On a crisp clear Wednesday morning in July we boarded our flight in Manchester heading for Amsterdam and the start of our ride to raise money for World Spine Care. 16 riders all kitted up and excited about the prospect of riding just over 800km in the warmth of mid summer in Europe.
Amsterdam felt like Noah had loaded his Ark and was waiting for ‘lift off’. It was wet, very wet, and cool, and by the time we had unloaded the bikes from the support van we were soaked to the skin. Undeterred by such trivial obstacles as floods we set off on our epic journey, confident that, at some point, the sun would appear, dry us off and warm us up.
Our route was to take us to the Rhine, which we would follow over the following 5 days, terminating on the West bank of the river in Strasbourg. Punctuated by stays in hostels at strategic points our tour turned out to be smooth and thoroughly enjoyable and apart from a couple of very sharp showers after the first day, the weather was fabulous for riding.
I have visited Holland, Germany and France on numerous occasions and was looking forward to enjoying the scenery, food and general atmosphere. I was not disappointed, and those within the group visiting for the first time, experienced unexpected delights as we wound our way through picture perfect villages, ancient towns, striking cities and regions of stunning scenery. We raced gigantic barges, were overtaken by older ladies in skirts riding their big Dutch bikes with baskets on their handlebars and ate copious amounts of ice-cream, and it was delicious! (riding nearly 100 miles a day I think can justify an ice cream or two). The hostels were fabulous, welcoming, comfortable, with places to store the bikes and often meals provided. One hostel even had a bottle of fizzy water and chocolates in the room on our arrival – posher than the hotels I would normally stay in.
Whilst the geography, in many ways, was very similar over the whole ride, we were after all following the river- an industrial lifeline-, we also discovered a great deal of diversity. Our starting point of the calm waterways of Holland, stopping at Arnhem, was replaced half way through the next day by the industrial Ruhr-lands of Germany as we headed towards Duisburg for stop 2. For most of day 3 we continued our ‘trek’ through the cities of Dusseldorf (where we had a puncture just outside of Tiffany’s), Koln and onto the beautiful city of Bonn for the night. Day 4 was completely different; almost immediately we were engulfed in our valley by steep hills covered in vines as we wound our path to Kaub. Continuing the scenic theme of green hills overshadowed by Castles, whose stately forms attentively surveyed the passage of traffic on the river, we meandered, on day 5, to Koblenz for lunch (Lidl is now everywhere). The afternoon was again to alter, returning once more to an industrial landscape towards Mannheim where pizza, pasta and more ice-cream awaited or attentions. The final day was the longest. Passing from Germany into France our target was Strasbourg (via Lidl). What a gorgeous city, and what lovely ice-cream parlours!
It was not a ride that tested our mountain climbing ability, and our main challenge came from the constant turning of pedals and long days in the saddle, we averaged 92 miles a day. Although for seasoned cyclists this may not sound a great deal, for us it provided a decent challenge. With stops for punctures, and other repairs, lunches, loo breaks and Garmin adjustments our hours on the road extended to 8 -9 each day. None of those participating were really seasoned cyclists, which in some ways may have helped to maintain a cohesion within the group. We had young men of 15 to the more elderly 55 year old. We had a fabulous time and raised a decent sum (just short of £5000) for the India project. Thank you to all who participated, and to those who sponsored, donated and helped us in any way. We look forward to working with you next year!