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!