Björn's Cycle Tour Home

Overview

Diary

This section will be updated as I go (whenever I have internet access).

Day 0 – 2010-05-14

I simply had to add a "day 0", after the curious incident I suffered from at the end of a perfect day. First the perfect part: My 20 boxes got picked up on schedule, I had a great last day at work (although (or beacuse) it was officially a day off for me, and in the afternoon, my landlord's agent came for the apartment hand-over. He was quite in a hurry, had only a short look, and gave me the cheque for the deposit. Hooray! In the evening, before going to bed early, I did a test-packing to see if all the luggage will fit on my bike. Everything went well, but I realized I should better fix my air pump with a piece of tape. I used my pen knive to cut the tape and then... I dropped the kniv... and it hit the tyre of my bike... and punctured it. Bummer! The bright side: That was just the right disaster recover training. I replaced the inner tube, and it took me less than 10min!

Day 1 – 2010-05-15 – Dublin to Rhyl


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Wonderful weather. In the beginning good progress because I was driving on ugly highways and in the flat part of Wales. Once I had reached the marvelous walled city of Conwy, the National Cycle Route 5 was far better marked, so I could take nicer, more secret, but also very hilly paths (Britannia players know: Clwyd is difficult terrain. ;-) The GPS claims more than 1000m elevation gain during the tour. (Absolute numbers are obviously wrong, though. Standing with my feet in the sea water, and being at 60m altitude at the same time? I'm tall, but not that tall... But deltas might be more accurate.) Very little moving time, though, because of course, I had to take the ferry from Dublin to Holyhead first, arrival time was 11:30, and I had many organizational things to do, see below for more details. To explain the times: I start the GPS when I start to cycle, and I only switch it off for really long breaks, like a long lunch break or some extensive sight seeing. I have external battery packs because the Nexus One on its own will use up its own battery within a few hours. Intentionally, I include all kind of weird things, like searching for a hotel (see funny backtracking and circles at the end of a day). The moving time is the time while the GPS has detected movement. Walking through a shopping mal is still movement, so even here, not everything is really cycling. Overall, the average speed will usually be smaller than if only the "real" parts of the tour were included.

Distance107 km
Total time9h01m
Moving time5h54m
Average speed11.9 km/h
Average moving speed18.1 km/h

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Minor disaster of the day was that I forgot a whole bunch of cycle gear in my now abandoned apartment in Dublin. When I left the ferry and thought, now it's a good time to put on my helmet, I realized that it is neatly packed with all the other stuff on the shelf back in Dublin. So I had to buy a new helmet, high-vis vest, protective goggles, and gloves. With the exception of the low-teck high-vis vest, everything is now three generations more evolved than my old stuff. And I lost already many pounds, having not even really started the tour. So not too bad after all. Google worked like a charm. I asked my Nexus One for cycle shops, and it showed me immediately one just around the corner, including directions. Neat. Other curious encounters of the day: I needed 3G access on my phone to make all those nice features (like finding a cycle shop, but of course more relevant are online maps etc.) work. The recipe I found is the following: Go to a supermarket, buy a pre-paid SIM card from the company called "3" for whopping 99p. Then top up your card for 10 sterling (minimum first top-up). Result: You get 150MiB traffic to consume during the next 90 days. And the traffic doesn't even use up your topped-up credit. You can still use it for boring stuff like calling somebody. Let's say I would use the SIM card from another EU country, they would charge me €768 roaming fee for the same amount of data. And it's mostly not even really roaming because most of the mobile phone providers are owned by very few international companies. In other words: If you don't do the SIM card juggling, you will pay 64 times more for the same thing. And that's the EU-"regulated" charge. The mobile phone company would happily charge you even more! Apropos supermarket: The one I used to buy the SIM card had anti-knacker ultrasound cannons installed. But proper knackers ruin their ears anyway before they are old enough to be dangerous, don't they? My ears, though, are still good enough. Quite a shock to approach that supermarket, and suddenly being tortured by an incredibly loud high-pitched beep. More a Björn deterrent than anything else.

