A good and proper soaking

We slept in until almost 9 AM, and then lazed around the house eating the groceries we bought yesterday. The weather is a bit rainy and we are grateful to be in a nice Airbnb. At first we were worried this wasn’t going to work out, as the home is full of nice stuff and our gear kind of explodes out of our bags to dry when we get an opportunity to be inside. However, the owner was gracious and welcoming and assured us that she didn’t mind if we unpacked our things around her house to let them recover. So now her living room floor is covered by sleeping bags, pads, etc…. Plus, she allowed us to use her washing machine. When you only have 2 or 3 changes of clothing, every opportunity to do laundry is precious!

We headed to the public pool at 11:00 (a 5-minute walk) and soaked for about 2 hours. Natalie came with me this time, and was a good sport about everything. She even went down the water slide, even though we didn’t have the excuse of “taking our grandkids” or something like that. It was cool. A really steep dropoff into this vortex thing that can only be described as the type of feature which allows you to experience being flushed down a toilet after circling the bowl a few times, dropping through a hole in the middle and emerging at the end in a nice pool. Who wouldn’t want to do that? She also soaked in the ice bath a few times. There are many reasons not to want to do that. Toward the end I could tell she was wearing down by the “how much longer should we stay” questions. Realizing she had already gone above and beyond the call of duty, we headed home.

(Note from Natalie: Some of that paragraph made me laugh out loud. It really is an amazing community pool and we had a great time. The steam bath felt great too. And that vortex waterslide/ toilet comparison was great! We really do need to bring our grandkids when they get a bit older! It was fun to go with Pete since he loves soaking so much and is really talented at it.)

Natalie wanted to see the botanical gardens, and since she had gone to the pool for two hours, it seemed only fair for me to support that. Plus, the last time she went to botanical gardens in Victoria, B.C., she took Laura while Chris and I took the kids to find a mountain lake to swim in but ended up at a nude beach which was more disturbing than glamorous from which we made a hasty retreat — so having learned that painful lesson I went to the botanical gardens this time (Icelandic nude beaches must only be for the really hardy types — I hope they bundle up because it is a bit nippy here.)

(Second note from Natalie: the gardens were beautiful, and Pete was a good sport. Akureyri’s botanical gardens are the most northern in the whole world!)

As we were walking home we came across a downhill mountain bike race through town — right down the beautiful steps which lead up to the Lutheran church. We watched several racers descend and decided not to try it on our bike.

We’re relaxing at the Airbnb for the rest of the evening. Life is good.

Vacation from our vacation

One more note about last night before writing about today. Quite late we decided to go see the waterfalls that were literally across the road from our guesthouse at Godafoss. They are spectacular! They really are like a mini Niagara Falls. Beautiful.

Today we rode into Akureyri today. It was only 32 miles, but two miles in the middle made us pay! We pushed our bike up a 6-8 percent grade for about an hour. It is possible we could have tried to ride up it, but by pushing our bike we were a little more safe. Trying to balance this bike while fully exerting ourselves with zero shoulder (literally no shoulder) inevitably means we swerve. By pushing we were able to maintain a straight line. We were still run off the road once by a car coming towards us passing another car. Our definite least favorite thing about this trip has been the traffic.

The weather was good. Sunny and blue skies! Tailwind for the first half of our ride, headwind for the second half. Seems fair.

We checked into our Airbnb for the next 3 nights and went shopping. Dinner tonight was amazing. Salad, hummus, pasta with marinara sauce, and falafel. When we have the chance to cook in a kitchen we enjoy it.

Currently we are on a whale watching tour. It is about 2 hours by boat to where the whales are. We will likely get back to our Airbnb after midnight. We hope we get to see some! We’ll report next post. Bouncing across the waves makes us think of our fisherman friends in Höfn — Siggi and Hannes. It would be an amazing life to spend big chunks of time at sea.

Tomorrow we will hit the pool and then relax around town and see what else there is to do. We are also going to take Sunday off and attend a local worship service and then in the evening we plan on attending a concert at a local Lutheran Church.

Note after the whale watching: It has been beautiful! Being on a small ship in a fjord in the northern Atlantic is not something we do every day. We did see several humpback whales surface briefly and then dive gracefully. It is especially cool to hear them as they blow, or whatever it’s called. We also saw lots of dolphins skimming along and jumping. They look like they are just having so much fun! It was also beautiful to see the midnight sun not quite setting on the horizon of the sea. Our tour guide did a good job explaining about the sights along the way, as well as about the whales and dolphins. We won’t get back until half past midnight, but it was a great way to spend our evening.

Ride to Goðafoss

We didn’t sleep that great (see previous post) but we woke to dry conditions. It was also very windy. The wind did help keep the flies away from us and bit. But it’s hard to break camp in the wind of course. We headed out as quickly as we could. The washboard road was better without rain.

We had less climbing today (1800 feet) due to dropping down into valley terrain again, and also because we did fewer miles (57). That was a great choice because winds were not as favorable today and it became more and more rainy. We had 2 pretty tough climbs today, and for both we opted to get off and push the bike. Our legs were tired, it was rainy, traffic has been a little heavier, and it seemed safer in those conditions. Both hills were also pushing the limits of what we can ride with this bike as loaded at it is.

We stopped for some amazing veggie pizza at Dalakofinn Útibú. Just what we needed to give us the energy to make it to Goðafoss in the rain.

We were soaked and it is raining hard so we booked a night in a guesthouse. We were very happy to find one available! So nice to have a shower and be dry. All of our gear is hanging around the room drying, as usual when we are indoors. We are super comfy now! If the rain lets up we’ll go see the mini-Niagara-Falls waterfall very close to our accomodations. Otherwise we’ll hit it on our way out tomorrow (which is forecast to be better weather).

We are tired but excited to know that we’re at about our 2/3 point for miles, and that because of this we’ll be able to enjoy Akureyri this weekend for a couple of days! We do have a steep, long climb ahead of us tomorrow, but we only have 31 miles to do, so that will be good.

Ride to Grímsstaðir

Again posting one day late due to very poor wifi….

On Wednesday we rode from Egilsstaðir to Grímsstaðir. But before I talk about that, I need to mention the swimming pool I went to on Tuesday night. The local pools here are my favorite places to go relax. Even small towns have them. There are usually a few hot pools to soak in and sometimes an ice bath to cool off in and make it so you can start the whole soaking process over. I have a body built for soaking. If our bike breaks down, as long as there is a pool nearby, I’ll be fine. I’ll just soak for the remainder of our vacation. If you go to Iceland go to the local pools every chance you get. America has something to learn from this tradition…. Natalie, for the record, doesn’t enjoy them like I do. Maybe she is missing some important gene or something. So she usually stays and does something else while I go soak enough to make up for her absence at the pool. The pool in Egilsstaðir was perfect. I stayed until I looked like a proper raisin. Nothing else mattered after that – it was a perfect day.

Our original schedule had us riding for 50 miles and camping along the road near an outhouse. (There are surprisingly few along the way – especially when you are on bike and 50 miles is measured in many hours….) The outhouse was in a lovely location and it would have been a good campsite (better than the one we actually stayed in) but we wanted to get more miles with the hope of shaving a bike day off our schedule and doing something touristy like whale watching on Saturday, so we pushed on for another 30 miles. Our map showed a campsite 3 miles off road and even though our bike does poorly on washboard, we felt the investment in time would pay off with a nice campsite.

We bounced into the campsite at about 9 pm on light rain, clocking another 12-hour ride. We were exhausted. Unfortunately the campsite was effectively a small plot of ground next to an outhouse. Gratefully the outhouse had running water and flush toilets.

Grímsstaðir is a settlement in north-east Iceland whose main claim to fame is that its weather station holds the low-temperature record for Iceland of -38°C. Luckily we didn’t experience any of those temperatures. Instead we had to deal with a zillion flies. They were everywhere – unlike anything we’ve experienced in Iceland. We couldn’t even eat outside, so dinner was in our tent. We were so tired that we didn’t even change clothes – just rolled into our sleeping bags wearing the clothes we had sweat in all day, and in the morning we woke up and wore those same clothes today. (Natalie has worn the same kit all week….)

In summary, Wednesday was a hard day with not much of a reward at the end of the long push. We were in desolate but beautiful country. We passed only one small village earlier in our ride.

