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Day 83 The End Wednesday 7th October

39km  Arzua – Santiago de Compostela

 

We had breakfast in the same café across the road from the albergue. I had a pilgrim’s breakfast of cibatta with oil and fresh tomatoes – it seemed appropriate and also was delicious!

We set off in warm clothes as Iain had managed to work the dryer; what luxury. There were lots of pilgrims on the road. We cycled through cornfields and then some eucalyptus plantations which did seem really out of place but there were so many of them, forests and forests of gum trees.

We passed a donkey carrying a pilgrim’s load. The pilgrim stopped to pick up sweet chestnuts for his trusty steed.

At a rest we munched on grapes straight from the vine, they were delicious. The second pilgrim animal of the day passed us here, a pony. We cycled through more lush green forest and gum plantations.

We stopped for a coffee at Lavacolla, about 10k from our final destination. Back on the road we passed a film studio, there were lots of fat cats in suits trying to traverse the pilgrims to get across the path to the studio gates. It was such a juxt-a-position.

We climbed our way up to Monte de Gozo, our last climb of the adventure, it was here we caught our first glimpse of Santiago de Compostela, less than 5km away. It was downhill all the way from here. We motored along the down hill and then we saw the “Santiago” sign! It was such a high seeing the sign. I could not believe we had done it! I had thought about arriving here many a time but as we’d got closer I hadn’t wanted to think about it so much. I think I was scared of jinxing us.

As we cycled amongst the traffic to the city centre and headed to the cathedral, the elation turned to emptiness. What did we do now? We’d achieved so much but it was too difficult to contemplate it all.

I was left feeling quite empty as we went to get our credentials verified and receive our certificates. The waiting room was littered with pilgrim staffs that were no longer needed. The city was filled with other pilgrims finishing their own journeys and once the initial elation of arriving at the cathedral passed, they too seemed somewhat subdued.

We found our way to the albergue which was on top of the hill with panoramic views of the city; it was an old priest’s seminary.

We now had to work out how we’d get back to the UK and most importantly how we’d get the bike back!

I fell asleep that night trying to remember one thing from every country we’d cycled through. I was asleep before I’d got further than Lithuania.

 

It had been a pilgrimage of life in honour of my cousin Kieran.

Day 82 The best laid plans... Tuesday 6th October

75.5km  Sarria – Arzua

 

We had breakfast in the same place where we had dinner. We got talking to the two English ladies that sat on the table next to us. It turned out that Mary and Sue were members of the Confraternity of St James and were friends of Mary Remnant. Even more strangely her husband had been one of the pioneering doctors for the treatment of brain tumors. As we were leaving Mary pushed a #20 note into my hand and said it was for our charity; such a kind gesture. I went off with a spring in my step; the encounter had given me such a boost. It was quite amazing how much other people’s actions and personas could affect you.

We packed up our belongings onto the bike and were off. We expected to be in Santiago that evening, it was just over 100km away. That morning the Camino was the busiest we’d ever seen it. The path was narrow and rocky making it difficult to negotiate the pilgrims. We had to push the bike up a steep hill as the tyres were slipping in the sand. We passed some cows that were being herded by a very small dog who was most definitely an amateur!

We passed Mary and Sue on the path and gave them a huge “Buen Camino” and a beep. There were quite a few bikes on the path, more than we’d seen previously. The route must be manic in the high season!

Edward managed to fall off his bike during a river crossing. Rather than going round the river following the path, he went straight through the river and ended up slipping on the rocks on the way out. There was a spectacular splash and lots of gasps from the walking pilgrims.

We continued and the path went down hill at the base of the small valley before the start of the uphill there was a tiny stream that Iain would have called a “wee burn” ran across the path. We ploughed straight through it expecting it not to affect us, after all we’d cycled along the Baltic Sea! As the front wheel made contact with the water we realized there was a lot of sand beneath that “wee burn”. By the time our back wheel had entered the water as well, we had lost all momentum and it was all I could do to stop myself falling headfirst into the water. I just managed to free my foot from the toe clips and managed to plant it ankle deep into the quick sand and water. Both of us were in fits of laughter, it was so funny. It may not have been so funny if the weather conditions had been different but it was warm and our wet feet would dry eventually.

It was slow going on the path. Due to the heavy rain the previous night, the path was waterlogged and we were sinking into the path rather than riding over the path that we were used to as our journey had been relatively dry. In addition to the wet terrain, it was also very rocky and combined with it being much more hilly than we had anticipated, we made even slower progress.

We stopped for a coffee in a lovely café, the only building on the road, with some very friendly dogs who were after food. David passed us at the café and from then on we cycled with him too in a convoy of four.

There were more rocky roads and we passed another shepherd with his sheep. It was now proper mountain biking territory, except we were on a tandem. The downhill sections were pretty tough. From the back you can’t see the terrain below you so you don’t know when to brace yourself for the bumps so the only thing to do was to stand up on the pedals rather than sit on the seat and just hold on. It was the only point during the whole journey that I wish I’d had my own bike.

On an uphill section we passed to girls singing the most exquisite song, apparently it was a traditional Galician tune. Whatever it was, it was the stuff that plucked your heart strings as accompaniment and pricked the back of your eyeballs; it was beautiful.

The downhill runs eventually took us to a huge bridge crossing a massive expanse of water; the views of the green banks below that had been carved out by the ever flowing water were magnificent.

We had lunch at a pilgrim’s café just beyond a very smelly chicken factory. Thankfully it was far enough beyond the factory that we could no longer smell it. We had barely done 30km at this point which was really demoralizing as that small it certainly felt like we should have been further than 30km, it had been really hard work to get here.

There were more steep hills after lunch as well as lots of the traditional Galician rice storage buildings which look like a piece of art work in themselves. We passed a group of school kids on a school trip, there were hundreds of kids all over the road. Edward did his usual ploughing through the masses or his “ice-breaking” as he called it. I don’t think any of the school kids looked as if they were enjoying their trip as much as we were!

At Palas de Rei we bagged a sellos from the post office; Edward, David and myself all climbed the numerous flights of stairs of the Post Office all in cycle helmets to get a sellos.

From here we were joined by six mountain bikers, all boys who had no panniers on their bikes, someone else was carrying their belongings. In this now huge convoy, we cycled through the outskirts of the city and back onto the rocky road of the Camino. On the edge of the city we passed the Spanish couple in the camper van again! I gave them a huge beep and a wave. We then had to get off the bike and push it over the narrowest bridge. Iain nearly fell in. Then on the next ascent, we managed to overtake two of the Spanish cyclists on the steep sections which if I’m honest was so satisfying!

I’m not sure when exactly we realized that we weren’t going to be in Santiago this evening but by now we knew definitely we weren’t going to make it today. We stopped for a coffee in a strange little Greek themed café at Melide. Further along the road we stopped at a church to pick up another stamp, it was a church somehow connected to the Opus Dei.  The rain started just after the church and got heavier. We could hear thunder in the distance and the sky was getting darker. We were very pleased when we arrived in Arzua and there was the albergue right in front of us with beds for all of us. The heavens opened then and we stood in the garage with our bikes soaking wet watching the sheets of rain fall.

The rain had stopped by the time we went out to find food. We ended the evening with a drink across from the albergue in the bar. I had the thickest hot chocolate ever! And somehow, despite the sugar high, I managed to sleep. We were less than 40km from Santiago and the end of our adventure.

Day 81 Monday 5th October

94km   Ponferrada – Sarria

 

We were chatting for ages with a Canadian cyclist and didn’t leave the albergue until 8:30am, half an hour after the time you are supposed to leave.

We head breakfast at a bar round the corner so we weren’t on the road properly until after 9:00am.

I felt tired that morning. We passed a wonderful castle.

Most of the day was on the road or alongside the motorway; it was pretty grim for us cyclists and must have been even more so for the walkers. About every 7km or so there was a small town or village that where we were diverted off the motorway which gave some respite from the motorway.

 

At one village we stopped as Iain spotted walnuts on the ground. We jumped off the bike and ran round filling a bag full of walnuts much to the annoyance of the red squirrels that were above us in the tree canopy. They tasted great; you could crush the shells in your bare hands. We had lunch at the next village along and then we began the climb…

The climb was in three distinct parts:

 

Part 1: Vega de Valcarce – 8km later at a bend in the road

It was really steep. I felt ill as I’d eaten too much food at lunch. It was hard to breath and the pain in my legs was telling me to stop but we carried on. It was only grit and determination that got us to the bend in the road some 8km later where we waited for Edward. Thankfully it was a cooler day than the previous ones with a few spots of light rain here and there.

 

Part 2: 8km passed Vega de Valcarce – La Laguna de Castilla

This stretch was even steeper than the first and I think the steepest mountain climb to date. We passed some walkers on the road and then some mountain bikers who were pushing their bikes up the hill. We cycled passed them all huffing and puffing to get some oxygen round my screaming muscles. Then Iain was nearly sick and we had to get off the bike and push it up the hill to have some recovery time. Iain looked ill, his face was a horrible mix of red and grey. A couple of meters of recovery and we were back cycling again. Some yellow graffiti on the ground told us it was 1,500m to a bar. I think this was supposed to be encouraging but at the incline we were doing and the pain in every muscle, 1,500m sounded a long, long way.

The views looking down and across the valley were beautiful. For the last 500m the steepness decreased and it felt much easy although we were still climbing. We arrived exhilarated at the bar and I shouted a bravo at one of the walkers who joined the path with us. We met two Aussies at the bar who had got a taxi to the top of the mountain and were now taking their time walking down!

 

Part 3: La Laguna – El Cebreiro de Castilla

After chatting to the pilgrims at the bar and waiting for Edward we cycled on. There was no time to stop for coffee, we hadn’t reached the top yet!

The last section of the mountain climb was the easiest of the three. The mist (actually it was probably cloud we were so high up) began to roll in; we were cycling in the clouds. The drizzle of rain was more constant now but it was far too hot for waterproofs. We were on the ridge of the mountain pass with a valley below us on either side that was partially visible beneath the cloud. Out of the mist and cloud we could suddenly see a church, we had reached the summit. The church was a cove of tranquility; it was from here that we picked up the largest and most elaborate stamp for our credentials. To my surprise there was a small settlement at the top of the mountain, there were a few shops and an albergue and several weary looking pilgrims. We bumped into the Spanish couple in the caravan who we’d met at the Iron Cross.

 

After this there were a few more ups and downs, the rain had got heavier and we all had our waterproofs on. These ups were nothing to compare with what we had just done but they felt hard given the wet weather and the mountain we had just conquered.

At Alto do San Roque (1,270m high) there was a huge bronze statue of a pilgrim fighting to walk against the wind; someone had stuck a plaster to his heel. We had yet another summit after this one, Alto do Poio (1,335m). Here we stopped for hot coffee in the albergue. The place had an après ski feel with log fires throwing a warm orange glow across the room. It was hard to leave this place and venture out into the wet conditions. Along the way we passed a walker on crutches, he’d made it to the top of the summit despite crutches and the wet weather, at the top he didn’t even stop for a coffee, he just carried on.

As we cycled downhill on the road in the wind and rain we heard a voice from above us full of happiness and feeling yelled, “Buen Camino”. It was a pilgrim walker on the Camino that was slightly above the road. All I saw was a man with a big beard and glasses with a huge smile. It spurred me on so much; I yelled “Buen Camino” back and beeped our horn as we cycled into the rain that was getting heavier by the second.

The wind was really strong, especially on the hair pin bends; it was quite scary at times when we had to cycle hard to gain any distance on the downhill such was the force of the wind against us. The rain got heavier. We passed a monastery building at Samos, even in the rain it looked stunning, we stopped for a moment to take in the surroundings and the scallop shell railings on the road!

I felt a sense of relief when we reached Sarria, I was all ready for a reviving hot shower when I saw the “full” sign. We stood there dripping rain water onto the floor of the hostel, there were no staff to ask if there was another hostel nearby and we appeared to be invisible to the other pilgrims as they continued chatting or reading their papers. I took a photo of a map hanging in the hostel in the hope we could use it to find another place to stay. Edward fired up his sat nav and waited for it to connect with the satellite in the sky. We even contemplated camping for a few seconds but the thought of our non-waterproof tenet stopped that thought before it became a real option.

We wondered up to where a group of pilgrims stood and found a sign for another albergue and an all important yellow arrow. We followed the direction of the signs and the first albergue we came to was not the one the sign referred to; the lady inside was also not very welcoming so we cycled on. We arrived at the albergue the sign referred to. It was wonderful, an old house that had been converted into an albergue. The bathroom was like something out of a luxury hotel with antique green tiles on the walls. There was an outhouse in the courtyard area where a real fire was lit and free drinks were laid out for thirsty pilgrims. The drinks were some kind of local homebrew that looked pretty noxious! It’s amazing how up beat you feel when you know that a hot shower awaits you and you have a bed for the night.

That evening we walked about ten paces in the rain to the tapas bar next door. My trousers got soaked in just these ten steps. We bumped into David the Spanish mountain biker so the four of us had dinner together in the bar. David initiated us to the local Galician drink that was a bright yellow liquid that looked vile but didn’t taste too bad and left a very warm feeling in your stomach!

That evening we all sat in the outhouse by the fire with the other pilgrims. We tried some of the local home brew which was pretty vile. When I was told that one of the bottles was only for men I was more than happy not to have any. I was even more glad I didn’t have any after seeing Iain’s reaction to trying it! We sat by the fire, ate walnuts and listened to the other Spanish pilgrims who were rapidly getting more and more drunk.

 

Day 80 Sunday 4th October

125km  Leon - Ponferrada

We were up early with the rest of the pilgrims for our free breakfast of coffee (decaffeinated) and bread and jam in abundance. One German pilgrim at breakfast told us about the three stages of the pilgrimage:

  • The Life - from St Jean-Pied-de-Port to Burgos
  • The Death - Burgos to Leon
  • The Rebirth - Leon - Santiago

This seemed very true as the section of the route between Burgos and Leon had been so flat and endless, we were on a bike so it was only two days for us but for those walking it would have been a week or so of walking beside a main road for most of the time. So we cycled out and headed into the rebirth!

We cycled along with Edward. Our back mudguard was still making horrendous noises as we had completely forgotten to fix it yesterday once we had arrived in the albergue. It sounded like we had an outboard motor attached to our bike. We managed to make it a bit quieter by bending it a bit but we knew it wasn't a permanent fix.

On our early morning route out of the city we passed several young Spanish boys who were stumbling home after a good night out in Leon. We ran out of yellow arrows so stopped to have a good look around. I was observing the early morning revellers when I realised the boy who looked even worse for wear and was leaning against the lampost looking like he may be sick at any moment, was in fact leaning against a lampost with a huge yellow arrow on it. I wish I'd taken a photo!

We climbed a hill out of the city and passed several more houses built into the hills. We now knew we were on the right route as there were pilgrims everywhere. The Camino ran right beside the road so we were on the main road for a while before veering off and onto the more quiet dirt track route of the alternative Camino. We got some helpful directions from a friendly local. He caught up with us later in his car and set us on the right track again as we'd taken a wrong turning.

We stopped for coffee in a small village with only one bar open. Here we took everything off the bike in an attempt to fix the back mudguard - it was now becomming pretty antisocial! Iain discovered the problem was with the back pannier and managed to fix it. After coffee and left over pie from last night's dinner we were all feeling better. Back on the road we passed two Spanish guys on bikes, one in lurid green shiny lycra leggings (I'm sure I used to have a cat suit exactly like these when I was a kid doing tap dancing). After chatting for a while we cycled on. The pannier on our handle bars had been on its last legs for a few days now; the zip had broken and it the ties were going so it was only holding onto the bike by two strategically placed bunji cords. But somewhere along the next stretch, these bunji cords even failed and my purse fell out of the pannier landing on the road behind us. I was completely oblivious to this except for the shoutings of the two Spansih guys behind us who picked it up for us. A lucky escape for us!

We were riding through fields and farmland. This gradually turned into really rocky terrain surrounded by red rock stretching out to the horizon occasionally interrupted by a few oak trees or olive trees. It was a really harsh but beautiful landscape. The road was extremely hard going on the bike. We were barely going faster than the walkers and then the inclines started. We saw a reunion between two walkers that was so moving as it was a really bleak section of the route. We followed the path and were taken downhill into San Justo de la Vega, here we filled up on water at one of the many fountains on the route. We rode through the town and crossed a tiny bridge after which we arrived at a railway line with an extensive bridge structure to get from one side to the other. It clearly wasn't made for wide vechicles as we had to dismount at every corner to get the bike round.

We arrived at Astorga and bumped into the other Dutch cyclist. All four of us had a drink together in the square in the sunshine. The serenity was then broken by hundreds upon hundreds of cyclists. I'm not sure for what reason but some bike event had taken place that day and the medal ceremony and speeches were being made around the corner from us.

