Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Tour de Twilight Zone

Green Gate B&B, Ardara
It began as a wonderful idea. A solid plan, reasonable and simple. You see, for years now I had wanted to try bicycle touring. And why I had not done it already, I cannot quite explain. I mean, I have done long rides on consecutive days. I have covered distances upward of 300km in one go. I have done dusk to dawn rides, cycling through the night on no sleep. But the idea of cycling to a destination, then (gasp!) staying there overnight and continuing the next morning, intimidated me beyond all reason. There is something about the logistics of it all - the what ifs of the weather, of bringing the right stuff, of planning where to stay, of having the strength to do the miles intended on the days intended - that would inevitably send my neurotic mind into overdrive, ultimately short-circuiting it. And so I continued to fantasise about bicycle touring, yet put off actually trying it.

Then one day, my companion came up with this brilliant plan. Since his problem was enduring distances and mine was whatever existential nonsense I had going on (I am paraphrasing here), why not join forces and take baby steps by trying a teensy-weensy little mini-tour together? Just one night. We pick a cool place we've always wanted to visit, a reasonable distance away. Then we cycle there, stay overnight, and cycle back the next day. Just to get used to the feel and logistics of it. Yes? Okay!

To ArdaraLest we overthink things and change our minds, we made plans right then and there. Destination: Ardara! A coastal village in Donegal known for its tweed manufacture (more on this in a separate post), lively pubs, music festivals, and a thatched cottage B&B I had long wanted to visit. Quickly I planned out a scenic route some 50 miles in length with what looked to be a reasonable elevation profile. It was a Wednesday afternoon, but my companion had the week off work. We checked the weather, packed some overnight necessities, and set off at 3pm just as the heat of the unusually warm day was subsiding.

Dressed in cycling clothes and shoes for comfort, I packed with me in addition: a wool jersey dress, a pair of wool tights, a pair of flat walking shoes, a rain jacket, some basic toiletries, sunscreen, insect spray, and my camera. All of this fit into my handlebar bag, with room to spare for food.

To Ardara
My companion, rejecting my offer of a large saddlebag, opted to carry most of his things in a backpack. Now, we have between us an unspoken gentlepersons' agreement not to criticise each other's choices in equipment. So... no comment. No, really. None at all. A lovely backpack it was!

But joking aside, the important thing was not what we took with us, or even where we were headed, but that we did it: No matter what happened now, we had taken the plunge; we had broken free of the shackles that had held us back from attempting a bicycle tour! We felt this very keenly as, with each pedal stroke and with each quickly-passing mile, we moved further and further away from familiar territory and closer to an exciting, new and unexplored world.

To Ardara
In particular, we both liked very much the idea that the destination we picked was not one either of us had been to before. We had no idea what awaited us there or what the route would be like. We would be discovering that for the first time by bicycle.

To Ardara
Although the hills began immediately and the heat remained surprisingly oppressive despite the late afternoon start, the first leg of the trip went by so quickly and painlessly amidst our excitement that before we knew it we were a third of the way in. The landscape was idyllic, with lakes and fields and forests, and lovely winding roads, and distant coastal views glimpsed from hilltops.

To Ardara
By the halfway point, we grew more generous with our stops and explored off the beaten track.

To Ardara
We photographed our bikes next to thatched cottages. We lingered beside megalithic stone formations.

Fly Fishing Only
There was no end to our good humour and energy, and in my head I was already composing a post about the benefits of just such a mini-tour, with reasonable distances and a leisurely riding pace and good company and no pressure.

To Ardara
And yet.... If I'm truly honest, at the back of my mind I had an inkling even then to be suspicious of these easy good times. And even as we giggled with delight, our legs strong and our bellies filled with yoghurt-covered almonds, I sensed that we were being lured into something altogether different. But with only a third of the route remaining, how bad could whatever was in store for us be?

To Ardara
I had no idea. And stranger still, I still don't. We have since examined the last leg of our route this way and that, and the extent of the havoc it wreaked on us makes no sense.