Natalie’s notes:

This day began with idyllic weather: sunshine, blue skies, favorable winds. We ate our guesthouse breakfast, packed up, said goodbye to our traveler friends, and hit the road. Beautiful perfect conditions for most of the day!

Partly because of the great conditions, we banked extra miles (85 miles total this day) and are now a day ahead of schedule.

As we moved higher and more north-central, we went from rolling green valleys, rivers, and farms to a desolate high-mountain landscape. We loved having less traffic because of the remoteness! We did a LOT of climbing — 3600 feet of vertical gain — and our legs could feel it. We saw a huge beautiful rainbow as the weather turned a bit misty and rainy towards the end of our ride.

Not so nice of a campground that night…. I’d give it half a star maybe. We had to ride out 3 miles on a washboard road (in the rain), and the ground was very lumpy. If we hadn’t been so tired after our long high-mile day, and if we hadn’t been kind of in the middle of nowhere, we probably would not have stayed. There was one other campground for miles and we just had to get off the bike. So we stayed. We were the only tent. (There were a handful of car campers.) There were SO many little annoying black flies, it was outrageous. We ate dinner in the tent to avoid them. But the little metal bathroom did have running hot water and flush toilets, which is always nice. (No shower though.) We were so tired and annoyed by the flies we decided to sleep in our bike clothes, which turned out to be a bad idea.

A different kind of century

I’m posting this two days late, because two nights ago neither of us had energy to do anything beyond set up our tent and eat a quick dinner of canned soup, and last night, when I tried to publish it, I was too out of it to realize I have to successfully hit the publish button…

We left Höfn on Monday around 8:30. It was good to get moving early. Our routing software showed a crazy 45 precent grade climb right at the beginning, but we knew that was impossible so were anxious to find out what our first climb looked like. Mercifully it was a short climb to a tunnel which was about a mile long. We were so thankful!

We had several stopping points in mind, but because we were rerouting around the long gravel hike-a-bike due to Natalie’s broken foot (for the record, this is just a convenient excuse) we hoped to ride far. The reroute was adding a day to our already tight itinerary and Saturday is forecast for bad weather, so we wanted to bank miles. Our route didn’t have any stops along the way (without a detour), which made it easy to keep riding without breaks.

The weather was good and the wind was often at our backs as we rode into and out of beautiful fjords. By the time we rolled into a campground 12 hours later we had covered a little over 100 miles with about 4000 feet of vertical gain.

We set up our tent, ate dinner, and collapsed. We’re sleeping great, btw.

Cruel and unusual punishment

Today we took a much needed day of rest in Höfn. We moved from our hotel to a campground at noon and then attended a small local church with about 10 others. Siggi had contacted the pastor yesterday to find out the time they hold their service. In a town this small, everyone knows everyone. It is delightful.

I’ve been thinking about the drivers who pass us too fast and too close. I think an appropriate punishment for a crime like that would be to be sentenced to ride with me for an hour. They’d certainly gain a first-hand appreciation of the perils of biking with these narrow shoulders and I’d probably get a chance to know them better and understand why they are in such a hurry. We’d both win. Although Natalie might argue that being on a bike with me violates some human rights fundamental – it could be considered cruel and unusual punishment.

I’ll include a photo of one of the horses here with their cool manes. It’s like they share a barber with Shaggy from Scooby Doo.

Our campground was sparse at noon, but now at 8 pm it looks like what you would expect in Yellowstone. Natalie and I both like getting away from crowds, but we are happy to see so many people enjoying the beauty of this country.

Tomorrow should be a moderate day as far as miles and climbing go. The big unknown is the weather. Right now it appears we will be riding in light rain – if the weather matches the forecast. We’re told that the forecast is always right but sometimes the weather is wrong.

Riding to Höfn

Once again blogging in the morning instead of the evening. Yesterday’s ride to Höfn (fishing village on Southeastern part of Iceland) was our easiest ride so far. On Friday we rode 85 miles in order to only have to ride 41 on Saturday. Plus, we had lucked out and made a last-minute hotel reservation so we wanted to get to Höfn as early as our check-in time would allow. We wanted to make maximum use of the reservation!

We rolled into Höfn right at 3 pm and checked into our room. It has a beautiful ocean-facing view. First things first: unpack our tent so it could start to dry and then string a clothes line across the room to start drying clothes. I didn’t have anything dry left. The combination of rainy days and lots of sweat had moistened my wardrobe. Natalie doesn’t sweat as much (she is in better shape — added note from Natalie: haha yeah right) so she still had a few dry options…. We started unpacking and hanging things around the room. It soon looked like our luggage had exploded into the room – stuff everywhere!

Next we went to a supermarket and binge shopped. $100 dollars later we were laden with food for the next 2-3 days, although it seems like we’ve somehow managed to eat half of it in our hotel room over the last 12 hours. 🙂

On Thursday we had made friends with a nice family camping near us. On Friday as they passed us in their car they stopped and gave us their contact information in Höfn and invited us to do laundry at their home. As we were shopping I sent him a note saying that I still needed to look for a part for our bike and we’d be a little late. (Long tangent: when we arrived in Iceland I failed to tighten every bolt on our bike – rattling around in an airplane hold tends to loosen things up. In our second day, riding into the wind, we hadn’t noticed when a small part fell off our bike – an idler wheel – that helps maintain the chain line when we pedal hard – keeping our pedal force from being absorbed by our rear shock. Without the part some of the chain management is being provided by a chain tube and metal bracket which have tons of friction under pressure and will eventually destroy our chain. The idler is a specialized part – unlikely I could find one even in Salt Lake City, so no chance of finding one in Hofn. However, I hoped to find something that could make the situation a little better. The ride is hard enough without mechanical inefficiencies.)

Back to the story. Our friend Siggi said he’d meet us at our hotel and look at the bike with us. It turns out Siggi his the captain of a fishing boat and after looking at our problem he called his boat’s engineer to come help. After some brainstorming we rode to their boat and they improvised something that will work. Icelandic fishermen who are days and weeks at sea have to be able to repair anything on large complex ships – our bike was easy to them. The bike situation is now improved. Siggi drove us around town and then let us use his family’s washer and dryer. He then showed us some of the fishing industry infrastructure before dropping us off at our hotel. What an amazing blessing to have met such a kind and generous person.

We spent the rest of the evening in our hotel room eating food and enjoying the space, warmth, and dryness. It is amazing to have a bathroom 4 feet from our bed!

Natalie is going to add some thoughts…

Weather on the ride into Hofn was cloudy and cool but no rain! The winds were nice to us. There were occasional small climbs but nothing killer. We saw several cyclist packers, a few even pulling trailers like us! Kinda fun to see others experiencing what we are. Lots more beautiful scenery along the coast. Loving it. There was considerably less traffic! Yay!

It was so cool to have a private tour of Hofn from a sea captain (whose father and grandfather and so on were also fishermen), someone who has lived here his entire life! It was also fascinating to get a tour of his ship. I think he said it was built around 1960 and is the oldest fishing ship still in use in Hofn. We had a great visit with him too as we waited for our laundry, talking about fishing adventures (even when he stood – literally – on a killer whale that was trapped in a net next to their ship as they worked to free it), whales, language and education (he speaks great English), family and children, the increase in tourism here and how it has affected everything, the training required to be a sea captain, the fishing industry and related regulations and recent changes as the country works to protect its resources and stay sustainable, etc.

All in all a pretty amazing day and cool “add” to our adventure!

Beautiful finish after a long ride

Blogging first thing in the morning…. We were too tired last night.

We knew we were going to be riding into the wind and rain yesterday. We also knew that we had an extra long ride because there were only two places to stop: one at 45 miles which wouldn’t cover enough distance to get us into Hofn by Saturday night (and we have a one-night hotel reservation in Hofn that night) and the other near mile 85. We worked efficiently to eat and break camp in the morning and headed out around 9 AM.

It rained on us most of the day and the wind slowed us significantly. It wasn’t until between 3 and 4 PM that we made the midpoint. We ate at a gas station (the only one for 120 miles) and set off for another long ride. The winds shifted and we had side wind and tail wind which helped us make it to our destination before 9. So grateful for the favorable wind.

