Yes, you should do it. Yes, everyone who can cycle a kilometre should do at least some of Véloroute 6. Yes, the best part is probably from Regensburg to Vienna. Just go!
Don’t think that you need much preparation. I had only cycled once in the full year leading up to this trip, for no particular reason as I like cycling. Just once in February with Caroline and the club in Sligo, (which I’ll join when I go back). I was reasonably fit before the trip, from walking a lot, (in the great company of Strandhill Walkers in Sligo, Katie and Mary in Sonoma and of course my new friend Audible), from running 5k about 3-4 times per week with Denis and from sometimes swimming. Our bikes were pretty standard, nothing extra special. Our saddles were very ordinary, we were a bit saddle sore the first week but then our saddles got used to us! Our cycling clothes were good. Our panniers were clapped out and we replaced them after the trip – gone all posh at the 12th hour!
Things we would do differently, pack even less, I didn’t use a lot what I’d brought. We had neither bells nor stands for our bikes and missed both. More 12th hour additions! Another thing I’d do is bring a separate camera. That way I wouldn’t see messages on the phone when taking photographs. Plus the phone on the camera isn’t good at long-distance shots. We’ll also get fluorescent coloured helmets instead of our black ones to make sure that drivers have every opportunity to see us well ahead.
Though we agree on lots of aspects of cycling, Denis would like to have camped en route, I would have hated it – I loved that comfortable bed and hot bath/shower every evening. We met a number of people who were camping. Denis was envious, I felt very sorry for them.
In 5,998 kilometres we never had to fix a puncture, pump a wheel, use any of the first-aid kit. (We both took the odd tumble but nothing that really necessitated taking out that first-aid kit). Our friend Derek reckoned it would have happened had we gone two more kilometres!
Denis asked me at one stage was I careful of my front wheel when going over bumps, I replied I was only ever thinking of myself, not the bike. He reminded me of the Flann O’Brien story that bike and cyclist were becoming one!
One day while cycling along, I thought – I never feel so alive as when cycling – it’s very physical and you’re taking in from all the senses. Coming out of Vienna, we were cycling behind two girls. One was cycling along, hands off the bars and twirling her arms wildly in the air, almost like a ballet dancer. Later, this time with hands on the bars and she all crouched down, she sped off ahead as fast as she could. I loved watching her enjoying cycling freedom!
Denis asked me at one stage on our cycle – did I ever think we mightn’t be able to do it. My answer was I never ever thought about it either way – whether we would or wouldn’t – I just figured we would keep the wheels turning. I’m never afraid of challenges that involve work/effort, I’m only afraid of challenges that involve something I have a genuine fear of. But the cycling never really felt like work or effort. The times I found it hard were e.g., where our hotels were at a height at the end of a long cycle, (only for Denis I would never have made it to our hotel in Sancerre. I just wanted to curl up on the side of the road that day). Or when our hotel was a long way into the city e.g., Vienna. Or where Hungarian drivers did an excellent job of frightening me.
There was a good bit of daily organising. We never really decided who would do what – it just happened. We both looked after our own gear, navigating (mostly Denis), washing out gear (mostly me while Denis was out running though he mostly wrung them out, he was far better at that), booking hotels every day (one paid the lunch bill while the other was on Booking.com on the phone), having enough snack food for the road (mostly me).
Speaking of food, I found I could only really get two hours cycling before I would need to fuel up. If food was petrol, my tank was down to zero after €20. Denis had a tank that could give out €100 worth of fuel. I found that I needed small amounts of food frequently. We ate very healthily on the trip. We carried a big bag of snack food which included; yogurts, granola or just plain porridge oatlets, fresh fruit, (in France we were also able to get tubs of various stewed fruits) and finally a mixture of dried fruits, nuts and seeds, We always made sure to drink plenty of water. Some days particularly in the heat, we were drinking up to four litres.
Over the weeks we evolved into a diet which worked very well for both of us. For breakfast porridge oats, yogurt and fresh fruit and then some form of eggs. We were able to get this in most places where we stayed, if they didn’t have porridge oats, then we had our own. For morning break, we had coffee and Denis generally had a pastry whereas I had something from our snack box. For lunch we mostly had a main course type meal or I might have a salad, always with a protein source but I’d also ask for potatoes with it. And then maybe a dessert. Afternoon was a soft drink or ice–cream or both. And then dinner every night.
Yes we both probably lost fat but gained muscle. After this trip I now better understand more how the body uses food. It was interesting if/when the tank ran down to empty, how quickly eating something restored energy.
Over the cycle one could really appreciate how big a part religion played in the development of European civilisation, the sight of a steeple marking the approaching village or town. (I wonder have we in Ireland succumbed to the God of commercialism – the out of town retail park is almost the best sign of approaching habitation.)
Farming didn’t really change as we crossed countries. We were staying at more or less same latitude and following river valleys where the soil was generally good. The only real change we saw was when we gained significant elevation, where it was more forested. Jared Diamond in his book Guns, Germs and Steel explained the spread of civilisation as driven by the spread of agriculture – agriculture spread easily in an east-west or west-east direction in Europe and Asia. Crops and animals which were domesticated in a region could easily spread east or west as the climate remained generally the same. However, this could not happen on the American continent – particularly central America since crops suited to one area would not be so further north or south. An interesting barrier to the spread of civilisation.
We followed the river route across Europe. The rivers played a very important part in the development of civilisation in Europe. For example the Rhine and Danube were important northern borders for the Roman Empire. Had we followed a different route, we wouldn’t have been cycling what seemed like from cathedral to cathedral and seeing so many beautiful medieval towns and cities.
Though we crossed six countries thanks to Schengen we only had one passport check – coming off the ferry from Ireland. (Ireland and Britain are not members of Schengen.) Everywhere used Euros except Switzerland with its Swiss Francs and Hungary with its Forint. At roughly 300 Forint to the Euro, there’s an awful lot of zeros to get used to in Hungary.
I’m already thinking where to next year. Denis has convinced me that we need to be choosy about where we go – I originally suggested finishing Véloroute 6 to the Black sea or across America. He pointed out that what made this trip so enjoyable was the short distance between towns and villages where nice food and accommodation is available and that this might not be so easily found everywhere.
As I mentioned I will try to keep the blog going. I won’t post every day, probably about twice a week. (Feel free to unsubscribe if you don’t want to keep getting posts, I won’t be offended.)
And finally, in true Joni Mitchell spirit I’ll try to remember my en route life lesson … from the days when the Véloroute disappeared, when the wifi was cold, when …
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
‘Till it’s gone