With the final blog of this bicycle tour I will try to summarize my experience and comment on things related to bicycle touring in general.
After looking at a map of Europe, my vague plan was to find convenient flights in and out and to see parts of Europe that I hadn't seen before. I also needed to stay within the 90 day limit of the Schengen visa requirements. I came up with flying into Madrid, Spain and out from Helsinki, Finland. Roughly measuring the distance using various routes, I decided that it was doable, but left myself open to taking local transportation if needed.
I do not use check lists. There are too many variables, like camping or no camping, cooking or no cooking, temperatures you'll be exposed to, possible rain (always possible), remote or populated areas. Without experience, all of this can be very daunting, but I think visualization and common sense are the keys. And you will always make mistakes. This trip was no camping, no cooking (unless I had a room with a kitchen), and I had the total bike weight with gear down to 65 to 70 pounds.
Bicycle preparation is very important. Some people will fly off and rent a bicycle and do just fine. For a long trip as mine was, I prefer taking my bicycle that I am very familiar with and even know how to fix some things if needed.
The most time consuming and meticulous planning occured almost every night of my trip. This was getting a room reservation and planning a route for the next day. I had a laptop computer and depended on wifi, which was available every night and usually pretty good. I wanted mostly paved roads with the lightest traffic possible and on many nights I plotted my route directly to my lodging. This may sound easy, but there were quite a few considerations like, wind speed and direction, distance, elevation gain, temperature, and most importantly, my energy level.
Amazingly, I stayed fairly close to my original general route with a few notable exceptions. I bypassed Budapest and Prague which, in hindsight, I may have had time to see.
THE ROUTE AND BICYCLE TOURING
One of my intentions was to traverse Europe without going over the major mountain passes. Of course this meant missing the most gorgeous and dramatic scenery, but with the caveat of possibly completing my journey in it's entirety from point A to B on my own power. I always look forward to being on roads that I haven't been on before and I got that in spades. To that end I followed some of Europe's greatest rivers, the Rhone in France, the Rhine on the Swiss, Liechtenstein, Austrian border and the Danube. In Switzerland I followed what is known as the Lakes Route which did not disappoint. I went through many great cities, none of which are as fun on a bicycle as being out in the countryside, but that is to be expected. In fact, I gave most big cities much less attention than they deserved on a cultural, artistic, and historical level.
In 85 days I managed to touch 13 countries, some very briefly, and finished with 3,414 miles and 110,700 feet of climbing and did manage to pedal the entire distance from Madrid to Helsinki (there is a 50 mile ferry between Tallinn, Estonia and Helsinki) on my own power. Here is an Excel spreadsheet of where I was every day, with a route and statistics.
Just in case you cannot open the Excel file, the countries that I was in were; Spain, France, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Germany, Austria, Slovakia Republic, Czech Republic, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Finland.
Of the 85 days, the actual travel days were 56 and I managed to average 58 miles/day. I was in Spain for about 600 miles, France for about 500, Switzerland for about 400, Germany for about 200, Austria for about 300, Poland for about 500, the Baltic States about 500. The shortest day was 24 miles, the longest 77 (pretty sure I got lost that day).
Here is a link to the more than 1300 pictures just in case you want to see them without reading my very interesting blog;
Bicycle touring, especially solo bicycle touring, isn't everyone's cup of tea. You have to like riding, put up with lugging some weight around with you, and most importantly, enjoy your own company. I could be in contact with the outside world every evening over wifi, but I was running silent during the day, never even had cell service on my phone. My main pursuits were looking for photo opportunities, absorbing the feeling of the different environments and cultures that I was passing through, and getting lots of exercise, which happened by default.
I wasn't on a tight schedule, and I knew I could go 50 or 60 miles a day at my age. Even so, I took a bunch of rest days. Everyone has limits determined by the amount of luggage you are carrying and your age. I used to go 100 miles a day with a full touring load, but that was then. Bicycle touring, especially the long ones, is much more a mental challenge than a physical one.
