Thursday, 18 February 2010

Four Days In

The very first thing I need to do is to say thank you. I've been overwhelmed by the love, friendship and interest shown for me and this trip by so many people. There's no way I could name everyone so, simply, to all those who came by for a cup of tea or met for coffee, who hugged me and waved me off, encouraged and inspired me, rode with me, texted, called and emailed me, commented and 'liked', cooked me breakfast, lunch and dinner, housed me - thank you.

Now for the catch up - I can't believe I'm 4 days in already! I know the hump is still yet to be passed over but I'm happy that the difficult first few days are rolling by.

Day 1 was truly a baptism of fire - 72 ridiculously hilly, meandering miles from Eastbourne to East London. If there was one thing that was going to make me want to get to Holland quicker it was 1400 metres of uphills on a 60 kg bike followed by rush hour in central London! A big thank you to Kim, James and (route planner) Simon, and earlier Sam and Iain for their much appreciated company. It beat riding on my own up the A22 by a long way and really took away any worries.

My first night was spent with my friend James in Bow - and what a friend. I was looked after so well I really could have stayed.

Day 2 we'll ignore - 0 miles ridden (or even walked) but tired legs (already?!) well rested and emails caught up on.

Day 3 - Out of East London and into the sunny Essex countryside to Harwich. James rode with me the whole 75 (he'll say 78) miles despite his previous longest ride being half that. Top marks to him, we made it to Harwich albeit in the dark after 2 punctures (both his) and a nightmarish blast down a dark dual carriageway.

After the last of many emotional goodbyes I rolled onto the ferry and did the only 3 things that really mattered; shower, phonecalls, sleep.

Day 4 - Hoek van Holland to Wateringen (The Hague), Netherlands.
Woken by intercom at 05:45 having lost an hour somewhere in the sea, I rolled off the ferry alongside the trucks and touched the same contiguous bit of land that I'll be on all the way to Singapore - quite an amazing thought, but I was too tired to think it until now.
As the mist lifted I began to realise, despite having a map and a compass and having just come from the sea, I had no idea where I was. Hopefully my bearings and map skills will improve with time, they usually do, but it was thanks to the kindness and bilinguility of Dutch strangers that I eventually got on track. A 9 mile trip turned into double that but I was eventually met by the screeching (bike) tyres of my cousin Mike who I'm currently staying with (keeping the safety net there for now..).

After riding around the UK on what is generally regarded as being a weird bike with loads of bags and stuff it was so refreshing to arrive in the Netherlands where bike is king, or at least on an equal footing. The cycle lanes are amazing, the rules and priorities are confusing - what wouldn't be confusing about a car stopping while you merrily cycle across a junction from the pavement when you're from the UK? There is a lot to keep an eye on though which, when combined with riding on the right, and on the pavement, with many signs in Dutch and canals to fall into probably played a part in my poor navigation (or so I'm saying). I love it here already and the cycling campaigner in me can't wait for the day the UK reaches that vital modal shift - or maybe learning Dutch would be easier.

I'll get day 5 out of the way now as it will be another relatively restful one, and day 6 (Saturday) will be on to Belgium.

Miles to date: 174
Countries: 1
Friendly strangers: 5

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