The Two Tunnels

Day 136: Bath to Glastonbury England, Saturday September 2nd

Pedro told us about a couple of really long cycle tunnels nearby, and when I looked at Google Maps I realized that the recommended route went through them. The route I had originally planned to take was longer and hillier. Decision made! We love bike tunnels.

Cycle route 244 turned out to be another rail trail, this one much newer than the Bristol/Bath cycleway. It’s also known as the Two Tunnels Greenway. The tunnels did not disappoint. The first, the Devonshire tunnel, is just over 400m long, and it’s just a warm-up. The Combe Down Tunnel is almost 1700m long! The longest cycling tunnel in Britain. In the middle section they pipe in music, possibly to keep walkers from losing their minds.

Once we escaped Khazad-dûm and returned to the sunlit overworld, the route passed by Midford Castle, once owned by Nic Cage.

We picked up cycle route 24, and took it along country roads and through a couple of very small villages until we hit Radstock. Both Appa and Momo had some pretty loose brakes by this point, so when we spotted a cycle shop we went in to ask for help. Sam, the young man in the shop, said that they didn’t normally do repairs on Saturdays, but he’d see what he could do. We walked out for a pint to kill an hour.

Radstock had little to recommend it, but we found a not-unpleasant pub full of tradesmen taking a break from work. The owner was curious about us, and she gave us two pints of rough cider on the house.

Pleased with our free drinks, we returned to the shop and were delighted to find that Sam had adjusted our brakes and made them much more responsive. He said the pads would last the rest of the trip, which was good news, because the replacements that were sold to me in Viborg, Denmark, turned out to be the wrong size.

From Radstock we relied on Google Maps to cut west to Wells, where we picked up cycle route 3 to Glastonbury. We roared down a long decline into Wells, catching glimpses of the distant Tor and thanking the gods for brakes that work. The descent was reminiscent of the drop down the escarpment last August on our Ontario tour.

At the bottom of the hill was the magnificent Wells Cathedral. We stopped for pictures and to watch all the people on the green. We’d arrived just as a market was ending, and we walked our bikes through the square, enjoying the sights.

Route 3 took us the rest of the way to Glastonbury, and our Airbnb was excellent. Judith, her nephew Owen, and her sweet rescue dog, Milo, made us feel at home. We walked to a grocery store for supplies, had what we call Smashed Potatoes for dinner, and turned in early.

Distance: 46 km

$86 + bike repair

Another Phone Bites the Dust

Day 131: Stratford-upon-Avon to Worcester England, Monday August 28th

Cycle route 5 out of Stratford is very nice, but it also goes a long way north before coming back down into Worcester. We decided that we’d take the 5 for awhile, and then make our own westerly route along some small roads, cutting the corner.

At one point we saw signs for a ‘ford’ and weren’t quite sure what it meant but it soon became clear. The river just ran right over the road. Thankfully there was a path around for pedestrians and bicycles.

One annoying thing we’ve encountered lately on the cycle routes are gates that are nearly impossible to get through with our loaded bikes.

In the tiny, pretty village of Sambourne we had lunch on a bench on the green. Across from us was an intriguing place called the Green Dragon Inn. We had to check it out.

After an ale in the beer garden, we left route 5 and headed west. It started out great: through Astwood Bank and Feckenham. And then Google Maps sent us down a dark steep hill filled with potholes. The juddering shook my phone free of the garbage mount I bought in Berlin (do not purchase a PNY phone mount!). Deb retrieved it for me, but the glass was shattered and it would not turn on. I even managed to get a tiny shard of glass stuck in my thumb, which I didn’t get out until we were in our hotel room.

Now with two dead phones in my handlebar bag, Deb was left as map girl, relying on her trustworthy, but relatively ancient Nexus 4. Without a mount of her own (and there was no way she was putting her phone on mine!) we had to stop a few times to check where we were, but it wasn’t too long before we found cycle route 45 and it took us right into the heart of Worcester.

We stayed at a hotel, a rarity for us, but it had an affordable room (better than the Airbnb places available) and it was right downtown. It was an old place, but really very charming, with a nice central staircase. Our room was stuffy, but big.

We hurried out and found a mobile phone repair place. The guy said it wasn’t worth fixing and tried to sell me a new phone. A few doors down was the Carphone Warehouse, which is the outfit I bought the phone from in Aberdeen. No, it’s not insured. No we can’t wait seven to ten days to get it fixed. The nice young man said I should try yet another mobile repair joint, where it likely could be fixed faster and cheaper, but voiding the warranty. We rushed a couple of blocks over, as everything was starting to close. This guy gave me two quotes, one for a new Samsung screen, one for a knockoff, and both were higher than Carphone Warehouse. I didn’t even bother asking how long it would take, it just wasn’t worth the money. I’ll live without a phone for a few weeks.