What happened first was the landscape changed abruptly. Varied terrain gave way to a monotonous expanse of brown bog, with long, energy-sapping climbs, as the temperature rose to 30°C.  This could not have lasted long - 5 miles at most. But it had the effect of quieting us, and of draining that dose of excitement-based energy which must have masked our exertion. All at once we could feel not just this climb, but all the climbs we had done thus far. All at once we became aware of having gotten dehydrated from the heat. All at once, we felt tired.

And that was when the fun really began. The next portion of the route consisted of a narrow, forested mountain road with sharply winding ascents and descents so steep and so tight, it felt akin to being on some sadistic rollercoaster. For what felt like endless miles my heart was beating in my throat, either from the scary descending or from the strenuous climbing, or from the confusion of not knowing which way was up and which way was down and which way was left and which way was right. It felt as if this went on forever, and I began to question whether my nerves could take it. Just then my companion, his face somehow simultaneously flushed and pale, said to me in a dry-throated voice that betrayed he'd been suffering in silence for some time: "When this descent is done, let's stop and check the map. It feels like we've been on this road for hours and we haven't seen a single sign for Ardara, I wonder whether we've gone off course."

To Ardara
According to my GPS we had not gone off course. But the strange thing was, this portion of the route did seem to be  taking a long time and I had no explanation for why that was. We pulled over to the side of the road and I double-checked the map. We were on the right track, and in fact there were only 10 miles to go now. In a bit, we would come to a crossroads and turn right. Then a backroad would lead us straight into Ardara.

I should have known that I made a horrible mistake in my route planning when I saw the sign. That treacherous little sign indicating that this back road we were about to take was a "bicycling route." I mean, seriously. Having lived in Ireland for 2 years now, I know very well that when something is labeled as a bicycling route, what it really means is "Cyclists: Seek alternative route if at all possible, because this one will kill you!" I had come across some rather staggering roads labeled as cycling routes in my time here. But with this one, the cycling network mappers had really outdone themselves. Barely wide enough to fit an average car (which nonetheless did not stop cars and farm vehicles from driving along it), the "road" headed straight over a mountain at what must have been a 20% gradient in places. Immediately I was in my sub-1:1 gear, tackling a climb so vertical that I pedaled facing the clouds.

Wondering how long I'd be able to take such a gradient without collapsing and giving up on life, letting the buzzards eat away at me in this godforsaken deathtrap of a place, behind me I heard "Fuck this, I'm walking," followed by the sounds of furious unclipping.

"I am sorry," I said - genuinely meaning it, as it had been I who'd put together the route - "but I think the entire 10 miles will be like this!"

Here my companion mustered up some much needed optimism whilst demonstrating an altogether superior understanding of geography: "Unless mountains work differently here, the last 5 should be a descent!"

Nancy's Ardara
In the interest of time I will fast forward a bit now, sparing you the part where, following the near-vomit-enducing crawl up the mountain and the blood-curdling descent down it, we - led astray by some sadistically misleading signage, which we were foolish enough to believe over the GPS - could not find Ardara despite being right next to it and did at least 5 gratuitous "bonus miles" before finally rolling into the village just after 8pm - too tired and bewildered to even care what the place looked like, let alone feel excited about being there. Stumbling into the famous Nancy's, we ordered something and were served with uncharacteristic haste and looks of genuine concern. We ate, and we drank, and then we started laughing. Only now it was not the carefree laugh at the start of the trip, but a laugh of maniacal, embarrassed exhaustion.

"For heaven's sake," I moaned, "it was only 50 miles! What the heck happened?"

"Ah but it was Irish miles. Donegal got us baby; it got us good!"

Cloud Cover
I bet you are about ready for this story to be over now. But jayzus, dear readers, if only it were!  Having fortified ourselves with dinner, naturally we proceeded to the Green Gate B&B, which I had understood to be situated right beside the village. And well, technically it was. What I'd somehow failed to pick up on, however, was that it sat on top of its own private mountain.

As the narrow paved lane winding up said mountain turned to moss-ridden gravel and again we faced a 20% gradient, this fact gradually sank in and we nearly wept. "Should we even bother, or just sleep here in the ditch?" The idea was given serious consideration.

