The last one

This has been a long time coming and I apologise for that. Scout and I have been adjusting to London life and working out how to finish this journey here on the blog and not just on the road. So here it is – the final 130km of Bulgaria to London and the few days that followed:

After immediately abandoning the British ‘cycle’ paths in Harwich and taking to the tarmac I enjoyed country roads, beautiful open fields, views of the sea and the sun on my face. The morning was fresh and cold and my knee ached a little from my fall – thanks British climate and ageing joints. I’d wrapped up against what I had assumed would be a blustery and rainy English day but to my delight the sun persevered and I had to stop to change into my shorts. There was no opportunity for Scout to run beside the bike but we found some Rugby playing fields to have her first English walk.

IMG_5501Matt, whose home I was staying at, had managed to move some meetings and cycle to meet me at Tiptree (of the Jam fame) on his fancy road bike and together we enjoyed the hills of Essex until the massive one he lives at the top of which rivalled anything in the Schwäbische Alps in Germany and had my heart rate pumping for a good ten minutes of climbing. It felt like acceptable hardship to make up for the gorgeous comfort, love and curry that I received at home with Matt, Moira, their kids and their dog.

Matt and I also sat down and plotted a good route to London using our local knowledge of each end and paying closer attention to the ‘suggested’ roads and so I set off with a mere 64km to the finish line. It was cold but clear and I couldn’t quite contemplate that it was our final day on the road. I didn’t know if I was happy or sad. The last week had been so easy compared to the big weeks previously that I felt like I could just keep on going…what would it mean when we stopped? What awaited us in London? Would Scout even like it there? Would I?

Despite Matt’s and my best efforts my journey into London was the worst day of cycling I’ve had. The cycle paths aren’t big enough. People park on them. They run out. People drive in them. They are full of potholes. They mean nothing. They don’t exist….I hated it. GOPR2003I was constantly on my guard and had to pay attention to everything around me. It’s every man for himself on London roads and cyclists are not just ignored they are, in some cases, actively resented which is a pretty dangerous state of affairs. It was incredibly unpleasant towing a dog and everything else and being passed too closely and cut up by big, fast, solid cars. Nope. No thanks. Not doing that again any time soon. I had felt like getting a lift or a train into London would not sit right with the whole Bulgaria- London adventure but I was seriously questioning my decision.

Of course, I did what I’ve done every time it’s been kind of tough; I kept going. And eventually I got to familiar territory and even stopped by the Chainstore Parkour Gym for a bathroom break before rolling on to the North entrance of the Greenwich foot tunnel, on the other side of which I had friends and family waiting to greet me. The sun peaked out and Scout and I had a little leg stretch while looking out across the river at the finish line, home, family. The end of this journey was five minutes away and I was so very ready to get there. I took off my helmet, tried to smooth out my helmet hair and pushed the bike around to cycle, for the first time, underneath a river. Only, when I got there it turned out the lift wasn’t working. Ha. Ha, ha ha.


I had timed everything perfectly. I was due at 2.30pm and at 2.24pm my descent below the Thames was thwarted by a scrolling NOT IN SERVICE sign. I nearly cried. And then I decided to laugh. I thought about cycling to the Woolwich Ferry and couldn’t quite face the roads and the 40 minutes it would probably take. Then I realised that for the first time…I had help. I wasn’t on my own anymore. I called my brother and he, Emma and a pair of my (many) surrogate parents, Bill and Gaynor, arrived to strip Jeeves of his bits and help carry the entire set up down into the tunnel where it could be reassembled for my under-river journey. It was hilarious and wonderful to have them come and give us a leg up over this final hurdle but while I was waiting for them two cyclists who realised they would also need to carry their (unladen) bikes down the stairs made perfectly sure that I had help on the way and shook my hand and congratulated me on my achievement. I’m pretty certain the kindness of strangers would once again have got me out of trouble, but for some reason relying on the kindness and strength of my big brother at that moment was much more meaningful for me.

The sun rolled out as I emerged at the Cutty Sark, tourists and Saturday fun-havers pointing delightedly at Scout’s peeking face and my heart singing to be on home turf. My brother and I made certain of the final route to the park entrance and I took a few deep breaths and set off again, for the last time. I rolled gently through the gates to cheers and huge banners and for once there was nothing I could do about the tears.

My mother had put my face on cupcakes, my friends had brought flowers and champagne, my flatmate had brought me my trainers (bliss) and people I’ve never met had brought me gifts, congratulations and “welcome home”s. There were three huge K8 and K9 banners (provided out of pure generosity by HelloPrint*). It was glorious. Everybody got a chance to meet Scout and she was on top form. I was so proud of my happy, relaxed girl and, when I thought about it, I was quite proud of myself too…which is a fairly rare occurrence. For the final few kilometres home my family insisted on taking my panniers and for once I accepted the help – my stubbornness finally giving way to the acknowledgement that I’d done what I said I’d do and it wasn’t cheating now. It’s possible I hold myself to slightly too high standards…

And now it’s been almost two weeks since our return and I’ve been struggling to make sense of what I’ve achieved and why. It’s safe to say I wanted to sleep for a week but puppies don’t really understand that, and that there has been an element of ‘coming down’ from the high of finishing and raising so much money for Street Hearts. I think I’ve already forgotten the heady feelings of pride and accomplishment. Individual encounters are blurring into part of the ‘I once cycled from Bulgaria to London’ whole. Scout’s not very good at reminiscing.

So, before I forget: it was approximately 2,549km, 44 days, 5 nights in a hotel, 8 nights in a house, 4 punctures, 5 jars of peanut butter, 30 bags of Orijen Tundra dog food, innumerable coffees and pretzels, five thunderstorms, 36 river crossings, 8 countries, about 55 kilos of stuff, and 44 mornings of waking up with a purpose, a goal, a job to do.

I am proud of what I’ve done. But I think it’s a little like childbirth in that I have to think really hard to remember how difficult it was…the thought of getting back on a touring bike doesn’t fill me with dread. I know I’m a stubborn old thing sometimes and just put my head down and get on with things, and being on my own for so long has meant that there was no-one who was significantly absent from my days, or my arms. Plus, I had Scout. I’m under no illusion that without her it would have been physically much easier, (approx 30 kilos easier) but mentally far harder and lonelier and I don’t think I’d be much interested in being any lonelier. I do a lot of travelling on my own, but it’s not really through choice. It’s simply because I won’t let anything keep me from adventures and new experiences. If you want to go out there and do something but you’re waiting for someone to join you, you might miss out on some really awesome stuff. Phones will keep you in touch with family and friends and you’ll see them soon enough, you’ll probably make some new ones too.