It was the last day of the Worcester festival, which meant that when we did our usual walkabout, we discovered a pretty good Dixieland jazz band playing at a riverside square. People were already picking our their spots to watch the 10 pm fireworks. We sat on some stone stairs and listened to the music while people watching but didn’t last until the fireworks.

Distance: 50 km

$106

Go WEST

Day 121: Bellshill to Kilbarchen, Scotland, Friday August 18th

It rained a lot in the night, and it was windy, a combination that meant there were puddles inside our tent by morning. There was a brief break in the rain when we got up, and even some sun, but it was a trap. We had spread out some of our wet things to dry, only to see them get soaked again when the rain returned. It was not a great start, though I did manage to replace my flat tube, and do a quick clean and oil of our chains.

We found a much better route out of the site, and were quickly on cycle route 75 headed for Glasgow. This took us on many car-free paths through the suburbs, though we had to cross a lot of busy roads. Within a couple of hours we reached the Clyde River, which has great paths all the way into and through the city.

We rode right by the People’s Palace again, but this time stopped at WEST Brewing, which we actually visited many years ago on one of our hiking trips. Still in Glasgow, we hit a cycle shop to buy a new spare tire and a couple of tubes.

As usual, we had only a sketchy idea what our Airbnb would be like, though we got an indication when the hosts offered to make us a reservation at their local pub for dinner. Even so, we were not prepared for the luxury that Mark and Andrea provided.

Our room was huge. Mark helped us with all our crap, and then he brought us beer and chips. Even their adorable daughter helped welcome us. They were so warm and friendly we almost forgot the cold and the wet; their amazing shower took care of the rest.

The pub dinner was excellent, and after returning, we chatted with our hosts and their other guests (two young men from France on a car tour).

We passed out early, though we would’ve liked to have stayed up enjoying the company longer.

Distance: 45 km

$126 + spare tire and 2 tubes

Glassholes

Day 120: Edinburgh to Bellshill, Scotland, Thursday August 17th

We were a bit worried about the uphill ride out of the city, but the route was pretty good and it was too early for the serious Fringe crowds to have formed. Soon we were back on the canals, riding west this time. We were heading back towards Glasgow, mostly on a different route, planning on heading south on the west coast.

We took cycle route 75 this time, and it proved to be scenic, but more challenging than the 754 that we took heading east. There were a lot of dirt paths, and the rain had made them a bit mucky and there were lots of puddles to weave around.

Sadly, there was a lot of glass on the paths near the towns we rode by. Coincidentally, my back tire went flat about halfway through the ride. We swapped in the spare tire and a new tube.

At Airdrie we stopped to get supplies and I exchanged messages with Allison and Aron (the visit seemed so short!).

A little farther on we lost the 75, and instead of backtracking we made a poor decision and let Google Maps guide us the rest of the way to the campsite. These Glasgow suburbs are crisscrossed with very busy roads, plus the big highways. We were struggling to find a safe route when my front tire went flat. As we were only about 3 km from the park, I simply re-inflated and hoped it would hold.

At last we found a way down into the Strathclyde Caravan and Motorhome Park, which has a field for tents. We chose a spot with a tree so we’d have a place to lean our bikes (no picnic tables to be seen), took nice hot showers and set up. We knew rain was coming, but it at least waited until we had eaten.

Distance: 80 km

$41

Chicken Licken

Day 92: Strathkinnes to Broughty Ferry, July 19th

Our reward for the last climb of the previous day was a long descent to sea level in the morning. Then we entered Tentsmuir forest, which had very quiet, pleasant gravel paths, and places where we could set the bikes aside and walk through dunes to see the sea.

But, like so many forest cycle routes, it was a trap. Halfway through the great surface turns into wretched chipped loose stone, with signs warning about the poor conditions for riding. It was slow, and difficult, but still a nice forest, and eventually we reached Tayport, where we stopped to eat, and to recover. We discovered later that the Forestry Commission had actually issued an apology to cyclists about the condition of the road and are working to find a solution.