We arrived completely gassed at the place we thought we could stay. However, the campsite didn’t look like it was there. There was no road sign for it, which is strange for Iceland. However, our bike maps said there was one .3 miles down a hill. We were not feeling up to riding another 5 hours to get to the next campsite, so we rode down to the guesthouse to inquire. As we rode up we saw one tent with a bike near it. We asked inside and they said we could stay. I think they don’t advertise because they don’t want tent campers, but we were so grateful they let us set up a tent. We get to use their restaurant’s bathrooms and set up on their backyard.

Here are a few comments and observations from yesterday and the previous days:

  1. This year our bike plus gear is over 200 pounds. Hills hurt. Our last two days have had just over 1000 feet of climbing each day. Hopefully we’ll be in shape for next week’s climbs.
  2. Yesterday evening with let than 9 miles to go we saw many cars pulled over. We were moving at a good pace but decided to stop and see what everyone was looking at. We were so glad we stopped. It was a glacier lagoon and it was stunning.
  3. The horses here are beautiful. The have long manes. Some of their manes cover their faces. Many want to run with us as we ride by. (Sheep seem curious about us.)
  4. We’ve been eating at gas stations, but they are few and far between. Yesterday our only opportunity was at mile 45. We are thankful for fries and salad.
  5. The water here is amazing. The stuff that comes out of a bathroom sink is like expensive bottled water.
  6. We see a few other bikers each day, but not as many as we thought we would see. It is always nice to see someone else experiencing Iceland in the same way.
  7. We’ve had a few days of rain and are so grateful for our waterproof gear. Although after riding for 10 hours in the rain I’m soaked on the inside. It is probably sweat, but it might as well be rain. Almost all of my clothes are wet and haven’t had the chance to dry, so this morning I might be putting on wet clothes for today’s ride.
  8. Not to complain, but so far Iceland
    chocolate
    has been mediocre. Come for the water, not the chocolate.
  9. The traffic thus far had been rough. It’s like we are in a vehicular mosh pit of tourists. As we go east it is getting better. Each day we’ve been run off the road fewer times. Only twice yesterday. We are so grateful for drivers who slow down as they pass. We find that the closer we ride to the white line the more bold and dangerous drivers are when passing us – thinking there is room to pass without getting out of their lane.
  10. One way bridges are really common.
  11. We are sleeping great. Sleeping in a tent has been no problem. The only downside is all the extra gear you have to haul around.

Today we have a shorter ride and we are staying one night in a hotel (first for this trip). Hoping for a relaxing day.

Begin and end your day with a waterfall

After a hard long day yesterday, today was beautiful. Within view of our waterfall-of-the-moment, we ate breakfast (oatmeal and hot chocolate), packed up camp — talking to several other campers about our bike all morning (which turned out to be a theme for the day) — and got on our way. Dry weather and a tail wind much of the day! By a bit before lunch time the skies became blue and sunny. Ahhhhhh.

We did 67 miles today, so 10 miles shorter than yesterday. (But the wind being in our favor made the world of difference.) During the first third of the ride we had some brutal climbs, one that even forced us to get off the bike and push. Ugh, not fun. But we made it. Traffic was somewhat lighter than yesterday, which is nice, but still more than we’d like. It is nerve-wracking — for both us and I’m sure sometimes the drivers. We are riding as aware and as carefully as possible and we really appreciate the drivers who appear to be doing the same.

We had lunch at a small cafeteria-type diner in a gas station in a town called Vik. (We can remember the short names. Many Icelandic City names are so long!) Fries and salad for Natalie, veggie pita for Pete. We had several more conversations with other travelers from all over (as well as a few locals) about the bike! It draws a crowd. Pete is a great demonstrator. Natalie has had the chance to speak French with quite a few people already. Iceland is definitely tourist-filled.

Afternoon scenery: Some more waterfalls, amazing green and dark-brown cliffs, a very huge far-off glacier/mountain, cool lava rocks in various formations, beautiful farms, blue skies!

Tonight we are in a nice campground, again by an incredibly beautiful glacier-melt waterfall (as with our site last night) in a town called Kirkjubæjarklaustur. Wow, that’s a cool name. When we rode into town, with sore, tired bodies, we grabbed a few groceries, then headed to the community pool. They we enjoyed a shower, a swim, and a wonderful soak in the hot tub. Then to our campground to set up, eat backpacking chili, visit with a few fellow travelers, and get ready for bed. Feels great.

Long day

This is actually the day after our long day. We were too tired last night to write a blog entry.

We slept really well in our first campsite. It was nicely vacant, at least compared to what we’ve seen since.

We left Þorlákshöfn at about 10:30 headed toward Selfoss. It was raining but we knew we had to make up miles due to a route change the day before. Our riding was slow, and we didn’t make it to Selfoss until around noon. We found a great place to eat: Yellow. It had plenty of food that fit our diets. It was delicious, but expensive (but well worth it).

We left Selfoss and headed straight into the wind. This was our lot in life for the next 10 hours. In total we covered 77 miles in about 12 hours with a lunch and dinner break. It was completely draining. There was so much wind and rain and traffic — see below — that we couldn’t talk much.

We did have some spectacular scenery, despite the rain and headwind. Beautiful dark cliffs with lush greenery and cool waterfalls.

We found traffic to be much different than our first day. No shoulder and lots of cars zipping by fast. That really wears on our nerves. A couple times we had to ride off the road to make room. We are hoping that the further east we get the fewer cars we’ll see.

At about 8 pm we started looking for a hostel, guest house, or hotel. We thought it would feel good to sleep inside and dry off. No room in the inn, however. So we finally rolled into a campsite at 10:30. It was 11:30 before we were eating, but I was too chilled to eat. The beautiful waterfall we camped by made up for the discomfort.

Day 1

Monday and Tuesday melded together into a single day. Bryan dropped us off at the airport and we quickly made it through the Delta check-in process. Let’s just say there are a few extra steps when part of your luggage is a disassembled tandem bike.

True to form neither of us slept well on the airplane. This is crazy frustrating, as I can sleep like a baby in church. Maybe this is God’s way of reminding me not to sleep in church. We touched down

in Iceland wired.

It took a bit of time to assemble the bike and get ourselves ready to ride, as expected. It was and still is a gorgeous day! Sunny, blue sky, nice tail wind! What a treat.

A local suggested a route change, which turned out nicely. It had one hill that pushed 10 percent grade for about a mile, but otherwise was flat. Beautiful lava rock landscapes and ocean views all along.

Staying in a campsite in Thorlakshofn (but with some cool Icelandic letters — the first letter looks kind of like a “P” for example).

That great idea I had about using a tarp for tent, and our bike for the poles… turns out it wasn’t such a great idea. Now I’m trying to figure out if it’s worth it to drag the tarp around for the next 3 weeks or just ditch it in a dumpster.

We are too tired to write much tonight but hope we will sleep well tonight, even though it is still middle of the day light outside at 10 pm. Sorry we can’t upload many pictures.

Staying married

Several years ago I was on the roof, doing whatever people do on roofs, and noticed the rain gutters were full of leaves and muck. So I decided to clean them out. Natalie was down below working on her own project, but because apparently it was too hard for me to go back down the ladder to get the garbage can myself, I asked her if she could wheel it over from the side of the house and position it below me – providing a place for me to throw the mess I was about to pull from the gutter. She stopped what she was doing and walked down the steps headed toward the side of the house. In the process she misjudged her footing and went to the ground in pain. With a voice filled with concern and compassion I said something like “yeah – that looks like it hurts – you still able to grab the can?” She hobbled over and retrieved the garbage can (although at an annoyingly slow pace.) Later that day Sam took her to the hospital and we found out she had a broken foot. This story provides my friend with never-ending fodder for jokes.

Last week Natalie began to suspect another fracture in her foot – this time it was the likely result of over-training (running). Learning my lesson from the experience above I used more concern and compassion as I said “yeah – that looks like it hurts – you still able to ride around Iceland?” Although there was a little hesitation in her voice, the answer was yes. She’s been hobbling around the house gingerly ever since.

Yesterday her doctor verified the fracture (stress fracture in the third metatarsal) but cleared her for the trip, providing she takes it easy on her foot. That means our 18-mile hike-a-bike pushing a 200-lbs recumbent (bike, gear, trailer) on a gravel road at mile 400 has given way to a much longer ride around that obstacle (probably a net add of 60 miles and a few thousand vertical feet and the elimination of our pioneer handcart trek experience). It also means she gets to ride on the luggage carts in the airport. But beyond that, we’re still on for the trip and we’re still married.

