Are you thinking of joining Luke on the back of the tandem but unsure what it’s like or whether you would manage it? My name’s Kira, I’m Luke’s cousin, and I recently joined Luke on the back fo the tandem for 3 days, so I thought I would write a little account of the trip to give you a feel for what it’s really like to be a part of the Bristol2Beijing adventure!
Firstly, flexibility is important. I had booked my flights to Luxembourg, expecting to meet Luke there and travel into France. But in the days before my flight I was liaising with Luke, and we decided it would actually work better to catch a train and meet him in Germany, and then cycle back to Luxembourg to catch my flight. Rapidly brushing up on my very limited German, I agreed!
I arrived in Luxembourg on Friday evening, put my rusty French skills into practice to buy a train ticket, and finally arrived in Koblenz at 9pm, to a delicious, healthy, beautifully-presented supper cooked by our WarmShowers hosts. For accommodation Luke nearly always uses a mix of camping and WarmShowers, a network of cycle tourists all over the world who offer accommodation for long distance cycle rides. We were overwhelmed by our incredible hosts (and others Luke has stayed with). Not only was the meal amazing, but they were full of inspiring stories about their own cycle touring adventures, they happily dug out maps of their travels to share favourite routes and expert tips, and they were really interesting people, who along with Luke have definitely inspired me to get out on my bike more!
On Saturday morning, we were treated to a delicious breakfast as well as a mini tour of Koblenz before saying goodbye to our hosts and setting out along the picturesque Mosel valley. Cycling along a river is a good way to ease yourself into cycling, because it’s usually pretty flat, which I definitely appreciated, having not done a lot of training. In Castelló where I live, I fairly regularly cycle around town, so I am used to being in the bike seat, but I’m not used to doing anywhere near this many kilometres. I figured that for only 2 days, and with my general level of fitness, I would manage fine, and even though we ended up cycling for 3 days in the end, I was mainly right. However, I was lucky to have 2 ½ days of flat cycling along the river before the hills started, and if you are going to be joining in a hillier region, I would definitely recommend you do some training beforehand (I recommend it anyway – the more training you do, the easier you’ll find it and the less saddle sore you’ll be!)
The valley itself was lovely. The little German villages we cycled past made me feel as if we were in a fairytale, surrounded by the castle-like buildings, pastel-coloured houses, and small churches that I have only seen in story books! And where there were no villages, there were vineyards…miles and miles of them! On the banks of the river or up almost vertical slopes, every visible surface was covered with them and the intriguing contraptions presumably used to help collect and transport the grapes! It was no surprise, therefore, that everywhere we went we saw signs for “Wein” – wine tasting, wine bars, and even a new take on a Bed and Breakfast – a Bed and Wine!
After a few hours of cycling through this landscape, we stopped at an Aldi for lunch. Even something as simple as bread and hummus we wolfed down, needing all the energy we could get. The tandem itself is obviously heavier than a single person bike, and on top of that it has four panniers, a trailer, and a video camera, so your legs have got to work fairly hard to keep it moving forwards. The great thing about being on a tandem, however, is that you always go together. If your legs are getting a bit tired, but there’s still a little way until the next cafe, Luke is still there powering on, and together you can keep going.
After lunch, we had another good stint on the bike, stopping occasionally to take photos, tighten the chain, walk around flooded stretches, or have a coffee (or in this case, a local wine and a local apple drink) in a cafe. In these small villages, there were fewer people who spoke English, so I got to use my limited German skills to try to get our point across! As a linguist, I relished this opportunity to make myself understood in a foreign language and meet new people along the way, but if you don’t have any foreign language skills, don’t worry – it’s amazing how far a smile and a few gestures go.
I had made it clear to Luke that I was keen to camp at least one night during my time joining him. While the WarmShowers hosts had been greatly appreciated the night before, I also wanted to have the flexibility and excitement of just stopping and setting up camp where we wanted, and of being self-sufficient for the night. So, after about 90km of cycling (not bad for someone who had done about 20km max in a day before) I grabbed the torch handed to me by Luke (by this point it was getting dark) and we scouted out a suitable spot to set up camp, neither too close to a very full river, nor too exposed to the road, where people might see us and feel they should tell us we shouldn’t camp there. While I set up the tent, Luke cooked us food – soup, pasta, and tomato sauce. The warmth of a hot cup of soup in your hands when your fingers are starting to get pretty cold as night draws in is just the best! On a trip like this, you really learn to appreciate the little things, like this, or the brightly shining clouds at sunset, or the smiles of local elderly people as you wave at them while cycling past.
