelling at Mark’s speed or daily distances, so you will need a little more patience to track us.

We plan to share our journey as often as we can – so you can experience the journey with us. We’ll also be blogging each month on Total Women’s Cycling where you’ll not just be able to read about the trip but also find out about the kit and equipment that our generous kit sponsors have provided us.

A huge thank you to everyone who has helped us get to where we are today – a particular mention must go to Chris Davison at Vaude, who has pretty much kitted us from head to toe in the best cycling and camping equipment for cycle touring. Also, to our family, friends, and colleagues who have all helped us get to the start in some way or another. You’ll hear more about them along the way.

Thanks also to Sea to Summit, Victorinox, CamelBak, Click Stand, Goal Zero, DFDS Seaways, Involution, and Thrive. They have all supplied us with valuable equipment and services, which we’ll blog about in due course.

In the meantime, please Like our Facebook pagefollow us on Twitter and, if you haven’t already, sign up for our London to Brighton Charity bike ride on July 12th.

Emily

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