Back on the Camino teh landscape was slowly changing and becomming greener and cooler. We were fairly high up when we arrived at a miniscule village; barely a few houses built from stone. One had a door open and was selling scallop shells and staffs and one old yellow hat that said "Tour de France" on it. We bought a scallop shell and attached it to the back of the bike. We now felt like propper pilgrims.

We stopped for a refuel before the climb. I thought Edward was joking when he said, “do you want some tea?” He wasn’t and he promptly got out his stove and we all had a cup of earl grey tea and a piece of apple cake beneath the shelter of the most wonderful huge mystic oak tree. We were joined by a group of pilgrims who looked at our tea and cake with envy and I think a great deal of bemusement.

Back on the road after our pit stop and we bumped into the Dutch cyclist again (he’d been cycling on the road rather than on the Camino like us). We arrived into Rabanal and picked up more water. The Dutch cyclist was surprised to hear we were continuing on and not stopping at Rabanal. He was so negative about us continuing that I started to doubt whether we could go on and if we would be able to climb the mountain pass. It was 4:30pm, the climb on paper looked pretty steep.

 

We motored through the town, partly to ride off some of the negativity from the Dutch man and partly to start the ascent with a charge! It was hard work. We were on the road rather than the Camino and this took us above the Camino. The views were spectacular, green valleys and windfarms. The road wound up and up for about 10km. At last we saw the iron cross. It was a euphoric moment, it was the highest we’d been on the bike, 1,500m above sea level. There was a stark beauty to the simple wooden pole with the small iron cross mounted on the top. We met a couple from Seville in a camper van who were really interested in where we’d come from and who we were. We also chatted to a French man on his bike with his wife in the car as a support team.

Many pilgrims before us had left belongings tied to the cross and at the base of it; shoes, boxer shorts, photographs, letters and even human hair! Iain left his broken sunglasses and we tied one of our punctured inner tubes to the wooden pole.

 

The moody weather conditions were apt; it was exhilarating to have made the climb, I felt so alive. We got back on the bike and zoomed down a very fast down hill passing a ruined city with only piles of stone left of the houses.

The first village we passed on the other side of the mountain pass was very different in style to those we had left behind us. We cycled through the narrow streets and a man sitting on one of the balconies with a huge beard looked down from his book to smile at us. We stopped to take some photographs of a sculpture of a pilgrim’s bike.

 

On we cycled to Molinaseca where we crossed a wonderful stone bridge. My friendly “Buen Camino!” didn’t work on one pilgrim as she stuck her tongue out at me. This may have been because I caught her trying to hitch hike!

 

From here it wasn’t far to Ponferrada. The albergue was wonderful; grapes were hanging on the awning giving shade and substance. Pilgrims were welcome to stay in this luxurious place where there were only four people in a room in exchange for a donation of whatever they could give.

Our late arrival meant after showering and washing our clothes, we didn’t have time to go to the supermarket so we pooled our food and had a feast of melon, chorizo, risotto, samba nut mix, bread, cheese, pasta and soup – a feast! Most of this had been nicely maturing in our panniers for at least a day.

 

  

Day 79 Saturday 3rd October

82km   Calzadilla de Cueza - Leon

We were up before sunrise for the pilgrims's breakfast which was three bits of dry bread and a small coffee - not great!

It was a very cold morning. We saw the sunrise cycling along in the middle of nowhere amongst ploughed fields and red sand; the colours were spectacular. We passed small houses built into the side of hills, the only visible feature being the doors. We cycled through more small villages and stopped to get some stamps for our credentials.

We stopped for a snack by an abandoned church set back from the main road. I contimplated if it was disrespectful to go to the loo behind the church; as I walked round behind the building to investigate my options I encounted what can really only be described as a latrine! Going by the actions of previous pilgrims I assumed it was ok to use the area as a loo stop. 

The next village enroute was Sahagun, exactly half way along the Camino. We tried to get a stamp from this place but at the first place we came to there were several people rehearsing musical instruments who just ignored me. The second place was more successful, a monastry where I just wondered round until someone stopped me to ask what I was doing - by far the best way to get a stamp!

We bought lunch from a tiny village shop where everything was behind the counter and you had to ask for it. Our combined Spanish is extremely poor and this is why we nearly ended up with a leg of raw meat rather than ham. After lunch the route took us mainly on the road. We saw four pilgrims stop on the path and peer into the ditch, they then used their staffs to each pick up a piece of litter and put it into a bag each of them were carrying. They did this at intervals of about 100m, it would make for a much slower journey than ours! Further on we saw a good old fashioned shepherd watching his sheep leaning on his staff with cigarette hanging from his mouth.

We arrived at La Torre where we stopped for a drink, it was another wonderfully hot day. We thought it was all downhill from here about 6km to Leon where we planned to stop for the evening so Iain decided to have a grande beer. It turned out the 6km downhill wasn't quite true and we had two steep hill climbs (the steepest of the day) in rapid succession followed by an off-road section which was entirely downhiill taking us down ravines and crevasses. It was one of those moments where I felt I should have been steering, instead we had slighty fuzzy-headed Iain steering us downhill. We had to get off the bike in parts and ease it down some of the sections. We could see Leon from our vantage point above the city, even the cathedral. It was somewhere during this downhill run that the mudguard shifted and began to rub against the backwheel making a dreadful sound.

We arrived on the outskirts of Leon. It was very hot. The Tourist Information was shut so we followed the yellow arrows to an albergue. This looked like a prison so we opted to try and find the other albergue nearer the city centre. We found the other albergue without too much difficulty. It was an old monastry and was run by a very intense man and funded entirely on donations by the pilgrims.

We headed out to the city after washing our clothes. A medieval festival was taking place in the city. There were stalls, people dressed up, music annd a general buzz of excitement. We were both really hungry but couldn't find an ATM that wouldn't charge us to take out money. After lots of wondering round the city and testing of ATMs, we found a bank that worked without charging us, we then headed straight for one of the medieval pie stands.

The cathedral was immense. Even though we'd seen many many cathedrals by now, I was still taken by this one. There were lots of people dressed up outside the doors, a wedding was about to take place. I snuck passed them to have a quick look inside. We sat on the flowerpotts outside the cathedral watching the world go by. Then who should we see amidst all the people in the square was Edward, the Dutch cyclist who we'd said goodbye to in Burgos. He was lost and looking for the albergue so we led him through the streets and back to the albergue. Along the way we saw some other French pilgrims who also looked lost. We said they should follow us to the albergue which they were very pleased at until we started to wind our way through the back streets of Leon when they started to look more panicked and worried. Their relief was obvious when we reached the albergue and we hadn't mugged them!

We ate dinner bought from a supermarket in the square outside the albergue. We wrote our journals in the fading light; as the light faded, the square came to life. A dog was relentlessly chasing a ball around the square and into the fountain whilst two weddings took place in the near by churches; Iain and I are probably in the background of many of the wedding photos!

We were back inside for our 10pm curfew just as the bars were opening up and setting out their tables for a wild Saturday night.

Day 78 Friday 2nd October

105km   Burgos - Calzadilla de Cueza

Out the door way before 8am. The cathedral looked magnificent in the early mornig sunshine. Remnants of revelry lay strewn about the floor; the broken glass threatened to delay our early start with a puncture. We tried to get a map but decided just to follow the pilgrims and yellow arrows and see where we ended up.

We got breakfast from a panaderia (bakery) and ate in the park. The tuna pie was great and so was the pan o chocolate but that's probably because that one was laced with alcohol! We followed the golden path through fields and then down into a valley. The small town was alive with fellow peregrinos. We bagged a sellos for our credential and went on. Every pilgrim has a credential, it allows them to stay in the albergues enroute and also proves you passed through all the villages on the pilgrimage so you can pick up your certificate in Santiago.

Suddenly ahead of us there was a ruined church; all that was left was a crumbling archway by the side of the Camino. We cycled on to our lunch spot at Castrojeiz where we were joined for lunch by a mangy dog, another dutch cyclist and a team of cyclists from Gibraltar who were also doing a charity bike ride. The team from Gibraltar warned us about the climb that lay ahead.

Slightly perturbed by this warning we cycled onto a vast expanse of red rocky earth, in the distance we could see the hill they referred to. The climb was tough, on very rocky terrain and we were starting in the heat of the midday sun. We passed two Canadian ladies on the way up who took a photo of us, red-faced and sweaty. At the top we stopped to take in the surroundings and catch our breath and we were shortly joined by the Canadian ladies. They were lovely and took another photo of us to show we did actually make it to the top!

The downhill was rocky and we ended up at the bottom of it by a lock. Our "convoy exceptionelle" was too wide for this water crossing so we had to take a short detour onto the road before rejoining the Camino 50metres later. From the path we caught site of an amazingly carved church in a small village in the middle of a barren landscape. We took a worthwhile detour to the village and got a closer look at the intricately carved archway above the door.

We kept on leapfrogging other cyclists along the path. Most were bemused by us and the speed we were able to do. I think they assumed we would be slow because we were a tandem with a girl on the back. We caught up with "Team Gibraltar" later on the path, after taking photos of us on the bike they said how they were going to do the journey on tandem with their wives next year. They parting words were, "it's a great idea, together all the way!" So sweet and for a few days this became our motto on the bike.

We also passed some walking pilgrims who seemed a bit too exxcited to see us; we then realised it was the group from the previous day who we'd met at the church and had been bused onto the next part of the route. Their enthusiaism and excitement was such a big lift.

Not long after this we saw a sign for 463km to Santiago. This may sound like a lot but after nearly three months on the road and having covered over 6,000km already we could not believe we were so close to the end of our journey. A sunflower harvest was going on in one of the fields.

The last part of the ride that day was along a long straight rocky road which was hard going on the bike as well as being already early evening. Straight roads can be really demotivating as you can see so far into the distance and in this case we could not see the albergue we were aiming for, all we could see was continuing burnt red path and expance of fields. We then saw the walkers and realised that they had an even longer journey ahead of them that evening to the albergue.

The albergue eventually materialsied in the distance. Calzadilla de la Cueza was another tiny village with the albergue at the entrance; it was a most welcome site. We had our first pilgrims's dinner at 7:30pm on the dot.  Just like a school dinner we all ate the same food at the same time; a three course meal with even a bottle of pilgrim's wine for 9 euros.

It was a short walk back to the albergue under the starlight. The village was an oasis in the middle of nowhere, there surrounding area and landscape was so dark you couldn't see anything.

Day 77 A voyage of 2 becomes a voyage of 3 Thursday 1st October

127km   Logrono - Burgos

The rustling starts way before 6:00am as the early pilgrims stur and move from their beds in a bid to be on the road before the others.

Outside the albergue in the dark we met the Dutch cyclist Edward and we set off together following the yellow arrows. We were in Rioja territory and the vineyards were everywhere.

The Camino is shared by walkers and cyclists without road markings or highway codes. Edward had a technique of scattering the peregrinos by ringing his bell just behind them which generally made them jump and scramble to the sides of the Camino. We followed behind on our tandem bike slightly sheepishly with a smile, maybe a wave and a "Buen Camino"; this seemed to work as damage limitation.

There was a bit of a climb out of the city, through a park and round a lake where locals were fishing. We arrived several kilometers later at Santo Domingo de la Calzada which will forever more be known to us as the Holy Chicken City. Just outside the church in the main square we bumped into the two Spanish cyclists again, David and Raffa and once more there ensued another mini bike convention. I went to have a quick look inside the church and much to my amazement, half way up one wall of the chuch there was a glass window with a light shining out from it. Inside this glass window there was a chicken! We heard the story behind the chicken several times from different people and each version was slightly different but the main gist was this; a man falsely accused of a crime was hanged and then brought back to life by a miracle performed by Santo Domingo. When the fasley accused man's family came to the judge to say their son was still alive, the judge killed a chicken to demonstrate how dead the man was. The chicken made a loud clucking noise to show all those around that he had been brought back to life just like the hanged man.

Back on the road again and the N120 was getting really busy with lorries and was not much fun. At Edward's suggestion we joined the Camino and headed on the golden path through forests and up hills in a landscape devoid of people except for two pilgrims who were rough camping for the night near the top of one hill. This was followed by the steepest downhill so far on the journey on rough terrain. This took us into San Juan de Ortega with its church with 3 bells in the tower. Here we stopped for a little while as Edward had got a puncture somewhere on the last section. I couldn't help thinking we must have jinxed him what with our track record of punctures and the fact that this was only his second puncture in ten years! Most of the pilgrims at this stop were on a tour bus that was ready to ship them away to some classy establishment for the night. We chatted to them whilst Edward fixed his tyre. One Italian pilgrim in his 70s had done the route by bike early this year in February in two meters of snow!

The yellow arrows took us on to Atapuerca and teh rockiest path in existance that climbed up and up. We had to get off the bike and push it part of the way where it became impossible to ride it. At the summit was a wooden cross. In the early evening light the view was spectacular. We were surrounded by olive trees and the place was deserted as it was late for walking pilgrims. There was a rock fomation on the ground that had been created by many pilgrims making circle after circle.

We were aiming to spend the night in Burgos and this was still some way away. We followed the sign into the fields; the golden road continued but we lost the yellow arrows and the path split in several directions with yellow arrows pointing in both directions which was confusing. We headed for the city we could see in the distance. It was bigger than what we'd expected. We arrived in the industrial outskirts of the city and followed the yellow arrows until they ran out. We knew the albergue was near the cathedral so we headed for the spires we could see in the distance. It was now 8pm and dark. Whilst studying a map of the city a stranger on a bike appeared and said "Albergue?" and motioned to follow him. He navigated us through the streets and around the pedestrians to teh sanctury of the albergue located beneath the shadows of the huge cathedral. We were lucky to get the last few beds and even more lucky to have arrived before cerfew!

We grabbed a take out kebab from the fast food joint a few doors down and ate in the kitchen of the albergue with the fire alarm blasting in our ears. No one seemed bothered by this so we just ignored it too.

Day 76 Wednesday 30th September

101km   Pamplona - Logrono

A Pilgrim's day starts early. Exit time is between 6:00am - 8:00am. I'm not sure what happens if you're still inside after 8:00am but we were herded out into the dark streets well then.

We followed the ants trail of pilgrims through the early morning city. A local shouted some helpful instructions at us when we'd missed a yellow arrow somewhere. We had breakie once we and the earth had warmed up a bit some 10km later. We carried on following the pilgrims and yellow arrows painted on walls, the roads, the curb, buildings, lamp posts and even trees. This took us out of the city, up a hill and on to a dirt track. After slipping about on the rough terrain, we decided to turn back and continue on the tarmac road. In the distance we could see a small town with church surrounded by a fortress but it seemed pretty inaccessable to us on our bike.

Our tarmac road followed alongside the motorway. The scenery was truly beautiful and so different to France. It was all yellows, reds and browns of a sun drenched landscape of fields and mountians. We then got a puncture and at the same time Iain noticed his pedal felt a bit odd. After fixing the puncture and applying some oil to the offending pedal we noticed the brakes had worn really thin so we changed these too on our pit stop. Back on the road again rather than helping the oil applied to the pedal seemed to make the situation worse as we now had an accompanying squeek each time the pedal turned.

The road wound round Point de Perdon and we climbed up and up. It was a tough climb in the hot sun but as with all up hills, we were rewarded with a downhill into Puenta La Reina. It was somewhere during this downhill that we reached our top speed of the trip so far, 75.6kmph. We were extremely glad we'd just changed the brakes!

We stopped for lunch by the Roman bridge in Puenta La Reina; the point where the pilgrimage routes from Spain and France join. It felt like a momentous river crossing. There was no bike shop in this small town and the tourist info advised us to go on to Estella where we hoped to pick up a replacement set of pedals. It was a good climb out of Puenta La Reina; 20km later we arrived in Estella. We had to cycle through a tunnel cut into the mountain which was a steep climb with some fantastic views over the city. Unfortunately we had arrived bang on the start of siesta time, 2pm. Everything but the bars were shut and would be for several hours. Outside the closed tourist information was where Iain had a closer inspection of the front pedal and managed to pull the pedal clean off the crank. We wheeled the bike round the corner to a bar and had a coke whilst we considered our options. We could wait a couple of hours for the bike shop to open or we could cycle on with a dodgy pedal. We opted to cycle on.

We were now cycling through Spanish vineyards and olive groves. We followed the yellow arrows into Logrono and as luck would have it they took us passed a bike shop.  The owner was a lovely man and the first thing he did was offer us a "caramel" (a sweet) "for the hot weather". Not only did he have two pedals for the bike, he also gave us directions to the albergue making absolutely sure we understood them and then gave us a map of bike friendly albergues and bike shops along the Camino.

