Training

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Training

My best ever sleep took place on a crowded dog and chicken infested Filipino ferry. This Baltic morning I woke rested and ready for adventure. First job of the day was to stuff myself with as much buffet breakfast as possible. I had learnt on previous crossings that the morning grub on these ferries is only just passable for food. We were dining with a rather helpful German friend and her son; together they provided a happy distraction that enabled me to scoff a huge cooked breakfast, almost totally without gagging.

Then next thing we knew, we were rounding the heads of Kiel Harbour. It was another pleasant day, so I whiled away the morning leaning over the deck trying to spot the camping ground we would be staying in on our last night. I spotted three possibilities and am not sure if any of them were correct.

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I learnt from my first pannier carrying exercise and rearranged some of my straps and had a much easier trip from the cabin to our relieved-looking bicycles. One thing for sure, bicycle panniers are designed for bicycles not people. Loading our bike was quite a scary ordeal; men were screaming, trucks and forklifts were zooming around us and metal chains were bouncing off metal floors. We got off that boat as quickly as we could. We had cycled all of 20 metres when we were greeted by our first efficient and stern German. ‘Stop, wait, follow the bus.’ I froze and moved towards the designated waiting spot. We had been waiting only a few minutes when another stern man who secretly was smiling on the inside commanded us to ‘just go’. So like a flash we were gone, cycling on smooth tarmac between containers, logs and articulated lorries. We stopped and asked some startled official-looking types if they wanted to perhaps see our tickets, passports or anything. They waved us on and out into the big dangerous Federal Republic of Germany. It was so exciting, here we were actually cycling through a German city.

I am dyslexic, I live with a continuous cinema of pictures, diagrams and maps floating through the sparse recesses of my head. Finding Kiel station was going to be a simple process. Keep the water to my right and cycle until we intercept a red D2 sign. The red D2 sign signifies the Baltic cycle trail that runs from Poland to Denmark. Everyone had told me how Germans love their cycle paths and signposts, so this was not expected to be a problem.

We cycled south along the road until we hit our first cycle path. Joining the path, we continued. There were signs, quite a few of them, but the red D2 one seemed to be rather elusive. I spied a familiar-looking corner and decided perhaps it was worth stopping to examine my printed google map. Yep, we were for sure on the D2, yep the D2 turned right down a minor street towards a bridge at this very point and nope, it was not signposted at all. Oh dear, was this a sign in itself, a sign of things to come? Yes it was; we were soon to learn that Germany has a lot of signposts, however not that many were going to prove to be useful for us.

So we rode on over a really cute little bridge and into a rather smart residential suburb. We stopped at the first supermarket we could find. Designated cycle racks in cities are next to useless for our well-laden tour bikes. We pulled into a car-park. Both our bicycles have two stands each attached to their undercarriage. This means our bikes can independently stand under the weight of six panniers. Sharon dashed into the supermarket, I stood point on our bikes. A few minutes into my duties, I watched another cyclist rush into the marked cycle rack zone, jump off his bike and start to lock it, only to be attacked by a leashed dog. Mental note, keep away from public bike stands and German dogs.

Eventually Sharon resurfaced with our lunch and supper and we were away again. Kiel was beautiful for cycling: there were flat well lipped cycling paths running everywhere, just no signs telling us what these cycle paths were and where they were going. Before we knew it, instead of crossing a bridge in front of Central Station, we were heading down a hill and on a cruise liner. The only thing that really stopped us was a barricade and an ounce of common sense. We were supposed to have taken the unsignposted second right.

We found a lovely sunny spot to people watch. Sharon sat there, snacked, and kept an eye on our bikes while I moseyed into the station’s ticket office. I had two goals: I wanted a map of German train-lines and to see if we could catch on earlier train than planned. After a few minutes of trying to read German in an effort to find a map, I bumped into our friend again. She was also in search of an earlier journey.

The person at the ticket counter spoke excellent English for me. Yes, we could get earlier tickets and no, we couldn’t have the layover between trains extended. This was mostly good news, but it also meant that I now had about twenty minutes to find Sharon and get us both onto the train. I sped out on the concourse found our departure platform, rushed off searching for the station’s disability/cycle entrance, then ran down the stairs in search of Sharon.