Start slowly. You don’t have to cycle tour on your own with a dog unsupported for six weeks in foreign countries for your first adventure. It’s probably not a recommended entry level trip. Start with a week, a weekend. Join an organised trip with support and guides and new friends. Book guest houses along the way. Do what you need to feel safe and strong but if you’ve ever thought ‘that’s something I’d like to do’, about anything, then you really owe it to yourself to do it.

To everyone who has supported me, financially or just by reading this blog and commenting or sending messages of goodwill, you were as much a part of this journey as Scout and I were. There are so many four-legged lives that will be changed by this money, and undoubtedly a few two-legged lives as well. Dogs can do that, you know. I’m pretty sure this one is going to change mine. I’m already planning our next adventure. I think it’s going to involve a Canoe so Scout better get practicing the doggy paddle and I better get used to the idea of wet dog in the tent again….

Thank you everyone, now go be awesome.

K8 and K9


*Please go to Hello Print for all your banner and printing needs – they are ace.

Holland to Harwich: A Ferry Tale

The wind blew trees over…I tried to leave early but had to wait for the storm’s final assault, occasionally ducking outside to redirect the run-off from my tarp set up and trying not to get too wet. The wind threatened to lift us off the ground and I knew I’d be packing up a wet tent once again and spending my final night in a damp tent. Because Holland is great I had wifi in my tent and I had a look on my cycle-touring community app ‘Warm Showers’ to see if there were any people living in Delft who might be able to host a girl and a dog at very late notice. I sent out two requests and got two positive responses throughout the day and was promised a warm dry bed when I reached Delft which put me in a distinctly more positive mood despite the weather’s best efforts to grind me down.

Leaving Dordrecht was a matter of dodging the boughs and branches all over the roads and cranking down into the granny gears to push into the 30mph head and cross winds on the way to Rotterdam. It took me 2.5 hours to travel under 30km. Average speed = 11kmph. It was utterly exhausting and pretty miserable and my bashed knee was beginning to complain but it did at least only rain occasionally and when I eventually battled my way over the several bridges spanning the watery landscape of southern Rotterdam, at risk of blowing off each time, I found myself a bakery to hole up in, with a safe view of my bike and a playful cockapoo to play with Scout where I had the best avocado and beetroot sandwich I’ve ever had, some delicious soya-milk coffee and good old read of my book while Scout sunned herself in the window. Excellent city points to Rotterdam.

Man I love Holland and its cycle lanes everywhere. I have studiously avoided cities throughout this tour as I quickly learnt it was an unpleasant experience on a large bike with a dog. There’s nowhere safe to leave your transport and dogs aren’t generally allowed in museums and other tourist attractions so there’s very little you can see or do. Small towns have been my friends, but Rotterdam was easy to navigate, and I very easily found a park to dry out my tent as it wouldn’t be used that night (yay) and exercise Scout where she discovered Duckweed – that small green plant that grows on very still waters and looks remarkably like grass to those who’ve never seen it – and dogs. A duck sat confidently four meters out in the pond and Scout, bless her, ran down the bank and leapt towards it only for the ground to swallow her up, which, if that had been me, I’d have welcomed given my inevitable mortification, but she popped up, made a few token strokes towards where the duck had been and then swam back to the edge with a muddy, pondweedy grin before shaking all over me. She ‘styled it out’ and learnt the meaning of ‘testing the waters’ after that.

Cautious of Duckweed now

And so to Delft – I followed beautiful, easy signage and arrived in Delft at ‘rush hour’ with people of every age weaving through the cycle lanes at speed – it was astonishing. The Dutch are incredibly proficient cyclists and groups of teenagers peddled along inches from each other, laughing and jostling, people conducted telephone conversations and texted, little children followed their parents or sped on ahead to wait for them, they overtook me with the confidence of Hungarian motorists, diving back into the right hand lane ahead of me just before colliding with oncoming cyclists, neither person batting an eyelid as they passed within a hand’s breadth of each other. I felt ludicrously heavy and clumsy compared to the swiftness of the Nederlanders who looked like they were born on two wheels. These four wheels have been my life for five weeks and it was like I’d trundled into a velocipede utopia. I had a while to enjoy the city before meeting my hosts and I got Scout out to trot beside the bike as we explored the beautiful pedestrianised canal centre of Delft. I highly recommend this city. It has two theatres even though it’s pretty tiny and still has the old architecture that you rarely see in Holland throughout the centre. It also seems pretty multicultural – I heard English being spoken throughout the city, quite often as a second language, based on the accents. I definitely wanted to spend more time here and meet more citizens of Delft, especially after meeting Cathy, John and Rocky; an Australian couple and their little dog who were my hosts for the evening. Keen cycle tourers, avid travellers, dog lovers, and all round delightful people.

Scout and Rocky were firm friends within minutes and we spend a lovely evening getting to know each other and discussing cycle touring – they’d just returned from their trip along the Rhine – their blog is here: – and it turns out we’d stayed at some of the same camp sites and shared some similar dog-related problems.

New friends – Rocky shows Scout our room

They washed my stuff and John and I walked the dogs in the morning before I set off. They were everything the cycle-touring community had promised it would be; interesting, interested, warm, funny, relaxed and generous. In return I was able to offer some advice about Rocky and his social skills and help him control his excitement around other dogs. He and Scout were a little bit in love.

My final day in Holland was the rainiest day they’d had all year according to everyone I met and I don’t think deluge is too strong a word to use. Luckily when I arrived at the Hague to meet a parkour friend, Saskia Neville – Holland’s champion female tracuer – she directed me to FREE guarded bike parking (Oh, Holland, I love you) and I sat my soggy self down in a cafe to eat amazing food and drink excellent coffee and catch up. While we were there the rain actually upped its intensity and began streaming through the closed doors of the cafe. We stayed put. Saskia used a weather app that gave accurate local predictions for rainy patches and I eventually retrieved my bike and saddled up to meet Liane and (another) Saskia who were going to accompany me to the boat in slightly less rain than there was thirty minutes earlier. Scout had been in the trailer all day because of the hideous weather and I wanted to tire her out for the boat ride so we cycled the coast path and she ran the whole 15km like an absolute champ. We may have slowed near the end but she did brilliantly and it was a pleasure to ride with my Dutch guides even in the wind and the rain. At the port (following ever-so satisfying signs to ENGELAND) they both gave me wonderfully generous, tasty and thoughtful gifts and I said my final goodbyes to the continent and the people who had hosted, guided, and directed me for six long weeks.