With his instructions we found the albergue easily. The clue was also the large scallop shell embedded in the pavement at the door. The hostel was buzzing and we joined a mini international bike convention taking place at the bottom of the stairs; this consisted of us, the two Spanish mountain bikers and a Dutch guy. After fitting the two new pedals and fixing the horn we showered and washed our clothes before heading out to take in the city.

As usual we were locked up by 10pm. I didn't go to boarding school but the dormatory that night was how I would imagine a boarding school dormatory to be. "Lights out" is supposed to be at 10:30pm but the packed dorm room was a gaggle of mischief multicultural pilgrims all speaking different languages, laughing and joking. That is all except one older pilgrim who observed the frivolities with distain from the corner of the room on the bottom bunk with his arms firmly crossed.

Day 75 Tuesday 29th September

83km     St-Jean-Pied-de-Port  -  Pamplona

I'd heard the chuch bells announce every hour since 3am so I was tired when the alarm clock went off just before 7am. It was dark and very misty outside, I found it hard to get out of the tent. My legs ached.

We packed everything up and cycled off ready to have breakfast some 20km down the road. The road to Pamplona seemed so busy with no sign of a pilgrims's way so we decided to have breakfast in St Jean-Pied-de-Port and wait for the tourist info to open at 9:00am. We ate breakfast within the old city walls by the steps to the church. After we'd sat down and were tucking into some dry bread and honey, we read teh interpretation that said we were sitting in the seats where the poorest pilgrims sat and waited for the hospital and church to open to get food and shelter - how appropiate!

Once the tourist info was open, they directed us on to the Association of St James which was just round the corner. A lovely German lady called Katherine gave us our pilgrim passports, our  "credencial" for the journey allowing us to stay in the Albergues or hostels along the way and a map of the first section of our route.

All we had now was a 15th century map of the pilgrimage route (which we'd printed out in Dan Haag) and a photocopy of a hand drawn map showing the first 30km of the trail. How could we get lost though, pilgrims had been doing this journey for centuries without map or compass. So off we cycled into the mist feeling excited and energised by talking to Katherine. We got safely onto the quieter roads and up we climbed eventually making it out of the mist. At Arneguy we arrived in Spain and our last country. There was no sign or remnants of a border crossing, just instantaneous Spanish replacing the French signs.

Up we climbed; it was hot and we both were dripping in sweat. Those hair pin bends just kept on coming leading us higher and higher up the side of the mountain. The views looking down across the valley from where we'd started were spectacular. A lady standing by a car cheered us on with a "bravo", she was waiting for someone on a bike.

After two hours of climbing (which is a very easy thing to type but a very difficult thing to cycle) we arrived at Point de Ibaneta, 1,057m above sea level. Both the views and feeling on reaching the top were amazing. We had lunch at the top on a grassy mound, one of our best picnic spots of the trip. As we cycled round, we saw an archaeological dig going on outside the church. The archaeologists had dug down a considerable way to find several graves, one of which they had opened and bones not seen for many many years, were now open to the elements and for all to see.

We were about to jump back on the bike when a French cyclist stopped to chat to us. He turned out to be the husband of the woman who had cheered us on. He was suitably impressed by our journey and had a laugh and a smile so heart felt that not only did it show all his teeth but it also showed just how much he was loving the adventure despite the first punishing climb.

We zoomed down the hill to Roncesvalles, picked up some infomation from the tourist info and cycled on. We were seeing pilgrims now on the Camino. We took the road to Pamplona as we were advised the Camino was bad for bikes. There was a big climb up to Erro. We cycled up and could see a couple in the distance who were sitting on chairs by a table under the shade of a tree peacefully sipping wine by their car in a lay by. The scene was all too idyllic and a bit much to handle whilst we were huffing and puffing in the heat of the mid-day sun to get up the mountain. It was just as we turned the corner and could see the couple clearer that we could see that they had stood up out of their chairs and were giving us a standing ovation with their glasses raised to us. This spurred us on to the next bend in the road.

Some super fast down hills after Erro. We passed a large group of pilgrims at a point where the Camino crossed the road. They seemed excited to see us so I beeped the horn and they screamed and laughed excitedly. I'm not sure you're supposed to beep pilgrims.

Just outside Pamplona we realised we needed a map more up to date than our 15th Century one. The roads had got really busy and we were about to be taken onto a motorway. After trying to find a map shop in a near by shopping complex and failing, we retraced our steps to try and join what we thought was the Camino. It turned out not to be the Camino at all and ended suddenly at some road works very near the motorway.

Luckily the petrol station had a map and we managed to arrive in Pamplona in one piece having skirted round the motorway. We took in the bullring, the old city walls and the streets where the running of the bulls takes place.

The squares were alive with people. We sat in the sunshine in Saint Fransisco Square and plotted our route for tomorrow. The hostels don't take bikes before 6pm (in case they run out of beds for walkers) so we had half an hour to soak in the afternoon sunshine in the square.

The hostel was in an old church. A beautiful building. This was our first experience of hostels and after more than two and a half months of living in the tent, it felt really strange to be sharing a room with another 60 or so people.

After dinner we went for an evening walk to take in the city. It was alive and buzzing with people and bars. Unfortunately the hostel has a curfew of 10pm so we had to cut our evening short!

 

Day 74 Spain is in sight! Monday 28th September

133km    Morcenx - St Jean Pied-de-Port

 

We awoke to a very dark and cold morning. There was a mist in the air and we decided to get on the bike to warm up and have breakie somewhere on route.  

My fingertips were freezing to the point of pain. The mist descended and turned into fog. We cycled through eerie forests not being able to see more than a few meters in front of us.

It was still misty when we stopped for breakfast an hour later at 9:00am. Iain had collected dew drops on his beard and eye lashes; one of the hazards of riding up front.

It was at breakfast that we discovered the first lot of ants; they were all over the honey jar, luckily not inside it though. Only a few had made the treacherous journey in the front pannier alive.

The sun and food warmed us up somewhat and we headed out on the bike again. All was flat, so far...

It was somewhere before Dax that we saw our first blue and yellow scallop shell sign marking our route and reassuring us that we were heading in the right direction for Santiago. At the entrance to Dax was a huge blue metal road sign with a picture of a pilgrim on it. We picked up provisions at the supermarket and had 11s. Iain bought some more superglue to try and fix his sunglasses; this was partially successful but it was the duct tape at camp that evening that properlly fixed them. I called Vodafone to query a £280 phone bill I'd just received. It turns out two hours of phone calls in Russia for Iain to try and work out how he could fly back to the UK for a stag do costs £250! Russia is outside Vodafone's free European Roaming charges. I'm still working on how to get Vodafone to waver this bill.

From Dax the uphills started which was actually fairly good for venting my anger at Vodafone. There were some big downhills too which always seem a bit pointless when you know you have to go up again. They're still great fun though.

We climbed and climbed and sped downhill only to climb again. The sun was now out in full force; one of the road signs said it was 28C

Along one stretch of the road with corn fields on either side we saw a lone pigeon walking in the middle of the road. We then heard a car come up behind us. It pulled out to overtake us and I though the pigeon would fly off. I couldn't take my eyes off the whole scene and then the car drove over it with its front right wheel. It was horrific, there was a loud pop and a puff of feathers filled the air and I have to admit I screamed. For the second time (the first being in Russia) I turned my head away and cowered to the right hand side of the bike - I didn't want to see anymore.

Somewhere just before Isturits after several climbs in quick succession we got to a summit and took a break. We were both covered in sweat and out of breath but feeling exhilarated from the climb. The view was breath taking, we could see for miles. Then we saw looming in the distance the Pyrenees! It was a truely humbling and terrifying experience at the same time. As we stood by the bike in the hot sunshine downing water it started to dawn on me what we'd managed to achieve so far. The enormity of it, we could see Spain and at the same time all that we had done had only really been a warm up for these next few days and those mountaisn in the distance.

Feeling a mixture of elation and trepidation, we cycled on and up.

I think it was Irissarry where we stopped next. We'd run out of water and were looking for a shop, there were none but there was a bar with some lively Basque conversation coming from within. I went in and asked in my best French if we could buy a bottle of water. Madam behind the bar had seen us cycle in and seen how red-faced and sweaty we were, she got our a two litre bottle of coke that still had some coke in it, poured this into another coke bottle, throughly rinced out the empty bottle and cap and filled it with cold tap water. It was a really kind gesture.

We had more huge hills including a double "arrow" or "triangle" hill before we got to St Jean-Pied-de-Port. We found camping straight away. A small place where you had to ask permission to shower in an outhouse building attached to the main house. This was the only shower for the campsite, Madam then turned on the water for you from inside the house and your six minute shower began.

There was a notice in French at the campsite about a film being made about Le Chemin de St Jacques. They were looking for people to film today and tomorrow so I decided to give the number at the bottom of the advert a call. Fernando answered and, after establishing that he could speak English, I launched into how we were two British travellers doing the pilgrimage on a tandem bike. I didn't even get a chance to tell him where we'd started our journey from before he stopped me and said, "and why are you telling me all this?" It turns out they were not looking for subjects for their film but extras! He must have thought I was a bit odd but he said we should come and find him tomorrow afternoon for the filming. I didn't ask if he wanted us to bring the bike aswell! As we didn't know what lay ahead of us, or what those mountains would be like on the bike we decided not to partake in the filming as we'd lose a day's ride and we had a very important date of Michelle and Andrew's wedding to make it back in time for.

We had dinner of tinner chilli concarne, a break from saucisson avec lentils. A small dog watched us in hope of getting some extra dinner - no chance!

Day 73 Sunday 27th September

128 km       Bordeaux - Morcenx

Most of the bikers were up before we were despite their late night revelries. We'd slept through the alarm, probably because we'd been so successful at blocking out the sound of the brass band whilst we slept!

At 9:00am we left the campsite with an escort of bikers. They were sending the bikers out in groups. We rode in convoy with about 15 motorcycles out of the campsite and headed in the direction of the city centre. I honked our horn and they honked and waved back appreciatively.

We cycled into Bordeaux, the city looked glorious in the morning sunshine. It was a new perspective on the city being on the bike. We cycled through the familiar parts of the city and out the otherside to the undiscovered part. We stopped for breakfast just outside Bordeaux.

A little while after this we got a flat tyre. We located the piece of glass still stuck in the tyre and I was surprised at the wear and tear and the number of punctures our tyre had actually saved us from - there were a lot of scars and war wounds on that piece of rubber!

We were now out of vineyard territory and into pine forests. Most of these were reserved for "le Chasse" the hunt that takes place in the autumn and winter. These sound fairly dangerous and from all accounts involve lots of shooting, followed by a picnic with lots of drinking, followed by some more shooting.

The terrain was flat all day and because of this I was surprised at quite how tired and sore my legs felt. We got to camp at 5pm. IT was a hot and sunny evening and we were glad to find a campsite after a bit of a search for one.

 

Day 72 Saturday 26th September

Day off in Bordeaux    A few kilometers to the tram stop and back

We woke up late and were in central Bordeaux about 12:00. We went straight to the post office to post home maps, guide book and log books. This made us nearly 5kg lighter but the downside was it cost us 30 Euros to post.

We needed to buy more camping gas and this resulted in a pleasant wonder round the city as the first shop didn't have any. At the second shop they had two types of gas and we realised we weren't sure which fitting we needed so we didn't buy any there either. It was during this lovely stroll in the sunshine that Iain managed to step on a dead rat! It's difficult to describe how gross this actually was so I think I'll just leave it to your imagination but just to say it was a very large French rat!

We went on an open top bus tour of the city. It took us over the otherside of the river for some great views of Bordeaux. All of this was accompanied by an audio guide; an enthusiastic American woman talking over the top of some cool jazz. Some of the translations made us laugh.

After the bus tour we went to play in the "Mirror Fountain" which we'd seen from the tour bus. An amazing bit of art and design in one of Bordeaux's old squares. It's a huge flat rectange area that is filled with 2cm of water. It turns everyone into big kids, splashing and having fun in the water. Then it shoots up mist into the air and the place is transformed into a foggy mysterious scene in an instant.

We walked through the Latin Quarters looking at churches and stopping to take in the breath taking archetecture. We stopped in one of the squares for a coffee. There's never enough coffee stops for my liking but this was a great one. We watched the workd go by. Skate boarders, shoppers, card players and then a tramp walked into the square. It was then that we realised that in France, even the down and outs are stylish. His whole outfit was like something out of a hollywood movie rather than an actual homeless person's attire. His clothes were ragged and torn but everything matched from his hat to his shoes and if it's possible to have designer holes in your clothes, he had them. The piece de resistance was when he pulled from his pocket a bottle of cloudy off-white coloured liquid. He did not drink this from the bottle however, no that would be undignified; from his pocket he produced a glass and poured some of the liquid into it and then sipped this as he too watched the world go by from his bench.

After stopping to get food and a bottle of red wine from the supermarket, we headed back to the campsite. It was the first time we'd got back to the campsite before dark and what should be there to greet us but a full marching band complete with cheer leaders all in red uniform with red neck ties and berets; there was even a tuba painted bright red! The band was amazing; the cheerleaders looked as though they'd rather be doing anything else rather than cheerleading!

It turned out to be a bikers convention, "The Golden Wings of Aquitane" or something like that. We cycled right through the middle of the celebrations and stood on the outskirts to watch.

The music went on all night; it was nice to have live musice to accompany our dinner of tinned casulet. Later on there were even bagpipes. I have to say this did make it a little difficult to get some sleep.

Day 71 A day off in Bordeaux Friday 25th September

6km (to the tram stop and back)  Bordeaux

A day of sight seeing and internet cafes. Bordeuax is beautiful especially in the warm sunshine. We wondered round the small back streets and stumbled upon churches and the huge arch way marking the entrance to the city.

 

Day 70 Bordeaux at last! Thursday 24th September

38km  Blaye - Bordeaux

We packed up our tent and left the citadel to have breakfast on the pier and wait for the ferry. The short ferry ride took us over the Gironde and into more vineyards and passed many more chateaux. We were both feeling a bit tired after a late night so when we saw the McDonalds sign on the road ahead, we decided to do something we'd been talking about since Finland and go through a McDonalds drive through on the bike!

We found this very amusing but none of the locals seemed to think it bizzare or out of the ordinary! My french just about held up to speaking into the intercom and ordering for us. The lady did not seem surprised at all to see a tandem bike role by the next window to pay and pick up our food.

Back on the road and it was surprisingly flat and getting busier. We got to the outskirts of Bordeux and there was a campsite waiting for us, it was only 3:00pm. There was time to lounge and even get a tram into the city centre and be tourists for a few hours of daylight. It's a beautiful city, I'm looking forward to doing some more exploring tomorrow.

Day 69 17th century campsites Wednesday 23rd September

126km  St Jean d'Angely - Blaye

After a breakie of crossants from the bread depot we were on the road.

30km or so later we'd got to Saintes where we had lunch by the river in the sunshine. Then it was back on the bike and into the mid-day sun. The village shops that showed the temperature in neon lights varied but all were above 30°C.

Thruogh more farmland and at the top of one hill we saw the sunflowers being harvested. We could also see the sea again but this time it wasn't the North Sea but the Gironde Estuary. It was another long hot day on the bike with some huge hills around Conac. We were in vineyard heaven with grapes hanging from the vines and a chateau on every corner tempting us to stop and go in for some wine tasting.

We stopped at a little shop about 20km from Blaye, it was just so hot we needed to stop for juice and icecream. As we approached Blaye we followed signs to "Citadel Camping" not really thinking this would lead to where it did. We ended up camping the the World heritage UNESCO site of Blaye's 17th century citadel! Spectacular doesn't quite cut it! We pitched our tent next to the old city walls and went for a wonder around the ramparts. On our return we were stopped by some friendly Brits who kindly invited us into their caravan for a glass of wine. We left about 1:00am, the latest night by far for a cycle day; luckily tomorrow is just a short cycle ride to Bordeaux.

Day 68 Tuesday 22nd September

119km  Bressuire - St Jean d'Angely

We awoke to a very misty morning that got mistier as we packed up and ate blackberries.

The hills warmed us up and by about 10:00am it was another gloriously hot day in France. Some more big hills which is where we managed to get our top speed of the trip so far, 69.3mkph! We aiming for 70kmph before we come home!

The old abbey looked impressive in the evening light as we cycled up to the campsite at St Jean d'Angely. After pitching the tent and having a shower we went for an evening tour of the village on the bike. The abbey looked even more impressive close up. Even the underage drinkers who were urging us on to do wheelies I'm sure appreciated it. I read in a leaflet that it was built to house the head of John the Baptist! The same leaflet also told us that we were already on the Pilgrimage Route to Santiago de Compostella, we just hadn't realised!