There was a small climb up to the Tay Bridge, and again, Deb braced herself for the crossing. But, oh joy, this bridge had a central path for pedestrians and bikes: no wind, no scary railing with a steep drop. What I loved about it was that it is one gigantic ramp, sloping just slightly down to the north side of the river. We coasted along, enjoying the view, for 2.25 km (it’s one of the longest road bridges in Europe).

Dundee is mostly up on a hill, and the cycle route stuck close to the river, so we didn’t really see the city, just the port. And speaking of the port, the cycle route brought us to a security gate, with lots of warning signs about unauthorized entry. We had just been passed by a cyclist who did not look like a stevedore, so I was sure we were supposed to get through.

After puzzling over this for some time, Deb got up the nerve to press a button to call security, and, like magic, the gate popped open. I’m sure somebody was watching us through the security camera, wondering how long it would take us to figure it out.

Soon we were in Broughty Ferry, where Deb had found us an Airbnb with a woman who kept a chicken in her yard, and a bee hive. Jo was nice enough to let us check in early, which gave us the opportunity to ride unencumbered back into town. At a cycle shop, a very helpful guy jury-rigged Deb’s brake, which had a broken spring in the grip. We got a pint to celebrate.

Back at Jo’s we talked about travel, and found out that she’s planning a couple of adventures in India. We met her friend, Chicken Licken, too. Another amazing Airbnb experience.

Distance: 35 km

$75 plus $50 for a spare tire and tube

Haarlem Shake

Day 85: Amsterdam to Haarlem, July 12th

So, we ended up with an extra day because of the sold out ferry. We spent it riding closer to the ferry docks, and stayed at an Airbnb in Haarlem. It turned out very well, despite setting us back a day.

It was raining when we woke up, and looked to rain until mid-afternoon. Vlad had originally told us we needed to be out by 10, as he had to go out, but he took pity on us and invited us to stay later. We could tell he was really nervous that we would forget to leave the key.

It rained, and rained. We stayed until 2pm. When we left it was still a bit misty, but it quickly cleared up and we ended up with a beautiful ride, much of it on a cycle path through woods.

As we neared our destination, Deb’s bike started to make a noise. We traced the problem to the same bolt that worked loose on my bike many weeks ago. We’re pretty good at unloading/removing the rear wheel/reassembling now, so it didn’t take long to repair.

We rode through Haarlem, pausing only to take a couple of photographs, then found our Airbnb west of the centre. Our host, Dorien, was delightful, and she even gave me a cold beer. Late in the evening her other guest, Kate, arrived and we all chatted in Dorien’s living and dining room. Kate, a New Zealander, was near to finishing several weeks of touring herself, though she was doing it with a backpack and no bicycle.

For a Facebook post about this being the end of Phase 1, I added up all our distances to date:

Running Total: 3882 km

 

Distance: 32 km

$109

Really Fresh Eggs

Day 59: June 16th, Tjæreborg to Egebæk, Denmark

We didn’t realize how close we had come to the sea. We rode west for just a few minutes and suddenly found ourselves on a cycle path beside a giant dike: the North Sea Cycle Route again, far from the section we rode in Sweden.

The path along the coast was great and the dike protected us from a fairly strong breeze coming off the water.

We took time to head inland to see Ribe, which is Denmark’s oldest city. The pedestrian-only core streets were full of people. We found a very nice cafe and had (expensive) coffee.

Ribe has a microbrewery, but nobody was around to let us in, so we ended up hitting the cafe again and sampling their beer in bottles.

Deb’s bike, Momo, got a flat just as we reached Ribe, but it held air well enough that we pushed on toward our “Nature Camp” destination. We had to stop a few times to re-inflate, but Deb was determined to get settled before we messed around with a new tire. I ended up taking us on a longer route than necessary and she still didn’t kill me.

This time the instructions were on the door of house: deposit cash in the tin, use the bathroom and kitchen as you like, etc. The host, Brian, came home as we were changing the flat. He told us there was a forest trail we could walk, a small lake, and he introduced us to his dogs and cats (warning us that the cats would eat food that we left unguarded).

We bought eggs from him, watching him take them from the small chicken coop in his yard. Fresh!

The kitchen was fully equipped, so we rode our unloaded bikes (Momo with a new white-wall tire) back to town and picked up supplies (Tex-Mex couscous and fried potato patties!).

We slept in the shelter, putting up a makeshift windscreen over the open side.

Distance: 34 km

$100

Momo’s First Flat

Day 52: June 9th, Hobro to Viborg, Denmark

With a forecast full of rain, we decided to book yet another Airbnb. It didn’t rain much during our ride, making me think we’d made a mistake, but shortly after we arrived in Viborg, it poured. We got a full-blown thunderstorm, and it rained for hours.

