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Some reflections

Writing this about a week after the ride to came to its enforced end I've now had a bit of time to get some perspective. Here are a few thoughts.

For you the tour is over

I had no choice but to abandon. Yesterday I tried riding a static bike and even that was pretty troublesome, touring further wasn't an option. I can't even pack away a therm-a-rest, let alone put up a tent.

There was a certain irony about where and when the accident took place. The day's riding to that point had been characterised by the number of cycle paths I'd been on, and these were proper cycle paths in which you are completely separated from other traffic. In fact my blog post was going to be mostly along the lines of how I didn't understand why they went to the trouble of setting up cycle paths but then don't signpost them properly, I'd had to double back several times in the morning. The coast through Bad Urach was one of only a couple of points in which I could have come into contact with cars, cycle touring doesn't really get much safer. It was just freakishly unlucky.

It could also have been an awful lot worse. My injury is minor, causes no real pain and should heal fine. Better to be hit by a slow moving car in Germany than a fast moving truck in Albania, who knows if that fate may have awaited me.

Just what is it that you want to do

I mostly enjoyed the trip. The riding was going OK and I think the route was very good. Given that I was basically picking my way through the industrial heartland of Western Europe the scenery was excellent.

Cycle touring is a great way to travel. You feel that you are experiencing a place to a much greater extent than you would by motorised transport, and you travel through a region at the right pace. You notice how things change, some gradually some suddenly. There was a marked contrast in the buildings when crossing some borders, for instance it was clear I'd entered Belgium from the distinctly Flemish architecture and the moment I was in Luxembourg the houses became more Germanic. The countryside evolved more subtly from farmland to forest, from undulating to flat. Despite my poor grasp of the language I could detect the shift in German accent, from crystal clear in Vianden to progressively more slurred as I approached Bavaria, a process that would have continued onto the melodic and incomprehensable tones of the Alps had I made it.

But I did have the one really bad day, number 8, where I hated every aspect of it. Even though my mood improved considerably afterwards I was worried from that point on that I could slip back into that mindset. Although there were other more personal factors for wanting to be at home too, the weather was pretty instrumental in deciding how I felt, and as such it was probably the wrong time of year to go as it was quite likely to get wet later on. If I attempt something similar in the future I'll do it in June.

I began to feel that the trip was suffering a bit from not being clear what it was about. On the one hand it wasn't a pure physical challenge, trying to cover the ground as quickly as possible. On the other hand the schedule was demanding enough that I didn't have time to look around the places I was passing through properly. I didn't have a single rest day, though I would have had in Munich. So I didn't get to see the inside of any of the impressive buildings I saw in Trier or Vianden. I didn't go to Ypres. I missed out Baden-Baden because it added a small amount of distance. Partly the problem was that things took longer than I hoped. Distances turned out a bit longer than estimated, it took a long time to get going in the morning, the terrain was tougher at times than I'd expected. But there will always be something to slow you down, I was lucky I had no mechanical mishaps. If you want to treat a trip like this as a holiday with time to take in the sights then a more relaxed schedule is required.

Beyond Munich I'd decided I would continue but at a reduced pace, stopping somewhere if I liked it, and not worrying about falling behind the schedule as the route could be shortened to make up for it. I would also have worked out more cheap accommodation options ahead of time to give greater flexibilty. You can always find somewhere to stay, but unless you get lucky you might have to pay over the odds for it.

Greek default

Would I have made it to Athens? I don't know.

I was certainly going to continue beyond Munich, despite what the blog hinted at I had already decided that. I expected the crossing of the Alps, and the stay in Slovenia, to be the most spectacular part of the trip so I would definitely have gone that far.

Beyond that I'm not sure. I was finding the solitary nature of the journey difficult over such a long projected time period, though I know other people are able to cope with much longer stints. When the going got tougher, as it was going to, I might have decided to call it a day. However, by continually setting myself shorter term goals I might have persuaded myself to keep going to southern Croatia, at which point it might have seem daft to quit having broken the back of it and I would have made it. I would definitely have altered the route to cut out Serbia in order to shorten it though.

Put me back on the bike

I will definitely go back to the spot of the accident and complete the ride to Munich, hopefully next summer. I'd also like to complete the full route to Athens, but that could be a much longer term project, possibly stretching into retirement. Or at least my next retirement.

Nick Altmann
28th September 2011

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