We leave for Iceland in 4 days.

Knick knacks

Outfitting our bike has been fun. I’ve enjoyed the challenge of finding things that fit the unusual size and shape of this bike. Below I try to describe several of the knick knacks that are attached to our bike. I’ve tried to include links to products — not because we’re sponsored (obviously we’re not) — but to make it easier for someone with a similar bike to outfit their own rig.

The neck rests were a good start. They’ve actually evolved some. The super velcro wasn’t super enough, plus, I knew I needed places to put water bottles, so I drilled two holes in the neck rest (spatula) at the proper distance so on the back side the bolts would hold up a water bottle cage.

 

 

This works really nicely. The bottle is a little hard for me to reach while riding, but it is right in front of Natalie, so she takes it out and hands it up to me. When I’m done drinking I hand it back to her and she puts it away. She also has the same setup behind her neck rest, but she generally doesn’t drink from that bottle while riding. She swaps it with her easier-to-reach bottle when her easier-to-reach bottle goes dry. For some reason she refuses to share a water bottle with me….

Her easier-to-reach bottle is connected to the frame via velcro. We bought these cages from Amazon. I also have one on the front boom. It is hard for me to reach, so I too use it for backup. When the one behind my neck rest goes dry, I swap it for the one on the front boom.

 

 

The little blue bungee is used to hold the water bottle fast. It was not designed to hold a bottle horizontally, so they tend to fly out when going fast. :-O Natalie’s has a piece of green velcro she uses to cinch it down tight.

Also on the second picture you can see my phone holder (thing with a bungee string.) With my phone back there running komoot Natalie is able to participate in the adventure called navigation. It hasn’t bounced out yet. I am contemplating 3D printing something a little more convenient. The square bag you see next to Natalie’s cranks is a frame bag that carries my wallet, some lights, and a backup battery (in case the phone needs charging).

Behind my seat we hang a Camelbak designed for kayaking. We bought it on Amazon (link) and it doubles as our fridge. If we need to store chocolate (and we often do) it goes in this bag against a bladder of cold water. This is an important accessory for Natalie, as you might guess. To hang it I needed to make a strap, adding two loops positioned to be at the outer edge of my seat. I added a strong zip tie under the front of my seat to provide the forward connection point.

 

 

Finding mirrors wide enough for Natalie’s handlebars was a challenge. I bought some bar end mirrors from Amazon (link) and then modified them to have a much longer shaft. It is really important that these move. As we go through narrow gates she often has to fold them in. I may 3D print a new top section for these, but the bottom piece that goes into the handlebar tubes is super-well-built aluminum. I’m happy with these. The front mirrors are also from Amazon (link) and work without modification. Last year I used a different mirror from Amazon (link) but the mount kept breaking. Eventually those had to be zip-tied on.

 

 

The latest addition to our kit is a front light and front light holder. Last year we had lights attached to the front handlebars. However, the front boom had an attach point that was begging to be used. I 3D printed a generic mount and then attached this light (again from Amazon). 3D printing is going to change the world — it was so easy to design and print the part. (Let me know if anyone wants the STL file to print their own.)

 

 

In preparation for Iceland I may add a few more knick-knacks:

  1. Print a better phone holder, and possibly print one that will fit under Natalie’s seat so that she doesn’t have to keep using her fanny pack.
  2. Print a rear light mount for our trailer. I think we’ll want a flasher in the way-back.
  3. Get a GoPro like camera and modify the design on the front light holder so that it also holds the camera out front. Ideally we’d have a camera set at time-lapse mode for the entire ride. Unfortunately, I haven’t yet found one that has 12+ hour battery life. If money was no object, I’d have a GoPro Hero6 in the front. However, besides being out of my price range, I’ve read it can only run a time-lapse for 3 hours. If anyone has a suggestion of something that is affordable and can do time-lapse for 12 or more hours, please leave a comment.

We also upgraded our panniers to the Arkel Orcas and purchased a Topeak Journey trailer.

As I said at the start — outfitting the bike has been a blast (if not a little expensive). Amazon and I are tight.  With unlimited funds I’d buy a good 3D printer and design/print containers that fit into the frame to carry miscellaneous gear. For now I send files to a neighbor and the public library to get prints. It works.

Btw, we rode 50 miles today – chain looks great. Go wax!

 

I’m waxing

I’m waxing now. It’s a sacrifice I need to make for Iceland. Yeah, we’re still going to Iceland. Just haven’t been posting…

I am rough on chains. Really rough. Mostly it’s because I’m lazy and I don’t clean them adequately. The chain line on our tandem is similar to what you’d have on a single speed due to the Rohloff hub, but the chain length is crazy. The front half of the bike uses 2 full chains to link my cranks to Natalie’s and the rear half uses 2 chains plus another foot to link the chainring to the Rohloff sprocket. About ¾ of the chain line is protected by chain tubes. I’ve been using oil-based lube on the chain for a year and wiping it down after each ride with a rag but that thing is super dirty. Just brushing up against it with your arm leaves you with a black mark that looks like your tattoo artist has a drinking problem. Plus, I think our dirty chains are making us slow. (Fun fact: you can lose single digit watts to dirty chains.) Either that or we are out of shape.

After reviewing the 2013 VeloNews article on chain lubrication where they tested high-end products, I decided to go all in for their top pick: paraffin wax. Besides being the most efficient on the chain, wax allegedly has a side benefit in that it keeps the chain clean. We’ll see. So Wednesday I went to DI (a second-hand store) and bought a used crock pot. Natalie thinks this is funny because I recently donated one to the same place. (Pro tip: use a crock pot instead of something capable of more heat – wax can explode and convert your lovely two-car garage into a carport.) I bought paraffin wax and oil from Walmart and cooked up a batch following the directions from this YouTube video. How did we ever get anything done without YouTube? Watch the video just to hear the guy’s cool accent. Last night I cooked up a pot of the paraffin wax/oix mixture and soaked 5 new chains in it.

Hopefully we’ll be able to keep the chains clean and properly lubricated through the weather we anticipate in Iceland. We’ll let you know how it works out.

Soup’s on!

The obligatory FAQ

We’ve been intending to post this ever since our last day in Amsterdam. Life just became too busy….

How did your bike work out? Any major breakdowns?

Selecting a bike for a ride like this may be the most important decision you make. For us, our decision was perfect. We loved being on a recumbent and we loved being on a tandem. We were amazed at how well we could converse, and riding a tandem made the trip feel more like a team effort than if we had ridden independent bikes.

We have nothing but praise for Nazca Ligfietsen. The bike was solid the entire trip. As a bonus, Monique, the co-owner of Nazca Ligfietsen, remained in contact with us through much of our trip ensuring everything was going smoothly. Her customer engagement is exceptional. Occasionally we still exchange email and I always look forward to her responses.

The decision to use a Rohloff hub for our drive train worked out nicely as well. It is solid. Over 3 weeks we experienced no issues. Normally, the drivetrain would be the prime target for a tour-impacting failure. We felt comfortable and confident with the Rohloff. We probably made a mistake by swapping the rear sprocket from a 16-tooth to a 13-tooth sprocket. As we prepared for our trip we found we wanted more top-end speed when riding the bike without panniers. However, once it was loaded down riding above 20 mph was rarely a concern. We needed the lower gearing for the hills and missed it sorely. Literally. I found the spacing of the gears too close on the Rohloff especially in the lower range. The Rohloff evenly spaces the gears, so each shift up was a 13.6% increase in the gear ratio. The even spacing is one of their selling points. However, I found that in the low gears we could often skip a gear when moving into or out of a hill.  While the spacing felt right on the high end, for me, the ideal spacing would be several percent higher. I don’t think the experience would be as good in the higher gears, as that is where the spacing feels right if not too abrupt — but I’d be willing to trade that for a broader total range.

 

The most likely breakdown would have been a flat tire. Our bike was equipped with Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires. We were confident enough with these tires that we elected to not bring any spare tires with us. We brought a pump, a tube patch kit, and a tire patch kit, but we never needed any of them. For the most part the roads were free of debris and the few times we hit something in the road the Schwalbe tires were able to resist a puncture. And while we were prepared to deal with a flat, having one would have cost a lot of time — especially if the flat were on the back tire, as we would have had to unload the rear of the bike before attempting to fix the tire.