Day 67 Monday 21st September

122km  La Flèche - Bressuire

We dismantled the well strung washing line between the two pine trees and were away before 9am. This was great for our time but bad in that the reception was not open yet so we had to try and locate the start of the bike track ouselves.

On our road atlas, the bike track looked like it started at the train station so we headed there. The train station had not been a working train station for a while with all the windows bordered up. In fact the bike route ran along the old railway line which made for great cycling through forests on elevated paths. We saw several red squirrel and some deer and then nearly got hit by an unidentified bird with a bright deep red head and black body flying fast through the forest. It was a misty morning which added to the atmosphere along the old railway line.

We stopped at Baug to try and post Tamsyn and Mark their two vegetables that we'd picked up in the Netherlands for their Scary vegetable party. We were going to be early international entrants but alas at the equivilent cost of two night's camping to post them back to Brixton, we decided against it. The man at the post office cuonter thought I was a little odd but he humoured me and went about proceedings as if this was perfectly normal to be posting vegetables!

We stopped for provisions at the hypermarché in Beufort which is where we left the vegetables that had been grown so lovingly in the back garden by someone in the Netherlands.

It was a long afternoon with lots of hills; the frequency of which seemed to increase as we reached our final destination of Bressuire. The municipal campsite is run by two Brits, Mr and Mrs Smith. It's a great spot and after eating I went blackberry picking. Delicious!

Day 66 Sunday 20th September

130km  Sées - La Flèche

The cathedral bells chimed loudly at 8am to wake up the sleeping city. A robin joined us for breakfast but soon left when our neighbours awoke, they must have had a better spread than us.

We'd planned our route by torch light the previous night and were planning to stick to the more major roads of the minor roads in the hope that they would be signed posted. The roads have been thankfully car free since leaving the hectic ports of northern France.

Both of us felt tired and pretty dreadful; I don't think either of us had drank enough water the previous day. We made it to Alencon and had a look at the beautiful cathedral and made friends with a French man and his dog. He cheered us on as we passed him again on our way out of the city.

We stopped for lunch at the medieval town of Fresnay. We thought all shops would be shut on a Sunday but this did not appear to be so. Every village we'd been through had an open boulangerie, bread is very important to the French! We sat beneath the church being very English eating our stale bread that we'd bought yesterday.

Through more tiny villages we cycled, all seemed to be asleepwith shutters shut and then we Maigne where there were cars and people everywhere. It was a bric a brac sale but it was more like a festival with hundreds of people, stalls and even a loud speaker. We ploughed through the crowds and one man spured us on by hanging out his jumper like a torriodor to a bull!

Just before St John du Bois we received out second standing ovation of the day from a group of elderly hill walkers. One even tucked her walking stick under her arm so she could clap her hands and cheer us on. We turned the corner and saw why they'd been cheering us on, there was another huge hill! Our first standing ovation had been from two men cooking a bbq a few villages back.

Our road atlas marks the steep hils with a triangle so you know when and where to expect them. This is really bad as at the end of the day we were both tired and knew we had a "triangle" ahead of us. Each hill we conquered we thought it was the "triangle" but there was always another that followed it.

We headed towards the campsite at La Flèche; it was another warm evening as we cycled over the Loir and watched people milling around at the cafes and bars.

Day 65 Saturday 19th September

129km    Bourg-Achard - Sées

We were up at the usual time but spent ages deciding on the route so we didn't leave cqmp until 10:00am. It was a hot day in France.

After all the discussions and studying of the map, the first road we wanted to take was not sign posted so we ended up blindly criss crossing the country roads in the morning sunshine. It was a wonderful place to be lost in!We found our way to a main road eventually and headed for the Risle River which we followed all the way to Nassandres where we had lunch.

After lunch we were on a bike route through forest and fields and generally more stunning scenery. We had already done more than 100km and were hoping to find a campsite at Le Merlerault, there wasn't one. Having passed up several signs for Chambre d'hotes we cycled on towards Sées in the hope of finding a campsite there. Wild camping or camping sauvage is illeagal in France although I'm not really sure how they could inforce this but we decided to be law abiding and look for a propper campsite.

About 8km from Sées we could see the twin spires of the city; it was a welcome sight at nearly 7pm. We found the campsite on the outskirts of the city just as we were starting to give up hope. There was a son et lummier that night at teh cathedral and from our campsite plot we probably had the best seats in the city! It looked spectacular!

Day 64 Friday 18th September

104km  Assigny - Boug-Achard

A friendly Belgium man came to chat to us as we planned our route for the day and ripped out pages from our atlas. He had cycled a route near the Spanish border called "Rue de Diablo", it sounded bad; it was not a very encouraging conversation!

We left camp at 9:00am and hit an incline for the first kilometer of the day. We cycled through beautiful tiny villages with magnificent churches and town halls at their centre.

We had lunch at Auffay where we cycled straight into the weekly market that was in the midst of packing up. We had lunch beneath the village church on the single stone bench. The figures on the bell tower ctruck their bells every 15mins to warn us of how long a break we were taking!

After lunch was difficult with more hills but the muggy weather had turned into sunshine which helped. We got an unexpected ferry ride across the Seine with a school bus which meant lots of banging on the windows from them! We then followed the floodplain of the Seine and encountered an absolutely mamouth hill that went on for 3km; this was when I really felt my hamstrings burn! We then encountered another hill which, if not for the previous hill, we would have thought huge! It's all good practice though for what lies ahead...

We camped at Bourg-Achard in the warm evening sunshine. Here in France it feels like we're managing to outrun Autumn for a while. The wildflowers are all out in full bloom and the sun shines on the fields and green leaves that are still on the trees. I hope it lasts!

Day 63 More hills! Thursday 17th September

114km    èquihen-Plage - Assigny

It was a cold morning when we woke up; the wind had subsided a little but not much as we rode out of camp at 9:00am.

We found our first French cycle track which made for some fast kilometers. We stopped for lunch at a tiny village and had a picnic on their green; we got some very odd looks from passing cars.

In the afternoon we stopped for provisions at a Lidil which did have some very French food in it including horse meat which I passed on. It was there that I saw my first advent callendar of the year! Well I guess we had already seen Father Christmas in Helsinki!

We followed signs to the campsite and ended up in Assigny in a quiet valley campground.

Day 62 The return of the hills Wednesday 16th September

114km   Bray-Dunes - Equihen-Plague

We woke up to a cold windy dark morning making it difficult to leave the tent.

We headed in the direction of Dunkerque. The Tourist Information had no information on bike routes or maps. We picked up provisions from a market and then headed on for some very slow kilometers around the small towns between Dunkerque and Calais. A lovely lady at the Tourist Info at Fort Mardyck gave us a map and pointed us in the right direction. This map got us to Calais but it took us on some really busty roads where apparantly bikes are allowed to go although it feels like you shouldn't be anywhere near them. Not a bike track in sight.

After the impressive fortress at Gravelines we continued and were nearly blown off the bike at Grand Fort-Philippe. On our approach to the harbour down a narrow road we had to pedal hard because of the wind that was against us. Forward motion eventually became impossible and whole bike with us on it was blown round to the left. We stumbled and wheeled the bike to shelter. As luck would have it it turned out we were going in the wrong direction so we got back no the bike and headed back down the same road but this time with the wind behind us which was much more fun!

We were on a new page of our French road atlas. It feels so wrong to just be ripping pages out of a book to put them in our map case; we'll have to find someone we don't like to give the atlas to once were done with it!

We cycled on the minor roads and nipped into a farmer's field to steal a cob of corn. He had lots of it so we hoped he wouldn't mind. It was this last section from Calais to Boulogne that we saw the return of the hills! One after the other after the other! We hadn't seen anything like it since Finland. These hills were strangely familiar however as we found ourselves cycling alongside the main roads that last year we had driven along in the red postal van. The van had struggled with the hills but our legs powered through them!

We found a campsite about 10km passed St. Martin-Boulogne. It was right on the beach at the top of a hill. I'm not sure what we'd done to upset him but the man at reception allocated us with a plot at the top of the hill in the most windy spot. We rebelled and camped in the shelter of the trees and hedges.

Day 61 Three countries in one day on a tandem bike! Tuesday 15th September

111km    Nieuwvliet - Bray Dunes (France)

We attempted to boil our two eggs from the friendly chicken but our gas was running so low that the water was never going to boil. I stashed the two partially boiled (somewhere between raw and soft) in a plastic bag in the pocket of my waterproof jacket and hoped I would remember it.

On the bike it was a cold morning on top of the very wind swept sand dunes. There were groups of geese by the lake below us forming groups to head south for the winter. Some attempted to fly but were blown about by the wind.

About 10km later we had reached the "International Dyke" between The Netherlands and Belgium; there was just a sign post and nothing else. The Belgium part of the North Sea Cycle Route was not on our map so we were just following signs without knowing where exactly they were taking us. Belgium's coast line was very different to that of the Netherlands, it was built up and industrial without a sand dune in site. We cycled through beach resorts which were packed up for the season and had seen better days.

We stopped for lunch at Blankenberge where we had Moules et Frites; the largest pot of moules I've ever senn arrived at our table.

On we cycled heading for France, we passed remnants of military equipment burried into the hillside facing out to sea. We arrived at De Panne and stopped to pick up provisions. I was excited to hear people speaking French in the shops. We had a pan au chocolat to spur us on to our second border of the day; it was about 5:30pm.

We got to France sooner than expected and were greated by a huge metal French flag. The main street at Bray Dune was also lined with French flags proudly flying in the wind. We had done it, we'd crossed two international borders and cycled through three countries in one day!

There was a campsite just at across the border and when I'd said (in my best French) to the campsite attendant, this must be the first campsite in France he replied "yes" and pointed to the carpark saying; "that is Belgium!"

It was a beautiful warm evening as we pitched the tent. We had dinner and after that I boiled the two Dutch eggs that had crossed two international borders with us without breaking!

Day 60 Monday 14th September

157km  Den Haag - Nieuwviet

We were up and away by 9am trying to find our way back onto the North Sea Cycle Route. We did find the signs and they guided us out of the city, back onto the sand dunes and to Monster.
A fery took us over the water and had lunch at Brielle.

It was another windy day on the velodromes but the wind was in our favour!  We had stopped to consult the map at a sign post and a friendly lycra-clad cyclists stopped to point us in the right driection. Later we overtook him on top of the sand dune with kite surfers playing in the waves below us on one side and windsurfers on the other side below us. Both sides below us were white sandy beaches, it was a great cycle track.

We stopped again at a sign post to confirm the route and who should cycle by but the same cyclist who'd stopped to help us and then we'd overtaken. He stopped again and asked where we were going, he then jumped on his bike and said "follow me". He was cycling at 30km an hour and there was two of us on the one bike powering along to keep up with him. He took us 5km to the junction we needed, guiding us through the bike paths. He then shook each of us by the hand, cycled off in the direction we had just come from and shouted as a parting word of  wisdom, "be careful!"

We cycled on and caught a ferry at Vlissingen to Breskens. It was the most official ferry crossing so far with ticket barriers, several staff, a waiting room and a queing system. Normally (if the ferry crossing is not free) we do quite well out of having a tandem as you only pay for one bike but not here, they were so efficient they even had a separate tarrif for a tandem bike!

At Breskens we were on the hunt for a campsite. The first one we came to looked inviting with a friendly parrot flag but reception seemed impossible to locate amidst the laberynth of static and mobile homes. When we did eventually locate it, the reception was closed but the lady behind the bar said it was 39 euros for one night's camping! We got back on the bike and cycled on to try and locate somewhere else. Several campsites and kilometers later we followed an unlikely looking sign for camping and ended up at a house where I rang the bell and was greeted by a lovely lady who looked slightly surprised to see two cyclists on a tandem bike at 7:30pm. She gladly wrote us out a receipt for 13 euros for a night under canvas. I bought two eggs from a basket on the counter and just as she was finding a bag for them, a talkative chicken walked through the door. The husband informed me that this was where my eggs had come from!
The husbqnd took us to our sheltered pitch and animatedly told us it was Vera Lynn's 92nd birthday and the radio had been playing her songs all day.
Just as we were sitting down on rolemats for dinner in the fading light; the rain started and it bucketed it down. We got everything inside the tent and the taupaulin on and stood in our waterproofs eating the remains of our dinner. Then the rain got heavier and there was nothing to do but to dive for cover in the tent and wait for the rain to subside just enough to run to the shower and back!


Day 59 Sunday 13th September

A few km to the city centre and back     Den Haag

It was noticeably colder today so I was glad my socks were now dry and I didn't have to wear flip flops like the day before.
We must have been some of the first visitors to the Escher museum in the old palace. A fantastic exhibition in an impressive building. There was even an interactive area that after lots of serious looking, reading and listening, Iain and I could raucously press buttons and build things!

After three hours we were outside in daylight again. We ate pommes fritas and dumplings from a stall in the market place and avoided buying some second hqnd books and antiques!

We bought a road atlas for France, in the end this was the best and cheapest option; I hope it works!
We had another mini sight seeing expedition by bike to the Grote Kirk and surrounding area before heading back to the campsite just as it was getting dark.

Day 58 Saturday 12th September

A few km into the city centre and back    Den Haag


It was one of those days where everybody else seems to understand whats going on apart from you.

I got 2 euros stuck in the shower machine (apparantly you have to use shower tokens but there are no signs to tell you this) and had to drag the grumpy man out of reception on his bike to reclaim my 2 euros by which time someone else had taken it anyway. I did get a 6 minute shower in the end and he did give me 2 euros back as well.

We cycled back to the city centre through the forest and along the residential streets. After checking our progress at the internet cafe it appeared we were a day ahead of schedule. We had lunch in the central square whilst watching some Chinese Dragon dancing.

We spent several hours in a book shop trying to find an appropriate map of France and Spain for the days ahead. We couldn't find the right maps required so we headed to map shop nearby. It was the most wonderful old fashioned shop with drawers full of maps. After much discussion again we left with one map of Spain and a large map of French campsites, both of which were wrapped in brown paper by the shop keeper and stamped with the details of the shop. It was a propper old fashioned place.

We
made a tour of the houses of parliament and the Knights' Hall, both of which are very impessive.

Day 57 Friday 11th September

125km  Petten - Den Haag

Woke up
amongst the sand dunes just before 7am and the seagulls were back to join us for breakfast despite the fact Iain had thrown a flip flop, the tool kit and a half full bottle of water at them the previous evening - some of which had made contact.
We cycled off into the sand dunes which were beautiful and deserted as it was still early. After 50km we were at another inlet of the North Sea and were patiently waiting for the ferry to return so we could cross to Velsen-Zuid.

After some bad chips for lunch we were cycling through sand dunes again and pine forest - the extent of the sand dunes is quite spectacular. We saw wild poneys on the moors below us. We overtook a lycra-clad skiny-wheeled speed bike at the top of one of the dunes which pleased Iain no end, especially as the guy had overtaken us about 10 minutes before this. The cyclist did look quite surprised to see us again!

We arrived on the outskirts of Den Haag and followed some students on bikes to the city centre. We found a campsite (eventually) on the outskirts of the city. It's a day off tomorrow to be tourists.

Day 56 Dykes, sheep herding and campsite complaints! Thursday 10th September

134km   Holwerd - Petten


The church bells chimed seven times and we knew we had to leave the tent.

The wind had changed in our favour and as we cruised alongside the dyke in the hot sunshine at 30km an hour, it was only the cattle grids, gates and sheep that interrupted our progress.

You are cycling through the fields with the sheep and some are more brave than others. One particular cattle grid was heavily populated by sheep so I started to beep our horn as we approached at speed. There was not much movement from the sheep so I beeped the horn more which resulted in some movement in the ranks. It wasn't till we hit the grid at speed whilst beeping the horn that the stampeed started! Sheep were running, all in the same direction crossing over the path in front of us; we were sheep herding! It wasn't till afterwards that Iain confessed he'd actually bashed one of the sheep with the front pannier. I can definitely see the thrill of being a cowgirl!

We motored along with the wind behind us, the route took us on top of the dyke and it waas like riding along velodrome as the road sloped down to the right and into the North Sea. As we approached the 20km thin strip of land that separates the Markerkeer Lake from the North Sea, the bridge opened to let in about 20 ships and huge sailboats with masts up.
We zoomed along the thin stip of straight road, it was some feat of engineering. We passed cyclists going in the other direction struggling against the wind, it's normally us the other way round. We were the only ones going with the wind.

Back on the main land we were cycling through sand dunes. We stopped at the third campsite we came to and were horrified at being charged 22.50 euroes for the priviledge of making our own tent for the night and packing it away the next morning and being confined to a 5 minute shower! After cycling to our pitch and checking out the facilities we thought we decided to leave and Iain got us a refund and off we cycled in the hope of more reasonable accommodation for the night. We found a great campsite in Petten, right on the sand dunes for 15 euroes and as much hot water for a shower as you like. The only problem was the gate crashing sea gulls that came round for dinner!

