If I told you that we’d successfully cycled from Dieppe to Milan, you might be impressed. If I told you that the final destination was supposed to be Crete, you may think we failed in our mission. Yes we could have just caught an aeroplane. Yes it would have been easier, but would it have been as adventurous? This blog post is all about our attempt to cycle to Greece, why we only got to Milan and how we became connoisseurs of tinned food.
How the idea came about…
One May bank-holiday weekend a few years ago, we cycled from Dieppe to Paris with a couple of friends. The prior weeks were spent training…if training is synonymous with cycling to pretty country pubs for pints of beer?
However questionable our training was, the cycling weekend was a complete success. There was a heatwave, and as we slogged up hills, missed vital road signs and generally got lost, we both knew that this had to be the beginning of many cycling trips to come. The last few miles into Paris sparked the realisation that we had to get on a train and head home. We felt compelled to keep going. It was at this moment that the plan was born…plus we made a note to avoid cycling through cities.
Persuading Mr Sidestepping-normal to Cycle to Greece…
“What percentage are you interested in cycling to Crete?”
I’m walking through the Sussex countryside on the phone to Mr SN. The dogs I’m paid to walk are running and playing and there’s a gurgling stream up ahead where’llI’ll try and persuade them to wash off their muddy paws.
“100% not interested.” He adamantly answered. “We’ve spent years saving to leave, I want to get there as soon as possible.”
I knew I had a long way to go before he’d agree to my grand plan to cycle to Greece. In my eyes it was adventurous and challenging. Everyone takes aeroplanes, but not many people cycle. Over the coming weeks I did my best to sell him the idea. He gradually became more curious, and when he told me that he was 50% interested, I knew I’d won the battle. I’m relentless. I wear him down. Don’t feel sorry for him, he loves it. And so, the beginning of a plan unraveled.
Leaving our old lives behind…
As you can imagine, planning a move to a foreign country keeps you busy. But in-between all of that, we got on our bicycles to ‘train’ for our impending journey from England to Crete on two wheels.
I’m not an avid cyclist myself. I know that probably sounds bizarre, but I’m not competitive or particularly sporty. I’ll have a go at anything, and I’m fairly athletic, but I have no passion to push myself further or better my performance. A bicycle is a means of travelling and seeing new places, and I love my bicycle for that reason.
Don’t ask me what gearing or brakes I have on my bike. All I know is that my bike has two wheels and my bottom hurts if I haven’t been out for a while. My main motivation on our training rides were the half-way stops for tea and cake. There’s nothing like a tea room or a veggie breakfast to motivate me.
As the last few days of our lives in the UK dwindled, finally the day had arrived. Our bikes were packed, we were as prepared as can be and we’d sampled every cake and veggie breakfast within a 20 mile radius. On the 31st July 2018, we sailed into the sunset from Newhaven to Dieppe. Actually, it was pitch black, but you get the point.
Clocking up the miles…
At 5.30 am on August the 1st we disembarked the ferry with excitement. We’d shed our worries and possessions and taken the plunge. Everything we needed was in our panniers. We were carrying our lives on our backs. We were like tortoises, but quicker and without the love for cucumbers. Don’t get me wrong, I like cucumbers, but years of soggy cucumber sandwiches has reduced my appreciation for them…I wonder if the queen feels the same way?
The first few days flew by. We coasted through maize fields, straw fields, villages, farms, falling down houses and barking dogs. At the end of a long day, we searched for wild camping spots or headed for campsites. Tired but satisfied, we set up our broken tent and sampled a wide array of cold tinned foods that all tasted the same.
“The first few days flew by. We coasted through maize fields, straw fields, villages, farms, falling down houses and barking dogs.”
By first light, we were back on the road, clocking up miles before the intense summer heat made it impossible to go on. We became particularly partial to morning pain au chocolates from the French bakeries, which also made a nice change from tinned ravioli and bananas. Our only objective was to keep peddling forward towards Greece, and to stop the suncream-y sweat from getting in our eyes. Luckily, we had a pot of my homemade deodorant, so although we looked like a sweaty mess, we smelled like a bouquet of flowers.
On day four, we were struggling with the heat. After managing 65 km (41 miles) early in the morning, we had been forced to sit in the shade the majority of the day. The temperature soared to 38c and we followed the shade around a tree. By 6pm we are impatient to set off again, but our hopes of the temperature cooling were dashed. As we hit the road again, the searing hot tarmac pumped the heat back at us.