When we first received the bike I was a little disappointed by its weight. The steel frame is heavy. The Rohloff hub is heavy. Even the tires are heavy. The bike weighs in at almost 90 pounds and we added about 60 pounds of food and gear. However, the bike’s heft evokes confidence. As we’d find ourselves off the beaten path far away from civilization, in high grass, on single tracks, or on rocky roads, we rode without worrying about the bike breaking down. There were several places where a breakdown would have cost us dearly. It was nice to ride without any stress or concern for our bike.

If you are going to do a big bike tour, get a good bike.

How did you plan your route?

We planned our trip around 3 destinations: make it to Bastogne by June 26th for Natalie’s 50th birthday, make it to Paris by the next Sunday so we could attend church, and make it to Antwerp by the following Sunday so we could attend church again. Other than those and making it back to Amsterdam in time to fly home, we had a blank slate.

We started by figuring out about what our daily range was. We planned several multi-day rides near our home in Utah to get a feel for how far we could go in a single day with our gear. We tried to select routes that had similar hill profiles to what we expected in Europe. After several rides decided to target about 65 miles per day. We could ride a little further if there were few hills and a little less if there were many.

We used Komoot for planning the actual roads and trails we would ride on. We used Komoot for our shake-down rides near our home as well, learning some of its nuances. The software was good at putting us on roads and paths friendly to bikes, but it didn’t seem to care about hills. We cared a lot about hills, so at times we would insert additional waypoints between a start and stop location in an effort to pull the route around a hill. For the most part it worked, but occasionally we would fail.  On our way to Bastogne we were on the beautiful Ravel bike trail – a converted railroad line with minimal grades. Komoot took us off the Ravel to save a few miles, but in exchange for the shorter distance we had several painful hills. In hindsight we would have gladly exchanged the savings in distance for a better hill profile.

Komoot offered us a few choices for biking style – road biking which tended to keep us on roads and tour biking which tended to keep us on bike trails and bike paths. We needed a setting in-between, as the tour biking paths tended to put us on dirt roads and single track trails while the road-biking kept us on larger and more-busy roads. Each night I would spend time on my phone reviewing the next day’s route, comparing the road-biking option to the tour-biking option and modifying each until I found the right compromise. Once set, I could upload the route to our bike computer (a wahoo elemnt bolt) which would allow me to have an electronic map at the front of the bike and Natalie to have an electronic map on the phone attached to the back of my seat. Navigation, especially in the larger towns, required both of us to be working together. In many ways, working together to navigate was one of the fun experiences of the trip, as it forced us to use teamwork.

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Our trusty bike computer

One day we tried to use the bike route favored by Google maps. We quickly decided that Komoot had a better feel for the roads and paths in Europe.

How did you plan your nightly accommodations?

Using the route set by Komoot and our riding-range estimates, we preplanned all of our hotels, bed and breakfasts, and Airbnbs. Originally, I was favoring hotels. I’d figure out roughly where we would want to spend the night and then send emails to all of the hotels in the area trying to find one that could securely store our bike. Using this approach I was able to make a bunch of reservations over a period of a few weeks. But then our plans needed to change for one reason or another, and so I’d have to start the process over again after canceling our hotel reservations. This was somewhat of a hassle. I identified several normal bed and breakfasts which seemed to offer nicer accommodations and more often could deal with our bike – but the pattern recurred and it felt much more personal to cancel our reservations with these smaller operations. In both cases, we struggled with a lack of options for the smaller towns. While there are likely hotels in all of them, most were not available on the internet.

Enter Airbnb. During one of our preparation rides in Utah we decided to give Airbnb a try. Natalie was a little nervous – as we would be staying in someone’s normal home. It just seemed weird. On that ride we stayed 3 nights in Airbnbs and loved it. In one case we had the whole house to ourselves and in the other case we stayed with the family (two nights – one before our ride and one after). We used Airbnb on our next preparation ride in Utah and had another good experience – we were hooked. Airbnb helped us in five ways. First, where we were riding in Europe there were far more Airbnbs than hotels we could find on the internet. The Airbnb interface made it easy to look at a map overlaid on our route and see all the possibilities. The second thing Airbnb did was made it very easy to communicate with the hosts. For the hotels I’d have to search around for email contact information – with Airbnb it was built in. Third, Airbnb did a great job of keeping track of all of our accommodations and adding them to our Google calendar and automatically guiding us in when we were riding into a town where we would be staying.  Fourth, Airbnb homes in Europe were most often much less than hotels. Even homes where we would have the entire home to ourselves with a full kitchen and laundry facilities would be less than a hotel – sometimes half the cost.  And finally, using Airbnb all of the payment for our accommodations happened in the application. With hotels we could use our credit cards, which wasn’t a big deal. But with the normal bed and breakfasts we’d have to remit payment either in cash or via bank transfer. We became big fans of Airbnb. We still had a challenge with responding to the need to change our route as Airbnb only allows you to cancel three reservations a year before they start charging you their booking fee even if you cancel.  This is a pretty painful policy for someone on a bike tour with a lot of variables which can impact your itinerary.

In every case, although to varying degrees, the Airbnb and normal bed and breakfast hosts were delightful. Getting to interact with our hosts was something we looked forward to. I still feel bad for the few we had to cancel, as it seems like we violated the trust of a friend.

We’ve wondered if it would be a better experience to not pre-plan any of the accommodations. This would give us the freedom to dynamically change our tour based on weather and scenery. We would have loved to add a day to Berck so we could spend a day at the beach.  Toward the end of our ride we were feeling strong and probably would have added a few miles to each of the rides. In a few of the towns we might have chosen to ride past them as they were a little too busy for our taste. Not having reservations for the whole trip would free us of the stress of a schedule but it would replace that with the stress of not knowing where or if we would find accommodations. Airbnb might not work as well in this scenario – it would need to have a “last-minute” mode which provided a more rapid back and forth conversation with the hosts (however, in most cases they responded within hours of posting a question).

How did you pack?

For clothing we each took 4 “kits” with each kit being made up of bike shorts, bike shirt, and socks. We also took one set of clothes that would work for nicer venues such as church and one set of clothes that would work for casual sight-seeing. (We were definitely not going to walk around town in our bike shorts – we already looked like goofy Americans on our bike – it would make no sense to further abuse the better taste of those around us by walking around in spandex.) I managed to find a single pair of pants that would work for both, so I was able to lighten my load slightly. We each had 4 pair of underwear….  Needless to say, we were dependent on finding laundromats along the way.

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This is everything we took for 3 weeks.

We each had two panniers – one larger one and one a little bit smaller. We bought our panniers from Arkel (T-42 and T-28 classic touring panniers.) I had previously bought some recumbent specific panniers from Arkel but after a few uses it was clear they were designed for a slightly different bike than ours. Arkel was super-good to work with and allowed me to return these even though it was far past the returnable date.

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Bike with panniers

I’m grateful for their outstanding customer service and would highly recommend them – but I wish I had selected waterproof bags. We carried rain covers for our bags which simply added bulk to our already tight storage and required us to stop when the rain would come. Even with the covers, our massive downpour going into Paris was enough to dampen the interior of our panniers from the wheel-facing side which wasn’t covered by the rain covers. If we could do it over we would chose the Orca or Dolphin panniers. Next to the bike, these are the biggest gear investment. It is worth getting it right.

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Panniers and rain covers

Inside our panniers we used Amazon-basics packing cubes. These were super useful for keeping our gear organized. They allowed us to completely unpack our panniers each night and repack them in the morning without creating a complete mess. Both of us used one cube per kit (which fit perfectly). In the evenings we’d change into our casual clothes, take out the next day’s kit, and put our dirty bike clothes into the cube we had just emptied. It was easy and efficient. 8 cubes fit perfectly into our large pannier. Each of our smaller panniers was used for miscellaneous items such as our casual shoes, coats, emergency bivy sacks, toilet paper, sunscreen, etc. Send me a note if you are interested in our complete packing list.