Green Gate B&B, Ardara
But finally, and just as the sun was setting, we made it to the top.

Green Gate B&B, Ardara
And then, just like that - or nearly - all was forgotten. We've been to some lovely places, but this was paradise.

Green Gate B&B, Ardara
A weird paradise, with old land mines and a rusted-out Citroen and a sculpture of some disembodied buttocks scattered about the garden for ambience. But weird is the best kind!

Green Gate B&B, Ardara
And did I mention the thatched cottage?

Green Gate B&B, Ardara
My dream of staying in one has finally come true!

Green Gate B&B, Ardara
And I loved it -

Green Gate B&B, Ardara
which is fortunate, as instead of staying there for one night as planned we ended up staying for 3 - stranded when a storm, complete with flash floods and hurricane-like wind gusts, hit Ardara the following day.

Green Gate B&B, Ardara
Our bicycles sheltered with surprising efficiency under a thick rosebush archway, we spent 3 entire days hanging out in Ardara village and at the Green Gate's cozy kitchen - meeting people, visiting tweed weavers, walking about in pissing rain, drinking hot whiskeys, listening to live music (incidentally - check out these guys from San Francisco, who happened to be jamming at one of the pubs), meeting more people, and just ...well, relaxing for godssake!

Through it all we were soggy and ridiculous-looking and happy as clams. I wore the same clothes for 3 days in a row. And the lovely, saintly Paula at the Green Gate lent me her hiking boots for walking up and down the muddy mountain, as the flat shoes I had packed with me were promptly destroyed. My hair looked like a rat's nest. It rained too hard to use our cameras most of the time. At the end of the second day our phone batteries died and we lost communication with the outside world. Man, I had not had a real vacation like that in some time!

Green Gate B&B, Ardara
And the trip back, when we finally made it? It was easy, pleasant and relatively uneventful, just as a 50 mile bicycle ride should be for two experienced cyclists. It goes to show you, that with "Irish miles" you never really know what you are getting yourself into. Cycling around these parts can be a twilight zone of sorts. And if that sounds too cryptic, you will just have to come to try it for yourself (and be sure to bring low gears).

Well, it's probably fair to say that our mini-tour was a "FAIL." But it was also a roaring success. Will we give it a go again? You bet. The unforeseen can be worth embracing.

43 comments:

  1. Sounds like you got off to a good start. By that I mean you were able to be surprised and maintain a sense of humor throughout. Imaging taking that route with fully loaded bikes!

    I never plan it but whenever I see tourists cycling through I'll strike up a conversation ('cause I'm usually at a cafe and it's hard to miss those loaded bikes and strange looking folks) and it's always interesting to hear their stories. Some have meticulous plans and others completely wing it with only a vague idea about destination. It seems a common thread with them all is that it's not so much about the bikes, it's about the adventure.

    I'm a bit mixed about the new cyclo-tourist boom happening. It's good for local economies, it promotes exploring isolated regions, it makes available new kinds of 'go anywhere' bikes but there's a bit of magic which makes a trip special and I think that's what it's all about.

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    1. That magic remains, once you get started, 3 day deluge not withstanding. I did my first tour in the late 70s, just having missed the 1976 boom year and it's still appealing. That said, I'm going to pack more like Velouria, or the Coffeeneur than the heavy bags I carried in the past.

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    2. Yes, the better you are at it, the less you need. Did the '76 ride and we took a lot of stuff on flimsy bikes. Things have gotten much smarter since then, on all levels, and I'm grateful. And, I agree, the magic is still there. Credit card touring is wonderful for those who can afford it, the bikes are different and so is the experience. Still, I enjoy carrying the load, making coffee in the morning, being invaded by all types of insects, characters, and those memories of stealth camping in all sorts of conditions.

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    3. In Ireland, I would say staying in B&Bs - which usually just means someone's house, with the spare room(s) let out - is the most economical option; campsite rates often being comparable in cost. More economical still would be to visit a pub, stay till closing, then announce you have no place to sleep - they usually have a little room off the back for just such occasions. I actually know someone who did an entire west coast cycling tour that way.