A small Viking-style ship floating in a small lake, greenery all around

On the way here we started with a big downhill run to the site of the Viking fortress, Fyrkat. Then it was a crummy ride uphill on muddy gravel. It was so humid that my panting fogged my sunglasses. Once we reached the top of the other side, things got much better. Route 3 followed mostly country roads. The land was hilly, but it wasn’t windy and we didn’t have a particularly long distance to go.

two horses being ridden in a field

With less than 2 km to go, Deb’s rear tire went flat. It wouldn’t hold air either, so we walked. I fixed the flat and gave the chains a much needed cleaning/oiling. Tomorrow we’ll find out if the valve adapter works.

Distance: 40 km

105

Flats

Day 50: June 7th, Brønden to Aalborg, Denmark

It was still raining when we got up, though not hard. We ate a simple breakfast inside our shelter, packed up, and started for the city. We rode cycle route 3 the whole way.

Midway through the day Appa threw a shoe (I got a flat). It was our first flat of the trip, which I think is pretty remarkable. It happened on a day when we didn’t have too far to go, but it did rain on us as we fixed it.

At one point we passed four hirsute gentlemen pushing baby carriages filled with stuff. They were decked out with Danish flags, and looked like they were on some kind of hippy pilgrimage.

Then I got another flat. Same tire. This time only about 7 km from our Airbnb in Aalborg. We had another tube, but I really wanted to make the change in a nice dry apartment, where I could take my time and inspect the tire. We pumped up the tire and hustled. Route 3 left a beautiful separated cycle lane to take us on a muddy, gravel track. The tube held air for just a couple of kilometres. This time we pumped it up under the curious gaze of several big, long-horned cows. Deb pointed out that there was nothing between us and the livestock. As I rode off in a hurry, the cows started to get up onto the track, freaking Deb out. She didn’t get gored.

With about 3 km to go, I was running flat again. There was no point fussing with the pump anymore. I started pushing. It was raining pretty hard now, but we had a dry apartment to look forward to. Deb magnanimously walked her bike too. I would not have blamed her if she’d gone on ahead.

Distance: 36 km

$91.50

Welcome to the Monkey House

Day 18: May 6th, Bautzen to Spremberg, Germany

Cycling pretty much straight north on the Spree River cycle route, we left Saxony and entered the German state of Brandenburg.

Lots of pine forests. Plenty of sunshine. And no hills.

a dirt road running straight through a pine forest

A bolt holding my fender to the frame worked itself loose and starting rubbing my back tire. Deb’s keen ears noticed that something was wrong before any real damage was done. I got my hands nice and greasy wrestling the tire off and discovered my otherwise wonderful bike tool doesn’t have a screwdriver that fits that particular bolt. Finger-tightening would have to do for now. It was awkward work, and it meant completely unloading and reloading my bike, but it wasn’t a big disaster.

We arrived in Spremberg around 6pm, but found that the pension we’d been thinking about was full; and our second choice was the same. It was Saturday, and maybe we’d underestimated the popularity of the town. There are lots of hotels in Spremberg, but hotels are usually expensive compared to the pensions or zimmers, and they’re not always bike-friendly.

Deb finally found an intriguing Airbnb listing, pricey, but not outrageous for us. We attempted a last-minute booking and, as we rode around looking at hotels, the host accepted. The instructions read, in part, “The key is in the duck.”

When we finally figured out that the entrance was around the back, we met a couple of guys who weresmoking outside their ground floor apartment. They showed us the ceramic duck with the key inside, and told us we should take the bikes inside, rather than lock them in the bike rack.

“We’re very close to the Polish border here,” he said, shrugging. “We don’t know… but we hear stories…”

Carrying the gear up three floors is a joy we’re getting used to. Lugging Appa and Momo (our bikes) up stairs was a new experience.

The apartment was enormous. Much, much bigger that our condo in Toronto. Two bedrooms, a great kitchen, a crazy-big bathroom, and, best of all, a washer/dryer.

We rushed out to a local grocery store. Cooked a big meal. Took great advantage of the wi-fi. And washed all our clothes. My dirty clothes ziplock baggie, which I have dubbed “The Monkey House”, went from very full, to very empty.

The faux-wood floors had random street signs and things printed on them. Surprisingly, Bloor and College Street were among them.

wood flooring stamped with a design of a Little Italy street sign from Toronto

Distance: 73km

$123