Recently I found myself asking the question ‘what makes a good cycle-tour’; it’s been well over a year since Charlie, a fellow student, and I agreed that in the summer of 2012 we would embark on a transcontinental ride from England to China. Since then the plan has evolved to include more people, more locations, backup routes and has undergone many subtle revisions. Despite all this another seemingly impassable obstacle has emerged from the woodwork over the last few weeks; and that is that Charlie wants to ride fast, so he can drop over the Himalayas into India before the border closes on December the 1st, and I want to ride slow so that I can meet Ellie, see her fantastic blog here, in Slovenia and take a detour into Greece before looping around the south of Turkey. As my own separate plans have developed further I’ve also decided to do a big coastal stretch of India, some of southern China and all the south-east Asian countries down as far as Indonesia. I haven’t a clue if I’ll actually make it that far, I guess only time will tell.
So when contemplating how we might work around this issue I first thought that a compromise could be found, I’d miss Greece, Charlie would have to slow down and join me for the odd coffee and we’d essentially play it by ear. But the more we mulled it over it became clear we wanted different things from the ride, and this is where I started to ask myself the direct question; ‘what makes a good cycle-tour for me, what do I want this ride to be like if I designed it in my imagination as the perfect travel experience’? We’re both investing to much time, money and energy into this tour for us to have a curtailed experience. I think we’ll just have to go our separate ways after Serbia.
So when I imagined my perfect ride the first things that sprang to mind were warmth and water; I can image a scene not dissimilar to last years tour of the Dalmatian coast (see the gallery), where we’d be camped close to a rocky beach under hot pine trees, the mixture of salty water and warm pine is an intoxicating aroma, and there would be good food, occasional towns along a small road and loads of space between. When inland there would be dense forests, freezing mountain streams and loads of wildlife. That would be the perfect European leg anyway, in Asia I’d be looking for a different experience.
I’m not terrible as coping with the cold, but I don’t like it. On the other hand I love the heat, 40°C and peddling up a hill – no problem; I always prefer to rest in the mid day heat, but I wouldn’t be put out if I had to continue cycling either. Everything feels good in the heat, my knees feels great (they can begin to ache in extreme cold) and my hands don’t get cold so I think heat is essential for my perfect ride. Water plays a big role because I love to swim and snorkel and always carry my waterproof camera, and either goggles or snorkel and mask with me so I can get photo’s of all the fascinating stuff under the water. A snorkel and mask, as you may suspect, is a heavy and defiantly bulky item to carry on a tour, but such Is my love for the sea that I would be miserable to discover a rocky cove without them. Swimming in rivers and lakes (and the sea) helps keep you reasonably clean, a swim can be followed by a quick splash with fresh water and you’re practically ready to eat out. Lakes and rivers also provide drinking water if clean or if you carry a water filter with you.
The final component after warmth and water I think I would need for this tour is taking it slow. As I mentioned Charlie and I have different opinions on this although I can certainly see why it would be fun to have a target and ride long distances, personally I prefer to take things easy. If I ride 40 to 60 miles in a day then that’s often enough, the rest of the time can be spent reading, writing, checking out places, talking to people and the many other things that cycle-touring affords.