Day 28(Friday) the journey ends, but the adventure?

Stena awaken its customers with the intro to the Happy song, which is a great way to start to the day. Even if you’re having to put on four day old sweaty clothes and get back on the saddle! We disembark and start cycling (on the proper side of the road at last!) and encounter our first serious hills since Northern Denmark. The first was the ramp over the incoming traffic! Rather than wait our usual hour before breakfast we stopped at a Brewers Fayre (Google misdirected us and there it was in front of us- we couldn’t say no!).

You might have thought that after a month of European breakfasts I’d have stuffed my face with a full English; but no! Self restraint and the knowledge that I had a hard cycle ahead persuaded me to delay that treat- we’d already arranged to have a breakfast the next day, at home with Ann’s parents.

Google predicted 41 miles to my brother’s but it felt more…but it was so lovely. Winding roads, hedgerows, the higgledy piggeldy alignment of English fields and people speaking English! There was also a massive reduction in the consideration given to cyclists by road planners (although Sustrans had done a good job with their cycle routes) and also a huge downgrade in the quality of the roads! I feel that we have the worst roads in Northern Europe- and feel qualified in making that statement. I could rant on but won’t!

So our 28 day mission drew to a close with a lovely shower at my brother Greg’s. No punctures, 5 broken spokes, we still have the bobbly bits on our tyres that make them look new, which is embarrassing, over 700 miles cycled, four nights in shelters of one form or another, four nights camping, seven lovely nights with family, one in AirBnB, one on a ferry and the rest in various hostels, Bed and Breakfasts and hotels.

We return to civilisation thinner but with bigger thighs, determined to enjoy the simple things in life and to live lives that show God’s love to those we meet. Ann’s bedtime reading though the time away was Heidi Bakers’ “Compelled by love”, which inspired us, made us weep and gave us a picture of what life could be like as we allow God to work in and through us.

And so the adventure continues. Less cycling, more sleeping in our own bed; less unfamiliar languages around but more of the language of love; less Spartan lifestyle but more Jesus extravagance.

More of Him, less of me/us.

Day 27- (Thursday) homeward bound.

A long journey today- sunny spells but into the wind! Left the Airbnb to look for makings of breakfast but got distracted:

Fruit, muesli and yoghurt was the name on the menu. No reference to honey and chocolate brownie! Harsh times.

That gave us the energy to hit the road and again Google took us on pleasant paths. Only slightly lost twice but a lot of canal paths, which were so beautiful regardless of being in town or in country.

We also finally got to see an old school windmill working. Saw it coming up through trees- not a clear shot. We continued along the road and it was totally obscured. I dreaded having to turn round to record the evidence; then it appeared in all its glory:

We stopped for lunch in Oosterheem, an amazing new town that looked a couple of years old but weathering so much better than the new houses near us. Saw a barge in an enclosure:

But weird.

More lovely canals in the strong wind. Yet more lovely canals in the strong wind. Then some more, until we finally reach the ferry port. Tired, too early to board so had to hang around in the passenger terminal on cold seats. Went to board but were told it would be better to wait as we’d be waiting out in the cold. Waited. Having run out of Euros (actually had 97c and everything cost €1) we decided to blow the dust off the burner and brew our own. Gas had run out. Back to waiting but it had used some time up. Lovely sunset:

Went to check in again only to find that bicycles are counted as vehicles and should have been declared and paid for. The girl was a trainee and it took a long time in the growing dark and increasing cold. €18 later we embark and are amazed to find ourselves surrounded by the various accents of the English language. So sweet to our ears. Then a good bowl of vegetable soup before heading for a delicious (I hope) shower and a comfy bed!

Day 26-(Thursday) a day at the zoo!

It hasn’t rained at all today. The wind hadn’t been in our face all day (just some), Google only lost us once (but it was interesting) and gave us some nice woodland paths to cycle along and we went to the zoo!

The animals started early with a whole area devoted to free range chickens! Chickens as far as the eye could see. We then past some deer. Ann didn’t like to think what their future might be.

Then in the zoo were the usual dilemma of loving the beauty and diversity of creation but hating the conditions and condition of some of the animals. The preditors in particular suffer because they aren’t allowed to predate.

The bear was either toying with a bag his food is hidden in to make it more interesting or it’s the clothes of the last child who fell in!

The Tigers were similar

These are also kept more solitary where as the more community based animals seemed to enjoy themselves much more.