      And FYI for anyone visiting off the beaten track areas of Donegal: to call it credit card touring would be a misnomer, as many if not most places will only take cash.

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    4. When my neighbors biked through Ireland they called it credit card touring because they were only interested in traveling light, sampling pubs and B&Bs, and enjoying the scenery. Said they had a lovely time, met lovely people, but did not enjoy the wind and weather. Their both lawyers, not serious cyclists, and have now crossed this off their bucket list. Don't know how they paid for it.

      As for staying in pubs till closing, that's precisely why I camp far away from it all. Staying away from alcohol while bike touring is my cup of tea. Well, I've also gotta admit I really enjoy the outdoors. Makes me happy.

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    5. The pubs are very progressive now and actually serve tea. So even if you shun the devil's buttermilk entirely, visiting them can be a good way to get a sense of a place and meet locals, especially since Ireland is such an "everyone talks to you" culture. Also, in places like Ardara there is singing and impromptu jamming sessions. Can be a nice complement to a day spent in the outdoors.

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    6. You make it all sound so nice, and it is. One of the many cool things about bicycle touring is people met along the way, both locals and other tourists on the road. I've had kind people purchase meals, offer shelter, water, give impromptu history lessons, and many, many other wonderful experiences, too many to share. Still, my inclinations are towards the remote, the quiet, having spent way too much time and money in pubs, long ago, I now enjoy the opposite. Glad you enjoyed your honeymoon experience and hope you take many more. Cheers ;)

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  2. Most enjoyable post! A smile on my face. Thanks.

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  3. I am sure your initial trepidation was that what just happened . . . would happen! Not something you look forward to, but in the moment you work through it and indeed come out the other side wondering what you were so worried about in the first place!
    -masmojo

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    1. The ridiculous thing is, that when things go wrong it does not actually bother me. It's only thinking about the possibility of them going wrong that seems to bother me. Maybe I should just count on them going wrong and touring won't seem so intimidating!

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  4. Adventure = discomfort recollected in tranquility. It appears you had a large helping of adventure, but weren't the unplanned extra days in Ardara excellent compensation? It's amazing how the "last ten miles" often ends up being 20. On our seven-day bike tour of County Galway in June we found the narrow, winding back roads felt safer -- and were more scenic -- than the highways with painted bicycle paths. Motorists we encountered on them were almost universally courteous, gave us plenty of space and often a wave and a smile.

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    1. At the end we were very glad that fate forced us to stay in Ardara for 3 days. I don't know what we were even thinking, planning to stay just for one. It's a place we'll be visiting regularly from now on.

      The narrow country roads are a lot more scenic and are usually safer. The exception to the latter is during harvest time, when these roads are taken up by enormous farm machines, and you can find yourself hurtling toward them at 30+mph on a winding descent with no room for you both...

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  5. I would love a little tour like this.
    My wife has 80's Norco and I just bought a Miyata 618 GT. It's little more then a frameset. :)

    When I get it built up an overnight tour is in the plans.

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  6. Funny post! I have not toured in years, since my accident except for one attempt a few years ago that was a disaster. I want do do it, imagine doing it, and then I worry, or cannot afford the expensive accommodation. No such thing as reasonable accommodation in my domain. I live on a ferry dependent lump of land, so even leaving is expensive. I am not a fan of camping so the thought of biking all day and then having to sleep in a tent does not appeal to me at all. I sleep poorly as is, and injuries from a car accident mean alot of pain, trouble being comfortable etc. Camping has always been a nightmare for me. I have toured/camped in the past and lack of sleep really made me miserable. One one trip it rained and rained, the tent got wet and had to find shelter at an organic grocery store/cafe. I'd rather ride to B&B's and hotels, credit card touring I guess, but that is so expensive! Okay I have gone into Vancouver a few times by bicycle and stayed in a hotel, but it's not very far, most of the distance is ferries so it doesn't count.
    A few years ago my husband set out to go up to stop at a beautiful lake, have dinner at my favourite restaurant and stay at his parents and enjoy the lakes in the area the next day. I had a new bike that was not set up very well for me, a new uncomfortable 'aged' brooks saddle(never again!), etc etc. The bike was horrible, did not fit well, was unstable, dull, slow blah blah blah. What should have been a relatively reasonable ride took hours and hours, it was late by the time we got to the restaurant, didn't get to go swimming, and then on the last stretch to the parents', my husband's brifters stopped working so he couldn't change gears!! I was so annoyed, bored, tired. We had to get a ride back home the next day, so no swimming, no nothing.
    Your trip sounds bloody fun and the cottage looks lovely. I actually would enjoy the scary 'bike routes' as I am used to steep hills. I still think I'd love to live in Ireland, or N Ireland.....