I boarded my Stena Line Dutch flyer as though I was a car, and tied Jeeves and trailer up on the car deck, drawing many smiles and stares. I really wish I’d thought about packing a single pannier that had everything I needed for the one night on board but I hadn’t and so I was a little hampered with two panniers and a plastic bag with Scout’s stuff and the dog as we rode the elevator to the main deck to check Scout in to her kennel. I went through Holland because trying to get a dog across from France had proved remarkably difficult, especially in light of how wonderfully easy the Dutch have made it. I was given an entrance code for the kennels and led downstairs to settle Scout in for the night. Each dog has a roomy kennel and there are blankets, bowls and fresh water provided as well as a small outside ‘walking deck’ where you can take them at any time during the crossing and cleaning supplies for any ‘accidents’. I’d bought Scout a special chew in Delft to give her, along with a bowl of her Orijen food to keep her busy and hoped she’d be exhausted enough to sleep. There were, unfortunately, two other dogs in the kennels (five in total) who were rather unhappy at being separated from their owners and it was a fairly barky experience. She did get some sleep though which I could see from my private cabin as there was CCTV in the kennel room beamed to all the room tvs, accompanied by Radio 4. I was practically in England already.

Stena Line made travelling with my dog the easiest thing in the world and they even gave us a charitable discount on our passage. Holland is so easy to get to, guys, and Stena Line make it even easier. Take your bikes and go find out what it’s like to cycle cities without fearing for your life. Spoiler alert: It’s excellent.

As I rolled out of the car deck another friendly Dutchman showed me where there were some large gaps in the floor so as to avoid them and passport control was an absolute doddle. I cycled through customs with nothing to declare but my delight to be home, and my father was there waiting for me. We hugged and caught up and he met a very tired dog who, back in the safety of her trailer was finally eating the chew I’d given her which she’d clearly been a little too stressed to enjoy in the night. A quick breakfast in the morning sunlight and some more cuddles with a sleepy pooch and I set out to follow the route to Chelmsford where I was spending the night with family friends, taking care to stay on the left hand side of the road…boy was that confusing. Not thirty minutes on British soil and I encountered one of those wonderful zig zag barriers that had plagued my training ride. No matter, I’ve done them before, I now have intimate knowledge of my width and length and necessary angles for turning and clearance, but I clearly looked like I needed help because a bloke in his 60s dove straight in to lift the trailer (which Scout was none too happy about) and proceeded to make things far worse. He pulled the handle off the trailer which I couldn’t then reach to replace without the bike falling over and all in all it was an embarrassing fluster of him not listening and me trying to tell him I was fine and no, that doesn’t really help. We made it through in the end and as he came around the side of the bike he said in his broad Essex accent, ‘That’s a man’s bike!’

‘I’m sorry? It’s just a people bike.’

‘That’s a man’s bike, no wonder you can’t ride it, love.’

I refrained from punching him, told him he’d just ruined any benefit of doubt I’d given him and that I’d ridden this bike 2,500km thanks very much. He continued with his ‘banter’.

‘Bulgaria? Ah that’s just down the road, love.’

‘Alright mate, you give it a go tomorrow. Have a good day.’

‘Aw I’m only joking, take care of yourself.’

‘Have done so far.’ I yelled behind me, the exchange’s resulting fury fuelling my next 5 kilometres with ease.

Welcome back to the UK, here is your six weeks’ unclaimed casual everyday sexism.


The Kindness of Strangers

Köln was a place of rain and little wifi but the enforced stop and decision to extend the trip was wondrously good for my head. I slept, I ate lots of vegetables and although my homecoming got further away, the route became easier and a lot less pressured. I wound my way up the Rhein to Dussledorf, stopping by the Chocolate Museum in the morning to pick up some samples…unfortunately dogs were not allowed inside. The day was dry but cloudy and cold and it would have been nice to cuddle up inside with a hot chocolate but…ho hum; no dog, no deal. I grabbed some Lindt balls in every flavour and a bar of something and kept trucking; it was pretty early after all. I’d met possibly the third English cycle tourist of my trip – Paul – that morning who was heading to Oktoberfest and then Australia (that bit not by bike) and was enviously lightweight in terms of baggage. But he was heading south through Germany and, I think, likely to experience some pretty hideous weather along the way…that was one reason against postponing my return – Winter is coming, guys. IMG_5169I guess south is better than north with regards to that but Germany for me had been pretty chilly compared to anything further east. I took my time wiggling north, Scout trotting along beside me on the lead, leisurely as anything and then hopping in so we could make better progress but without any pressure to make a certain distance. Dusseldorf was in sight and when I looked at the map I realised that Holland was not very far away.IMG_5186 I’d planned on following the Rhein there but it was so close now – just off to the left – and the Rhein hadn’t been anywhere near as enchanting as the Donau…I actually wanted to change it up a bit – I looked at my previous route taking me to Holland…it wasn’t even that hilly, it would be something different. I looked at campsites on the route and realised it would be best to push for Holland in one day and so I camped just north of Dusseldorf, sky threatening but never breaking over us, excited to think I’d be sleeping in country number seven the next night.

I’m guessing this place was famous for making shoes?

The campsite was right on the low, wide banks of the Rhein, and as a result, prone to flooding. Everything was on stilts or easily moveable including the toilets, reception, fencing and the power points. However, it stayed dry and there was no need to move to higher ground in the night. I was joined by a Dutch/English couple, Neil and Margit who had just arrived from Venlo – exactly where I’d planned to cross into Holland and was buoyed to hear their journey had been easy enough. They had a palatial tent, an extra tarp to extend their real estate and have more room to sit and cook and relax and those Heliox chairs I’d seen throughout my trip. I was only a little jealous. They were chasing the weather after some bike-related delays in the UK and Holland and looked to have a pretty fun adventure ahead of them.