I could see my wife in the distance sitting enjoying the sun, looking the other way and oblivious to her rushing husband trying to run in cleated cycle shoes and chaffing chamois shorts. As Sharon turned, she was greeted by her husband slightly sweating waving his arms frantically and pointing towards the train station. We were about to leave two hours earlier than planned. We jumped on our bikes just as it started spitting and quickly followed a painted line on the pavement that took us all the way to the station’s disability entrance. We quickly pushed our bikes through the station, on to our platform and directly on to the cycle carriage of a very modern train. It really could not have been much easier; I was impressed. I secured our bikes beside a very serious-looking young couple and tried unsuccessfully not to bump their child’s stroller. Suitably scolded by this friendly couple I sat to relax just as the welcome smiley face of our German friend appeared in the doorway. Sharon had lost her boggle; I had mentioned that I was trying to find a new one. She handed over one of hers, wished us well and snapped a fantastic photo of the very excited Mrs and Mr Fowler. Shortly after, the doors closed and we were on our way.

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Introduction
Day 1 – Setting Sail
Day 2 – Training, part 1

Setting Sail

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Day 1

As far as first days go, this whopping big 8.47km was an easy one.

It is always a palaver leaving our flat. Bicycles, bottles, bags and anything else and whatever else we have, needs to be painstakingly carried down two flights of stairs. And because of local opportunistic drunks, nothing can be left unattended. However, being a crisp sunny day and an afternoon sail, we had all the time in the world.

P1000486We quietly loaded up our bikes, set the camera on timer and took our ‘before’ shot. Slightly over-exposed and backdropped by sickening city apartment blocks, this was a view that I was looking forward to leaving behind. Our morning meander to the ferry took us along paved pedestrian thoroughfares, busy streets, quiet streets and finally flanked the water’s edge on a new smooth independent cycle path.

We had been given two different sailing times, so were a little unsure what time we needed to actually be at the terminal. We turned up two and a half hours before departure to be greeted by Dutch tourists travelling in a pack and oblivious to their surroundings. There were no instructions at the ferry terminal for bicyclists, so we jumped in amongst the Dutch and lined up with the cars. After a confusing long wait, eventually the Dutch sorted themselves out, got out of everyone’s way and allowed us through.

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At the berth we were greeted by a long line of cars; having no clear instructions we just rode past them, to be greeted by a smiling man, motioning us to cycle straight on. This turned out to be both our last stranger smile and our last display of simplicity until we re-boarded the ship a week later.

Inside the vessel we were confronted by a collection of tired looking bicycles haphazardly strapped to the hull. We managed to find an old trucking tie and used this to add our bikes to the mess. Next came the hardest part of the day; carrying between us our 12 panniers from the belly of the boat up many flights of stairs to our cabins. In my bags I had our first two days’ food and water as well as drinking water for the sailing. They were heavy and complicated to carry and if I only learnt one thing on the climb to our room, it was how ‘not’ to carry my panniers. I will do better next time.

The afternoon was spent on deck watching sunny Klaipėda slide by and eventually finished with an average beer and an excellent book.

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Introduction
Day 1 – Setting Sail
Day 2 – Training, part 1

Peddling the Dirt, Baltic Germany

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Oh Rügen Island and German north coast, how impossibly imperfectly perfect you are.

This ride involved two international ferries, two local ferries, seven train trips, 388 cycled kilometres and way too many cobblestones. It started and finished in the stairwell of our Lithuanian Soviet-built flat and covered almost every kind of road/track/trail surface possible. It was easy, it was hard, frustrating, fantastic, heart-breaking and heart-warming. It was an adventure.

I spent hours meticulously planning every painful little detail of this journey. A big thanks to Ride with GPS .com and your cycle route mapping software.  Also thanks to Susanne Hill, who gave us actual physical maps along with a wee bit of porridge. Without the two of you we would have been even more lost.

Germany: big brother cannot see you. How come you do not have Google Street View? Do you have any idea how much easier and more boring our trip would have been if I could have seen the road surfaces before setting sail?

I had been led to believe that German cycle tracks would all be lovely, wide, flat and happy stretches of asphalt. Oh how drastically wrong I was. I would not recommend this trail for other tour-cyclists. It is over-signposted, liberally peppered with the upside down smile-lines of the indigenous population and has absolutely nothing out of place.

If you are as stupid as us and don’t like your butts and bicycles that much, then give it ago, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.  If there is any intelligence in you, then perhaps the wiser option would be settling for reading this story.

This was the best cycle holiday that we have had to date. Please do continue to read for the grit and grime of our body odour stricken peddling exploit.

Introduction
Day 1 – Setting Sail
Day 2 – Training, part 1

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