One of the zoo’s highlights was it’s baby elephants. Mums and calves were fine but the dad was separated from them by an electric fence and we just slowly shaking his head from side to side. I know they don’t always get on with the kids but still…

Finally arrived at an airbnb- always sightly weird to share the house with strangers but they seem nice enough. This time tomorrow will be on ferry. Only a 60 mile trip tomorrow! Flat country but the forecast is promising a 20km head wind! Could so do without that!

A delayed observation from Germany was that the postmen and other utility workers drove around in Volkswagen Transporters! Both stylish and supporting their motor industry. If we did that in the UK they’d need to drive Morgans!

Contemplation- whether it’s the unions, management, public or market that was the cause, the lid of our car industry to our competitors was a shame. In our lives it is sometimes better to keep what we have even if it isn’t the cheapest option!

Day 25(Tuesday) back in the saddle

It came as a shock but the day had to come! Alarm clock, rising in the dark, padded shorts back on and farewells to Philip and Cristel- so good to spend this time with them. They even delayed going to work to make sure we left.

For those fans of Knight’s Tale, there actually is a place called Gelderland!

As usual we tried to dodge the rain, looking for a cafe to take shelter in. We came up trumps with a pancake house! Look carefully on the chair outside and you can see the rain on the window! Honest.

Ann had cheese and pineapple- here you see the pineapple in a bowl to add yourself. Cold and wet rather than warm and crispy. Oh well.

Google continued to guide us along main roads so we took matters into our own hands and plotted a route on the map. Was lovely and even better Google took the hint and gave us some lovely forest roads after that. Adaptive learning perhaps!

It’s sinking in that our journey is coming to an end. We have loved being on the road, having the challenges, seeing the beauty of creation and know that there is a home, family, friends, church to return to and are so determined not to just fit into the same hole we left. The whole point was to have a refresh, a detox, a time for reflection. Oh Lord, reshape us! There was an old song from church that spoke (sang?) of “Break me, melt me, mould me, fill me”. That’s kind of what we have in mind!

We’ve decided to have a cultural interlude on the way tomorrow by stopping off at Amerfoort Zoo. Watch out for some photos!

Day 20 – 24(Fri to Monday)- when almost nothing happened!

Wow! Almost nothing happened! A day of rest, of lie in, of wandering around the town, of not getting on a bike! It rained (of course) but we could watch it in safety. We could walk round the shops but knew that anything bought would have to be small and light (only one thing fitted those criteria).

One adventure was replacing my broken spokes. Of course they were on the side that require the gear cogs removing. Fortunately the specialist tool needed was the same one Phil had. Took sample spoke to bike shop 100m away (the reason Phil bought the house?) and returned with two for 1€. Went to fit them- wrong length! Returned to shop. Was given two spokes the correct length. Went to fit them-wrong diameter. Returned to shop. “You again?”, says he. Was given three spokes, one to make up for the inconvenience. Fitted fine- hurray!

It’s now Sunday, and life has been so strange! No getting up, pushing yourself to get on the saddle in the rain. No unpacking, sleeping and then packing up again. Time to sit and enjoy, to read and talk. But the day is coming (one after tomorrow (that’s Tuesday)) when the old routine will need to be picked up again.

Monday, had a great time gardening for Philip and Cristel but cooking them Jambalaya and going into town for ice cream! All is now packed, Phil had given our dirty chains and tired gears a once over and we’re ready for the off in the morning! Accommodation booked for the next two nights, ferry for the third and kids warned about our return! Will obviously pop in on Esther, Matt and Elsie on the way home.

A few photos from Enschede. The first two are from a science fair put on by the university with a robot trying to work out our gender and ages. Genders correct and ages sensitively guessed! We were all in favour. The second is Ann having a go at virtual reality (seeing how cancer spreads in the body)-using technology and it working. A rare event!

The final ice cream!

Day 19 (Thursday) of rain, squirrels, rabbits and wind.

Early start to beat the weather. Sadly it beat us and then continued to fail to conform to the forecast! Rain and wind. All morning. 45 mins in and the socks are squelching and you know it’s not going to get any better. The wind was the worst yet- broken branches littering the path and in one case blocking the road!

One time when helmets are there to protect you from things from above!