Day 2 – 2010-05-16 – Rhyl to Northwich


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Again wounderful weather, despite the rainy forecast. The NCR5 is really a wonderful thing. It shows you secret paths that are not even on maps, and you cycle through beautiful landscapes, rarely seeing a car. Disadvantage: Those paths might be very steep (elevation gain today was more than 1200m, even more than yesterday), and traffic-free may also mean pavement-free (which is OK for me and my bike, but it slows down things a lot). The marking is usually very good, but sometimes, a crucial junction is not marked properly (which led to two funny backtracks, see map), and in most cases the marks just show you an arrow, but not the general direction (to Holyhead or to Reading). If you join the route somewhere in the middle, or routes rejoin (sometimes there are multiple alternative routes), you might be totally lost which direction to take (my last funny backtracking was caused by this). Overall, my tour today was very nice, but because of the reasons above, I did not reach as far as I was hoping for. Enjoying the landscape on secret unpaved paths is nice, but I might not have enough time for that. Let's see how it works out tomorrow. (BTW: Google Maps seems overwhelmed by my GPS resolution and will display the end of the route only if you view the larger map and then click "Next". From tomorrow on, I will use a lower resolution for the GPS tracks (only one point every 100m) to solve that problem.)

Distance118 km
Total time10h05m
Moving time7h01m
Average speed11.7 km/h
Average moving speed16.8 km/h

Day 3 – 2010-05-17 – Northwich to Birmingham


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The weather remains faithful. Again a whole day of perfect sunshine. Today, I tried to mix the nice and the fast routes. Highway is always fast and always ugly. Perfect are low-traffic or traffic-free routes with proper pavement. But really good surface is pretty rare on the traffic-free parts of the NCR5. Really nice are the routes along the many canals the area is so famous for (at least for Brass players), but the pavement there is often bad or completely missing. The midlands are of course not completely flat, but covered with many gentle hills. If the GPS is right, the elevation gain was 1350m, which is comparable to yesterday (per km). Less steep ups and downs have the advantage that you get your energy back instead of feeding it to your breaks on the way down.

Distance134 km
Total time10h39m
Moving time7h24m
Average speed12.6 km/h
Average moving speed18.1 km/h

With the lower resolution, the map shows the complete route now, but if you zoom in, you will see that it it less detailed. Birmingham was fantastic to look at. A pitty that I don't have enough time to stay for a while in each of those interesting places I pass through. Disaster of the day: A flat tyre. Good that I had trained for that on Friday. To blame was not one of the millions of shards I had run over (some people seem to specifically look for cycle route to dispose of their bottles), and not one of those sharp pebbles on unpaved roads, it was a 100% biological very stingy thorn.

Day 4 – 2010-05-18 – Birmingham to Oxford


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Same mix of nice but sometimes unpaved roads and ugly highways led to the same average speed as yesterday. The weather was still nice, even warmer but a bit cloudy and more humid at the end of the day. Gazillions of insects in the air. I was sprinkled with them.

Distance128 km
Total time10h21m
Moving time7h03m
Average speed12.5 km/h
Average moving speed18.1 km/h

Again, I passed by the greatest attractions, like Shakespeare's birthplace. And I ended up in Oxford, at the same time when some kind of football event made a massive amount of fans parading the streets. Now that it was clear that I would need another day to reach Southampton anyway, I deliberately stopped in Oxford. I had got up a bit earlier in the morning, so I could have pedaled on for another hour or so, but I would have ended up in the middle of nowhere. Walking around in Oxford was clearly the better alternative. If we can really trust the GPS information about elevation gain, then today was the toughest so far: Nearly 1600m gain! Don't underestimate those hills, even if they are gentle. My knees started to complain about the climbs. Zero lugage would make things way easier here, but that would be cheating. I'm looking forward to the perfectly flat Netherlands...

Day 5 – 2010-05-19 – Oxford to Southampton


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Today I finally made it to Argenis. It was the longest day trip so far. The elevation gain was a bit less today (1200m), but still pretty harsh. The weather was fine as usual. Some clouds, but pretty warm and still no drop of rain. I am so lucky.

Distance142 km
Total time10h06m
Moving time8h15m
Average speed14.1 km/h
Average moving speed17.2 km/h

The total distance cycled from Dublin to Southampton is 629km. That's way more than the 500km I anticipated. Those nice and marked cycle routes are not very direct after all. At least this explains why I needed a day more than planned.

Day 6 – 2010-05-20 – Southampton

A well earned day of rest in Southampton. Only sightseeing and relaxing.