The people along the way…
Our water bottles were almost empty, our food supplies were down and as we continued for the campsite 18.5km (11 miles) away, we lost hope. It was rural and quiet. There were no shops or signs of life. We crossed our fingers that the campsite would be open. With 9km (5 miles) still to go, we were running on empty and we felt desperately in need of water. Suddenly, from a little house appeared a lady putting rubbish in the bin.
“Turn around.” I said, we’re supposed to meet her. I had an overwhelming feeling that we were meant to stop and ask her for help. We approached her with limited French, a lot of desperation and a smile. We must have looked a sight. Two hot, sweaty, dirty, sun-creamy foreign cyclists accosting her outside her house. Yet, she welcomed us in, filled up our water bottles, gave us fresh towels to wash our faces in the bathroom and phoned the campsite to check they were open. She had a litter of kittens in the lounge and we cooed and laughed at their funny antics.
She was full of compassion and warmth, and as we waved goodbye, I questioned whether I would be so kind to complete strangers.
“I questioned whether I would be so kind to complete strangers.”
That lovely kind lady was one of many on our journey. There was the family that invited us in for a cold drink and put our bikes in a trailer and drove us 10km (6miles) up the hilly road ahead. The fellow French campers that gave us beers, homegrown tomatoes and left cakes for us to find in the morning. There was the American guy who gave us a roll of tape to fix our tent, and the young girl that informed us that we were waiting on the wrong platform at the train station.
I’m thankful to the man that heroically lifted my ridiculously heavy bike up a flight of stairs in order for us to catch the train leaving two minutes later. Similarly, we’re so grateful to the man that stopped thieves from stealing our bikes in Milan. Without these amazing people, our trip would have been nothing.
My renewed faith in humanity…
We had both left the UK with a resentment towards humans. I know that sounds harsh, but it’s true. Every day we witnessed road rage, littering, fly tipping, grumpy neighbours and general impatience.
Beautiful countryside was being covered in 1000’s of houses and we were being bombarded with negative news on the radio and tv. We felt swept up in a cyclone of bad energy. Humans had become the focus of our frustrations. Years of walking dogs in the countryside had confirmed that nature and animals never let us down. They weren’t greedy or calculating. But humans on the other hand…humans were another story.
I never expected the cycling trip to renew my faith in humanity. As far as I was concerned. We as a species were a lost cause. We would never learn. We’d keep repeating the same mistakes, keep putting ourselves first in the name of progression. This trip showed me how amazing people are. The people along our journey showed us kindness and generosity and because of them, we fell back in love with humankind.
The philosophical bit…
This cycling expedition was nothing about getting to Crete. I’m convinced that this adventure had one sole purpose: to reset our thought patterns and remind us that there are far more good people than bad, love knows no bounds and the only thing wrong with the world is our lack of compassion. If you insert love into any world problem right now, the solution will be found…I’m convinced of that. I now view humankind as part of myself. We are a whole entity split into many people. You are me, and I am you. We’re collective, not singular and the second we wake up and stop treating the earth, animals, nature and each other as strangers, is the day we realise our potential and power.
Warning…rant coming up…
All the time we are disconnected, we’ll continue to stagnate. All the time that Bill shouts at Bob for parking over his driveway and Lucy won’t talk to Lucille for voting for Brexit and Phil overcharges his elderly customers and Sarah steals money out of the till and Simon yells at his children and we all buy crap made in factories overseas by people paid low wages, we’ll keep going round in circles. Who are these people? I haven’t got a damn clue, but they exist all over the world.
After 600 miles of cycling we started to struggle with the Italian roads. The traffic was fast, yet the roads were comparatively narrow. We began to feel that we were taking our life in our hands, and after one too many near misses, we decided we’d rather stay alive than persist onwards towards Crete for the sake of saying ‘we did it’. A flight from Milan to Crete was booked, and we arrived via wings rather than wheels. On arrival in Crete, we had to bribe the car-hire company into leasing us a vehicle without a driving licence, but this is Greece…the land of paperwork and rule breaking.
As I sit here now with a cat curled up on my lap, I can feel the glorious February sunshine rejuvenating my soul alongside the sound of Mr SN building the chicken coop. I’m reflecting on the trip, and I’ve discovered the following things: a) cycling across Europe is a hell of a distance. b) It’s time I gave cucumber sandwiches a second chance, and c) all tinned convenience food is disgusting.
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