We sat and ate together and Margit gave me a stroopwafel – my second Dutch cyclist to give me one and it tasted like home. Not only because I was getting closer to Holland and therefore the UK but because of good old Tregroes waffles from Llandysul in Wales, which were a popular treat in Tenby and then compulsory cupboard items when my parents moved to Llandysul itself, around about the time I went off to school in Africa – coming home was invariably a waffly affair. Neil even uploaded their GPX track to get me to Venlo the next day and I followed it contentedly without any of the self-doubt that badgered me every time I encountered a woodland track or gravelly path on the routes I’d made for myself. I knew for a fact that this route worked and would get me to the Maas river within 60km. It was really very lovely – thank you Neil and Margit! Follow their journey here: Neil and Margit on a bike.

Germany into Holland
Holland did not disappoint.

The weather, unlike the route, was not very friendly. It was a cloudy morning although it had stayed dry in the night and after stopping to let Scout have a run along the grassy banks we were about to leave behind the rain started and, to my recollection, didn’t really stop. Oh, it varied in its intensity, but was most definitely riffing on the general theme of wet. So I was wrapped up in all my plastic stuff the whole day, sweating and getting cold again…I mean, it wasn’t my favourite day. But I did cross into Holland and there was even a helpful little border monument and brick line so there was something tangible to photograph. I faffed about in the rain, ate my last German laugenstange and headed into the land of liquorice and waffles and windmills. It was early afternoon when I reached Venlo and experienced how easy it is to cycle in Dutch cities! IMG_5197It was bliss, roundabouts have clear bike-only bits in a shade of red I have come to find incredibly comforting, and the signs are regular and almost all have destinations, not just a vague arrow. Pretty cool if you ask me, the woman who’s got lost on a bike in 6 countries so far.

I set up camp in the rain but as luck would have it the campsite I chose had a communal recreation area with wifi and sofas and, most crucially, a roof. It turns out I’d used my waterproof shoe covers a bit wrong and stuffed my trouser legs into them to keep them close to my calf in true cyclist style which meant that I’d basically created little channels through which all the water running down my legs could soak happily into my shoes. That coupled with the fact that the bottom cleat piece was bending out and creating a watery entrance from below meant I was pretty squelchy by the time I reached the campsite. My shoes were absolutely sodden. So sodden in fact that I couldn’t wear them for two days and had to don my crocs (to my abject horror) not only for walking around camp and towns but for cycling as well. I’d read countless good reviews of this option in very hot or very wet weather but I am not at all convinced. It was pretty rubbish in fact; I was slipping and sliding off the pedals and my toes kept pushing against the ends. Nope. Not for me, thanks. Although it was. It had to be. For two days. It was at least, not too cold – they are remarkably insulated somehow so my toes were chilly but they didn’t fall off so there’s that. I guess. On the other hand (or foot) I got a blister from the croc with the heel strap still attached…Scout saved me from two blisters by removing the other heel strap a while ago. I should have been a little more grateful at the time I suppose.

The next day, it rained on and off; Holland is flat enough that you really can see the weather coming and I became quite good at stopping in time to get the shutters down, as it were. I took a brief windy and sunny opportunity to dry out the tent as much as possible as clouds loomed in front of me, packed up before the weather could undo the work and finished the job later in the afternoon after a stubborn ice-cream stop…it was officially too cold and windy for ice-cream but I’d not had any in Holland yet and was quite adamant about it. It was good but nothing beats Austrian ice-cream so far. Over my picnic lunch on a wooden river boardwalk, two fathers out with their young daughters chatted with me, one thrusting five euros into my hand because he knew he’d forget to go online later and do it. My god, everyone has such great English here, and the people are getting top marks for sure. If the weather could sort itself out, I’d be in heaven.

Speaking of the people, my destination that evening was the home of the lovely Dutch couple I met in Passau who invited me to stay with them within about ten minutes of us chatting. We were camped next to each other and the first thing they said to me was ‘Hello neighbour!’ Hans and Carlie are retired with 6 grandchildren, 4 bikes and a camper van and it’s safe to say that they’re two of the nicest people I’ve ever met. They welcomed us like old friends and sent us on our way almost like family. I honestly felt so cared for and loved that I had tears brimming and a hammering heart as I pedalled away after my stay with a packed lunch, treats for Scout, full tyres, a fixed spoke and a doggy passport signed and stamped by the local vet. Hans and Carlie’s neighbour, Tineke, had lost her old dog just two weeks ago and she insisted on paying for Scout’s final checkup at her vet’s. Her husband had died just 8 months ago and when we went over to thank her she told me in her rusty English that when her dog died she’d asked her husband why he’d had to take their dog too. It must be very quiet in that house for her now. We fought our tears and I hugged my thanks and Scout got some treats.

That day was horribly rainy and I could not have been more smug to have a bath and a warm bed and a dry tent and clean, dry clothes. Even my shoes were dry when I left this morning and although I was promised a dry day with only a drop of rain at 5pm the weather played silly buggers and I was alternately showered and shined on throughout. It would pour it down and I’d hastily stop to wrap up and roll down Scout’s waterproof windows and within ten minutes the sun would peak through and I’d eventually decide to de-wrap and five minutes later I’d be under a hideous dark cloud with blue sky either side and wiping rain from my face. I had to refrain from taking it personally but it really did seem beyond a joke. And then the wind. My old mate, back again, screaming across the wide open plains of Holland. The windmills are clearly not just an quaint traditional aesthetic…Holland can blow. Which becomes pretty demoralising eventually, until you finally roll into camp and set up with time enough to cycle into Dordrecht without your luggage and along a path that Scout can exhaust herself on and sit in town with a hot chocolate (finally) and write your blog….So yeah, it’s ok really.