Another time the wind stopped us dead in our tracks. It’s hard making a good speed in such circumstances. Ann then pointed out that my back wheel was a funny shape and I found two broken spokes- the combination of a hefty load (no, not me!) and some viscous tree roots making ridges in the tarmac – just too much!

Eventually after another 60 mile marathon, we arrived in the Netherlands at Philip and Cristel’s in Enschede. A nice bath, a warm welcome (it shouldn’t have been so warm before the bath-we stunk but they were brave) and a lovely walk into the old town for a meal.

For me it was the hardest day- being the man I tended to lead into the wind with Ann following in my slipstream, but the days of that in often wet clothing left me feeling wiped. It is so hard to keep going in such circumstances but then I’m reminded of our friends whose lives are hard all the time, who keep pushing through and smile-and I’m again-humbled.

When I was little we had a dog that lived to chase the squirrels that came in the garden. We did think that he wouldn’t know what to do if he actually caught one! In a similar way Ann had looked at the various McDonald’s posters we’ve passed and expressed an interest in going…. but what would she have? She was saved from that dilemma many times by the sat nav which took us another way. Until today. The answer was peppermint tea. No fries, no burgers, no ice cream, just tea.

Oh, and the rabbits in the title. When I was a teen my dad would go shooting rabbits on the playing fields of the school he worked after twilight in the summer holidays. Driving a mini round the fields with the lights out until either a narrow gateway had to be negotiated or a favourable spot for dazzling the rabbits in the beam and despatching them while transfixed. In a similar way (tenuous but true) I’ve managed to maintain my phone’s battery for the whole day by turning everything off apart from the sat nav and briefly flicking the screen on as junctions came up!

Day 18- (Wednesday) how much does wind slow you down?

Ann, who has the speedo, reckons at least 3mph. It feels more. The wind was strong, blowing wheelie bins over. Level roads felt like up hill. Come to that, down hills felt like up hill! All day, no respite. In yer face. We decided to skip breakfast number one and cycle an hour before having breakfast number two:

Top marks for presentation!

The land is so flat- I think Google predicted a total up of 24m and similar down, which over 65 miles isn’t much! More wind turbines.

It seems to me that a wind farm is the area in which the turbines are situated but that there ought really be a cool collective noun for a group of wind turbines. What would be good? “Answers on the back of a postcard” as they used to say in the good old days!

Saw a cool tree house:

Not sure if it’s something re-purposed or made especially!

In another turn saw an amazing marble sphere resting in and lubricated by water. It slowly spun and you could change its direction of you pushed hard enough:

Eventually made it to our BnB, in an old farm barn that’s been updated. Nice hot water to soothe our tired limbs and bottoms.

We really miss Denmark and the shelters, outdoor cooking and wild camping, but hot water and regular coffee shops take the edge off the longing!

Tomorrow-The Netherlands and Philip and Cristel! It’s going to be good!

Day 17 (Tuesday)-the road to Bremen

Ann- Hi all, thought I should have another little word. Today has been long, cycling 102km in sun, rain and consistent wind in our face.I am not convinced my coat has any water proof qualities but to investigate thoroughly I would need to stand in the rain without doing any kind of exertion that may cause me to glow profusely inside my coat, making it as wet as the outside. I would also need to find an elusive 10 minutes when I am not having a tropical moment. And really, is it worth it? Would I replace it? Have I got the full £24 worth that I paid for it in the first place.

My other problem today was based around the Lycra cycle shorts I wear hidden under my rolled up trousers. If I had been unfortunate enough to sever my femeral artery this ‘problem’ would have been a real bonus. With each turn of the peddles my two pairs of shorts seem to have followed some law of physics that causes each to turn in a spiral helix manner in opposing directions until blood flow is stemmed. At this point I struggle to unwind them while still cycling. Such irritations become ever more important as the miles go by. At mile 35 i realised it was all about the top trousers being rolled up a tad tighter than usual and on being released one turn I was back in the running for the tour de France. We have often spoken about each day being about the journey not about the destination. That was not the case today! We spent many happy moments counting off the miles.

Simon- What Ann hasn’t mentioned is the delight of finding a cake shop open on German unity day (celebrating reunification of East and West)-did you know that the Berlin wall has now been down fit as long as it was up? Not just finding a cake shop but of sitting down in a conservatory with cake as a heavy rain shower came through.

Once it past we left rejoicing…. and then it rained again and really got us. The feeling of rain draining into one’s shoes is a sure sign that you’re wet!