Day 55 Wednesday 9th September

116km    Termunterzijl - Holwerd

We were on the bike by 8:30am but it seemed as though the sun had slept in as it was an unusually dark morning.
We cycled to Delfzijl where we picked up provisions and a propper bike map from the tourist info. For some reason the man at the vegetable stall gave me two tomatoes for free!

It's the first time that we're actually following a designated bike route, The North Sea Cycle Route and at the moment navigation is easy as it's pretty well sign posted. It's a good little cycle route keeping us well away from busy roads and taking us through beautiful Dutch villages.

That afternoon on route we were suddenly overcome by the smell of onions. To our left in one of the fields lay thousands, probably millions of onions that had just been harvested. If it hadn't been a fairly populated moment on the bike route we would have snuck into the field and swiped two for our dinner!

We passed grand houses with moats around them all behind these huge dykes, it's quite amazing.

Even though it was tough going at times with the wind against us, we had time for a coffee and beer stop. Really I should have had the beer as Iain is the stearer.

The campsite at the tiny village of Holwerd was right beneath a church that chimbed regularly (good for our wake up call tomorrow morning). After a dinner of cous cous and ham and pea soup, we went to see if any of the pubs were showing the football, Scotland vs The Netherlands (it wasn't my choice of recreational activity!).

Iain seemed to cope with Scotland's defeat well, it might have been something to do with the fact the other punters in the near empty pub were all Dutch. I sat and read the guide book and chatted to the owner of the pub who identified with the Scots being "prisoners of the English" as he considered himself Frysian and not Dutch. Frysian was his first language.

Day 54 Flat Netherlands Tuesday 8th September

78km   Wiesmoor - Termunterzijl (The Netherlands)

We got up late as the bike would not be ready before 12:00. I cycled off solo on my city bike to pick up breakfast; I've always wanted to cycle round with a basket full of bread and that morning that's what I did!

We cycled along the now very familiar route to Wiesmoor to pick up Bluey Thorn with our separate bikes loaded up. Robert (the friendly man at the bike shop) was waiting for us out the back as was the bike with a now fully functional back pannier rack. I think Robert was glad to see us and his bikes in one piece after the shakey start the previous evening! He showed us round his workshop and the racks of old bikes they had including a 1940s tandem bike! Robert also told us that throughout our days in Germany we'd been breaking the law for cycling without dynamo lights on the bike. Apparantly you can get fined on the spot for this. He advised us to have one of out battery operated lights on the front handle bars at all times so it at least looked like we had dynalo lights. Then right on que, the police turned up! Robert went over to have a chat with them and Iain quickly put our front headlight on; we got away with it! In anycase we were aiming for The Netherlands that afternoon where we would no longer be breaking the law!

The bike fully loaded up we said our goodbyes and off we went. A few hundred metres down the road we stopped to consult the map and who should be behind us but Robert from the bike shop saying "The Netherlands is the other direction!" We were just planning on taking the scenic route along the canal. It was a very scenic route along the canal in the sunshine.

We got to Petkum just in time to make the ferry to Ditzum across the estuary. We sped the 20km to the border where there were no border guards or flags, only sheep and an empty building on top of the bridge over the canal.

We entered our 10th country and it was instantly noticeable how flat the terrain was. Apart from the dyke to our right protecting us from the North Sea, the landscape was complete flat all the way to the horizon.

The turnips were being harvested in the fields, I've never seen such a mountain of vegetables!

Another 20km later and we were at the campsite.

 

 

Day 53 Monday 7th September

58km    Sengwarden - Wiesmoor

We were up and away by 8:50am after a late night of watching celebrity wrestling (or something like that) on tv. Carcrash tv but strangely we couldn't stop watching it; I put it down to tiredness!

Outside the zimmer, just as we said "ready" and were about to cycle off, it started to rain. We still have not managed to get a detailed map so we spent the morning cycling for 30km to Schortens which was only about 10km away. At the tourist info in Schortens we managed to stock up on free decent cycle maps.

The sunshine was out as we cycled along by the canal, everything was going well until we were just outside Wiesmoor. We sped round a bend, there was a bump in the road (not a particularly significant one) and then there was a horrible grating sound. That horrible sound was one of the back panniers rubbing against the back wheel. On a closer inspection the bolt holding the back pannier rack together had sheered right off; half of it was in the bike frame and the other on the ground. We could go no further as our bike could not carry our panniers. As luck would have it, there was a campsite on the otherside of the canal. I wheeled the bike and Iain carried the two panniers over the bridge and down to the campsite.

At the campsite, the whole place was deserted, no punters and not even a reception, just 30 static caravans by the canal with a locked shower and toilet block. After several hours of trying to fix the back pannier rack (nothing seemed to work) an old lady appeared with a fluffy white dog and somehow we managed to communicate the problem and she duely marched me round the corner with the bike to a car garage where she went inside (with the dog in tow) and did a lot of talking in German and pointing at the bike outside. There was a mechanic who might be able to fix the bike but he would not be back for half an hour. Rather than wait we decided to head into Wiesmoor in the hope that we could find a bike shop that would be able to fix the pannier rack. We stashed all our worldly belongings (that fit into two panniers) behind a tree and sped along the canal into Wiesmoor with passports and wallet in the hope of a bike shop.

We were in luck, the first bike shop we went to was brilliant. There would be able to fix the bike for 15 Euros the only problem being the bike would have to stay in the shop overnight and we needed to get back to our belongings somehow that were 7km away at the campsite. One of the men disappeared and quickly reappeared with two separate bikes for us to use until we could get Bluey Thorn back.

I was so excited, my bike was so cool, an upright city bike complete with basket at the front, kick stand and back pedal brakes. The only problem was that I'd been riding a tandem bike for two months and in my eagerness for independence I jumped onto the bike, tried to ride off, wobblled all over the place, stumbled and nearly fell into the side of the shop. Riding a single bike is very different to being on the back of a tandem. It appeared I'd lost the ability to ride a normal bike! With all the shrieking and laughter coming from the back of the shop one of the men came outside to make sure we were ok. Now the pressure was really on to A. make sure I didn't crash the bike I'd just been given and B. to try and remember how to ride a normal bike. As the shop keeper watched it took all my powers of concentration to keep the bike upright and pedal off weaving somewhat onto the German bike paths with the man calling after me "Slowly!" in a concerned tone.

We cycled back to the campsite, we must have looked rediculous in our full on cycle gear, gloves and all on these up right city bikes! It cetainly felt odd to be on a single bike again. We located the owner who lived on the otherside of the canal and pitched our tent quickly, we wanted to get back to Wiesmoor quickly for there was a festival that evening; one of the people in the bike shop had told us all about it.

The festival was great with floats paraded round the streets made entirely of flowers. Riding on one of the floats was last year's Miss Wiesmoor and the runners up! The fairground by the canal was heaving with people as we waited for it to get dark and the fireworks or "canal on fire" to start. The "swimming in the canal with fire" didn't happen but this may have been something that was lost in translation. The fireworks were pretty mediocre but it was the close proximity at which we were standing to them that made the whole thing spectacular. Thye whole crowd jumped and cowered at one loud close rocket which more than made up for the limp Catherine Wheels!

We cycled back (on our separate bikes) in the dark along the canal under the moonlight with our dynamo lights making patterns on the road infront of us. It was magical.

 

Day 52 Apple picking and ferry rides Sunday 6th September

131km   Krautsand - Sengwarden

It rained all night and it was a constant drizzle that we awoke to. The taupaulin held off the rain which was a bonus!

Our map is not detailed enough so we traversed the small roads heading for Bremerhaven where we'd get a ferry to Nordenham.

After 50km of cycling in a cold drizzle we stopped for lunch in Bad Bederkesa where it was sunny. This was the first opportunity we'd had to stop for lunch as it being sunday everything had been closed. Not knowing where to go we decided to follow a lady on a bike with an empty bread basket in the hope that she might lead us to an establishment where we could by food. We stalked her for a fair few roads which paid off as her destination was the only bakery in the village open on a sunday.

After sitting inside the bakery contimplating our route we got back on the bike somewhat tired and headed for the harbour of Bremerhaven. A short ferry ride later and we were in Nordenham.where due to our lack of a detailed map, we racked up more kms than necessary to eventually get to Eckwarden for our second ferry ride of the day.

After that it was a plesant afternoon's cycle ride along bike tracks. We even had time to do some "drive by apple picking" on the many apple trees that lined the route. We need a lot more practice at this but we did bag a few juicy apples.

We made the 5pm ferry by racing down the pier, pedals flashing  much to the amusement of spectators on and off the ferry.

After an hour's journey we were against the light to find a campsite for the night. Not having a detailed enough map did not help and we ended up staying in a zimmer as the campsite proved elusive.

Something has come to light since we arrived in Germany, Iain's "I can speak a little bit of German" has turned out to be non existant!

Day 51 From the Baltic to the North Sea Saturday 5th September

120km   Lubeck - Krautsand

We had breakfast in our zimmer whilst watching some crazy German TV programme a bit like Dom Jolly; you didn't need to understand German to get the gist! It was raining heavily and we reluctantly put on our waterproofs and unlocked the bike from the shed where it had been stashed for the passed two days.

After 50km we stopped at a bakery for lunch and the sun was shining. Today was the first day I've had to wear my cycling legs rather than shorts. They're great! They look rediculous but they keep me warm!

We cycled on to Gluckstadt where we planned to get a ferry across the estuary to Wischafen. As we cycled up to the central square we were greated by a live band playing Otis Redding's "Sitting on the dock of the bay" fully amped up but probably could have done with more practise! It was quite an appropiate song except we weren't planning on making this dock our home and we'd travelled a lot further than 2,000miles!

We raced down to the harbour and nipped passed the queing cars to be the last vehicle to make it on to the 5pm ferry.

Another momentous day; we have finished our Baltic route, we are no longer following the Baltic Sea, it has now become the North Sea!

Day 50 A day off and not as much marzipan as I'd have liked! Friday 4th September

0km  A day off in Lubeck

We got up late and spent most of the day in the internet cafe trying to update the website with varying success. At least we managed to change that Finish photo on the home page!

We emerged from the cafe at 6:30pm and wondered round teh city centre and old town. Annoyingly the marzipan shop was shut (Lubeck is famous for marzipan) but under the rising full moon it was a wonderful time to stroll around the streets taking in the spires.

We picked up some marzipan from a supermarket on the way back to our zimmer, it wasn't great, but it was marzipan!

Day 49 Crossing from East to West Thursday 3rd August

125km  Borgerende - Lubeck

We were on the bike by 8am and cycled 60km to Wisma were we had a tradional lunch of Brotworst and Curryworst from a market stall in the town centre in the rain .

Lunch was short due to the rain; we cycled on towards Lubeck. Just outside Lubeck was a brown road sign marking the old divide between East and West Germany. We flew passed it in the rain.I tired to take a photo of the point from the back of the bike but it just looks like anyother stretch of road. It felt quite monumental to have crossed the now invisible divide.

We arrived in the midst of Lubeck's many spires and found our way to the tourist info who booked us into the cheapest zimmer in town; cheaper than the youth hostel who charge you more if you're over 27! I definitely felt discriminated against!!

Very tired from a long day on the bike in wet conditions we decided to stumble over the road to the Turkish Kebab shop for dinner. There being a huge Turksih community in Germany, the food was excellent!

Day 48 Wednesday 2nd September

108km  Demmin - Borgerend

As we were packing everything up Frau Mayer arrived at the door to say she had made breakfast for us. This was "her present" to us. What an amazing breakfast it was. Out on their patio in the sunshine was a table in the sunshine decked out in finest china and crystal with home made apple juice, pear and peach syrop, scrambled eggs, bread, honey from the neighbour's beehive and hot coffee! Easily the best breakfast we've had so far. We were joined by Jolina, the grandaughter who also helped Iain fix the flat tyre we seemed to have aquired somewhere.

Eventually we were ready to leave and it was like a family send off with both Mr and Mrs Mayer plus Jolina waving us off. It had rained over night and in a really touching gesture, Mr Mayer wiped the bike seats for us with a hanky so they weren't wet to sit on.

We cycled along and by the afternoon we were at Rostock. Here on the approach to the city we nearly caused two car accidents without even being on the road! Near a zebra crossing on the concourse of a garage Iain did some nippy stearing round some signs which involved him holding on to one of them so we wouldn't crash into the other. We were both in fits of laughter and it was two cars that were watching us rather than the road that nearly caused an accident each!

The city was beautiful but on leaving it we had another puncture. It seemed to be the "slow puncture" variety that as a kid I remember used to get you round the block a few times before you'd have to reluctantly make a pitt stop at number 7 for some more air. Unfortunately our "slow puncture" barely got us back to the bike shop and we had to wheel it through the busy tourist-filled pedestrian streets. On fixing the puncture we realised what had happened, we'd repaced the innertube that morning with one of the "mended" innertubes rather than a brand new one. With all the weight we're carrying on the back of the bike, the puncture repair just didn't hold up.

We cycled into the evening arriving at the campsite at 7pm. The daylight hours seems to be getting shorter and shorter. We could hear the loud croaking from the frogs in the pond as we slept that night;

Day 47 A warm welcome to Germany Tuesday 1st September

128km   Miedzyzdroje - Demmin (Germany)

It was a warm morning as we cycled along the forest bike tracks with our new map. We bordered a ferry to Swinoujscie, the last Polish town before the border. Here we stocked up on cheap provisions before crossing into Germany. The border had all the evidence of a once well policed crossing but we sailed through without being stopped except to take some snap shots and use up the last few Zlotys we had before we were back into Euros.

The bike tracks were fantastic! The only thing that slowed us down was a puncture, another one!  It was a hot afternoon asz we rode fast to make it to Demmin before sunset. The sun was slipping behind the cathedral as we arrived at the top of the hill into Demmin. There was no campsite to be found. The first Pension we got to was closed. The second didn't seem to want us staying there or was full up. The third never answered the door bell but the forth option, a Zimmer (just a room in a house) was fantastic! For that evening and the next morning, we were made to feel like part of the family at the Zimmer Familie Mayer.

Frau Mayer must have seen the desperation in our eyes as she said they were full up. She went off for a moment and then came back to say that if we didn't mind sharing a kitchen and bathroom with another lady, we could stay. A bed for the night at last! We were unloading the bike in the garden near their goats and sheep when Frau Mayer returned with a bottle of beer for Iain and a huge bottle of home made apple juice for me; such a kind gesture and was very much appreciated. As we chatted to Frau Mayer in the garden in the warm dark evening air, she mentioned her love of music and spontaneously broke into song. She had the most wonderful voice; it was a magical moment and a wonderful welcome to Germany.

Anca, the huge wolf-like German shepherd dog, guarded our tandem all night, we didn't need the padlock!

Day 46 Literally cycling along the Baltic Monday 31 August

78km    Mirezyno - Miedzydroje

We awoke to a very cold morning; so cold that Iain deemed it time to put on his cycle legs rather than shorts! We set out over the bridge and into the forest road; rather impressively, it was cobbled all the way through the forest for 3km. Then we hit one of Poland's military bases; the road ended at a barrier where a man in blue karki stood with a machine gun! He looked more friendly than the Russian Visa Police so I approached him to ask if we could continue our journey through their land. We could not. But he did point us in the direction of a well hidden track that ran through the forest and onto the beach, he assured us we would be able to ride along the beach on our bike so off we went onto the assult couse-like forest path. We felt some what pressured into taking this path as they watched us eagerly to make sure we got on it.

The forest track did indeed end at the beach, we did a quick reckie of the sand dunes and the beach and decided the hard wet sand near the sea was our best option. This was confirmed when we saw two cyclists doing just that. So we carried the bike down the stairs to the beach. Cycling along the sand so close to the Baltic Sea was so much fun!! The morning sunshine, the surf, the wind, the seagulls the ocassional wet foot as Iain miscalculated the timings of the waves!

We pushed the bike back up onto the forest track at the first available opportunity. Cycling on sand is hard work! The forest track took us through more beach resorts that were definitely coming to the end of their season. A puncture made us stop at one of these resorts for ice-cream and lunch.

Back on the bike and we were making good progress until we got our second puncture of the day half way up a hill. As we stopped to fix it, a tandem bike went wizzing down the hill followed by a triplet bike!

We made it to Miezyzdroje and needed to stop at the local bike shop to get a map of the forest roads that would take us closer to the German border. At the shop we bumped into another tandem bike (a father and daughter) who were having problems with a tyre. The shop didn't seem to have the right size so we gave them our spare tyre. It had served us well for 3,000km so it was not new but the German father seemed pleased.

