Cycling in the UK

How long has it been since I blogged while on cycling holiday? I'm not counting the time spent at my parent's place of course. I've switched from netbook to iPad and am already feeling the pain of writing blog articles and managing photos. Will definitely need an ultrabook for the next big trip.

Today felt quite authentic. I was rudely awakened this morning by a pleasant wakeup tune, signaling everyone to get up and partake in the expensive ferry breakfast. I slept in and walked to my bicycle directly when the time came to disembark. I cycled out of the ferry and immediately had to stand in line for the border control. Now experience! It was over in 5 seconds and then I was free. Free to roam the cycling paths of England.

'Cycling path', as it turns out, is a bit of a vague term in England. I can't say that I'm impressed, but then I have been spoilt by perfectly maintained, wide, separate cycling paths from the Netherlands.

There's roughly three kinds of cycling paths in south England: regular car-roads, either away from traffic or right in the middle of it, abandoned railway tracks, and trails that you would really only tackle by mountain bike because they are either too narrow or too muddy or too bumpy to cycle with a regular bicycle. All three kinds appear gloriously in the so-called "national cycle network", which must be the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard.

Every once in a while you're on a perfectly wide road with no traffic at all, and then the national cycle route signs kindly tell you to go onto a massive A-road with tons of traffic. It's usually just a short distance until you can get off onto another B-road, but still. And the signs are very easy to miss because they're hidden behind foliage. I do not regret at all that this was the first trip where I s constantly using GPS.

But the mountain bike paths are the worst. At least on busy roads you can still make good progress (at the risk of your own life), but some of the trails I've seen today were absolutely not meant for long-distance touring cycling. Sure, it's nice if there happens to be an abandoned railroad track that can be converted into a cycle way, but if it's not maintained then there's soggy sand, stingy thistles and massive bumps to deal with. There's just no way to cycle in a relaxed manner on these roads, you have to pay constant attention.

All bad things aside, the English countryside is quite idyllic, and today's weather was perfect. I've had many a moment where I thought: "this would be a great place to take a break and enjoy the countryside". But then I couldn't, because these sorts of places are always impossiblef to stop at, because of traffic, thistles, narrowness, other things, whatever. The message that I as a cyclist get from England is: "Move along, nothing to see here. Don't even think about stopping. Innit".

I tend to prefer a calm-ish road with cars on it over a bumpy or muddy trail. When the road is so narrow that I am actually in the way of traffic I just go more towards the middle of the road to make it very clear that if a car were to overtake, it would be fucking stupid. Not all of them take the hint, of course. But I've never had someone get angry at me, also because I give cars space to pass wherever I can.

Today turned out to be over 100km after all, even though it was only supposed to be around 80. I still ended up at the hotel before 3pm because I started so early in the morning. Tomorrow will be the final stretch 'home', back to my lovely flatmates. I should be able to make it home before lunch.

I really missed this feeling. Being on a bicycle for most of the day, making progress here and there, always getting closer to your goal no matter which way you go. Life is simple this way. Once you're done cycling you're too tired to worry about anything complicated. And the next day is always slightly different. When you're on the road there's always something new to see, something unexpected about to happen (in a good way). It makes me feel alive. I can't imagine a life without cycling trips. Even complicated stuff that worries me in daily life always seems simpler after I finish cycling, even if I never consciously thought about any of it.

I am aware of where I am in life.

Posted in Cycling