At some road works I stopped and chatted with one of the men and he said I was the second person he’d met making a huge journey this Summer – the other was a guy he’d met in Germany cycling with a dog (!) from the North of Spain to the Black Sea (I think) – I wanna be pals with him. And then there was me – we talked about Scout’s passport and how she needs vaccinations, a microchip and medical checks to get one and then I can safely take her in to the UK without losing her to quarantine for months. Scout has an EU passport and once again the embarrassment of the Brexit decision nearly made me cry (I think maybe I’m quite tired but this issue gets me good). He said it had been a real shock for the Netherlands (as it had been for me). I told him that underhand tactics were used, people were lied to, people didn’t know enough facts….But beyond all that, 52% of us made a decision to be selfish. And that is why I am embarrassed. That is why I am devastated. That’s why I am so full of shame to be British in Europe right now. What’s the point of screwing over your neighbours? Isn’t it nice to have friends? Who wants to live on a street and never speak to any other residents, never help anyone else, never be helped? Since when has living selfishly and isolated ever, ever made for a fulfilled and emotionally prosperous life? Why would we stop being a part of the community that is Europe? Even if there was an economic edge to “leaving” (which I don’t believe there is), I don’t care because we are always stronger together. The UK is one of the stronger EU nations, so, yes, we help out weaker ones but we get so much in return and who knows when we might need help too? I don’t want to live in a world that will not help its neighbours. Hans and Carlie were my neighbours for one night and extended generosity to me I can’t repay, but it benefited us all – there is no selfless act – giving is one of the best feelings in the world. If you’re reading this blog then you probably already know that because you’ve donated to this project. Thank you for that; no matter how big or how small, your donation means food, or a passport, or a vaccination, or a kennel for our four legged neighbours in Bulgaria. Thank you, kind stranger, together we’ve raised over £10,000. And now I’m coming home. 

Cologne at last….


I’m now in Köln, or Cologne, having battled to find wifi anywhere and finally found some in a lovely hotel Villahotel Rheinblick, which I am not staying in. Sigh. Every euro I don’t spend on a warm, friendly wifi having hotel is another euro that goes to the dogs in Bulgaria so most of the time it’s an easy decision to make. But sometimes I really, really want to stop and get into clean white sheets. The last week since leaving Ulm has been one of furious peddling and not much rose smelling. Scout runs along when it’s safe for her to do so but I found myself looking at the speedometer and thinking, sorry, girl, that’s not going to cut it – back in the trailer if we’re going to get over 80km today. It’s not fair on her, and it’s not fair on me. I haven’t stopped for Gelato in days. Yesterday and the day before I ate my midmorning pretzel whilst riding. It’s a ridiculous pressure to be putting myself under and although I enjoy pushing myself and achieving things I realised this isn’t a race. I want to be home. I want to start giving Scout some stability and some routine and some training, I want to not worry about keeping things dry or clean or how much I can afford to spend on coffee and wifi access. I want to get home on Sunday so my friends and family can come and celebrate with me. But I spent a night in a valley with absolutely zero phone or internet reception with one other camper – a Dutch cycle tourist who does around 100km a day for four days and then rests and realised I’d been going for 6 days already with double the weight he’d been carting and averaging 85km and before that I hadn’t had a break in 14 days and basically what the heck was I doing and who was I trying to prove it to?

He had a map – everyone has actual maps and, to be honest, it totally makes sense; they don’t run out of batteries or get confused or rely on phone signal – and he showed me routes he’d taken and whether my projected route into Holland and to the ferry was sensible. We decided it would work, a few hills but nothing like the Schwäbische alps outside Ulm and if I rode 90km a day from now, I’d get there for the Saturday night crossing. It was possible, if I wanted to do it. I decided I did. And then, alone in my tent, I decided I didn’t really. I took it easy in the morning and thanked my friend for his help and advice and told him I was going to extend the trip and try to take my time a little more. He thought it was a very good plan and wished me well. I’ve met so many people and not one person has said, ‘yes, go as quickly as possible through Europe and try not to stop too much,’ so why have I been so intent on doing that? I’m a goal oriented person, and summit fever is definitely a real thing but I’ve given myself a good talking to about journeys and not destinations etc. On my way into Köln I listened to an episode of the Tough Girl Podcast with Kathryn Bertine (@KathrynBertine), road cyclist, activist, and author who talked so brilliantly about rest and recovery and performance (among other awesome things) and I’m not so pigheaded that I’ll ignore that kind of specific advice on my 7th consecutive day of cycling long distance with masses of luggage. I’ve just paid for a second night at my campsite for the first time since Budapest and am taking an actual, honest to god rest day…rain is actually quite a help in achieving this – I got up at 12pm.

Accommodating my friends and family into being there in London when we arrive basically means I’ve got another 10 days to do about 450km. I’m going to have to smell a lot of roses, drink a lot of coffee and savour a lot of moments (ice-cream). Yes it’s getting colder but I’ve got two sleeping bags, a warm dog, friends, family and people I’ve never met spurring me on, stoking that little fire inside me that keeps me going. So I won’t be back this weekend, but I’m aiming comfortably for the 16th and collecting all the memories I can – apparently they don’t weigh anything – bonus!

Days in the sun


Mountains and Rivers

As I navigated my way out of Ulm, reflecting on the reasons I very nearly cried as I hugged Janina goodbye; still so tired, such a brief stay, such a long way still to go…I relished the bike paths and noted the gradual climb out and away from my dear, dear, friend the Donau, and EuroVelo 6. 
IMG_4926Ulm, is, however, under a lot of construction – awesome – go Ulm, you grow that city, but PLEASE think of the cyclists and give us viable alternatives, not truck filled roads or gravel tracks.As I found my way back onto a cycle path I saw a little puppy rounding a corner behind his owner, happily trotting along the pavement and no sooner had I thought, wow, he must be still very young or very well trained, he paused, bounced towards his owner and then immediately veered playfully into the road where he was struck by a car coming down the hill. I won’t go into the details but he was moving and breathing and trying to get up when I rushed across the road to him. I stayed with the owner and the driver reassuring young Max, limited in my usefulness for lack of German skills, until the owner’s wife arrived in the car (with her two daughters who witnessed all) and we stretchered Max into the car and on to the nearest Vet’s that (so I gathered) a passing motorist had provided details of – the owners’ place being much further away.

My bike and Scout abandoned on the roadside while I helped.

The moment stayed with me all day, and actually all week. I didn’t think Max had seen us when he darted out but I keep thinking maybe it was my fault for being there, and that he was crossing to see Scout. He certainly should have been on a lead, but he may never have rushed across at that exact moment if we hadn’t also been there…a pointless exercise in what-if-ing. It’s extra sad for me as there’s no way to know how he is. So if anyone lives in Ulm and knows a family with a young pup called Max who was hit on Bergstrasse in Blaustein and knows how he is, please get in touch. I’ve been thinking about it ever since and have kept Scout pretty close around roads.

I eventually found myself in the more rural, bike specific routes out of the city – they are not great. Big white gravel paths and ones with tire tracks and grass in the middle. Not long after leaving the puppy I had Scout running beside me with the lead when she stopped abruptly to have a poo and, for some reason I was clipped in to my left cleat which resulted in me falling over and mashing my knee in the sharp white stones.

