A little over a month ago we embarked in what many would consider the journey of a lifetime. And in so many ways it is the epic journey we always hoped to be able to do, one day. From that “one day”, the non-coincidental 4th of May, we have been aiming not at the stars but “only” to the other side of the hemisphere: Melbourne.
The first three days on the road were nothing special, really. I say that because they were more like a rushed “hit the frog and toad” from the UK to start the real journey on French land. So we handed over the house’s keys, cycled along the ugly and grey Old Kent Road, climbed (or, better, pushed) up the hill in Dover, and finally got on the ferry to Dunkirk.
Entering into France, the weather didn’t give us the best of the welcomes. Emotionally and physically drained, we decided that the first hotel found outside the port would do the job for the night, promising each other that the day after would have been a better day. Nevertheless, a bottle of Amarone helped boost the morale and to erase the not-so-few doubts I was having about my own physical and mental capacity to actually accomplish this special journey of ours. Long gone are those grey days, now that the muscles have started developing their own ego and that a 35Km ride feels just like popping to the corner shop.
As pleasant as it had been cycling across France and Belgium, Luxembourg felt a bit overly orderly, with a hint of slightly passive-aggressive driving attitude. Not even the hills and the steep roads stopped us from pushing along towards what was going to be the end of the first leg of our trip: the source of the Danube, in Germany’s Black Forest.
At this stage I must say, I really admire the old-school cycle tourers, those who are able to just go, with no maps, little sense of direction and help from local people. But the truth is that Ross and I both have a bit of an over addiction to travel guides and, for the occasion, we armed ourselves with the Cicerone’s cycling guide on the Danube. This book really inspired me, in so many controversial ways. While reading it – and cycling it – I felt like I was back at uni, with teachers trying to give us hints on how to best perform at the exams and us students, on the other side, desperately trying to read between the lines. The choice of routes to follow are undoubtedly a very personal choice, but as trusty as we were towards this guide, I would increasingly question certain route suggestions, as well as the general phrasing. In fact, the hints on an easy uphill to the source of the Danube, in Martinskapelle, turned out to be a heavily gravelled road , steeply going up, during which I have had to push my bike, with intermittent breaks to catch my breath. Or the several times the use of a ferry is recommended, to then find out, after a Km or two, that a bridge was there to use, FREE of charge. Being just one of the many cyclists treading the same route – on the budget – I feel compelled to mention that the 12Euros spent on such ferries could have been happily invested in something else.
So, bugger the guide! We will try to enjoy the road we find ahead exactly as it is meant to be, an ADVENTURE!
In about a month time we will reach the Black Sea, where the marvelous river we are following will come to an end, and also marking the end of Rolling East’s Stage 2. In the meantime, we will keep enjoying everything the so called ‘Blue River’ has to offer, from the uphills to the downhills (what goes up always goes down!); from the monotonous industrial roads under the burning sun to glorious gorges and forests; from the seasonal cycle tourers to the most adventurous globe trotter, like the amazing Liz. We will keep falling in love with small villages, the sound of storks mating all night, and incredible images of the sun setting down, no matter what.
It still feels like a surprisingly conscious honeymoon, knowing that beautifully challenging times lie ahead, out of our European comfort zone and straight into the perfumes of Asian spices and oriental languages.
Still so far, but never felt so close.
The world is calling and the only answer I know is to keep ROLLING EAST.