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Amazon Basics packing cubes

We’d do laundry about every four or five days. We’d always do it on a sightseeing day. Finding laundromats wasn’t a problem. We’d use the largest washer they had and wash everything possible all at once. I had brought a swimming suit (which I never used for swimming) which I would wear on laundry runs, allowing me to wash everything but the swimming suit and one shirt. I looked silly but it didn’t matter. Several of our Airbnb accommodations made a washer and dryer available, which we always took advantage of. In Europe, however, a “dryer” means a rack on which you can hang your clothes (except in the laundromats, where they had real dryers). Luckily these opportunities generally coincided with the sight-seeing days so we’d have extra time for the clothes to air-dry and most of our bike clothing was fast drying anyway. We had a little laundry line with clips that we could use to hang up our clothes in our room.

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Clothes drying on our clothes line in our bathroom

How did you handle eating? What about your vegan diet?

We knew going into this that we were going to have to be flexible with our diet. We didn’t ask about ingredients in things like bread and just ate them. When we had the chance to communicate with our host ahead of time we’d try to explain our diet, but often the language barrier confused people. We confuse people in English, so no surprise it was extra hard in non-native languages. When people would go out of their way to offer us something we would go out of our way to eat whatever it was. For the most part our eating entailed the following:

  1. Breakfast – if our hotel/B&B/Airbnb provided breakfast we’d eat most of the vegan options provided. We would often have breakfast snacks (fruit, breakfast bars, etc.) that we carried with us on our bike from town to town, and sometimes those made up a portion of our morning calories.
  2. Snacks on the bike – we had the trunk bag on the back rack of our bike which was dedicated to food and tried to keep it always full of snacks and fruit. We ate a lot of nuts – especially cashews we’d buy at Carrefour markets. Apples held up well, so there was always at least one or two apples in the trunk and sometimes an orange. Nectarines and peaches were on, but less durable – so when we bought them during our evening grocery run we’d eat them for dinner and breakfast. If one made it in the trunk it was often eaten before mid-day.
  3. Lunch – lunch was usually just a larger version of our normal snacks on the bike. We didn’t have a set time for lunch and we’d usually take lunch when we needed a slightly larger break. Although we didn’t purposefully avoid it, I don’t recall ever going into a restaurant for lunch. Lunch was generally on the side of the road somewhere except on our sightseeing days.
  4. Dinner – dinner was almost always accomplished by going shopping at a grocery store (more often Carrefour) when buying supplies for the next day. Many of our Airbnb accommodations provided us with the full house which included use of the kitchen. We would often buy a bag of salad, salad dressing (sometimes we’d carry some in our “fridge” between towns), and fruit. Several times we cooked pasta (our favorite was gnocchi) and pasta sauce. Occasionally we’d eat out, but I (Pete) was often too cheap to enjoy this. Because of our restricted diet, eating out often meant overpaying for a salad. Probably the best dinner was in Guignicourt with Jean-Réné and Nadya. We cooked a pasta dinner together with fresh vegetables and enjoyed a fun evening eating and talking at an outdoor table overlooking their farm and orchard. It was delightful.
  5. Hydration – we rode with 4 water bottles and one camelback and never ran out of stuff to drink. I was surprised that they didn’t have Gatorade, Powerade, or other sports drinks, which was probably for the better. We’d often buy one or two quart-size cartons of orange juice or mixed fruit juice on our evening shopping runs and have that at dinner and at breakfast. A few times we found almond milk – but it was always more than we needed for a single breakfast, so we’d use one of our water bottles to carry it between towns making it last for an extra day. We found one great use for our Camelbak – because it was full of water it was slightly cooler than the ambient air, so we would store a chocolate bar between the bladder and the sleeve. We called this our “fridge.” We didn’t have problems with melting chocolate.IMG_20170708_194723608

How did those fancy Patagonia Houdini coats and pants work out?

We paid a premium for these coats and pants because they were super light and super waterproof. It turns out they are only super light. On our ride to Paris we were both soaked to the skin. A few other days, in extended light rain, we were also soaked all the way through. In fairness to Patagonia, these are really light weight. Assuming they’d be fully waterproof was probably unrealistic. As we start gearing up for our next big ride we’ll be replacing the Houdinis with something else. A special kind of cheap indeed.

What was your favorite part of the trip?

We liked the whole thing – it is hard to pick a favorite thing, but if we had to identify the single best part of the trip it was simply being together. Sometimes people would jokingly ask us if we still liked each other after being together so much. Some would jokingly ask if our marriage could handle it. We laughed with them, as this was going to be the most time we’ve ever spent with each other. In the end we are pleased to report that the experience brought us together in a powerful way. This is probably the result of spending so much time together and having to work together both on navigating and powering our bike. The tandem helped a lot, as it kept us close and created the situation where we needed to work together. We had some funny friends who named their tandem “the divorce machine.” We would need to name ours the opposite.

 

Amsterdam day

(Natalie writing)

I’m going to try to be concise, as we’re waking early tomorrow (early for this trip’s standards but not our normal life). 

We biked 15 minutes in the rain to the airport, with minimal gear. Spent 2 hours taking apart the bike and packing it in its two boxes for our flight home tomorrow. Paid to have it stored overnight. Found a train into the city. 

We opted for another boat tour ride, and we liked it. It was warm and covered from the rain, for one thing, and it gave some interesting highlights about the city, its architecture, and its history. By the time it was finished the rain was slowing. (It eventually stopped but then gave way to quite a strong chilly wind.)

We walked around as we enjoy doing. We found good things to eat too. We waited an extremely long time to go through the Anne Frank House. The museum is beautifully simple, well done, sobering, and moving. It is a meaningful tribute to Anne and all she represents. We are glad we went. But we would very strongly recommend you get online scheduled tickets in advance if you go.

Walked around some more, found more food, and then decided to walk back to our AirBnB instead of navigating the public transit. The evening was cool but much less windy, and we had a very nice brisk walk through several beautiful and interesting parts of the city and its environs, including the lovely Vondelpark (Central Park on a smaller scale).

Travel day tomorrow. Europe, it’s been great! You’ve been good to us and our bike. We will be back!!!

Completing the loop

Pete writing tonight…

Today was our final ride for this trip. We are really sad to be finished, but very grateful for the experiences of the last 3 weeks.

We changed our route last minute to give us some extra miles along the coast. Months ago, when I planned the route, I wasn’t sure if we’d be tired and want an easy day or if we’d be getting strong, so Rotterdam was chosen because it had a short direct route back to Amsterdam if needed, but also offered the option of a longer scenic route as well. Turns out we didn’t need the shorter escape valve.

Our route took us west to the Atlantic coast, which we then followed north until we were at the same latitude as Amsterdam, and then we rode east to Amsterdam. The route was 70 miles.

The trip started with a pair of brutal rain storms which forced us into the trees for cover. Even with the trees blocking the brunt of the rain we still became soaked. Between storms we saw what we thought was a cruise ship (turned out to be a huge ferry to England – silly us). We were sad for everyone onboard because they didn’t get to get soaked riding in the rain.

After the second storm the weather held for rest of our ride. We went through several beach towns where we were reminded again and again that Europeans don’t go to the bathroom very often. Even the pay toilet we found got in on the fun and denied us entry after the fee had been paid. It seemed to fit in with the rest of the experience.

We rolled into Amsterdam in the middle of rush hour, grateful for its abundance of cycle paths. This is a country that thinks bike first and car second.

Our accomodations tonight are nice and very close to the airport. Tomorrow we will ride our bike 4 miles to the airport, box it up, put in overnight storage, and head into Amsterdam for a day of sightseeing. Then we go home on Thursday. We are excited to see family and friends again, but we are going to really miss the pace of life we’ve established over the last 3 weeks. 

We’ve learned a lot about bike touring logistics. We learned about the countries and cultures we visited. But mostly we learned a lot about ourselves and each other. We’ve spent more time together over the last 3 weeks than any other 3-week period of our lives. It has been fun to work together, to get lost together, to struggle up steep hills together (well, maybe not), and to accomplish this trip together. After 930 miles we not only still like each other, but we like each other more than when we started (except for that little hill incident approaching Calais). We made new friends and strengthened our most important friendship. This trip warrants a sequel next year.

We liked the red boat

Feeling sorry for those on the ship
Enjoying the rain
Bike getting a solid washing
We need one of these to schlep the grandkids around in
The beaches were amazing
Lots of greenhouses today
Chocolate soy milk pudding. The stuff is magical… especially when eaten on the beach.

Back in the Netherlands

(Natalie writing today)

Surprised ourselves by sleeping in. That’s always nice, especially on vacation, right?