Day 7 – 2010-05-21 – Southampton to Seaford


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The weather is even improving. Now that I had reached the coast again, I could see thousands enjoying the beaches and slurping ice cream. Road quality was mostly very good today, and not so much up and down as before (only a bit more than 500m elevation gain). So the only thing that could stop me cycling more km than yesterday was disaster – and there it came: just before reaching Portsmouth, the bottom bracket started to make strange noises. I left the bike at the next cycle shop, and they exchanged it pretty quickly, but overall, the incident kept me for nearly 2h. And at the end of the day, I had my second flat tyre. Again something from the side, so I am not even sure if those super-enforced tyres would have helped here. I might still give them a try...

Distance140 km
Total time10h30m
Moving time7h44m
Average speed13.3 km/h
Average moving speed18.1 km/h

So I did not reach my ambitious goal to reach Hastings today. (Hopefully, coming late and exhausted to Hastings will have no significant effect on history this time...)

Day 8 – 2010-05-22 – Seaford to Dunkerque


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Today, I suffered from the flipside of the wonderful weather. First, many tourists were filling the roads next to the coast with cars (it was Saturday after all...). Second, the sunny and dry weather is probably brought by a pretty strong easterly wind – which meant headwind to me. It slowed me down, so I had trouble to reach Dover in time for a reasonably early evening ferry. But worse: My knees started to complain again. There were only a few climbs in the beginning of today's tour, where the pictoresque cliffs near Seafort are. But the permanent pressure against the wind wasn't good for them either. While the bottom bracket yesterday could be simply replaced, I have to rely on the self-healing ability of my knees. So I declared defeat in Hastings (a traditional place for doing that...) and took the train from there to Dover. I skipped about 65km of cycling that way, half of my anticipated tour. (The train run 74km, but it took a detour compared to my planned cycle route.) I also traveled 50km by ferry (the GPS trail in the map is fragmented because you can't get a GPS signal inside of the ferry). Now I'm hoping for more typical westerly wind during the next days.

Distance65 km
Total time4h57m
Moving time3h44m
Average speed13.1 km/h
Average moving speed17.4 km/h

After all, with a bit of cheating, I made it back to "Old Europe", and I could finally ride my bike on the right side of the street. Pretty fascinating was the weather change from one side of the Channel to the other: Clear, sunny, hot and dry in England. Foggy, humid and pretty cool in France. Weather forecast for tomorrow is splendid, though.

Day 9 – 2010-05-23 – Dunkerque to Terneuzen


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No hills any longer, superb quality of Belgian and Dutch cycle routes (and an ingenious system to mark them), wind from north or north-west (so from the side instead of headwind) – all that gave a nice boost to the average moving speed. If I hadn't wasted so much time trying to get 3G running with a Belgian pre-payed SIM card (without success) or buying cycling maps (with partial success – the maps are really helpful in combination with the marking system of the routes, but any one bookshop has only parts of the whole set, so tomorrow will be fun because I have no maps for the planned route and no 3G connection for the Netherlands yet, but it is pentecost and most, if not all shops, will be closed). To spoil the close to perfect day, my pedals started to click, too (and yes, I replaced those only two weeks ago – I guess I am just too heavy, or whatever you buy in Dublin cycle shop is crap). So the greatest attraction in beautiful Brugge was a cycle shop that was open on Sundays.

Distance137 km
Total time10h05m
Moving time6h36m
Average speed13.6 km/h
Average moving speed20.8 km/h

BTW: Now we know that the elevation gain numbers of the GPS are mostly bogus. It told me more than 1000m for today, but there was really nothing. Perhaps a few metres here and there to get up a bridge or a dam...

Day 10 – 2010-05-24 – Terneuzen to Utrecht


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Netherlands for the win! The whole country is built for cyclists, and that includes the brains of the citizens. Not only is there perfect infrastructure. Pedestrians and drivers really pay attention to cyclists, yield at junctions etc. And there are really a lot of cyclists, young and old, casual to sporty. Really sunny weather again, and moderately strong north-westery wind, so it was more tailwind in the first part of today's trip, and more headwind in the second. Overall, today was the longest day trip so far (189km!), and at the same time the one with the highest average moving speed. I had to cycle a bit more than anticipated because the ferry from Yerseke across the Oosterschelde only starts to operate in June, so I had to take a detour, as you can see quite clearly on the map. The gap in the route just after Terneuzen is the Westerschelde tunnel. No cycling in the tunnel, so I had to take the bike on the bus. The tunnel is 6.6km in length, but since you can only enter or leave the bus a bit before and after the tunnel, it was a 15km bus ride (i.e. I moved more than 200km today, but not all on my bike).

