15 April – 19 May, 2014 – It was a looong and tiresome journey back to Europe: 3.5 hours flying from Auckland to Sydney, 9 hours to Hong Kong and another 12 hours to London. 36 hours without sleeping. We arrived shattered. Luckily all our luggage including the bikes arrived with us undamaged and we spent all morning to re-assemble the bikes. By the time we were ready to go, we were hungry again and right after lunch, ready to head into town, Johan’s tire was flat again. But as we had enough time – our host wasn’t available before the early evening – Johan unloaded his bike once more and fixed the problem. Cycling into London wasn’t too bad as there were a lot of bike paths and we were anyway used to riding on the ‘wrong’ side of the road.
We spent two nights at our host’s place in Richmond as we needed to catch up on sleep before being able to hit the road again. And we were lucky, fantastic weather, a beautiful neighborhood and a very nice and relaxed host. The next day Rick cycled with us on his recumbent into town. That was great fun, we passed most of London”s landmarks, had one last coffee with Rick before he headed off to work and we took the train to avoid cycling through boring outskirts of London. Not that we ended up at a nice or exciting place after our train ride – no, after about 1.5 hours in the train we got off in Chatham, a very depressive town. We tried to find a campsite and were sent out of town, up a long hill of course – just to discover that the former campsite was now used for caravan parking only. No facilities and an owner who wouldn’t let us in at all. Thankfully there was a Holiday Inn next door and we unexpectedly slept at an affordable, clean hotel with buffet breakfast included. I think we were the first guests they lost money on as we ate so much the next morning with our cyclist’s appetite.
Shortly after Chatham we picked up a nice cycle path that would bring us to Dover, from where we took the ferry to Calais in France. We were lucky as we had hardly any rain, instead a lot of sun. We weren’t very lucky with the temperatures and the wind. With the sun disappearing still early in the evening it got freezing cold and as usual the strong wind blew in our faces instead of carrying us with it. Camping was tough as we were still used to the luxury campsites in Australia and New Zealand with heated camp kitchens, TV lounges where weather didn’t matter much as long as we managed to pitch the tent before the rain. In Europe it’s a totally different story. No shelter from the wind and rain often meant to us no warm food or dining out as we don’t have a tent where we can cook inside. It’s actually almost like wild camping with the expensive luxury of a shower – hot only if you pay extra.
In England we noticed what we missed so much over the last months: old buildings and I mean real old buildings being hundreds of years old and not just about one century. We cycled through beautiful rolling landscapes with picturesque and old villages. In Stodmarsh we treated ourselves to a nice B&B even though we arrived really early, right after lunch. But we couldn’t resist. It’s been too long ago that we enjoyed a really nice hotel in an old building with great owners and fantastic food for dinner and breakfast.
The next day we arrived on the continent, getting even closer to home. Back in France and later on Belgium we noticed once more what we missed in Oceania, a country made for cycling: quiet roads, drivers that pay attention and even wait behind you if there is opposite traffic. On the flip side we didn’t miss the filthy campsites and their unfriendly owners. Before we knew we were back in the Netherlands, it only took us two days. We were now on the way to The Hague where Johan’s sister lives. In continental Europe we had rain almost every day but we continued camping as we didn’t want to spend too much money. In The Hague Johan’s sister Anneke and her partner Joost warmly welcomed us and spoiled us a full weekend. Great fun! Thank you both. From there we cycled north again to see Johan’s parents, another great welcome.
In the Netherlands:
After having caught up with everyone we embarked on our last part of the journey and pedaled all the way south to Empfingen. We chose to first cycle along the Rhine until Mannheim and then continued along the river Neckar. On the way we met with more friends and our sponsor Idworx for a maintenance of our bikes. Thank you so much for that! The route along the Rhine was OK but pretty boring for us, we started calling it the retiree cycle highway as we were by far the youngest bikers riding there. It got nicer along the Neckar as this river isn’t as popular and the landscapes and villages appealed much more to us.