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  7. Where are the disembuttocks?

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    1. I totally dropped the ball and didn't photograph them close up. But you can see them in the first photo, along the wall of the house on the right. Framed by a fireplace.

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  8. That is wonderful!
    Thanks for this story, it encourages me.

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  9. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p3JPa2mvSQ4
    liebe grüsse aus österreich
    c.

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  10. Thank you for sharing your adventures, beautiful photos again - I hope your next overnight tour is soon as I will love to read about it - you have a way of writing about this that takes the reader on the journey with you - glad you had a good time, you deserve to relax a little too so I think your enforced stay was beneficial, it can be restful just to be outside of the communication hub for a time. Lovely post Velouria :)

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  11. A leap further into the unknown next under canvas (nylon probably) now you have a taste for it. . It leaves you even less tied to time and destination.

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    1. For whatever reason I have never been attracted to combining cycling and camping, or to loaded touring for that matter. My ideal: as light as possible and as far as possible, staying in cheap B&Bs, hostels or people's houses along the way. I like camping, but would prefer to do it separately.

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    2. The disadvantage of camping tours is the extra weight. The advantage is just riding and finding somewhere to sleep at the end of the day. I like not knowing where I'll sleep when I start off in the morning. Though it's nicer in a country that has summer weather where it's likely to be dry. Reasonable distances are still possible - averaging 50-60 miles a day. After a week or two you don't notice the weight of the bike.

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    3. For person who does not own tent or sleeping bag, can you advise what for example costs basic bicycle touring supplies? After visit to the camping shop, cost intimidates much as planning!

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  12. Glad it turned out you had not lost your way on your first tour.

    Even those of us who claim we are experienced make mistakes at times.

    A few years back I took the bike on Amtrak to LaCrosse with the intent to ride back to Chicago - a trip I've done several times. At the last minute I decided to head south through Minnesota and Iowa before heading east through Illinois. On the second day a bad map and the poorly marked Iowa back roads helped me strand myself in the pitch dark on a road that had gone from bad pavement to gravel to muck.

    Too late and too dark to find my way to civilization, I wound up spending the night sitting under a tree on mucky ground. Next morning I realized I had turned the wrong way and wound up on what was basically a path that either sports fishers or duck hunters used to get to some wet lands bordering the Mississippi River (so that's what all that continuous noise was!).

    I've since acquired GPS but also make sure to bring a good old fashioned magnetic compass with me.

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    1. Acquired a plain proper compass about a year ago and it now resides in my bike bag for emergencies. I've also set up the main screen of my cycling computer to display the direction I'm heading in, which I've found very helpful for getting my bearings.

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  13. I've done a couple 50 mile 1 night tours and had fun. When I read you were starting at 3pm, my thought was, "Oh no! They are going to get there at 8pm and have no time to explore the village." I was happy to read about the 3 day storm.

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    1. It doesn't get dark here till after 10pm this time of year, so that gives a lot of breathing room. The original plan was so explore next morning and day, then go back in late afternoon. But with all the weavers and whatnot, even a full day in good weather would not have been enough.