Distance189 km
Total time12h04m
Moving time8h56m
Average speed15.7 km/h
Average moving speed21.2 km/h

Today was pretty close to the perfect day of cycling, despite the obstacle of Pentecost Monday. Nearly all shops were closed, I could neither buy more cycle maps nor a SIM card to finally have data access on my phone again. But that turned out to be not much of a problem because every now and then along the cycle route, there are public map displays, where you can see the node numbers of the sorrounding (the ingenious cycle route marking scheme mentioned yesterday is based on numbering the nodes of the network, not the routes). I simply wrote down the sequency of node numbers I planned to cycle along, and then I only had to follow the (mostly excellent) marks along the routes.

Day 11 – 2010-05-25 – Utrecht

No cycling today. Relaxing in Utrecht.

Day 12 – 2010-05-26 – Utrecht to Coevorden


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Still no rain, but mostly cloudy and pretty cool. Actually quite pleasant after all this intense sun and heat. The bad part: The wind turned to easterly again, not very strong, but still annoying. So today was no day of new records. I cut the trip to Bremen quite precisely into two halves, so I should make it to Bremen in time tomorrow. I tried to stay for the night in Emlichheim, which is already in Germany, but all hotels in the village were completely booked. So I had to divert to Coevorden next to the border and will now spend another night in the Netherlands.

Distance159 km
Total time9h24m
Moving time7h53m
Average speed16.9 km/h
Average moving speed20.2 km/h

Day 13 – 2010-05-27 – Coevorden to Bremen


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A bit warmer and sunnier, but otherwise very similar to yesterday. Only a little bit of wind from various directions. Altogether a very nice day for cycling. Even the German cycle paths were not too bad. Not as good as the Dutch, of course, but reasonably. The area between Meppen and Cloppenburg has a nice megalithic link to Ireland: dolmens galore!

Distance169 km
Total time10h22m
Moving time8h27m
Average speed16.3 km/h
Average moving speed20.0 km/h

So I reached Bremen in time for Lasse's defense after all. And at the end of today, I met the first few rain drops of the entire tour, just in time before my two days break here in Bremen.

Day 14 – 2010-05-28 – Bremen

No cycling today. And Lasse is a doctor now.

Day 15 – 2010-05-29 – Bremen

Another no-cycling day. Only celebrating Lasse's PhD and his farewell to Bremen at the bank of the river Weser.

Day 16 – 2010-05-30 – Bremen to Uelzen


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Today the rain finally got me. I sat out the worst downpour, but during less intense rain, I kept cycling, using my poncho. It worked quite well, but it slowed me down. The weather forecast was even worse, so I was still kind of lucky. However, it has become highly unlikely now that I will reach Berlin tomorrow.

Distance133 km
Total time8h14m
Moving time6h17m
Average speed16.2 km/h
Average moving speed21.2 km/h

Day 17 – 2010-05-31 – Uelzen to Havelberg


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Sometimes it was raining today. Sometimes it was even dry. But most of the time, I had to endure an annoying drizzle. The sky showed a spotless gray throughot the day. The only good thing about the weather was that I had a bit of tailwind occassionally. I decided to stop for the last night of the tour in the island city of Havelberg. I could have cycled a bit more, but there are less than 120km left, and the weather forecast is slightly better for tomorrow. I was early enough in Havelberg to visit the famous romanesque cathedral, so finally a bit of proper sight-seeing along the route.

Distance117 km
Total time8h17m
Moving time6h03m
Average speed14.2 km/h
Average moving speed19.4 km/h

Day 18 – 2010-06-01 – Havelberg to Berlin


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The grand finale. The weather was basically the same as the two days before. But it didn't matter any longer. I made it home, precisely on the scheduled day.

Distance119 km
Total time7h42m
Moving time6h04m
Average speed15.5 km/h
Average moving speed19.6 km/h