We had expected a little rain but happily didn’t get any until we were checked into our AirBnB. It was a perfect temperature again today, some clouds too. 

Lots of great cycle trails and roads today. Some smaller towns, some farmland. A few cool bridges over big rivers or industrial/rail areas. Sometimes the bike lane/path would be paved and the road for cars would just be dirt! We had some detours due to construction in Antwerp on our way out, but we quickly worked around them.

We really love this way of seeing and experiencing all different aspects of Europe. We love the variety we’ve had: farmlands, cities, gorgeous green forests, rolling village streets, all kinds of bike trails, centuries-old buildings and churches, quaint cottages, touristy places and middle-of-nowhere places, museums, castles and palaces and forts, parks of all shapes and sizes, subways and buses, beaches, canals, drawbridges, ferries, giant towering ships, forever-long barges, strong tugboats, fisher boats and fisher people, steep city streets, crazy narrow alley ways, sketchy underpass bike routes, cobblestone, brick-paved streets, kids (of all ages) laughing happily and pointing at us, truck drivers giving us thumbs-up, fellow cyclists of all varieties, different languages, helpful English speakers, a great variety of lodging experiences, lovely restaurants, fun cafés, navigating all kinds of grocery stores, and the list goes on. 

We gained very little altitude today; in fact, we almost wished we had planned more miles for today so that we could have stayed on the coast tonight. (We rode around 65 miles today.) But we are learning, and we are taking notes about what works and what doesn’t (for us) so that next time we do this it’ll be even more amazing!!

For example, we are realizing that in general we like smaller cities. (Of course there are exceptions to this.) We also really like water rides (as in coastline or riverside).

Rotterdam seems a bit smaller, cleaner, and greener than Antwerp. It also doesn’t have the same old-old architecture. Our host explained that much of Rotterdam was burned down in the 1940s, so that’s why. After arriving and cleaning up, we walked the city a bit and found some fun snacks. Then as it began to rain, we opted for groceries for dinner and breakfast, so we found a good store and returned to the apartment. It’s a small but well-appointed attic flat, with a small kitchen and bathroom of its own. Our host is welcoming and helpful and even let us put our bike in a rather inconvenient (for him) but safe place in the hallway entrance. 

We are very sad to think that tomorrow is our last ride day. What an excellent adventure it has been!

Paved bike path next to a dirt road. They have good priorities in the Netherlands.
Erasmus Bridge in Rotterdam
Green in Rotterdam
Making dinner
Having fun exploring the city

Simple Sunday in Antwerp

Team writing today…

We slept well, as happily has become our pattern on this trip. We are not looking forward to returning to our 4 AM wakeup routine once we return. It has been amazing to not awake to the sound of an alarm clock. We both are ready to retire and make this permanent.

With the help of Google and friendly people at bus stops, we were able to navigate Antwerp today. When you travel by bike, public transportation or your bike is the only way to move about a city. Our bike is a little hard to find parking for, and we were dressed for church, so public transportation was our chosen mode of travel.

We attended the Antwerp ward. During each meeting we had kind and competent translators. After church, while we were waiting for a bus a church member recognized us and gave us a ride to the city center. We walked around the city center, market area, city hall, the river, and an old castle fort. It was warm and sunny so we took the opportunity to go and sit peacefully inside the Church of Saint Paul. We finished our journey on a tram back to our Airbnb apartment where we are resting and trying to decide which chocolate to eat next.

We are just under 800 miles of riding at this point and are sad that we only have about 120 miles left. There is rain in the forecast for the next few days. We are so grateful for the good weather we’ve had for most of our trip. And if it rains on us, hooray for Jean-René! (Although he sent us an email saying his farm has had enough rain.)

We’ll be heading back into the Netherlands tomorrow.

Wind at our backs

(Pete writing)

Today’s ride from Brugge to Antwerp was much easier than the ride from Calais to Brugge. It helped that it was about 10 miles shorter (66 miles) and that we had rested and that we had the wind at our backs. The trails were good, with a few well groomed single tracks, and the weather was almost perfect at 75 degrees. Because it was a Saturday, we saw a lot more bikers.

Riding in Belgium and Holland requires a stable ego. Imagine riding along in your spandex kit, on an expensive engineering masterpiece, working hard, high heart rate, sweat dripping off your face, only to be passed by a 70-year-old lady on a 3-speed wearing a skirt, sitting straight up in the least dynamic position possible, with a big front bike basket where her dog is sitting, and she’s toodling along with no more exertion on her face than she does when playing bridge and drinking tea. I find it best in such situations to pretend I’m lost. 

Americans are weird. We’re way too concerned about riding faster than someone else. It drives me nuts to get passed by someone on the way home from work. It’s like they are challenging my human worth. Over here the speed you go is more a sign of how fast you need to be somewhere than it is an indicator of your physical prowess. It’s kind of like when you see someone in a hurry shopping at the grocery store. You don’t think: wow, that person is a really strong shopper, I wonder how they would do at Costco… You think they must be in a hurry.

Back to today’s ride…. We had our first major drawbridge, saw a tandem hand bike, had several happy interactions with others on the road, and managed not to get lost, although we came close. GPS navigation lady led us to the banks of the river Schelde and directed us to ride in. We were in the process of rerouting ourselves when a kind elderly couple pointed out the 0.5 km pedestrian/bike tunnel under the river. Of course there would be a tunnel under the river…. It was a great route into the city center.

Our house tonight is another Airbnb. This one we don’t have to share with the owner. We have the apartment to ourselves. We went and shopped for the next two days, cooked a big meal, and are now winding down. Tomorrow we go to church and then will walk around the city center of Antwerp.

Belgium has windmills too.
Cool way to say “share the road”
Another lovely bike path along a canal
Our bike!

This is what part of our route looked like today

Very big jump

The reason for the drawbridge…
St. Anna’s Tunnel under Schelde River, for cyclists and pedestrians to get to Antwerp
We should know better than to go grocery shopping on empty stomachs…. This was 3 grocery stores later….

Rest day in Bruges

(Natalie writing today) 

I am beginning this post in the early evening at a small shady park in Old Bruges, a quiet respite from the tourist area. People are napping, talking, reading, walking. The sound of the fountain is calming.

Pete did laundry for us first thing this morning, at a nearby laundromat, while I got ready. That was greatly appreciated and needed! Once again our room is decorated with drying clothes. 

Excellent breakfast this morning at our AirBnB. It’s such a beautiful, old, tall home. Our hosts are very welcoming yet more business-like than some places we’ve stayed: again, we are amazed at the unique experience we manage to have each day. It is great to be almost in the center of Old Bruges, yet it was quiet last night.

We did a boat ride tour first thing, around the many canals, and it was a perfect start to our more touristy day. Our guide was fun and knowledgeable (and gave the tour in both English and French for our group) and it was cool to see the city from the water. There are 43 bridges in Bruges. There are some impressively old buildings too. I am glad to be here again, 30 years later, this time with Pete!

We’ve been sampling Belgian chocolate throughout the day (well… mostly I have been), and we also enjoyed some yummy raspberry and coconut sorbet and (of course) Belgian frites. 

Pete’s comment: Natalie is to chocoholics what Otis on the Andy Griffiths show is to alcoholics. I think if we had a better way to keep chocolate on our bike from melting we’d be loaded down. We can keep one chocolate bar from melting by packing it in our CamelBak next to the bladder of cold water. We call it “the fridge.”

Another treat for me from Pete: we toured a local Belgian art museum (the Groeningemuseum). Art museums are not his thing, and while I am no art expert I do really enjoy many art museums. This one was really good but not too big. Very nice! Thanks Pete! 

Just walking around this city and enjoying the buildings and ambience has been delightful! It is one of the cleaner cities we’ve been in. It became busier with tourists as the day went on, but it is still much less busy than Paris.

We found a site that recommended a free daily harp concert in the city, so we found it (in the Site Oud Sint Jan on Mariastraat 38), and it was really unexpectedly good! We even bought a USB of one of his CDs (something we rarely do). Not only does he play the harp, but several other interesting instruments. His name is Luc Vanlaere. Pete admittedly snoozed a bit for the more traditional harp parts (that’s good because he needed a little nap), but when the musician began the unusual instruments it really got Pete’s attention. If you go to Bruges, go to this concert!

The weather today has also been delightful: sunny, light breeze, mid to high 70s F.