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  14. That was lovely – next best thing to being there! You should get commission from the Northern Ireland Tourist Board for writing this blog, Velouria, or they should advertise on the sidebar. I’m ashamed and embarrassed to confess that although I live just across the Irish Sea in South Ayrshire, Scotland, I didn’t know one end of Northern Ireland from the other before you moved there. I only knew most of the place names from the Troubles, and even then I couldn’t have pointed to them on the map, which was shameful. Now I’m learning about the place, I’m taking an interest, finding out where everywhere is; I even want to go there some day. My granny on my father’s side was Irish; my grampa was stationed at Castle Archdale by Lough Erne, just north of Enniskillen, during the early part of World War II, crewing Catalina flying boats. The RAF got special dispensation from the Irish Government to follow the River Erne to the sea, to patrol the North Atlantic, thus overflying Irish territory (Ireland was neutral, of course) – what became known as the Donegal Corridor – otherwise they’d have had to fly north over Lough Foyle then turn left, and vice versa. Like I said, this is embarrassing, but I couldn’t have told you just exactly where Lough Erne, Lough Foyle or even Donegal were before you moved from Somerville, except that they were in Ireland (mind you, I didn’t know where Somerville was either, before I started reading this blog!) – geography was never my strong point – but I’m learning. Funny how you learn stuff.

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    1. Ooh I was just watching a programme the other day about those Catalina flying boats. Very cool.

      You should definitely come over here and visit; the landscape in western Ulster, both sides of the border, is out of this world.

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  15. A good read as usual. I agree that the N Ireland Tourist Board should put you on retainer.

    I was amused by the remark, "...long, energy-sapping climbs, as the temperature rose to 30°C." 30C is 86F.

    I just rode 20 miles on our (ABQ, NM) Rio Grande bosque acequia roads, and the temperature was a refreshing ... 86F, fully 10F lower than the typical mid-90s last few days, and fully 20F lower than the run of hot days we had during the previous 2 weeks. Of course, humidity had soared above 40%, this being our "monsoon" season when we get a good part of our annual 9 inches (citywide average). Usual pre- and post-monsoon season summer temps are 95F with sub 10% humidity.

    But of course, we don't have all that green stuff, either.

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    1. Ah but it's 86°F Irish degrees!

      Okay, but seriously. I have cycled in 100°F+ temps back in the US. But here, especially up in the mountains, the heat can feel equivalent to that when the actual temperature is much lower. Consider that when temps reach the mid-20s°C and there is direct sun, the pavement starts to melt!

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  16. This was a wonderful read, V.
    Every ride I've taken that included an overnight stay had a few of these elements, but not all of them!
    I'm sure there is a corollary for "Randonnesia" here.

    I hope that cottage was as restful as it looks, rusting Citroen and all.
    (Disembuttocks ought to be a band name.)

    CK

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  17. So, now for the important question! How did the backpack perform? ;)

    I am also curious about the disparity between your bicycles and why you did not choose to ride the Seven.

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    1. Well the main reason I rode the bike I did, was that we were expecting some mixed terrain. But as far as disparity: After 30 miles I become the stronger rider, so handicapping me slightly on long rides together actually makes sense. On shorter rides we do it the other way around, where he keeps the fat all-terrain tires to slow himself down a bit and I ride my Seven.

      The backpack felt okay, he says, on the ride there, but made itself known on the return trip. He shall try a saddlebag next time.

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  18. Oh my lord! Your adventure sounds like so much fun! "Fuck this I'm walking" made me laugh and reminded me of some wise words I once heard: "ain't no shame in hoofin' it". Which has come in handy on several occasions! I've been daydreaming for several years about various touring routes I'd like to try. Most of which are like your's. Just places I'd like to go to and think it would be fun to get there by bike. Just need to find the time and money! 😄

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  19. I follow the folks at The Path Less Pedaled and they, too, are crafting this notion of touring light and promoting off the beaten path locations as bicycle destinations. Agreed. Traveling by bike and connecting with communities is good for all.

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  20. Biggest problem when planning trips outside of France: inadequate maps, not showing the gradients of roads. Why is it only Michelin doing this?

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    1. I think you'll find the OS and OSI topo maps of the UK and Ireland are every bit equal, if not superior, to the Michelin and IGN maps. Saying that, I really liked the old IGN blue series 1:25,000 series, but they covered too small an area to be good touring maps

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    2. "inadequate maps, not showing the gradients of roads..."