We are definitely in tractor land and they’re busy harvesting! A local tractor showroom went to the next level in their presentation:

An added challenge to our route is that we are heading in an approximate South Westerly direction and guess which way the wind is blowing! South West! We now hate the sight of wind turbines because they mean the wind blows well! So all that distance into the wind is exhausting! Still arrived at the next cheap hotel, went round corner for a pizza (don’t tell the kids-an always says she hates and despises pizza) before heading back for bed.

But it may or may not have led to heart burn which, on top of Ann’s other extreme internal heat situations made the night an uncomfortable one. My snoring allegedly didn’t help either!

Day 16 (Monday)- let it rain!

The forecast didn’t lie. Tim in Norway warned of terrible storms there. The German weather bureau predicted storms here. It rained and rained from about 4am. The canvas (polypropylene) shook, the rain beat down but the Waters didn’t rise! As day broke it continued. I looked up and could see the drops sitting on the top of the outer, the condensation on the bottom of the outer and the drips from the outer on the top of the inner- but it didn’t come through!

Knowing the forecast we asked on the campsite cafe what time they’d be open so that we could seek refuge; they don’t open on Mondays! So we had two options- get up and pack up in the rain or stay in bed and wait the storm out. We opted for number two and got up at 10:45 or so, packed up and headed off, originally for a coffee and pastry at the local Nettos but decided to get more miles under our tyres in case the rain returned.

It was a good call. 45 mins later the drizzle returned, we put waterproofs on and after an hour arrived at civilisation (defined as somewhere with an open pastry shop) and had a German breakfast for lunch! It dutifully poured down while we ate and stopped as we did and allowed us to head towards Hamburg and the river Elbe in the sunlight. Such a spring in our pedal with food in our tummies and the sun on our back.

We caught the ferry across the river and took the only photos of the day:

Looking at the distance to travel to get to Philip and Cristel’s for next weekend we realised that we needed a good rest, and so promptly booked into a hotel on the south side of the river. We thought it was strange that some people stayed on the ferry when we got across and, on arriving at the hotel called “the old ferry house” found our ferry moored at the bottom of the garden!

We’ve reflected on how the primitive nature of Denmark with it’s shelters and wild camping and digging toilets and heating up water to wash with in the wilds had changed in Germany to campsites with hot and cold running water and regular coffee shops and lots of people. We’re glad we did it this way; the other way would have been so much harder! However as we enter October the campsites are closing…

Miles today: 15 (late start, long lunch and 45 minute wait for ferry!)

Day 15 (Sunday) here comes the sun!

After the rain comes the sun. So beautiful, so warming and encouraging!

We wanted to get past Hamburg tomorrow as we’d heard some not very nice stories, so went long today so that tomorrow we’d be well clear. So 63 miles later we arrived at our campsite just past the metropolis of Quickborn. Yes, that’s a real name and they have a cafe that opens till 5 on a Sunday and we arrived after 60 of those miles at 4.45 well ready for a nice sandwich and ice cream. Can you define the true red in this photo?

We may have stopped for lunch at Polish cafe that only sold 6 types of gateau. Here are two:

Definitely freestanding!

I’ve been awaiting a sunset over our tent and this is the closest thing so far:

We also went through a village that is twinned with Uckfield in Sussex, near where I was brought up!

Thought for the day: if you want to cycle in a straight line (ie along a thin track or along the coloured line at the side of the road) it’s easiest if you look in the distance, not just in front of your wheel. Funnily enough, life can be the same. Don’t just live for now, keep an eye on the big picture, what might be coming up. Keep your perspective.

Oh, and funny thing. Had a Google inspired shortcut today. It wasn’t my fault!

Thorough Denmark we had followed the cycle route, beautifully signposted and mapped. It took us off the main roads and down lovely country lanes, through smelly farm yards and beautiful hamlets.

In Germany the signs are harder to follow, the maps aren’t so helpful, so I’m relying on Google’s navigation. Fastest route between two points. No detours, long straight roads (albeit with cycle paths)… until one long straight stretch doesn’t quite connect to the next and we go through a boggy woodland trail. We sink, slide, Ann very elegantly became separated from her bike and I wished I’d had my camera ready- but it was busy navigating us through the quagmire! It’s called convergence of technology! But we were able to laugh and saw the funny side… with 30 miles still to go!