When the dates and routes are finalised for a forthcoming bike trek, I bury myself in the research required to make it all happen. I surface from time to time to ride some local miles, both to keep the leg muscles primed and the rump-end callouses in situ. My attention is invariably focused on the feasibility of the project within a given time-scale, and decisions have to made about a multitude of things, not least when to book my return flight from Istanbul.
I have learned much from experience, and experience now informs me that creating a tight time schedule, which is governed entirely by the date of the return flight from destination, is a sure way of putting a lot of pressure on you to complete daily mileages. In one sense, that is not a bad thing. But if you fail to allow for mishaps, diversions, delays or simply getting lost, that pressure can increase exponentially as the ride progresses. And if you started expecting to do high daily mileages from day one…….well, I don’t need to spell it out.
I have spent many hours poring over maps, using Googlemaps and Google Earth as my route planner, studying the terrain, distances, roads, elevation and places of interest. Very little can be finalised before a ride begins. Experience tells me to leave my starting point with a well-informed but open mind. Have the broad brush strokes of the route mapped out, the time-scale decided, and some of the principal places you want to pass through.
This is the nature of solo riding. You have no-one to please but yourself and, conversely, you have no-one to blame but yourself if things go wrong. You will not have the shoulder of an ATOL or ABTA to cry on. There will be no agent from whom to seek compensation. You have planned it, you are riding it……you learn to take the rough with the rough. But when things go smoothly (and,incidentally, they do for much of the time), it can be like a dream.
2000 miles should be a comfortable month’s cycling, depending on terrain, of course. My route will take me across the Netherlands and NW Germany (gently flat), but southern Germany and Austria will be excessively ‘lumpy’, except where I choose to follow the Danube valley (principally into Vienna). Hungary will provide me with a vast prairie crossing, but once into Serbia and Bulgaria, the Carpathian and Balkan mountains will have me searching for those climbing muscles once again.
When I get to the border crossing from Bulgaria into Turkey, I have an important decision to make. To cross directly into Turkey will mean getting embroiled in the tediously busy roads for 150 miles into Istanbul. If, however, I make a 2-3 hour sortie into Greece before crossing into Turkey, I could find myself engaging with a much quieter, albeit longer, route into Istanbul. That’s a decision I will make at the time.
To provide ‘cushioning time’, I am going to allow 6 weeks for this venture, and if things go unexpectedly according to plan, this will give me down-time in key places, with time to savour notable local offerings. My background reading so far has seen me delving into the history of the Crusades (both a fascinating and appalling catalogue of events), and I am now piercing the surface of an intrepid walk from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople, in the first volume of Patrick Leigh Fermor’s trilogy, entitled Time for Gifts. This journey promises to be rich in both geographical and historical terms.
I am delighted to report that my venture to raise £5000 in sponsorship is almost 20% complete. The money raised will go directly to the manufacture of wheelchairs for disabled people in developing countries. For more information and an opportunity to make a donation, please visit my Justgiving page.