      But don't you want to be surprised? : )

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  21. It's never an adventure when it all goes to plan. This sounded like a great one!

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  22. My partner and I just returned from our first bike tour. It was more adventure than expected. It's reassuring to hear that you also had too much adventure on yours!

    The good: lovely outdoors, wonderful food, seeing new places. We only ran 1 day late, spending 5 days rather than 4.

    The bad: lots. Our daily distance was too long for our abilities in that weather. We set off in a record-breaking heat wave, got badly sunburned and almost got heat exhaustion. We had to carry extra gear to cope with it. The return trip was on-and-off rain, which meant my brakes were unreliable. Worse yet, we had to ride straight into a strong headwind every minute of our 2 days return trip. Legs are still rubbery. On the last day, with 40 km to go, I took a fall that left me with a chain of scrapes and bruises, including an injured hand that had trouble squeezing the brakes. We had to mess with the brake tension and lever reach to compensate. Plus a flat tire for no visible reason.

    I'd like to do it again sometime...but not like that. I'd plan on shorter stages, and choose a season with cooler weather. I'd look up the wind patterns and compensate for them in the daily distances! I'd also want better braking and better tires. Put all that together and we would have had a lot more fun and time and energy to explore.

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  23. It's funny how we are all a little wary of different things. I find the idea of booking airline tickets and managing airports and cabs quite terrifying. For years though, I happily sling the tent on the bike and head off for days or weeks with very little planning (in Western Australia you can always find somewhere to pitch the tent). Trepidation is a very personal thing! Glad you've been braver than me and tackled it head on.

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  24. Velouria, I would love to see you do a series on bike tours of Europe... not using the paid tourist companies, but riding the routes do-it-yourself and telling the story.

    There was a time when everyone travelled slowly, on horseback, carriage or even foot, staying in inns. The mountain seen in the distance at dawn, would be visible behind at the end of the day's travel. It was slow, intimate travel; heads up to see the countryside and greet those passing by. Inns were celebrated where the food, drink and conviviality became as important as the miles passed.

    What is marvelous is that Europe is reopening those trails, with a network made for bikes. Four of us spent five days doing Bike Route 2 from Dresden to Prague, while some of our other relatives did it in two hours on the autobahn. It was my first European trip since my student days where I did not rent a car. Without a doubt, it was the best and I am keen to repeat it.

    We began by collecting our new 3-speed bikes (based on the advice from your blog, thank you) in Berlin - a city best seen by bike. Then a week later took the bike train to Dresden for four days of concerts, museums and laughter with 150 relations who had converged from around the world. Finally, four of us rode along the Elbe, to Prague. My cousins rented 27-speed hybrids, delivered from Prague, and rode with lycra and clip-in shoes. My wife and I wore street clothes and sat upright so we could see the countryside. We had one pannier on each bike, a pocket-sized Canon S120 camera (sent the 5D ahead with the bike rental van... too heavy), and a credit card... not even a water bottle because part of the mission was to travel like a Hobbit with six or seven food/drink stops each day. I think actually that the riding was to link the cafes, restaurants and taverns... coffee before departure and again at the mid-morning stop, then sparkling water for lunch, tea at 3:30, beer at 5 and wine at 8. We did 30-50 km a day and of course the weather was perfect. Finally, after four days without bikes (Prague is not a bike-friendly city, their cobblestones eat rims for lunch), we debarked for the airport where Emirates flew the bikes-in-bags home as checked luggage (no extra charge).

    I believe your reputation is now well enough established that the tourism agencies in each country would sponsor your costs for the story. In my country, we have a national agency whose sole job is to pay for writers to come in and write stories. I'm sure the same exists in the EU. Then for each ride, select a bike maker who wants a review, so that your readers can learn more about the great bikes of Europe. Unlike races, touring can be done on almost any type of bike, city, MTB, road, etc.

    PS: I just read a Guardian story about Seville as a great bike city. Who would have thought it?

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