My 25th birthday was fast approaching. I’d recently quit my first ‘real’ job, and I was determined to go on an adventure.
When I told my work colleagues I was leaving for a cycle trip, they mostly thought I was making a mistake, that I was closing doors and ruining my newly started career. Quite a few of my friends didn’t understand it either, but the ones that supported me had fueled my desire to explore.
I had booked a ticket to Oktoberfest in Munich a month or so prior, for no other reason than to set myself a destination. Then began my preparations. I had purchased racks, panniers and ”puncture proof” tyres for my bike. I bought a small and lightweight tent, sleeping bag, a tarp, waterproof clothes and basically whatever else was on the ‘Suggested for you’ advertisements on Amazon.
I then began to sell everything that would no longer serve me in my new life of adventure and exploration (of about 2 months).
During this purge of my material possessions (my car) I met a man by the name of Howard. When he was younger, he spent many summers cycling the canals of France and exploring as much as he could on his bike. We became friends over this shared enjoyment for adventure and he offered to take me with him on his next trip to mainland Europe so I could begin my journey. The timing was perfect and I accepted gladly.
It was the 22nd of July, 2015. The day after my birthday. The weekend that had just passed held the ‘final’ drinks with my friends. It may sound silly, but at the time it really did feel like that. I was stepping completely into the unknown. It would be me, a bicycle and a tent. Some of you that have had that same privilege, stepping into the unknown, may understand what I mean.
And so it was time. All my bags and bicycle were at the door and I was stood, nervously, looking out of the front window. Howard arrived and the looming ‘final’ goodbye to Mum started the waterworks, which were rather contagious as I too sobbed while loading my bicycle into the back of the car.
The First Documented Photo of my Original Touring Chariot.
The car ride was filled with conversation and Howard gave me some good advice. The most important was ”listen to your body. If your legs are tired, stop.”
When travelling by bicycle its easy to set yourself goals or targets for the day. But if you’re forcing yourself to do them or pushing yourself too hard, it stops being fun, and that is the most important part.
We arrived in Folkestone just in time to enjoy the last of the July afternoon sun before some cloud set in, and later that evening I got to test out my new tent by camping in Howard’s parents garden. But not before getting some good ol’ English chip shop chips and checking out the acoustic mirrors, or ‘listening ears’ built to detect enemy aircraft during WWI.
That night I hardly slept. I think in part it was due to my new sleeping mat, I severely overestimated how comfy 4cm of foam would be (a major downgrade from my usual camping habits at the time), but mostly I was nervous about getting on my bike and peddling off.
Shortly after 5:00am the following morning we were in Dover and had boarded the ferry to Calais!
I was glad for the beautiful morning and the calm breeze. Setting off in near perfect conditions helped to settle those anxious thoughts in my tired brain. Today was going to be a great day.
Our destination was Adinkerke, a small village just north of the French/Belgian border, and the traffic getting there was a nightmare. We were sat standstill for a good hour or two, and Howard had suggested just unloading my bike onto the highway and setting off from the next junction. It would have been quicker than sitting and waiting, but my nerves kept me patiently sat still.
Eventually we were moving again and we reached the drop off point. My bike was unloaded, we shook hands and Howard got back in the car to continue with his day. I am very grateful for his generosity and he definitely helped my first trip start on a good note (Calais ferry port isn’t the most picturesque place to start a bike trip either).
My trip had officially begun. It began with a 10 minute bike ride in the wrong direction, but it began. Sat in the saddle that I would become all too familiar with, I exhaled deeply and headed for the coast.
Want more? Read the next story – My first solo ride.