 

Day 45 A cold wind and a not so short shot cut Sunday 30th August

113km    Dabki - Mirzezyno

Up early with the plan to have breakfast on the beach. We could hear the crashing waves from our tent so we knew we were near the sea.

We cycled off in the direction of the beach and stumbled on a tarmac road through the forest. After a great breakfast on the white sand dunes overlooking a deserted Baltic beach, we were back on the bike again thinking we'd found the best short cut. We had not of course and about 1km from Lazy, the tarmac road ran out and we were left with the only option to push the bike along the beach. Sand and are bike don't really mix so we had to turn around and cycle back whence we had come. A frustrating but scenic 15km detour before we'd even set out for the day's ride.

It was a quiet 34km to Lazy along the mail road with a cold head wind making it hard giong and slow progress. Needing a pick me up we had lunch at Lody (another beach resort) and contimplated buying a pirate flag for the bike but we thought better of it!

Somewhat tired we arrived at Mirzezyno and found a campsite. It being our half way day, we went out for a drink to celebrate!

Day 44 Saturday 29th August

124km    Leba - Dabki

Woke up to find three frogs hanging out in our porch inside our waterproofs!

Was a cold day when not cycling but still sunny and warm when we were on the bike. Not much to note of the day's cycle. We arrived at Dabki (another beach resort) after a few passing showers and found several odd campsites that were so strange that we actually opted against staying in them. We managed to persuade a campsite to take us in even though they were supposed to be closing for the season. We ate dinnner beneath the shelter of the campsite reception as the heavy rain fell and we hoped this wasn't the end of the summer!

Day 43 Late starts and frantic finishes Friday 28th August

125km   Gdansk - Leba

We were up early but on the bike late as we wrote log books and postcards over breakfast.

Maybe it was the late start but it was hard going that morning and we were both happy to stop at Gdynia for lunch having only done 10km.

So most of the kms were done in the afternoon. We cycled passed the Polish equivilent to Battersea Dogs' Home and the noise was unreal as the mexican wave of barks from differing sized dogs rippled through the outside kennels!

We rode through lots of tree-line avenues with forests in the distance. We arrived in Leba at 6pm and stayed at Camping Rafael! There were two pet rabbits freely running round the campsite. Iain got involved in some rabbit catching with one Polish kid and they actully managed to capture one of the rabbits!  He let it go again though, I'm not sure rabbit pie would have gone down well with the locals! 

Day 42 Thursday 27th August

44.2km  Jantar - Gdansk

We were up early and cycling through the pine forests whilst the rest of the beach resort inhabitants were still asleep. We crossed the river by barge at Mikoszewo which was a pretty unique mode of transport to cross a river by. The barge was tied to either bank with a wire and pully system and a tug boat powered the barge backwards and forwards. We cycled along the island until we crossed over to the mainland via a floating pontoon bridge which was good fun, especially when huge buses were going in the opposite direction rocking the structure!

We arrived in Gdansk through the Green City Gate which was spectacular. I'm sure we've snuck into many photo albums as the tourists were all out in force snapping away at the city.

After breakfast in one of the cobbled back streets we found a bike shop that could fit us two new cogs and a chain in a few hours. This gave us time for a quick tram ride back to the city centre, to write a few postcards, a quick bit of sight seeing and to eat some more ice-cream. Oh yes and we also managed to post back a memory card to the UK by mistake which has all our Finnish photographs on!

We picked the bike up that evening and cycled to the campsite on the beach along the esplanade which was a hectic cycle ride as there were bikes, blades, runners, walkers and skateboarders out in great number in the warm evening. We set up camp in the dark using our head torches, we've really noticed the darkness since losing an hour on crossing the border into Poland.

Day 41 26th August

110km   Kaliningrad - Jantar (Poland)

It was our plan to get up early and leave the city before the traffic and mayhem caught us. I think there is traffic and mayhem whatever time you try to cycle in Kaliningrad.

After we escaped the city we hit the countryside and could see on our right hand side as we followed the Baltic coast, the thin strip of land that was Baltiysk, the place we had been forbidden from entering two days ago. We took some photos of it for a souvenir of a city we never quite got to!

Our plan was to catch a ferry from Frombork in Poland that would take us back onto the strip of land we had entended to be on in Russia. It was 45km to the Polish border, we cycled fast and tried to avoid lorries, potholes and overtaking cars. The Polish Russian border is an large piece of land with lots of cars queing. After more amusement at the bike and a quick pannier search, we were back in the EU!

We had lunch whilst we waited for the ferry at Frombork. After speaking to Rafe (it was his birthday) we started to get a little concerned that there were no other passengers waiting for our boat or a captain and it was bang on 3:10pm, the due departure time. After a while it dawned on us that unknowingly we had crossed a time zone on entering Poland and we were still on Russian time, we had another hour to wait! This gave us the perfect opportunity to try out first Polish Lody. Ice-cream is a big thing in Poland and it comes in huge quantities!

An hour later on the ferry we were being entertained by a singing captain. Not knowing much about where we were heading to, we were suprised by what awaited us on our arrival, it was a full on beach pleasure dome, bouncy castles, sweet stalls, music, bikes, bars, neon lights, bungi jumping, inflatables, the works!

We ploughed our way though all this and onto the one road through the pine forests. The whole thing was such a contrast to Russia, there were signs everywhere for camping and places to stay, people smiled when they saw us and we even got a big wave from a man driving a horse and cart. It was easy being on a bike here and it really was an antidote to Russia, that is apart from the karioke at our campsite that night!

 

 

Day 40 Search for a hotel 25th August

0km as it was a day off in Kaliningrad

Day's off are never quite what you expect. After a 3 course traditional Russian Breakfast we were off out in search of somewhere to dump the bike and accommodation for the night. The hotel we had stayed in last night was full up so the plan was to go to the hostel across the street that we'd tried to go to the previous night. No one answered so we decided to wheel the bike into the city centre and find somewhere to stay so that we could be propper tourists for the day.

It was a hot day and slow progress wheeling a tandem bike round the busy, polluted streets of Kaliningrad. We found a map and headed for the golden domes of the cathedral we could see in the distance. Again green army trucks rumbled by. The central square was busy. We headed for the train station to where the lonely planet had said there was a hostel. Neither of us could see any sign of a place to stay. As I sat with the bike an older lady approached and was very interested in the bike. We chatted to each other in our native languages and she beeped the horn and spun the flashing pedals of the bike. She then got out her mobile phone, I thought to take a photo but she spoke in rapid Russian, the only word I understood repeated several times was "tandem". She left and I went for a wonder to see if I could locate a place to stay while Iain looked after the bike. I asked in a shop if they knew of the hostel we were looking for. They did not but a loud, possibly over friendly Russian man was eager to help. He made a phone call to the place and it turned out we were at the wrong train station (so that was why we couldn't find the hostel). Back outside with Iain and the bike and our new Russian friend was offering us his house as a place to stay for the night instead of the hostel which apparantly had no hot water either. Just as I was wondering how we were going to get out of staying wtih this man (something didn't seem quite right), another man all dressed in lycra on a skinny racer bike turned up saying "thank goodness I've found you" as if this was a planned bike meeting at Kaliningrad's train station. The scene was suddenly surreal as the two Russians conversed animatedly with each other and the grand speckie that had just been Iain, myslef and the tandem bike had now become a full on stage show with two Russians, one with dark sunglasses and smoking a cigarette in a cigarette holder, the other head to toe in lycra with a bike!

It turned out that the man on the bicycle was the son of the old lady who I'd spoken to. The telephone call she had made was to Volodya and he'd jumped on his bike straight away to come and find us. He was the president of Kaliningrad cycle club!

The first Russian man made a quick exit which perhaps is testimony to the offer not being entirely genuine, although we will never know for sure. We spent the afternoon walking round the city wtih Volodya. What Volodya didn't know about British pop music from the 60s and 70s was not worth knowing. He'd taught himself English from the lyrics on vinyl covers. He was an endearing psycadelic character who seemed to be our good omen as for the second time in Russia, we were escorted to our accommodation for the evening. It was of course our first port of call from earlier that day but this time someone was in. By now it was about 6pm, we had spent the whole day searching for a place to stay! It had been a most bizzare day off in Kaliningrad.

Day 39

154km   Nida - Kaliningrad

We were up and away from the campsite by 9:00am, we were both excited to see what Russia would hold for two Brits on a tandem bike.

3km down the road
and we were at the border which was pretty quiet apart from a single lorry. We completed all our forms with the help of one of the Russian border guards; although on reflection I´m not sure he was actually that helpful as you will see. We wrote down our destination in Russia of Baltiysk, the guard said this was ok and sent us on to passport control where we were scrutinised closely. We cycled through no man´s land and then on to customs through more barriers. Our passports and visas were checked again by a stern lady who opened the barrier and waved us through with a rather sarcastic "good luck!".  We were in Russia! and what was the first thing that happened? we got yelled at by the border control for taking photos of the "Welcome to Russia" sign!

The landscape hadn´t changed at all but we were no longer in the EU. We stopped about 5km down the road for what turned out to be an hour´s walk along the sand dunes to a viewing  platform with spectacular views of the spit. If you looked one way you could seen Lithunia  and where we´d travelled from, if you looked the other way it was Russia.

Upon exiting the national park we were off map again and without any Rubbels to buy a map until we could locate a cashpoint. We followed Iain´s uncanny sense of direction and found the town centre where we located a cashpoint, map and food. It´s more disconcerting than I antiscipated not being able to understand simple shop signs or road signs or even being able to pronounce names of places.

We cycled on heading for Baltiysk. The roads were appalling although it´s probably more to do with the drivers of the machinas (the cars) rather than the roads themselves. The 12km sign post for Baltiysk was a huge relief. I thought we must have cycled extra fast as I saw what I thought was a sign for "welcome to Baltiysk" in fact it was another Russian border control. We were stopped by three female visa police who in no uncertain terms told us that we could not go to Baltiysk; anywhere else yes, Baltiysk no. They pointed us in the direction of Kaliningrad and the Russian police dog chased us away. And that was that. We had a maximum of 2 hours of light left and no choice but to carry on cycling towards Kaliningrad along the trecherous roads.
It´s amazing what guide books don´t tell you. Baltiysk is actually a Russian military base closed to most Russians let alone non-Russians. We had cycled up to the military check point quite happily, pedals flashing smiling away expecting to be let through. Looking back on it, this may have been a bit nieve as we passed many huge army tanks, trucks, barracks and military statues on route to the check point!

So we cycled back the way we had come. None of the small towns we passed had anywhere to stay. We cycled the 35km and eventually reached the outskirts of Kaliningrad as the sun was setting. We had no map of the city, no idea of where to say and were beginnning to look for a cosy looking park bench when we were approached by a man his young son. His son loved our bike (I think it was the flashing pedals); the man turned out to be Polish working for the Polish embasy in Kaliningrad. It´s moments like these that restore your faith in human nature. Not only did Michal tell us where a hotel was, but he took us there, translated from Russian to Polish and into English so we could understand and order our Russian breakfast!
His parting words were, if you need any help, come to the embassy, just look for the Polish flag! A truely kind person!

After 154km bike ride it was good to no longer be walking the streets of Kaliningrad at night with a tandem bike. I cooked dinner on the bathroom floor with our gas stove and we ate bulgawheat wtih tuna in tomato sauce and sauercrout.

Day 38 23rd August

128km   Plunge - Nida

We rode off into a very misty morning, fog was everywhere! By 10:00am the fog had lifted and the green hills, fields, stalks nests, wooden houses and barking dogs were all now visible to us.

It was a fast 70km on tarmac roads to get to Klaipeda with one huge round about to negotiate. We boarded the ferry for a 10minute boat ride onto the Curonian Spit. It was fantastic, we cycled along the pine forest car free tracks of the thin piece of land with huge sand dunes, the Baltic Sea on oneside and the Lagoon on the other.
I read the guide book out load to Iain from my seat on the back of the bike so we could be more informed about the area.

We are now staying at Nida campsite about 3km from the Russian border. Throughout the Baltic States people have been wary about Russia, the Russians and us going there so it will be interesting to see what it holds for us.

Day 37 22nd August

106km    Auce - Plunge

Woke up
in the dorm room of the student halls very disorientated.
We stopped at the local shop to buy supplies with the last of our currency and bumped into all the people from the previous night who had helped us. We felt like propper locals exchanging morning greetings with everyone.
After cleaning the bike at the next petrol station we were on the road and had arrived at the border by lunchtime. This time the border was not deserted, the friendly Latvian all dressed in green waved as we cycled by.

Lithuania did seem quite different to Latvia. The first town we came to was a large run down place with tall, grey buildings and unfriendly people. We cycled on more pot holed roads. The wind was against us and it was hard going, especially after a morning of riding on unsurfaced road.

We reached Plunge at 5pm and stopped at the first sign for a place to stay. Not only was it a hotel, but it had a bowling alley as well, which was a bit bizzare! So that evening, who would have thought it but our first night in Lithunia we went bowling and ate pizza as it was the hotel´s first birthday celebration and you got free pizza if you had a game of bowling!  The evening got more bizzare when a wedding party turned up and a bride rushed onto one of the lanes to have her photo taken whilst pretending to bowl - she got a foot fault!

Day 36 21st August

119km   Riga - Auce

The roads getting out of the city were bad but got worse once we´d left and were on the outskirts! We cycled along pot holed roads and huge curbs. We decided against the motorway and cycled along the road next to it which still had a fair few lorries and trucks on it rumbling along to the oil factory that was ahead of us at what was in fact a dead end road although there had been no sign to warn us of this. The dirt track ahead lead to a railway line. There were to options, onwards and carry the bike over two sets of railway tracks to where the road appeared to continue or cycle back the way we had come. Looking back at it now it doesn´t seem the most sensible option but we went with the first. We checked for trains and then quickly carried 65kilos of fully loaded bike over the tracks.
Safe on the other side the bridge over the motorway took us onto dirt track roads and small settlements on the outskirts of Riga. These small estates, industrial areas and agricultural parts were a real interesting ride, daily life went on and we cycled by.
We had another dog attack by an agressive mut on a dirt track road. Iain yelling at the dog in his gruffest most Scottish accent seemed to unnerve the dog and we managed to escape unscarred.
Later we were back on the main roads again trying to avoid the pot holes and being pushed off the road by cars and lorries. Unsurprizingly given the conditions of the road, we got a puncture.
We rode into the sun, heading west. There was a sweet smell of apples in the air from the numerous trees that lined the roads. We were now looking for a place to spend the night. After some advice from some friendly locals in Bene who warned us about Russia and the Russians, we cycled on to Auce where we hoped we´d find a place to stay.
It wasn´t quite what we expected and we nearly spent the night in the manor house (which was actually more of a castle) but we ended up spending the night in the university halls whilst the agricultural students were all on holiday. This was all thanks to the kindness of about six people
in the local shop who happened to be there when I went in to ask about a place to stay.

Day 35 20th August

120km Ainazi - Riga

On the road
we headed south to the capital, it was a beautiful sunny day. We cycled through the pine forests catching glimpses of the Baltic through the trees.
The journey down the E77 was pretty quick, negotiating our way into Riga from the outskirts took much longer, taking us through, city parks, back alleys and the harbour.
We eventually found the centre, tourist info and a bed for the night. After washing our clothes and hanging them from the curtain rail we headed out for a night out in Riga.
There was live music on every corner and blankets at every cafe to keep you warm. Sightseeing in the evening has a lot going for it! We got lost in the small alleys and numerous churches and kept on running into more soldiers - for some reason the army was out in force in one area of Riga that evening.

Day 34 19th August

78km  Parnu - Ainazi (Latvia)

Stepped out of the tent to come eyeball to eyeball with a kestral getting stuck in to a breakfaast of pigeon, yum!

It was a morning of bike shops in order to try and fix the front pannier rack so that we could get back on the road again. The second shop we went to kindly rang round most of the bike shops in Parnu to locate what we needed, a shiny new pannier rack. As we cycled to the shop, I chatted to Cara (in Malaysia) on my phone on the back of the bike - we got some funny looks from the local pedestrians! The front pannier was now fitted and fixed. We hunted round for a map of Latvia but found none. We have a large scale map of the Baltic States so that would have to do for now. We bought some taurpaulin for the leaky tent and after we´d done all this it was 4pm and we were ready to head out of Estonia and into Latvia! 78km may not sound much but they were quick kilometers as we were determined to cycle into a new country before sundown; we even managed to overtake a tractor-like vehicle!

With excitement we approahed the border town of Ikla on the Estonian side. Here we met our first (albeit long abandoned) border crossing we had been waiting for, complete with old watch tower, flag poles and large wooden signs. We cycled into Latvia and the town f Ainazi. We stopped at the first cashpoint to get some local currency and to ask in the shop if there was a campsite or place to stay near by. The answer from the friendly shop keeper was, "No, No. Eesti, Eesti". What a welcome to Latvia! She basically was saying there´s nowhere to stay round here, go to Estonia if you want to sleep somewhere!

