Flashback – European Winter
Things were about to get tougher and I think both Ulrich and I knew it, but Europe had much more in stall for us than we thought when arriving in Dublin.
Europe started with repairs as I decided to replace both wheels on my bicycle, as I broke 23 spokes in just 4500km. We spend a week before our Europe start in Dublin before finally taking off… Continent number two!!
Ireland blessed us with beautiful rainless weather most of the days, as the temperature was constantly between 0 and 10 degrees Celsius! We were now heading into the winter and it was showing, as our tents start freeze up during the colder nights. Getting use to winter conditions is the main reason why it was planned to cycle through Europe in the winter. It was not only the cold to get use to as we approached England!
The two weeks spend in England was some of the toughest times on the adventure. Since crossing into England the rain came down… and it came down hard. We got the beginning of the floods that hit England over December. We had to keep moving which meant endless cold and wet days. Cycling for six hours in these tremendous storms was tiring. Each night we would climb into our tents, drenched from head to toe! To keep the weight down on the bicycle means you only take two pairs of clothing with you. This means the only way to dry clothing was so sleep with it. The first 5 hours of the night is… well… crap!! This drying technique meant smelly clothes, sleeping bag and of coarse ourselves.
Reaching Dover we were dropped by a host, where we planned to finally wash our clothes and take a well deserved shower, but after the disappointment, we jumped on a ferry and crossed over the English Channel towards France. The weather got better and for the next 2000 km the road was as flat as you can get. The short winter days meant more hours in the tent than on the road. Spending 16hours in a small two man tent each day meant lots of eating, reading and well… sleeping.
We spend two days in Brugges and that was where I had my first real fall on the adventure. Cycling on the pavement, my handlebar got caught in decorations on a Christmas tree… and well… there I went… falling on the rocky pavement! Both of us had a good laugh as I picked up my bicycle and the huge Christmas tree. Brugges to Amsterdam was flat and the cycling paths confusing… as we did not get a map of these routes. We finally made it to Harlem (north of Amsterdam) where we met up with two of my friends a met a year back on the Great Wall of China. To be in a warm place, take showers, eat good food and spend great time with friends was much needed at that point. Meeting some of Jasper and Garlyn’s friends, having dinners and celebrating new years was amazing!
As we left Haarlem things started to change between me and Ulrich. I could see something was bothering him but he did not share. For the next month both of us were extremely touchy and were more in each other’s hair than normally. In Berlin Ulrich told me that he will be heading back to South Africa and this was a huge turning point on the adventure. We had one more week towards Prague and had lots to sort out before he was leaving. It was really sad that he had to leave the adventure, but respect his decision and the main reason he left.
Saying goodbye to Ulrich was tough, but both of us kept it short as he walked out of the hostel. This must have been one of his worse moments in his life. It was extremely strange when I climbed back on the bicycle the next morning. As I started my cycle out of Prague, Ulrich arrived back in South Africa, and this is where I realised how small the world actually is.
I was now solo… but I was looking forward to the new challenges I was about to face. Doing solo adventures have been one of my other dreams, but it came much quicker than I initially thought .
The next week was one of the toughest and one of the best weeks of my adventure between Prague and Vienna. I took a cycling route, which is not used in the winter. The road was covered in snow, mud and ice. This was extremely tough, but this was exactly why I wanted when crossing Europe in the winter. I had to get use to snowy and icy roads. The views were amazing as I pressed on slowly. The tougher it gets, the more I love it!
The beautiful city of Vienna came and went as I cycled through Austria, Slovakia, Hungary (where some car threw me with eggs), Slovenia and into Croatia. Since the adventure started I knew that things will actually start in Croatia after Australia and Western Europe. The mountains started and had a few climbs between 6 and 30km’s. I met loads of people in Croatia and also got time to kiss the first girl on my adventure (which was much needed). The road was getting tougher, but the beautiful Croatian coast put my mind on another planet and did not even think about the cycle itself. I’ve seen some of the most beautiful cities in my life passing Trogir, Sibenik and Dubrovnik.
After five amazing days in Dubrovnik I pushed on and after just 30km my pedals jammed up. Luckily I found Marko (and 70 year old guy) that gave me accommodation for the night, the tools I needed to repair my bicycle and good company. This one night quickly became longer as I was about to fix my pedals. That is when I realised my frame was cracked and this was the start of a very frustrating month, wanting for a new frame in the middle of nowhere. Marko was a very nice and interesting guy, and he made my stay so much better.
On my birthday I cycled away with my new frame toward Montenegro and again… lots and lots of rain. I was only happy to be back on the road and did not mind the rain (most rain i had in one day). It was getting warmer, so the rain is not nearly as irritating as in the winter. The last 1 100km towards Istanbul (the end of Europe) was yet again amazing with huge, spectacular mountains, rivers and locals. Albania was the start of the real mountains that I was about to face in the next 20 000km. I clocked my personal best daily distance of 200,30km and 10 days after leaving Marko’s place I cycled into Istanbul!
My bicycle was still giving me lots of troubles, which was not good as I was slowly approaching the Middle East and Central Asia. The idea of buying a new bicycle started to grow as I kept having daily problems. I was hoping to finish the whole adventure with one bike, but things can’t continue like this for 69000 km’s. After I almost replaced every single part on the bicycle until this point, my brakes was not really working anymore and was the next thing I had to replace in Istanbul.
Getting to the finish point in Istanbul was something else and the traffic of Istanbul was on another level! Five hours of traffic and 60km, I cycled up the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia, with a HUGE smile on my face! This was the same feeling I got at the end of Australia! I did it… I cycled though Europe… in the winter!!!
Standing there enjoying the beautiful views in Istanbul was NOT the end of my goals of Europe!! I still needed to get to the Asia side of Istanbul, which meant (for me) the cross over the Boğaziçi Köprüsü Bridge…. which EVERYONE told me is impossible with a bicycle or walking. Well, I was dreaming about doing this and was determined not to take no for an answer.
It was a huge struggle to get to the top of the bridge, but finally I saw it in all its glory… The bridge between Europe and Asia! I was cycling hard but before I could even get onto the bridge police pulled me over. “”Bridge, cycle, NO!” the policeman replied. “Bridge, cycle, yes” I replied… An hour after lots of discussions and me telling them that I cycled 12 000km just to cross this bridge… they gave in. They would either have to throw me in jail, off the bridge or give in and get me across this bridge. So, then I was joined by two police cars escorting me across the bridge!!! Hahahaha… I had a huge smile of total EUROPE VICTORY as I cycled the last 1,51km crossing into Asia, as the cars hooted and people cheering me on. Then… the yellow sign approach… and as I cycled past I read…