Mashed up knee a few days later

The second sight of blood that morning. I then rode along a tarmac road parallel to the gravelly way which after about 2 km suddenly diverged and I ended up climbing an extra 100metres in height over about 1km for no reason. Because I couldn’t tell how long or high this hill was I stubbornly just kept going.  A German man cycled past me giving encouragement and what I had assumed was – ‘you’re nearly there!’ – but on reflection was more like, ‘you’re about 30% of the way up, it’s a really big hill, are you sure you know what you’re doing?’ So I took a slight detour to visit the town at the top of the hill (760m) and have a rest and a coffee and a Pretzel, Bretzel, Laugenbrot. I may have mentioned but I LOVE THESE THINGS.

WANT. Always want.

I finally rejoined the gravel track after whizzing down 7% incline tarmac and that 100m elevation I’d just sweated up and found a nice couple who assured me I was going in the right direction – Otto and Anne, out for a circular bike ride and picnic – no electric bikes for them – proper stuff. And then after we chatted I set off and met a family warning me seriously against going along the track they’d just come from, their unburdened mountain bikes caked in mud – road works, huge areas of muddy, lumpy uneven path, I’d have to unhitch the trailer, it would be a nightmare. Probably best to go back up the tarmac road I’d just whizzed down. Oh god. I balked at the very thought, but then Otto and Anne came along and heard the news and said there was another road that was a little longer than this track but would get us where we both needed to be – they would accompany me and all would be well. It was a gravel/woodland track again but it wasn’t torn up and would be better than the tarmac hills.

Amazing. We rode together, Otto telling me the history of certain towns and the renowned baker he’s visited by bike a few times a year ever since he was a child to get his amazing bread. And then we parted and despite a few more wrong turns and having to deviate from my path it was really just a case of me keeping on pedalling my little legs off and getting Scout out when it was safe enough and the hills were so steep there was no alternative. It was over 30 degrees and the hills were utterly knackering. I had to push twice (once with Scout in the trailer because we were next to a road) and it was back-breakingly slow and heavy work – I went so slowly the auto-pause on my Garmin kicked in. But when I finally found myself going down the other side it was wonderful. There were a few more little hills between me and the campsite so when I saw a supermarket I had to stop again for a couple more pretzels, (they seem to fuel me like nothing else), but I finally got there. 15 extra km than my initial route to make an impressive 71 and 826m elevation over the day. It took me 10 hours though. There were stops of course – lunch and a read of my book for an hour and my coffee stop and of course the time spent leaving the city and helping out with the puppy, but it was close to six hours in the saddle and the most punishing hills since Bulgaria (Transfagarasan Highway not withstanding) along with some pretty challenging riding surfaces. They’re known as the Schwalbe Apes in these parts…Boy am I glad I had two days’ rest!

It thundered in the night. I packed up a soggy tent, looking at the sky and knowing there’d be no hope of drying it any time soon and saddled up to get to Stuttgart. Scout had chewed the campsite shower keycard 5 minutes before leaving, costing me an extra 10 euros – thanks, buddy – and she snuggled up contentedly in the trailer while I donned my wet weather gear and shuffled away, red faced. 

M-Benz arena fencing across the bike path.

Stuttgart is the home of Mercedes Benz and boy do they like to tell you about it! There’s an entire town around the factory area and I was happily following signs to Stuttgart town centre and accidentally rode into one of the massive entrance roads – the lady was very upset about me trying to do that and sent me back the way I’d come, ignoring the bike path signs.I later realised I obviously should have gone out to the right and not the left despite it being the opposite direction in real terms to the centre and there would have been some lovely bike road to follow the river into town. 


As it happened, I followed the angry woman’s instructions, perhaps suitable for a car, (Mercedes Benz seem not to worry too much about cyclists for some reason) and found myself on horrible city highways and roads and pavements skirting around the massive MB arena that were blocked by fencing, forcing me into oncoming traffic. I. Was. So. Done.

Had to get off and shift two massive dumpsters to get through this cycle path. 




It was absolutely miserable weather, cold and rainy and my coffee stop was a windy affair with no chance of getting Scout into the bakery with me. With my wifi hunt still fruitless I asked my mum to look into hotels or guest houses in Stuttgart which she dutifully and diligently did, booked and paid for and sent me the details. Love you, mum. I got there about 2.30pm – Stuttgart had not been too far away and even then it took until morning to dry my tent pieces, tarp and clothing with the two radiators. I thoroughly recommend Gästhof Ziegler in Stuttgart. It was an amazing comfort to be clean, warm and dry with wifi and a bed. We ventured out into the rainy evening to find some food and I tried some Maultaschen which is a sort of massive ravioli which was pretty nice but didn’t photograph well and I don’t want to do it a disservice. I don’t seem to have much luck with big cities. Rain is not the best way to get to know one so the next morning I grabbed an actual soya milk Starbucks Cappuccino (don’t hate me) from the station and wiggled my way out of the grey and drizzly city for hopefully the last of the hills ahead of me.

I followed my planned route and although the paths were next to busy, loud roads and sometimes on them, the hills were nothing compared to two days before and by the end of the day, I had found sun and the Rhine and it felt so good to be back on the river. I’m a mountain girl; I love hills and have spent most of my holidays for the last few years in some European Alpine setting, come snow or sun, but stick me on a bike and all I am interested in is the flattest, most boring route possible. Which was lucky because that’s mostly what I got from Karlsruhe northwards to Speyer. I couldn’t even see the river for most of it. The next day had two thunderstorms, one which totally ruined my leisurely breakfast by rolling ominously in the distance and causing me to abandon my tea and break camp and pack up in record time, finishing just before the rain started. All kitted up I didn’t think there was much point waiting around and pushed off into the rain, stopping about ten minutes later to shelter in a Lidl carpark as the thunder and lightening crashed around us, drawing looks of sympathy and confusion and a sweet from one man who looked at the two of us and clearly felt an overwhelming desire to help in some way and that was the best he could manage. I was grateful all the same. 