Unperturbed by this we continued on looking for a place to wildcamp for the night. After about 10km without seeing an appropriate place, we saw a camping sign. The campsite had only opened in February and was still very much under construction with the builders camping on site too. It was right by the sea and we watched a fantastic sunset whilst we ate our first meal in Latvia, tinned meatballs and cous cous!

Day 33 Day of the crash 18th August

136km   Linnamäe - Parnu

"Whenever you fall off (whatever it is) get straight back on"  some appropiate words written in my birthday card by my Dad.

We woke up to a thunder storm and hid in the tent for a while which is rapidly becomming less waterproof! As the drips started to get the better of us, we ran to the marquee shelter and had breakfast there underneath the Estonian flag watching the rain beat its nearly horizontal path.

A turn around from yesterday, it was waterproofs all day. We attempted to stop for a break in a town called Lihula which going by the map looked like a sensible plan. When we arrived at the town we were expecting a nice cafe or two to stop and have a coffee in, perhaps a supermarket and maybe a loo stop if we were lucky! What we found amongst the 13th century ruins was a notice board saying welcome to Lihula, the smallest designated town in Estonia, in fact before 1991 it wasn´t even a "town" at all! So no cafe stop but it was a charming town to cycle through and we did get a fare few stares!

Later on we stopped for a quick apple break by the roadside, it was actually dry. In the distance we could see the grey rain clouds which appeared to be getting closer to us with ever greater speed. We jumped on the bike and attempted to outrun the clouds. The clouds were actually chasing us, as I turned round to look behind us, I could see the rain beating down on the tarmac, it was getting ever closer. We did well to outrun the bad weather for a few minutes but predictably it caught us and we got soaked. It´s the wet feet that really gets to you.

Some days the kilometers just tumbled off the signposts (like the ride from Lahti to Helsinki) but today was not one of those days. I was wearing Iain´s knee support on my right knee which under normal circumstances I wouldn´t have touched as he´d been wearing it solidly for a week, eight hours a day and sweating in it constantly. But these are not normal times and although it was a bit big, I was glad of the support and warmth it gave as yesterday my knee had been really sore.

We eventually made it to Parnu where we had our first crash! We were crossing one of the bridges on the pedestian/cycle section that was separated from the road by a crash barrier. This particular section was very narrow and the tarmac badly rutted. The bike went over. Wheels out onto the road and Iain, myself and the handlebars into the wall. It was all a bit scary and no doubt a grand speckie for all the locals. Thankfully we were both ok with just a few minor grazes to add to our collection. However the same could not be said of the front pannier which was not bent beyond repair. There was no chance of Iain being able to do a quick fix on it this time, it had snapped in two.

We limped around Parnu with the front pannier rack twisted and the the front pannier barely hanging on looking for the campsite which was clearly on the map but in reality did not exist. A quickstop off at the tourist info pointed us to another campsite which we found. It wasn´t great, for some reason we were confined to a dank, dingy, damp, muddy, poo infested corner of the campsite. I´m not sure what we´d said to the receptionist to deserve this! The tent held off the rain though, bonus!

Day 32 Into Estonia and into the wind 17th August

126km   Tallin - Linnamäe

We cycled out of the old cobbled streets of Tallinn and onto the coastal roads. Neither of us was prepared for the head wind that bombarded us. The lay of the land was flat but the effort required to move forward was like that of a long uphill crawl. Then we hit a tunnel of grey, torrential rain that managed to dampen our spirits somewhat. The cut on my right shin from our sharp shiny new cogs was now stinging in the wet weather.

However once the clouds cleared, we seemed to be surrounded by a benevolent weather globe for the rest of the day. As we cycled in the sunshine, the recent rain showers were evident on the tarmac roads beneath our wheels. For the remaining kilometers of the day, a pocket of blue sky stayed above us whilst the grey rain clouds remained on the periphery. The coastal road was beautiful and the smell of the Baltic Sea on the breeze fantastic!

We saw a huge nest on the top of an electricity pylon which looked very much like a stork´s nest. Later on the road we saw confirmation of the occumpant as a huge stork with a bright red bill and legs was searching for food by the road side until it saw us approaching at speed.

We were both tired as we cycled into the campsite which was more someone´s lawn again. The two huge guard dogs in kennels were somewhat unwelcoming especiallly after the warning the Austrian couple gave to us about dogs in Estonia! For some reason, dogs just hate tandem bikes and have an inbuilt radar for them.

Day 31 A wet morning in Helsinki and a not so dry evening out in Tallinn 16th August

About 20 - 30km  Helsinki - Tallinn (Estonia)

It was absolutely pouring with rain as we left the crowded campsite and headed to the ferry terminal. Through the suburbs of Helsinki we saw a different side to the city before hitting tourist central at the harbour. Dedicated tourists were all out in their waterproofs as we cycled around them on the cobble stone harbour.

At the ferry terminal we pushed to the front of the que cycling passed a long line of cars. This was mostly successful except for one man at the front of the que who wasn´t having any of it and wouln´t let two drenched, wind swept, shivering tandem cyclists in front of him even though he was sat inside his warm car. We stood and glared at him and tried to look even more cold as he had his passport checked!

The 3 1/2 hour ferry crossing was pretty uneventful. It was mostly full of locals out on day trips. There was a full on bar, dance hall and live caberet singer despite the fact it was only 10:30am. The done thing was to buy your breakfast, porridge, boiled egg and dumplings and have an accompanying bottle of red wine or beer with it! As super fit cyclists we didn´t partake in any of this and sat by the window watching the world of a cruise ship whilst eating our usual bread, honey and bananas in our wet waterproofs! Both of us were a bit tired and grumpy and most definitely cold!

We could see land at last and even sunshine! We cycled off the ferry and into our forth country with high spirits! In Tallin we found a place to stay that coincidently had another tandem team staying there too. The guy worked for a bike magazine www.velosophie.at  they were lovely and it was good to swap stories of the road on a tandem bike.

Tallin is beautiful. We went out for some afternoon and evening sightseeing and ended up in a medieval themed restaurant which sounds tacky but was actually done so well it was magical! The medieval honey beer and snaps was good too!  

Day 30 A marathon ride to Helsinki 15th August

106km  Lahti - Helsinki

We staggered to the bus stop with five panniers, two role mats, one tent and a spare tyre. The bus system seemed to be on our side this morning and there was a bus stop just passed the bike shop.

Iain wheeled out Bluey Thorn from the behind the bike shop, all shiny and new-looking in the morning sunshine. The new chain and cogs made cycling (even the hills) feel easy.

After a quick stop at a petrol station we were booked on a ferry to Tallin (aren´t mobile phones great!) and Iain now had some new sunnies. Sunglasses seem to be one of the biggest casulties of the road so far!

Back on the road again we stopped just north of Helsinki at a rest spot that turned out to have some sort of mini festival going on. It was right by a lake, in the hot sunshine, young and old were hanging out on the grassy banks listening to the live music, eating ice-cream and splashing about. It may have had something to do with the Helsinki marathon that was happening as we were cycling towards the city.

We arrived in Helsinki under the power of our own propulsion this time, it felt good and like a milestone as this was to be our last resting place in Scandinavia; after this we were entering the Baltic States. As we cycled along the bike tracks, we passed an old lady carrying empty shopping bags. She saw us and threw up her hands in the air to clap and cheer us on; a standing ovation from a little old lady, it was brilliant!

As we cycled towards our campsite we stopped for a quick round of crazy golf and to watch the aerial displays of the Scandinavian Red Arrows which were all part of the marathon celebrations.

Iain won crazy golf (not by much) but I got a hole in one on the last hole and we all know crazy golf is about the trophy shot!!

Day 29 Propper tourists, sightseeing in Helsinki 14th August

We cycled up to Bike Planet in Lahti, getting a puncture on the way, and handed over Bluey Thorn along with two brand new bike cogs.

Another train journey and we were among the other care free tourists in Helsinki. We took in the cathedrals, the fish market, harbour and food hall where we had meat pies sitting on the harbour with the seagulls. We probably are the most scruffy looking tourists in Helsinki and after our lunch (most of which I spilt down my trousers) we definitely were!

We wondered round the city to the 1952 Olympic stadium and climbed the viewing tower to watch the bad weather creep ever closer to Helsinki.

We had dinner underground in the network of cafes, bars and shops that line Helsinki Metro, bus and train station. We arrived back in Lahti feeling suddenly stranded without a bike and a 5km walk to the campsite. We walked most of the way and got a bus part of the way (the bus routes are not easy to work out) and arrived back at our tent eventually. I have to admit, darkness had caught up with us at last.

Day 28 A day trip to Helsinki 13th August

A small number of km to Lahti train station and back to the campsite, not worth logging.

We locked up Bluey Thorn (that´s the bike; "Bluey" because of the colour and "Thorn" partly as tribute to the Norse God Thor and secondly a testimony to the number of punctures we seem to acquire!) at the train station and boardered the 7:45am train to Helsinki armed wtih coffees and bananas like true commuters. There was something very strange about being transported to a new destination without having to put in the effort with your legs!

An hour later we were in Helsinki, not so much as tourists but as bike shoppers. We had a huge fish brunch at the harbour and started our search. The first bike shop was closed, the second, third and forth shops didn´t have the cogs we needed but at the fifth bike shop, Oy Bike Company Ltd, we struck gold! A helpful man and two brand new bike cogs later we were down 100€ down but our mission was accomplished! A quick 6 hour stop at the internet terminal in Helsinki train station to update the website (which for some reason cost us nothing!) and we were back on the 7:41pm train for Lahti. Hopefully tomorrow we will have more time to be tourists!

Day 27 Dam that left chain 12th August

50km Vääksy Asikkala - Lahti

Not a great cycling day. We surfaced at 7am for a wopping breakfast with a coach load of Finnish OAP tourists. We headed out into the rain, this was all a bit alien to us as it hadn´t rained for about 2 weeks. We hugged the bike paths of route 24. The chain on the left side of the bike that connects the "captain" and the "stoker" was slipping, especially on the uphill climbs making it hard going. The slipping chain means the pedals become out of sync which means stopping to fix the chain and synchronizing the pedals. We decided we needed a bike shop or else we might not make the 130km to Helsinki.

At Lahti (and the third bike shop that we went to) we found a friendly Finn called Anti who helped us with the bike. After much discussion, the plan stands at this:

  • Tomorrow we will go to Helsinki to buy two new bike cogs (Bike Planet in Lahti does not have the parts we need).
  • Friday the bike will go into Bike Planet to have two new cogs and a new chain fitted while we are propper pedestrian tourists in Helsinki.
  • Saturday we will pick up the bike and cycle the 100km to Helsinki!

Let´s hope it all goes to plan!

Day 26 Finland Is Not Flat! 11th August

139km Korpilahti - Vääksy Asikkala

I've always wondered how much research travel writers actually do before they commit to print their opinions of a country. As Exhibit A I would like to call to hand the Lonely Planet and it's section on cycling round Finland: "Finland is flat and as bicycle-friendly as any country you'll find"   I agree Finland is "bike-friendly" but "flat", it is not! We did 65kmph down one of the "flat" hills today and that was after a long old climb up the hill!

We were both feeling it today. It might be a cold, just general fatigue or it could be those hills. The nautia had set in for me for the last 20km of today's ride but it was some spectacular ride. Have a look at the map on our "route" page and you'll see there's a section that takes you right out onto Lake Päijänne; now imagine cycling along that section in a massive thunder storm! It was wild! Dark clouds, fork lightning, rain, thunder, the works! The rain actually felt rather alien after two weeks of solid sunshine. As we headed back onto main land again, we headed into blue skies and warm sunshine.

We entered into a new district and a signpost alerted us to this invisible boundary crossing as they always do with an emblem of a locally occuring flora or fauna however this district had a mermaid as its emblem! I had to stop to take a photo! No, we didn't see any mermaids on our ride.

Due to the lack of campsites anywhere around Vääksy Asikkala, we stayed in a hotel and had tinned raindeer for dinner cooked in the hotel room on the gas burning stove whilst the Bluey Thorn spent the night in the ski storage - if only the hotel patron knew!!

 

Day 25 Commie Campsites and Freight Trains 10th August

112km Saarijärvi- Korpilahti

The highlight of the day happened when I jumped off the bike to pick up Iain's hat that had just flown off the front handle bars and landed behind us on the hard shoulder. We were in central Saarijärvi at this point and near a railway line. A bright orange freight engine without any carriages was chugging along down the line next to us. I gave the driver the universal sign for him to beep his horn and I actually saw him reach above his head and pull the cord. Sure enough a rediculously loud honk errupted from the bright orange engine waking up the whole of the still sleeping Saarijärvi. I hope he saw me jumping up and down on the roadside waving Iain's hat, it absolutely made my day!

Not the best day's cycle so far. Lots of stops and starts which always makes it hard to find a rhythm. We cycled passed more beautiful Finnish lakes and found some more hills to test our now rock solid legs out on!

A kind Finnish man escorted us out of the city of Jyväskylä on his bike. It was such a kind gesture as we'd have been going round the same set of boulders for evermore otherwise! Big cities always seem to sap our energy, time and kms.

We traversed the E63 on the side roads and eventually made it to Nelospirtti campsite about 1km south of Korpilahti. Another campsite by a lake and this time by a motorway as well; yet again we were the only people in a tent, in fact there was only one other caravan on site. This turned out to be rather convenient however as when we enquired about showers wtih the ancient receptionist, she produced a key on a chain and asked for 1€ each and pointed to an outside door underneath the reception building. It is difficult to describe in words other than "communist" and "dungeon-like" the room that was underneath the reception. There was indeed a shower, it was the one shower for the whole campsite! There were no doors to this strange underground bathroon facility, just a dark, dingy, concrete warren with one shower nailed precariously to the ceiling in one of the alcoves. We could even hear footsteps of people walking above us in the reception area. 

A sign on the wall urged you to be sparing with the time you spent in the shower due to the "limited amount of showers" which I thought was nice marketing, there not being more than one!

Day 24 Saunas Finn Style 9th August

104km Valkeisjärvi - Saarijärvi

A fast day today. We were only on the bike for 4hours and 20minutes. It was tarmac roads all the way and hot hot sunshine! Serves me right for saying Finland is flat, it's not, we found the hills today!

At the bottom of one hill we met the "Von Trapps", a group of about 8 or 9 kids, none of them could have been older than about 15, all wearing matching cowboy hats. They were swerving all over the road, they may as well have been singing "Doe a deer"! We were on a main road, this was route 58! We overtook them up the hill; maybe we took a little too much satisfaction in this as one of the "Von Trapps", a boy about 12 years old started to creep up on the inside lane next to us, legs wizzing round and round urging us on. We pedalled hard taking on his challenge and he was forced to lag back down the hill but not before tipping his cowboy hat at us and me beeping my horn in reponse! I'm sure it's not right to take any satisfaction from two fully grown adults being able to race and beat a 12 year old boy up a hill but it's encounters like these that spur you on!

We cycled on in the heat. Iain was not feeling that well today, hopefully it's nothing serious. We arrived at the campsite at 2:30pm; again we're the only tent here and the place is deserted! It's the most beautiful campsite we've stayed in so far in Finland. It's situated on a ridge in a pine forest in the middle of lake Avenlampi so we're overlooking water on both sides.

We went for a traditional wood burning Finish sauna in a little log cabin on the edge of the lake so at last I got my swim in the lake complete with fish and a reedbed and it wasn't as cold as you'd think! It's a great way to spend the afternoon after a day on the bike!

 

 

 

Day 23 Day After The Wopper & A Jolly Jaunt Through The Forest 8th August

123km Haapavesi - Valkeisjärvi

We had a lie in till 8am after yesterday's big ride and had a leisurely breakfast of coffee, bread, bananas and honey (this has become our staple breakfast these days) by the lake and the roaring fire that was to be part of the evening's festivities. There was some sort of festival happening that evening but sadly we had to leave and carry on south as part of our 90 day challenge.

We road off into the forests and reached Nivala about lunchtime where we rocked up to a petrol station without fuss or drama but for some reason created the biggest grand speckie of the trip so far! It may have been the flashing pedals on the bike or the fact they had been on a tour bus for the passed 8 hours but we were literally mobbed by a small group of Finnish OAPs while the rest of the tour bus watched from a safe distance away. We're getting quite accustomed to the gawping that you get from passing cars but this is usually behind glass, the type of gawping we were experiencing here was beyond a safari park, this was a full on petting zoo wtih the bike and ourselves being prodded and poked by the excitable Finns!