While back in Europe we noticed one thing: nothing has changed over the past 20 months. Throughout Europe. It was as if we’ve just been away for a few weeks, everything is still the same: in London busy businessmen and women walking stressed through the city to get to work, usually busy with their smartphones so they don’t miss a thing. In Belgium cappuccino is still served with cream instead of milk, everybody is cycling in the Netherlands and there are bike paths everywhere, it’s just heaven. And back in Germany you respect the law. Once we cycled through an empty pedestrian zone and we got notified by each and every pedestrian that we are not supposed to cycle here. Johan took the effort to ask what the problem was, and it wasn’t that we were annoying or disturbing any pedestrians, what we suspected first, no, they told us that the police is patrolling and they ask 20EUR from every cycling cyclist. Ridiculous, but we dismounted and pushed our bikes as requested. Best of all, our friends and families are still the same and it was as if we’ve met just yesterday.
Now that we’ve been back at our temporary home – at the village I grew up in – we’ve had some time to reflect on our trip. We still cannot believe it is over, everything is still so unreal but we know one thing: we had the time of our lives, we met wonderful people, made new friends, saw amazing landscapes, sweated up a lot of hills, swore more than once and had to remind ourselves more than once that we are doing this for fun, shed a few tears every now and then, fought and laughed together. We are most grateful for all the experiences we made, for all the people we met and that we made it home safely without any losses or major injuries. Even though we knew it from the very beginning I have to say it again and again, it was the right thing for us to do, we don’t regret anything as we have learned so much from the poorest people and we are richer than ever. Life is a long journey, life is beautiful, this is all you need to remind yourself every single day.
619 days of travel have come to an end, we cycled nearly 26,000 km through 23 countries on three continents and posted 142 blogs. Many people have followed our journey and we sincerely hope we’ve been an inspiration to some of them. We would like to thank all our readers for being part of our journey, for your comments and support. While this part of our life has come to an end, there is much more ahead, we hope. Our blog will not retire, as we won’t stop cycling. As from now we will continue with monthly updates included gear reviews for our cycling followers and other fun things. Stay tuned, stay with us and thanks again! You’ve been an awesome audience!
15 April, London Heathrow – Richmond, 20km
16 April, Richmond, rest day
17 April, Richmond – Chatham, 37km
18 April, Chatham – Whinstable, 70km
19 April, Whinstable – Stodmarsh, 24km
20 April, Stodmarsh – Oye Plage (F), 68km
21 April, Oye-Plage – Middelkerke (B), 78km
22 April, Middelkerke – Dishoek (NL), 90km
23 April, Dishoek – Ellemeet, 60km
24 April, Ellemeet – Brielle, 48km
25 April, Brielle – The Hague, 43km
26/27 April, The Hague, rest days
28 April, The Hague – Eeemdijk, 106km
29 April, Eemdijk – Meppel, 105km
30 April – 2 May, Meppel, rest days
3 May, Meppel – Vorden, 98km
4 May, Vorden – Wesel (D), 84km
5 May, Wesel – Meerbusch, 85km
6 May Meerbusch – Cologne, 69km
7 May, Cologne – Lohmar, 28km
8 May, Lohmar – Wachtberg – Mehlem, 51km
9 May, Mehlem – Wachtberg – Kesselheim, 71km
10 May, Kesselheim – Bacharach, 58km
11 May, Bacharach – Bodenheim, 67km
12 -14 May, Bodenheim, rest days
15 May, Bodenheim – Heidelberg, 103km
16 May, Heidelberg – Neckarsulm, 87km
17 May, Neckarsulm – Stuttgart, 103km
18 May, Stuttgart, rest day
19 May, Stuttgart – Empfingen, 85km
Total distance cycled: 25,954km of which 1,739km in Europe (England, France, Belgium, The Netherlands and Germany)