Campsites were scarce along that stretch of the Rhein, I’d nearly not found anywhere the night before and what I had found was very basic and very overpriced but as the day drew on and my mileage crept up and the sky threatened to break again I saw wide beachy areas on the opposite bank where fishermen were camped and, I’m pretty sure, a large group of cyclists had set up for the night. My new plan was to cross at the next ferry and find a beach to camp at, but first I rode through lightening and rain in one of those states of stubborn teeth gritting ridiculousness, talking to myself and the Gopro as I predicted the intentions of the storm and my grand plans to beat it and camp wild and dry on the other side. I finally made it to the ferry and Scout drew interest from a couple on foot who, when I said I was going to look for a place to camp for the night pretty much instantly offered me a room in their house. They were walking and I assumed they lived at the town across the water and immediately decided that would be wonderful and as we made plans they revealed they lived about 15-20km by car that would take my day’s total close to 100km….I actually felt it would be rude to back out, and so took on closing day and arrived in Darmstadt at 8pm to the couple’s youngest daughter welcoming me into their home, feeding me, giving me a towel for a warm shower and taking Scout for a night time walk as she’d sat so miserably in the trailer for so long that day. Martin and Nicole arrived back from Nicole’s birthday meal with a friend from Frankfurt who’d been evacuated because of the unexploded WW2 bomb discovered there and she made mojitos for everyone and I was given a slice of homemade birthday plum tart. Oh god, if you’re reading this and thinking it sounds like such heaven you are right. If you aren’t, try spending more than a month on the road and then read it again.

The morning came and Martin went to the bakery for rolls and croissants and made me coffee (with soya milk) and also gave me a little nut cake bar thing for the road. The night before, riding along horrible roads because of diversions and google maps to get to the house I’d thought many times ‘just stop here and put up the tent and be done – you’ve got food, you’re going the wrong way, it’s not worth it.’ But I kept on because I am stubborn and my god how wrong I had been. It was so, so, worth it. Martin and his family were so kind and caring to me and a soft bed that night and the conversation and warmth I felt from that home were absolutely worth 40km off my route. [Disclaimer: political statement follows] Among other things, we discussed Brexit that night and I almost cried again for shame. We really mustn’t do this to our neighbours or ourselves. I love the EU and Europe. I do not want to leave it. [ends.]

I found the river again and met some friendly cyclists who told me to stay on the east side of the river rather than getting the ferry as planned and my journey through Mainz was probably so much nicer because of it. I could see the main city across the river and simply enjoy the view from my grassy bike path on the other side and eat my sandwiches and Martin’s cake slice without getting into any of my previous big-city confusions. They’re always when I manage to lose my way and slow down and get stuck but thanks to the friendly cyclists I could stay by my beloved river and mostly enjoy the ride. One thing’s for sure, the days are getting colder and wetter and I’m well aware it’s now September, I’ve got a long way to go and right now the river is a windy serpent with intimidating, unfriendly mountains either side – no short cuts it seems – I’m sticking with the river, come Rhein or Rhine.

Dog training

IMG_4637Austria passed in a blur of beautiful river vistas, ferries, bridges and campsites. I found a gorgeous little pet shop run by Steffi Graf…yeah no, not that one, who makes and sells collars and leads and stocks tonnes of natural treats and food and basically is awesome and also spoke pretty good English so we chatted dog equipment while I waited for the ferry to take me over the river. I also, of course, bought Scout some treats and a slip lead – she has an elastic bungee one so that if she pulls while we’re cycling I’m less likely to crash but it means I can’t give lead corrections at all effectively when normal walking so we got a handmade bright orange one and it’s very smart. Thanks Steffi! This is her fb page: Der Hundeladen

Camps along the Danube were simple affairs and quite lovely but wifi was still proving elusive and/or extremely slow. Between Vienna and Linz the Danube is surrounded by hills and for a few days it felt very closed off – quiet, isolated – I was told wifi hadn’t really found its way here yet which was charming, if a little annoying. Big cruise boats sailed up and down and I occasionally tried to jump on their wifi but they were too quick for me. It was fun to try though! As we camped in a little place called Melk we realised KD had a flight to catch in a few days and we weren’t anywhere near Passau yet – it would have been good to get to Germany but her flight was from Frankfurt so she had to make her way there and we said goodbye at my campsite after a crazy few days along the Danube. I’m really excited to see what the footage looks like, I’m pretty sure it’ll be great. The nights were most definitely growing colder as we headed West and KD made sure I wouldn’t forget her for the rest of the trip by leaving her sleeping bag at the reception of her last campsite for me to snuggle up with. Absolute legend.

And then, before I knew it I was in Germany, and then Passau at an adorable little cycle-only camp site just fifteen minutes’ walk from the old town and ice cream and pretzels but, unfortunately, not a whole lot of wifi. I managed a blog post all the same and found a brilliant camp store called Pritz Globetrotter Depot who helped me replace my knackered stove and stocked footprints for my fancy tent which, given the forecast, and fanciness of said tent, seemed prudent to have with me. I was camped next to a lovely Dutch couple who offered me a bed when I got to Holland and a Spanish couple who we’d camped near in rainy Vienna. I chatted to a Polish cyclist who takes 5 months off a year from his IT job in Perth to tour Europe. He told me I had too much stuff. I’m sure that’s very true but it’s my first tour, I’ve got a dog and all the paraphernalia associated with video documentation and yes, I am probably still packing too much but, I didn’t really know what to do about it…you live and learn, right? I wish I could have stayed longer and eaten more ice-cream in Passau; it seemed a beautiful city – the Venice of Germany, apparently, but come the morning I cycled up to the post office to send a 2 kilo package of unnecessaries home and on into Bavaria where more pretzels awaited.

And that’s when the wheels really came off. Well, one wheel. But it really came off. Surprisingly, German cycle paths are pretty gravelly affairs a lot of the time and Jeeves, trailer and my bum weren’t all that keen on them to be honest. And then the left trailer tyre, which had been working loose all trip eventually abandoned ship and properly bent itself as it flew off. I’d just started down a particularly bumpy and steep patch of gravel when the vibrations rattling my body suddenly got extremely intense. Something was not right. I came to a halt and looked back to see an abandoned tyre in the middle of the path and trailer at a decidedly jaunty angle. Balls.