After a huge lunch at the petrol station, we hit dirt track roads all afternoon; heavy going on the legs but spectacular forest scenery.

We camped by lake Valkejen in a small pine forest (again we are the only tent here) in the middle of the frisbee golf pitch and on the edge of the mini golf course!

 

 

 

Day 22 The Wopper! 7th August

197.82km Li- Haapavesi

We pegged it down the 847 to Oulu where we had 11s (which is really lunch for us) after leaving the campsite at 8am.

Back on the 847 the roads are noticeably flatter in comparison to Sweden's rolling hills. We stopped at Liminka for drinks and ice-cream but quickly moved on because of the intense staring at close proximity by the local fruitloop on a motorbike. He may well have been after our empty plastic drink bottles, but oh no we've wised up to the value of these and we stashed them firmly inside our rolemats on the back of the bike ready to claim our Euros at the next supermarket!

Back on the road we were lost again as we'd made the bad decision to try and follow the cycle paths. We were heading down dirt track roads through beautiful forests without a signpost to be found. At a T junction (after much discussion) we took the road which lead us out of the forest and back onto route 86. It was a fast and hairy 21km later along route 86 that we arrived at Paavola. Another short stop off at Paavola to refuel and we were feeling good about the journey ahead of us to Haapavesi.

Even though Iain says, "map reading is everyone's responsibilty", I can't help feeling mostly responsible for the 10km detour that took us along more dirt track roads (albeit beautiful forest ones) at the end of a long day!

Luckilyall was forgiven and we arrived at Haapavesi campsite at 8pm tired but pleased to have finished what had been a long day. I wanted to cycle round the campsite a few times to make it up to 200km on the bike computer but Iain wasn't so keen!

Once again we were the only tent in the campsite, seems to be that motorhomes, caravans and the log cabins that you get at all campsites are all the rage here. We're right by lake Haapajävi and I'm told by the owner that the water is 25 degrees. The locals seem to be loving it; we must get to a campsite earlier so I can test out one of Finland's lakes.

And just to clarify one thing, there have been some local complaints about the home page photo that I put up, mainly that it's not very flattering of Iain. In my defence all I can say is that it is the best one of what was a pretty horrific photo shoot of both of us in a packed InterSport shop in Tornio!!

He's hoping Estonia will be more photogenic - only a few days to go if all goes to plan!

Day 21 On The Road Again.... 6th August

116km

Tornio to Li

Our first full day's ride in Finland! The first 24km to kemi were on beautiful tarmac cycle paths completely separate from the main roads making cycling and navigation easy. We stopped for a morning coffee break in Kemi harbour which was glistening in the hot morning sunshine, not a cloud in the sky, even the wind turbine in the distance was still.

After that, navigation or even finding the cycle paths was virtually impossible! Our attempts to follow a designated bike route took us through scenic forests, smalll villages and passed isolated wooden houses by the coast. Some of the roads we took were either for rally cars or skidoos - fun to bounce around on for a bit but hard going after a while on a bike without suspension!

We reached Simo and thought we'd sussed out these cycle paths by spotting a signpost. Sure enough these signposts disappeared after a while too. In the end, we opted for the hard shoulder of the E75 and were encouraged when after 10km we saw other cyclist doing the same thing. We pressed on to Li.

Today we discovered the lucrative value of recycling in Scandinavia; by recycling 2 water bottles and a bottle of Sprite we had 1€ to spend in the supermarket which bagged us 2 huge apples and 6 plums! Score! Wish we'd found this out sooner!

We were the only tent in a beautiful campsite again surrounded by water - there's a fair few lakes in Finland - the place was powered by a hydro dam and the loos flushed using river water!

 

Day 19 and 20, days off....

We've been busy on our days off. Have a look at our "route" page to see just how many miles we've covered!!


Also have a look at our feature article in the Strathearn Herald...

Day 18, 3rd August 2009 Crossing of the border!

57km Lappträsk by - Tornio (Finland!!)


After being waved off by the husband and wife at our campsite we were on the road again. Forgot to mention that below the lawn in the grounds of the family house was a small city of mobile homes
where all the migrant billberry pickers lived! not sure who had been following who!

it was a short ride to Haparanda where we crossed the border and changed time zones to Tonio.

2 countries down, only 11 to go!!

Day 17, 2nd August 2009, A momentous day....

... for many reasons:

  • it was our last full day in Sweden (for tomorrow we cross the border to Finland)
  • today we stopped heading north and are now heading east - we will no longer be heading north on this trip
  • it has been the hottest day so far
  • it has been the toughest day yet
  • and we narrowly escaped being attacked by a savage dog!

The first 30km were heavy going. Our computer said it was 32C and we were cycling into the wind.
We reached the top of Sweden and were heading east for the first time; we could almost smell Finland!
The dirt and gravel tracks through the forest sapped our strength after lunch. However we did manage 24.7kmph down one dirt track road just before Bodträsk as we were being persued by a growling, barking, salivating, huge rockwheiller that was uncomfortably close to my right calf! I hope the owner was yelling discouragement at the dog but my Swedish is not good enough to be able to distinguish encouragemnet from discouragement!

We followed signs for camping (again not marked on the map) and ended up in the most wonderful campsite in someone's front garden! The family are lovely and brought us coffee and hot waffles.

Day 16, 1st August, Licorice ice-cream and the recurring billberry pickers...

115km Langträsk - Boden


We keep on bumping into van, truck and car loads of billberry pickers! We're building up quite a friendship with some of them despite the language barrier. One van slowed down as it passed us going down hill so the passengers could hang out the windows and beep the horn in encouragement - well it was the 4th time we'd seen them that day.


About 15km from Boden we saw signs for a cafe. We pulled in needing to refuel and it has to be one of the best cafes ever surrounded by pine forest and serving the best licorice ice-cream and coffee for miles around! If you're ever in the neighbourhood it's well worth a visit.


Having reached Boden with the prospect of a day off tomorrow, we're back on the road again as the book shop was closed (it being a Saturday) so we couldn't buy a map of finland and there was no internet cafe in the town.

Day 15, 31st July 2009 123km, mossies, raindeer and saunas...

More raindeer, more mossies and lunch by an old steam train.
More beautiful pine forests in the afternoon surrounded by marsh and lakes came with a warning from a local that we shouldn't drink the water in Jörn as it was "the land that god forgot". This came a bit late as we'd drunk the river water the previous night!

All still feeling ok though and a sauna at the end of a day's cycle always sorts you out.

Day 14, 30th July 2009 134km of sweet tarmac....

...but not all in the right direction as we had to re-trace our tracks to fix a shredded tyre.


We cycled late on into the evening as it was another beautiful sunny day and the legs were feeling good. It was then that we were ambushed by a herd of raindeer on the road ahead of us. We cycled towards them and for a while we thought they might charge but in the end we won the Mexican stand off and they trotted into the pine forests where they stood montionless and glared at us as we rode by; the two-headed longcykel that we were!


Have a look at our route on the route page...

Day 13, 29th July 2009 Day of the Elk!!

Yes today we saw an elk!!!! It was that exciting it deserves 3 exclamation marks!!! And no I will never be a professional wildlife watcher as I was so excited by seeing the elk that I screamed to make sure Iain saw it too; it was no more than 50m away from us along the dirt track forest roads and it ran along with us for a while - maybe I have a career as an elk whisperer!

We also rescued Pele the puppy who was in danger of becomming a squashed puppy on the roads at Norforrs where we stopped for lunch. I tried to fit him into my pannier but the owner caught me and we had to give him back!

A great 3km downhill run into Vännäs and the campsite for the night.

Day 12, 28th July 2009 The bakery and Dan

Sandslan - Gottne 91km

We left the beauty of Sandslan and the old timber factory and were on the road again. We were low on food and counting on a petrol station or other form of civilization to buy supplies. We saw nothing that remotely resembled either for 80km so when we got to Gottne and a small local town shop, we went wild!
It was outside the shop that we met Dan who became our tour guide for the evening showing us to our lodgings above the bakery and the 17th century settlement by the lake.

Dan reassured us there were no big bears in the forests around us, only 200kg ones.

Day 11, 27th July 2009 The Capital of Northern Sweden

Sandsvall (in case you didn't know) is the capital of Northern Sweden. We missed the beach volleyball championships by a week - Iain was most upset! But on the plus side we now were in possession of two maps which would see us across the northern border into Finland. Looking at the maps laid out in the central square with a hot cup of coffee, it looked like a long way!

We clocked up 135km that day partly because our search for a suitable place to camp at the end of the day took us through small village after small village and some of the most scenic roads so far till we ended up in Sandslan. We stumbled into Sandslan at 7:30pm, it wasn't marked on the map as a campsite but we followed a sign on the road. It was an eerie compound of about 8 huge brick buildings that clearly had an original purpose other than a campsite. Later we found out we were camping in the oldest timber sorting factory in Sweden. The place was deserted adding to the atmosphere. After hunting down the owner we camped right by the inlet to the Baltic, surrounded on two sides by water and had a fantastic dinner of haggis from a tin! Who'd have thought it? Iain was very pleased - have a look at the photos!

An awesome sunset that evening - still not seen darkness yet since we started our trip.


Exciting update for those interested in the widlife count.... as well as a fantastic sunset., we saw a badger that evening snuffling round the buildings of the old timber sorting factory! Neither of us had ever seen a real life living badger before, he (or she) was wonderful!

Day 10, 26th July 2009, Off map and a campsite by the Baltic Sea

Hudiksvall - Sandsvall  124.5km


Up and away early. No coffee as the petrol station was shut it being a Sunday; it will take some getting used to these Swedish opening times. We stopped at every petrol station on route in hope of finding a map, none sold maps and one petrol attendant thought I was trying to sell him a map thanks to my poor Swedish and his minimal English!
So beyond Lucksta we were off map.... At Matfors, we decided to head for Sandsvall in the hope of finding a map there. All shops were shut so we headed for a campsite nearby right on the Baltic coast and planned our mission to find a map first thing on Monday morning.

Hudiksvall Day 9

Saturday 25th July 2009, 4pm Hudiksvall

Today has been a day off from the road after 7 days on the road. Hudiksvall is about half way up the Swedish coastline.

Today we met a descendant of Robert the Bruce who's wife runs a Loppis (these are the most amazing flee markets you've ever seen); he tells us that the weather is going to be better from next week! After lots of rain so far, this sounds good!

Here are a few stats from our journey so far.

Wildlife count:

1 x red squirrel

1 x unidentified bird of prey

2 x red woodpeckers

2 x small frogs caught by 2 Swedish girls

1 x unidentified stalk-type bird

1 x dragonfly that flew into Iain's helmet

5 x small deer

Special update on what we've been eating for Jo:

Chocolate with licorice in it - it's awesome and I think I may be adicted to it!

fish balls

moose

meatballs

dried fruit

Furthest distance covered in one day: 147km (91.3miles)

Top speed: 58.8kmph (36.5mph) we met a man in a bike shop who'd got up to 90kmph on a tandem going downhill behind a lorry!

Countries travelled through: 2 (Norway and Sweden)

Sandviken... day 7

We crossed the border into Sweden on day 3. There was no border crossing or passport control, just the straight road! We had a mini celebration for our first country out of 13 by eating what we believe to be moose in the rain!

We've mostly been cycling through lots and lots of Swedish pine forests both in the rain and in the sunshine.

Day 6 saw the forests vanish to be replaced wtih agricultural fields and farm land. This was where we were lead into the forest by what can only be described as a troll or elf type lady who then disappeared leaving us completely alone and isolated in dense, beautiful forest alive with creatures moving everywhere!

We are now in Sandviken, not far from the Baltic Coast and it's day 7. Our bike is in for repairs, we've notched up a fair few miles already and the bike is in need of a bit of tlc. All is well. camped by a lake last night, beautiful but rife with midge and mossies!

Free hour in the library is almost up so Team Fimm signing off...

False starts and many many punctures!...

It was a grand speckie at Central Station yesterday when we unpacked the big brown box and assembled that still nameless bike (any suggestions welcome). After 4 hours of entertaining the locals with our odd rituals we wheeled the bike out of the station and rode up the hill to our first camp site (Ekeberg Camping) and were off the mark with our first km!!

Just before the campsite, at nearly the top of the hill, we got our first puncture. We limped the bike into the camp grounds much to the amusement again of the locals and other tourists.

The tent was rather a surprise as not having used it for 4 years, it was somewhat on the mouldy side of clean!!

View from the camp ground over Oslo was amazing. Still light at 11:00pm.

Today we were up early and on the road having repacked and got rid of some excess weight. All started well till 200m down the road where we got our 2nd puncture of the day. On inspection, it wasn't just 1 puncture of the inner tube, but 4!!! There was no choice but to head back into central Oslo to sort out what was causing so many punctures. We think it must be the spokes piercing the innertube as all the punctures have been on the inner side of the wheel.

The staff at the bike shop in Oslo town centre were so helpful. Not only did they fit our tandem into their busy schedule, gave us a protective layer of canvas to sit between the inner tube and the rim to prevent any further punctures and "pimped our ride" by adding bar ends to the handle bars.   All of this they did for   free!

The 3rd puncture happened seconds after we'd asked a local to take our photo in the central square! This was our incentive to fit those canvas layers. One hour later it had become too late to leave so we're heading back to our favourite campsite for another night!

Tomorrow we set off again towards the Swedish boarder - lets hope the Norse god of Anti-punctures is looking down on us tomorrow!

Thank you so much to eveyone who's sponsored us...totals now stand at:

$825 PNET research

£650 for Marie Curie Cancer Care

Heathrow Airport - Terminal 5.....

Morning all - it's now 06:30, we've been up since 03:30 having had 3 hours sleep and we both feel knackered!

Managed to pack all of our personal belongings into Francesca's Mum and Dad's place thanks to the wonderful removal team of Cara and Rafe (the best brother and sister in the world!!) 6 car journeys, a day's work and all for the bargain price of an ice lolly each!! If you ever need to move, i can't recommend them highly enough!!

Bike is safely stowed wtih BA thanks to Iain's late night packing and lots of brown tape.

Oslo here we come!!! ....

 

One more day...

One bright blue shiny new Dawes Discovery tandem bike has now arrived!!!

We've assembled it and taken it for its maiden ride through the busy streets of rush hour London. Much to the amusement of commuters and drunks alike!

Look out for us in the South London Press paper http://www.southlondonpress.co.uk/tn/index.cfm   as we had a photo shoot   with them early yesterday morning. Nothing like a grand speckie in your own street!

Strathearn Herald http://www.strathearnherald.co.uk/   are also writing an article on us in the near future.

One more day of packing to go - we're bringing in the Morrison removal team.

 

 

7 days one bike and a wedding!

Have spent the past week on the phone to the wonderful people at Cyclexperience talking tandems, saddles and pannier racks. Thanks to Ross, Kate, Martin and April we now have a shiny new Dawes tandem bike arriving tomorrow!

As of today I'm officially unemployed but hopefully not unemployable!! 

Thanks to the generosity of so many people we have now broken the $500 mark for PNET Research and raised nearly £450 for Marie Curie Cancer Care. 

Off to be bridesmaid for the weekend, one of my best friends is getting married in Lewes (near Brighton) - we thought about cycling down but Iain's kilt weighs far too much!

late nights and press releases

We're on a plane in just over two weeks and it's time for the hotly anticipated press release......... a number of iterations and it's ready. Emma from Marie Curie has been a great help - wouldn't have got anywhere without her support.

All we need now is a bike!

The countdown begins - 17 days to go...

Since the last update we've been busy... I've turned 29 and Iain has been keeping British Airways afloat by booking 2 one way tickets to Oslo!

Turning 29 meant lots of bike related presents, 3 months supply of sunscreen (thanks mum), a bike computer from my little brother and the piece de resistance of bike related paraphernalia,   a "bike survival kit" consisting of 2 miniature gin and tonics complete with mini swizzle sticks!! (thanks Sam!).

Still no tandem bike but we have 17 days to go till our flight on16th July...

 

 

Aerobiking - sweat smell of sweet!!

Anoyone at Brixton on Sunday morning for the spin class, I can only apologise for the sweet dripping off me.

It's all in a good cause - get us fit for this mammoth task!!!

A good few weeks of the aerobiking and i'll either be dead or champing at the bit to get on the open road.

First Tandem Training - London to Brighton

We borrowed Simon's tandem - many thanks and hopefully it's in order...

False starts and being overly optimistic we set off lunch time on Saturday and expected to be in Brighton by dinner. Lack of fitness and a map reader (thanks to Iain - almost ending up on the M25 and getting extremely lost around Redhill) ment that we didn't arrive until 8p.m. The 50 plus miles definatley drilled home the necessity for some serious training and a cut down on the kit list!

Aerobiking here we come.........

 

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