The Grand Tour

“You’re doing what!?? On a what!!?? For how long!!??” 

That was something like the response we got when we explained to people that we had decided to take a year off to cycle around Europe. That was then followed by comments that ranged from, “How exciting” to “I can’t think of anything worse.” My feelings about the trip probably fall somewhere in between – sometimes I’m in a healthy state of denial about the whole idea, sometimes I feel nervous and anxious about the enormity of it all and other times I just have a sense of anticipation at what’s to come. I have found it difficult to process the idea though, it just seems very big and very long and a huge expanse of unknown. But…I’m up for it!

After Steve had a health scare in 2013, it gave us a reminder that things can happen that put our ordinary, everyday lives into a bit of a tail-spin. He fully recovered but we decided after that to live life a little more and not live for work quite so much and basically…seize the day! So we thought while we’re young enough 🙂 and fit enough 🙂 let’s do this…let’s cycle around Europe. Yes, we could have decided to just travel around Europe the “normal way” via cars and public transport, but after having travelled by car through the US, New Zealand and Canada we discovered we are hopeless at that form of travel. We can’t help but have a sense of “we have to get to the next place” so we always end up spending more time in the car than we do enjoying places along the way. So we’ve decided to “slow travel” by bike, so we see things and experience things and take our time to enjoy the journey.

My first comment to Steve was, “Well I have to do a destination marathon! If we’re going to be overseas, I have to do a marathon in another country!” So our departure date was decided around the earliest possible date for a marathon in the general area we were going to be travelling. So, the Seville Marathon was it! I did Ross Marathon in Tassie in September (that was marathon number 3), took some time off to rest and then started training for Seville. Alas though, my wonky, dodgy body (which is really not built for distance running, but I battle nature and wonky biomechanics and do it anyway) decided that back-to-back marathons in the same year was not something it was ready to do. So…a stress reaction in my foot brought my running to a grinding halt and has left me having to wear a giant boot cast for 4 weeks to let the wimpy little bone heal.

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So on to Plan B for the travel arrangements. With Seville Marathon now kaput, we looked to other possible starting points and arrangements that would give us a daylight arrival time (Seville would have had us arriving at night, which was proving a little tricky with the bikes), so we are now arriving in Lisbon, Portugal and will pedal from there, heading South, then into Spain before heading North into France. I have marked the calendar with every possible run in every possible country though, so Seville Marathon may not be happening but I’ll be running somewhere, some distance as much as possible as we go.

Now…the big question is…have we been diligently training and preparing for this trip? Have we been committed to nailing hundreds of km’s a week to prepare our legs and backsides for the gruelling journey ahead? Have we been tackling hills with endeavour and determination to prepare for hauling our house and home up mountains and down valleys, up hill and down dale. Have we? Ummmm, noooo we haven’t! I was too focused on running to bother with the bike. Steve did some riding, but none with a load of gear in tow. So a few months ago, we did our first test ride over to Narawntapu National Park to camp for the night and practise riding fully loaded with gear and we figured there were enough hills on the Frankford Highway to test us.

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So we packed up and my first ride on the bike with all gear started magnificently…I took the bike to the top of the driveway, swung my leg over the saddle with confidence and a good dose of derring-do, took the weight of my steed in my hands, put foot to pedal and pushed down with determination and…wobble…wobble…straight into a tree! You might say my balance is about as good as an upturned tortoise riding a unicycle. Oh well…onward and upward and having been a horse rider for many years I knew the importance of getting straight back in the saddle, so up I got, smiled a “I meant to do that, it was all part of the plan” sort of smile and set off again. Success! Upright I stayed! We pedalled along to the National Park (about 70km return) and I managed to stay out of the way of trucks, not wobble into the path of traffic and I got up all hills without stopping carrying all my gear, albeit with a great deal of huffing and puffing and the occasional moan (“I can’t believe I’m pedalling flat out and getting nowhere! What is it with low gear! If I was running I’d be there by now!), but moaning aside, it was, all in all, an OK test ride and camp.

Then last week, now in possession of every bit of gear, living necessity and clothes we intended to take, we did a final test ride to test our packing skills, to see if we had distributed weight properly and if we could handle the weight we had and…success once again!  I managed to ride the 20km without falling off and with nary a wobble and Steve pedalled along happily with tent and half the contents of your average outdoor store strapped behind him without incident. So…our training was there and then…complete! We’re ready!

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