I’d been making good progress and wanted to press on but wasn’t sure my attempt to straighten and right the wheel was going to last. So I stopped at a small campground and used my depleting internet to search bike shops, spare parts and a route that would only involve silky smooth tarmac tomorrow – riding along country roads with zoomy lorries and cars again, it was a compromise I had to make if I wanted to get anywhere with two wheels still attached. Two other cyclists heading the opposite direction arrived, one of them a woman – possibly the only solo woman cyclist I’d spoken to on the whole trip. We appear to be a rare breed. Indeed, a lot of people have remarked that it’s good I have a dog with me so I’m not alone. Anne was travelling all the way to the Black Sea via the Danube and I told her what I could of my time in Bulgaria and Romania – we hadn’t taken the Serbian route because Scout’s EU passport doesn’t give her free passage there. She was an older German lady, although living in Holland and we managed what we could in Germanglish. I was envious of the cycle through Austria ahead of her, aware that my time near the Danube was dwindling. The next day I started out early and rolled up my wet tent, enjoying my early starts and enforced coffee/tent drying stops. It was Saturday and although I wanted to get to Regensburg – the next big old town on the Danube – I realised I might not get there until the shops were closing and nothing opens on a Sunday in Germany. Seriously, a lot of restaurants even have short or no opening hours on the holy day. It took some getting used to and some petrol station dinners before I realised I needed to plan in advance on weekends. I’d planned to avoid Straubing but it looked like the only chance of a good bike shop and as it happened there was a big one on the cycle path on the outskirts. IMG_4699It was too hot to leave Scout in the trailer outside so I pulled out the wheel and took her inside with me, walking the 50m to the back of the store where it said ‘reparaturen’. And then Scout peed on the shiny white floor. She’d been in the trailer for a few hours. I should have given her a little walk before taking her inside. My bad. A lady gave me kitchen roll and I cleaned up, spluttering my English apologies. Luckily the repair guys hadn’t seen the incident and they were very helpful. It would take three or four days at best to order a new part but they could try to straighten it out. Which they blooming well did – after some banging and crashing it came back to me, straight as an arrow and with some nice white grease. It fit perfectly and the quick release skewer bit hard into the axel tube. I felt confident it was going to stick around. Thanks to the Stadler bike guys and sorry for pissing on your floor…

The day was so hot but we managed to find bike paths and an encouraging countdown of the kilometres to go until Regensburg and even a delightful stop next to a small river where Scout finally, finally decided that water could be fun and swimming wasn’t just a way to get out of the water as quickly as possible. I have no idea what she was actually doing but she was sticking her face in the riverbank, digging, snorting, and having a mucking great time. I was content to dip my toes and watch her as she tired herself out, until it was time to leave. Now. Scout’s recall is not very good. In fact it’s terrible. It’s the sort of thing you really need to start work on when dogs are very little and quite impossible to work on in an environment like Street Hearts where there are lots of dogs and no way of directing commands and rewards. It’s quite hard to do while cycle touring as well as it happens but as soon as we’re on home turf that dog will be going through intensive obedience training.

So I packed up to leave and Scout was far too interested in the secrets of the river banks to pay my calls any heed. She swam across the water, hopped out the other side and dashed around to find a new place to snort mud and water and I resolved simply to do the ‘Ok, I’m going then, see you later’ ploy used with toddlers. She’s always kept me mostly in sight and run to find me when she’s been distracted by, say, dead stuff. So I took off, and called to her, rolling back across the bridge to continue on the route.Now that confused her. She knew how to get to the lunch spot on one side of the river, but she could not for the life of her work out how to get to me, now on the other side. She ran up and down the bank she’d spent the last 45 minutes jumping off and swimming from, a little anxious, a few yips escaping her as I patiently called to her and made a show of rolling off. It honestly took her about 10 minutes of trying to reach me, getting distracted and then trying again. I had to turn around as I’d gone out of sight and pretend to ride off again before she remembered she could get into the river and run up the other side and find me there. Problem solving is a great skill and I knew she’d get there in the end, at least, I really hoped she would…I’m reevaluating her intelligence level as we go.


And then Regensburg. Beautiful, friendly, historic, wifi-laden, vegan restaurant having Regensburg. I had a vegetarian burger and salad (pretzels are great…but fresh veggies are a little difficult to work into my day sometimes) and then ice-cream for good measure and we rolled on to a tiny little campsite on the Danube that was actually the local Kanu (Kayak and canoe I think) club’s grassy area. On my to the two of Regensburg’s campsites a lady cycled up to me and told me I should definitely go to the Kanu club – it was cheaper and quieter and all I would need. Decision made. It was all she’d promised and some club members who were having a ukulele session showed me around before the owner got there to take my money and make a fuss of Scout and tell me more about Regensburg and the crazy Walhalla on the mountain top I’d passed on my way in and had greatly confused me – something to do with a mad king I think.

I was utterly exhausted by the day and even when four young German men arrived with their canoes and beers at 10pm, I couldn’t muster the energy to sit carousing with them. What a waste. They were barely awake when Scout and I left for Ingolstadt in the morning. It was a bright and sunny Sunday and people were out with their dogs along the river – I stopped and spoke with quite a few, I’m constantly amazed by the level of English everyone has! I’d realised yesterday that my Uni friend now living in Ulm had taken days off work to spend with me and I was going to miss her if I didn’t get a move on. And I’d not had a rest day since Budapest, a full 14 days ago. So I cycled like a demon to Ingolstat Bahnhof and bought a ticket for a person, a bike and a dog and made the most spectacular sweaty fool of myself trying to get trailer, bike and me in an elevator. Twice. In 8 minutes. I had to unhitch and managed to get us all inside, just about, Jeeves wobbling and swooning all over the place (get a bloody grip mate), then push Scout out into the underpass, leave her, race Jeeves to the elevator to the platform, prop him up and tell him to stay still, run back to rescue the dog, most definitely drawing concerned looks, push her into the lift and then grab Jeeves, by which time the lift had been called and Scout had gone up on her own, luckily also descending still inside so we could all go up together, crash our way out (seriously, Jeeves) and onto the waiting train. 

Ah the train. The train had an electronic display that told you not only the destination and stations etc. but also the time and the speed. I’m aware of my speed pretty much all the time so it was rather nice to be able to keep tabs on that. And seeing 160km ph flash up was pretty exciting. The day had been long and thunderstormy and sticky and I was not the freshest of daisies so I sat as still and small as possible, certain I was offending all nostrils around me and desperate to wash everything I owned. Janina met me at the station platform to avoid any similar hideousness exiting the train but there were no lifts to contend with and we began the cycle to hers. Up a massive hill. I could not have been more ready for a shower and a bed and good food and clean clothes and all the delightful things that Ulm provided, not to mention a few cards from my mother and new tee shirts from my bro. I was a very happy little lamb, even if I’d had to cheat to get there.