As all travellers will tell you, it’s the preparation and planning that make up half the excitement of a journey. Likewise, in preparation of my upcoming Euro tour in September, I’ve been scouring the many travelogues, forums and cycle-touring blogs on the net, notably crazyguyonabike.com — a treasure trove of tales and research material for any would-be cycle tourer.
Inevitably, one comes across many inspiring quotes and catch-phrases, some albeit a bit cliched, but nonetheless, one particular quote resonated with me : ‘It’s risky business travelling alone, but it’s equally risky when dreams remain dreams.’
A few years ago, I had planned to do something any self-respecting, bicycle-racing afficionado dreams of doing — to stand among the crowds along the Champs-Elysees in Paris and cheer on the winners of the final stage of the Tour de France, the greatest bicycle race in the world.
Well, it was a grand dream, and the plan was simple — ride from London to Paris (including a ferry crossing of the English Channel, of course) and then fly home from Paris. But somehow, Europe seemed so far away and the whole thing never quite shifted into higher gear and it remained a dream.
Occasionally, in casual conversations with my boss, SP Lee, the topic of France would crop up (his wife is French) and he would say, ‘Go la, Mike, you’ll love it, especially if you’re cycle touring. It’s hard to find any part of France that’s not nice.’ Well, I can fully attest to that claim, from what I’ve seen following the daily live coverage of Le Tour on the Eurosport channel.
Interestingly, one of the reasons people all over the world tune in to watch the Tour is to see France in all its glorious summer splendour — the cameras on board the helicopters covering the race would would zoom in on notable landmarks, even circling them to give viewers a proper look — well, at least half the non-bike racing viewers were, if the commentators’ claim are to be believed.
2008 rolled in and still Europe didn’t feature in my touring plans; I had decided to ‘conquer’ Vietnam and Laos instead — 21 days across some of the most massive mountains I had ever ridden. It was a magnificent tour and I finally ticked off the last 2 Indochina countries on my list that I had yet to set foot on.
In 2009, there was still no sign of Europe in my plans; this time, I had decided that I would take it ‘down under’ — Oz-try-lia!
As usual, the plan was simple — a 1,200km jaunt from Melbourne to Sydney on the south-eastern flank of the Australian continent. Along the way (if I was lucky), I’d get to throw a couple of snowballs in the Snowy Mountains.
I had also timed my arrival at Melbourne to coincide with the annual Around the Bay in a Day cycle ride — a 140km ride around Philip Bay that’s so popular, all places are usually taken up. I had registered but luckily, I hadn’t paid yet.
Then sometime in May this year, my recumbent-riding friend (and ‘No to ISA Freedom Ride‘ buddy) Joseph Koh reported from out of the blue that he’d just come back from a mini Euro tour — 2 weeks in Germany, Czech republic and Austria.
Actually, he had gone there with Jorge (another ‘No to ISA Freedom Ride‘ buddy) to participate in some solar-vehicle challenge in Stuttgart, and he’d taken the opportunity to do a tour while he was there.
Intrigued, I called him up to ask about his trip and in the ensuing conversation, I also told him about my intended Aussie trip. But his reply was, ‘Eh, why you want to do Australia? The scenery is boring la … and it’s pretty much the same all the way!’ Of course, he was speaking from experience, having ridden there before. It then occurred to me that he might just be right.
I recalled seeing the photographic results when using Googlemap’s street-view feature to visually check out the route, and it really was pretty much the same the entire way — sparse, not very green in some areas but still captivating in its own way. Fortunately too, that I hadn’t succumbed to AirAsia’s incredible early-bird offers to fly with them to Australia yet.
And so, my Tour of Europe dream finally came to the fore. It seemed like now or never. Yes, it could be risky business travelling alone in Europe. German, Dutch, French or Flemish — I did not speak nor understand any of these languages.
Europe is far away. Europe is expensive. But, it would be equally risky if my dream remained a dream…..
Next: Realising my dream, even though July has come and gone and the Tour de France peloton had long crossed the finish line at Champs Elysees …