MY TRAVEL EXPERIENCE
This trip was really great. Everywhere I went was brand new to me. That in itself could be the raison d'etre for a bicycle tour, but excuse my French. Spain was very friendly, the drivers most gracious. France, on the other hand, although beautiful, the drivers were rude, generally dangerous, and in a hurry. For almost two weeks in Spain and France I bicycled through a record setting heat wave. This was not comfortable, but somehow I survived. There was even a night or two without air conditioning which surprised me. Here, I should mention that on a long bicycle tour one can expect some ups and downs. I had a couple literal "downs", actually crashing! The first was along the very scenic Mediterranean coast of Spain. I was on a paved, heavily touristed stretch of coast on a designated bike path when I miss-judged a large planter, nicked it with one of my front panniers, and went down like a bag of bolts. I didn't jump up right away and lots of people were around. I didn't hear any giggling, just some foreign words of concern. Some kid comes running over and grabs my bike, lifts it up, and at first glance I thought he might want to run off with it. In fact, he explained that he too was a bicycle rider and proceeded to straighten my handlebars which had gotten a little tweaked. I got up slowly, pretending to be fine and continued on. My right wrist had taken most of the impact and was now hurting like hell. I self-diagnosed this as a sprain or hyper-extension since I had decent range of motion.
Later, and I remember it quite vividly, I was in Orange France, having just ogled this;
which is in the middle of a large round-a-bout and I must have lost concentration as I was leaving because there was a pole right in front of me that I put my right hand out to keep from hitting and smacked it really hard. I had to stop to wince in pain. At this point I was visualizing a trip to an ER and a much shortened bicycle tour. The impact was mostly on my right palm. All I could think of was that the palm bone is connected to the wrist bone. Again, I could move everything and probably just had a contusion with maybe some nerve damage.
Later, still in France, I was going slowly down a slight incline with a sharp turn at the end, didn't make it, and fell over on my right wrist again. This was discouraging, but I soldiered on, only mentioning these accidents to convey the idea that on a long bicycle tour, not everything will be lollipops and rainbows. A month after returning home, my wrist still hurts a bit.
Spain was lovely and almost as hilly as Switzerland. I started in Madrid, went down to the coast, through Tarragona, then Barcelona and Girona, before getting into southern France. Avignon and Annecy were two really special towns that I went through. The most beautiful country by far was Switzerland. I wasn't even in the big mountains, but more near a lot of lakes and valleys. I was in southern Germany in Bavaria south of Munich and that was really pleasant as well. Most of my time in Austria was along the Danube and through some great cities; Salzburg, Linz, and Vienna. I was in Slovakia for a minute, including the great capital city of Bratislava and then another quick spin through the Czech Republic mostly along a river and some farmlands. Poland is quite large and I went diagonally across it, including Krakow and Warsaw, both magnificent cities. I had actually been in northern Poland before on a previous tour. All three Baltic states were wonderful as I meandered through and stayed in each capital city. Finally a ferry ride to Helsinki, Finland. I thoroughly love all of Scandinavia and my last week there, the weather was perfect. I mention some of the large cities, but honestly, the small towns were really the best of the tour.
MORE BICYCLE TOURING
I carried no camping equipment on this tour. All rooms, and private rooms to boot, no hostel dormitories. Every place I stayed was immaculate and almost always good wifi. And a great majority of where I stayed included a breakfast, usually a buffet. This saved a lot of time getting organized in the morning. I spent a lot of time in markets, picking up some meals or snacks for the road. Not every place was English-friendly and many times it was a challenge figuring out if I was buying milk, yogurt, butter, or cheese. I carried full rain gear which included a jacket, rain pants, and Goretex booties. I used them a total of maybe three hours on the whole trip. I had a lightweight down jacket and warm gloves and hat that I never used. Also never used a headlight that attaches to my helmet. My bike performed flawlessly. I had a slight wiggle in my cassette, but everything was shifting perfectly. I stopped in a bike repair place in Riga, Latvia, where a fellow took the cassette off, and determined that the lock ring was tight enough. The freehub might be the problem and as yet I still haven't addressed it. One of my brake hoods ripped and fell off. I ignored that. And most importantly and happily, no flats. Thank you Schwalbe Marathon Plus and also thank you Jim Merz, from whom I bought the bike in 1982.
That concludes my Europe 2019 Bicycle Tour. I hope you read and enjoyed the entire blog (sure) and saw all the pictures. If you have any questions or comments, let me know.