My second day of cycling with Luke dawned pretty wet. His alarm went off at 6:30, but when I heard the pounding of water on our tent, I turned over and tried to ignore it! We stayed in our sleeping bags, hoping it would ease, and at around 7:30 it did. In the brief dry spells in between the showers, we had breakfast and packed up the tent and the tandem (it always takes longer than you’d think with all the bags, and playing Tetris to get everything to fit into the trailer). The forecast was fairly uninspiring, so we were pleasantly surprised that after a short period of drizzle (enough to make my fingers so cold that Luke kindly swapped gloves with me so they could warm up a bit – tip: if it’s forecast to rain when you join, bring gloves that will keep your fingers warm even when wet!) the sun came out for the next few hours.
We’d arranged to do a takeover of Trekstock’s Instagram that day; we are keen to develop our relationships with the charities we are supporting, as well as get the word out to as many people as possible about Luke’s ride and the possibility of joining. We didn’t have a lot of internet in the morning, so, to my delight, we stopped at a cafe with wifi, a wide selection of cakes, and of course coffee. We were lucky to find this cafe, as lots of these riverside villages seemed to be holiday villages, and many places were closed now, in the off season. In fact, we struggled to find a place for lunch; one cafe was closed until Easter, another in the next village only served cake on Sundays, and we eventually ended up getting lunch around 3:30pm in a pub, after the cafe owners rang around the local restaurants to see which ones were open! Needless to say, the piping hot veg lasagna was greatly appreciated! That evening we also stopped at a restaurant to use their wifi and shelter from the rain so we could join the Skype call with the rest of the Bristol2Beijing team. There are lots of parts to this ride, so sometimes you will need to take a break for a Skype call, or a filming session, but most of the time you will probably actually be very glad to give your legs a rest, and maybe even explore the local area a bit more!
Due to the weather and the fact that the tent was a little old and slightly leaky (don’t worry, Luke has a brand new, bigger, more waterproof tent now!), we ended up booking a last minute cheap hotel room for the night. While we both kind of wanted to camp despite the weather, as we had this underlying feeling that staying in a hotel wasn’t the full experience, in the end we decided that it was definitely the best idea given the forecast, and we appreciated the warm, dry, soft beds when we heard the rain hammering on the roof outside the window! Before you join, check what accommodation Luke is planning on using. The likelihood is that it will be fairly flexible, and whether you would prefer to camp or to find a WarmShowers host, Luke will probably be happy to oblige where possible. After all, the aim is to have fun, and to allow as many people to join as possible.
When I booked my flights, I had assumed that Monday would just be catching a train back to the airport, but in the end, we decided to cycle the 60km that lay between us and the airport. I was keen to get a prompt start to give us as much time as possible, especially as by then my legs were quite stiff and sore and I wasn’t sure how well I’d cope with a third day of cycling. But actually, after awhile back on the bike my legs eased into it and I was fine. It may only have been 60km, but the difference was that the second half of the day had hills (Luke tells me that in the grand scheme of things they’re not very big hills, but they felt big enough to me!) We left the river, crossed into Luxembourg, and noticed the buildings getting more modern and industrial the closer we got to the capital city. It’s already hard work cycling up a hill on your bike, but when your legs are tired after two days of intense cycling, the bike weighs a lot more than a normal bike and is fully loaded, and you’ve done no hill training, you can imagine it’s the next level of difficult! The last hill was the biggest, and I didn’t know if I would get up it in one go. To be honest, on my own, I definitely wouldn’t have. But with Luke’s strong legs also pedalling away, and his encouraging words that I was doing well and we were nearly there, we made it to the top!
I’ve never arrived at an airport by bike before, and definitely not by tandem, but it’s a great way to arrive! The feeling of accomplishment exceeded even the feeling of exhaustion in my legs, as we went inside out of the drizzle that had begun, and sat down for a coffee and the wraps we had bought earlier. That wrap had the best falafels I’ve ever tasted in my life…either that, or I was just really hungry after all the hills (or maybe both!) We had a final chat and filming session, and reflected on the fun we’d had that weekend, different ways of overcoming challenges, and the growing reach of the Bristol2Beijing ride and the CanLive movement. In fact, just after Luke left me at the airport to cycle to that night’s accommodation, he was stopped by 2 people who recognised him because they’d heard his mum on the radio!
So, if you are thinking about joining Luke for a day, or a week, my advice is – DO IT! It will be hard work (and I do recommend training more than I did, but with a moderate level of fitness it’s definitely doable), the weather may not be bright sunshine all the time, and it won’t be a glamourous or relaxing weekend away, but the feeling of accomplishment, the renewed appreciation of nature and life, the wind on your face and the people you meet, will make it totally worthwhile!
To enquire about joining, please get in contact via the website at: bristol2beijing.org/sign-up
Luke is looking forward to meeting you!