We used the Happy Cow app again and found a vegan-friendly restaurant for dinner. It was great. We strolled around a bit more, stopped inside a beautiful Jesuit church built in 1619, enjoyed the cooling evening, and watched the city change into the night scene. Now we’re retiring a bit earlier, getting ready to ride again tomorrow. Bruges has been great!

This has been a good rest day. We head to Antwerp tomorrow. Our trip is going too fast!

This is a paintbrush made of really dark chocolate! Yum!

Calais to Bruges

We are team writing today.

Today’s ride from Calais to Bruges felt a lot longer than 77 miles. We are physically and mentally tired, so it is great that tomorrow is a rest day.

We made up with GPS navigation lady. She likes us and we like her. We mostly stayed on course, only straying when tempted by beaches. We had a few route segments we had to work around when the bike wouldn’t fit through bike gates or similar. We are getting better at dealing with such issues with minimal hassle.

Today was mostly flat roads through smaller towns. Dunkerque had a beautiful beach, although we also rode through some grungy areas. It had all of the characteristics of a large port city.

As we crossed into Belgium there was a distinct change in cycleways (better maintained and more of them). We saw many more cyclists and the drivers were more attentive.

The weather was pretty good, even though it rained off and on. Every time it would start raining we’d stop and put on our rain gear, which would make the rain stop. And we just keep thinking how much better it was than the cold constant heavy rain we had on our ride into Paris. The hardest rain of today is falling now, as we sit under a canopy at a restaurant getting dinner.

We are staying in a 200 year old home in Bruges, Belgium.  Bruges is amazing. Venice-like. Architecture is charming. It is old but clean. The rain stopped after dinner and we enjoyed strolling around. I (Natalie) am so happy to be back here again! (I visited here with my friend Greta during my internship.) It is a delightful little city. We are looking forward to a day to explore it tomorrow.

A pretty place we liked in Dunkirk
Bike looking out at the beach at Dunkerque, wishing it could swim….
Border between France and Belgium
Bruges
Bruges

“Independence” day

(Pete today)  Today’s ride was to Calais, a simple 50 miles jaunt to the North. When you are skilled at navigating as I am you don’t need a GPS, so today we decided to declare our Independence from the oppressive GPS directions lady. Using my carefully honed scouting skills, I identified a way to get around the only significant obstacle we faced today: a half-mile climb maxing out around at around a 14% grade.

It was beautiful riding out of Berck this morning. If you want to spend time at a less crowded beach in France, Berck may be your ticket. Granted, we were there mid-week. We meandered along the coast until the trail ended.

Early in our ride nature made her morning call, so we went through the normal gas station rejection ritual. Natalie made the comment “we need a McDonald’s” and within minutes we saw one. There are very few over here, so it was kind of weird. McDonald’s didn’t disappoint and earned our purchase of a small order of fries for breakfast.

The next few hours went about the same, with several visits to beach towns, although none as charming as Berck. 

Natalie adding: towns such as Boulogne-sur-mer and Wimereux. Today we were also able to see England on the distant horizon across the channel, from near a little town called Wissant. That was neat!

The final segment of our trip provided me with my chance to shine. Shifting our route to the east to avoid the big climb brought us into beautiful farmland with distant views of the sea. This little detour added about 5 miles to a trip that had already grown by 20%. Unfortunately this route had a couple nasty climbs of its own, each similar to the one we were avoiding. Climbing these on a big, heavy, tandem bike hurts. There is no better description. Lots of lactic acid! As we rode to the end of my bypass route we were greeted by the start of another climb – the one that we were trying to avoid. It must have moved. We had no choice but to ride it. So my routing basically tripled our pain. 

Natalie again: it was ridiculous and yes painful and now in hindsight rather funny. But we did it! We did them all. Never got off once to push. Also, another thing Pete forgot to add was that part of our change of route was due to a very kind, well-meaning man who pulled off the road in his car to point out a route with much less traffic. He was also a biker and knew the area and trails very well, so it seemed reasonable to take his advice.

I don’t think I was getting the silent treatment after the third climb – I just think Natalie was too tired to talk. (Natalie: yes!) The marriage is still strong and tomorrow I’m going to make amends with GPS navigation lady.

Natalie’s ending: Tonight we are in Calais, the port city, also where the “Chunnel” connects from the U.K., although not near it. We are in the beach residential area before Calais, however, so it is not too busy. We are at a traditional B&B, not an Airbnb. Very nice couple running it, nice old home, comfortable and clean. We strolled on the boardwalk and pier in the late evening. It was amazing to see the giant ships and ferries coming in to port. We will sleep well tonight! Tomorrow we head to Bruges, in western Belgium.

Great ride to the beach at Berck, France

(Natalie writing)

Happy Fourth of July, America!

Today’s ride was the longest segment of the trip: 85 miles. But it was also one of the best so far. We really had perfect weather, some clouds for about half the day, becoming sunnier in the afternoon, a nice breeze, and temperature in the low 70s F. The route itself was very enjoyable, perhaps our favorite thus far. It was one we adjusted rather late in our planning, so we weren’t sure how it would turn out. We had only a few climbs at 10% grade or higher, which were briefly painful but manageable. We only had minor routing problems. We rode on lots of small farm roads, some bike paths, and through some especially beautiful forests. As we got closer to Berck it became just a bit more touristy but much less busy than most beach destinations. 

Our biggest disappointment has been that we didn’t schedule a rest day here! It is a quiet but quaint beach town and we really like it! (I’m sure it’s much busier on the weekend…. We’re here on a Tuesday evening, after all.)

We’re in an excellent Airbnb, too. 

Dinner was from a grocery store again, to give us more time on the beach, but this time it was honestly delicious: Pete found some microwavable tofu rice lentil dishes. Really yummy! We added some fresh produce and nuts to our meal as well.

Then to finish the evening we walked to the beach where we snacked, strolled in the sand and tide, took photos, and enjoyed the setting sun. We even saw a seal playing in the water near the shore.

A few more notes in general about the trip:

It has been delightful for me to be able to have all sorts of little conversations with various people in French! Of course our bike and our trip usually are part of the conversation, but all kinds of other things come up as well, like politics, family, and education. I am so happy I have strengthened my French in recent years so that I could use it and benefit from it on this trip.  

Pete and I have often remarked to reach other that we have experienced an amazing variety so far. Each day, each ride, each location has been so different from the others. Pretty cool!

And finally, as we anticipated, we are definitely having an atypical European vacation. But that’s exactly what we wanted. It is a great adventure!

Au revoir Paris!

(Pete writing again) Another good night for sleep! We thought about trying to time our departure from Paris so that we could miss rush hour, but rush hour is several hours so we just decided to embrace the madness and roll whenever we were ready to leave, which turned out to be just before 9. 

Traffic was crazy, as expected. It is good that we started in Amsterdam and gave ourselves more than a week to acclimate to navigating in Europe before attempting Paris. We did fine and about 10 minutes into the adventure a Paris bike commuter befriended us and we were able to follow him through the worst of it. 

It probably took an hour and a half to clear the city and its suburbs. Then it was peaceful farmland and small roads for a few hours. With about 20 miles left our route took us down a path that cows would struggle on. Eventually we had to retreat and piece together a bypass (which required a few bypasses itself). 

Eventually we hit Avenue Verte and finished our ride on a beautiful bike trail to Gournay-en-Bray where we are in a quaint Airbnb effectively staying in their attic. They make such good use of space here.

They also apparently never go to the bathroom. Seriously. Gas stations don’t have bathrooms. There are no rest stops on the highways. And when we ask at a gas station or store if they have a bathroom we could use they look at us confused, like we just asked for something super personal and awkward, like if we could borrow their socks to wear for a few minutes. 

We went looking for food tonight, on empty stomachs, which never ends well. The fries, cashews, and orange juice combo we put together at a random market and a Lebanese grill had the effect on our stomachs you would expect. We followed that up with a trip to the store for breakfast food, where we bought some fruit, vegetables, juice and almond milk.

Tomorrow will be a long day as we head for Berck on the northwest coast of France.

Natalie’s additions:

Miles today: about 65

Vertical feet: about 2000, but all nice slow gradual

Weather: Beautiful!! No rain!! A bit cloudy in the morning and sunnier in the afternoon. Around 70F. Perfect. 

A really nice day!