“Amaya lick Mamá’s tongue?” Amaya asked me using her super sweet voice thats reserved for requests. “Ummm… noooo,” I reply, “that’s gross.” We are eating in a rather nice fish restaurant and Amaya has just dropped some rice on the floor “oh, a little bird can eat that bit” she announces. Hmm, yes. Its said that two year olds are little barbarians and ours maybe a slightly more barbaric than most. Camping for so long has made us all a bit rough around the edges. We eat out of the pot we cook in for goodness sake.
As any honest camper will attest, part of the beauty of camping is you get to chill out and relax your standards. Waltz around in the same clothes, shower if you feel like it, brush your hair – whats a brush?! Its a time to get away from fast paced city living and societal pressures. One afternoon all three of us managed to get cherry stains on our t-shirts, our care factor – about zero.
From your position sitting in a comfortable office chair and breathing in air conditioned air this may seem disgusting to you, so judge us as negligent parents if you must, but it is said that a bit of dirt is good for immunity. From our position it is brilliantly refreshing to have dropped parenting standards, what does it really matter if our kid has less baths and is running around in slightly grubby clothes. She’s happy and healthy. Camping it seems is the perfect environment for a two year old. They seem to be made for fresh air. Shriek and yell, play rough, throw sand, run around naked, whatever it is the outdoors can take it. The large environment readily absorbs noise and activity, even a full blown tantrum while it may be in public is certainly less out of place than in your local supermarket.
Please don’t misunderstand me, Amaya is not a wild and crazy kid. She’s a sweet girl who has benefitted greatly from living predominately outdoors. Before our trip she was greatly concerned about getting dirty, touching sand, and didn’t really like the feeling of different textures under her bare feet. Now she will pick up a snail and with a wicked grin say “Mama eat it?!”
For a mini person what tops regular camping is being a camping nomad. Simply because you never know what kind of entertainment or delights the day is going to present.
Lunch may turn out to be at a lake – so we enjoy an unscheduled swim.
Another day its raining so we eat breakfast in the campground family room where Amaya’s breakfast chair of choice is a toy tractor (exciting for a 2 year old).
Or its the day of the campground bowling competition (on manually run equipment from GDR times). Amaya won (no one is sure how – but it happened).
We play in a fountain, dance to live music in the town square, stumble upon a local fair, have breakfast on a wharf, the world is her playground with every day providing delights.
The journey began in Barcelona – us and our bicycles and a European continent that stretched out endlessly. We have cycled 3600km over 4 months, inhaled at least 20 bugs, fallen off 7 times, repaired two flat tyres, endured too many cold and rainy days and we have finally made it to the Baltic!
The Baltic is not so impressive by Australian standards but that is what we get for choosing a destination based on an alliteration. Someone smarter than me once wrote, “it is always good to have an end to journey towards but it is the journey that matters in the end.” It has been all about the journey for us. We have meandered through Europe on our bicycles, watching our little daughter grow up. There have been incredibly high highs and the lowest of lows. It has not been all dappled light and ice creams – this has been a very difficult family project.
But we are here and there are many stories to tell.
I am particularly proud of Amaya who is surely the toughest and most adaptable two year old around. She has sat in her little buggy for every one of those 3600km and offered minimal complaints. She has camped in appalling conditions, learnt to say hi, bye and thanks in a number of different languages, met new people every day, and has had to make do with very few toys. Yet she is still super keen to get on the road every morning.
Thanks for reading our blog (please continue)! Thanks to all the kind strangers who have helped us in so many different ways! Thanks to the people who have donated to Clinica Verde and helped change the lives of mothers and children in Nicaragua! If you haven’t donated but would like to you can click on the link below.
We now have the small matter of cycling 400km or so down to Berlin.
Where are you riding?
We are riding from Barcelona, Spain to the Baltic Sea in Germany and then down to Berlin. Check out our rough route.
How long will this take?
We don’t really know but we estimate about 5 months.
How many kms in total?
5000km give or take 1000 🙂
How many kms do you do per day?
40-60km depending on how evenly spaced towns are. This is about 3-4 hours or riding – it is much slower with all our luggage and toddler.
Where do you stay?
We mostly camp unless it is pouring with rain and then we might treat ourselves to a cheap hotel. So we are obviously carrying sleeping bags, tent, cooker and sleeping mats. We also use warmshowers.org, which is a fantastic hosting website for cycle tourers. Thanks to all the amazing people who have put us up!
Where does Amaya sleep?
She sleeps on a sleeping mat next to us.
What do you do for food?
We prepare our own. We have a small cooker (Trangia that runs on metholayted spirits). Our menu will adapt to whatever food is available. One of our go-to meals is pesto pasta with tuna fish, onion capsicum and zucchini (anything tastes great after a day of cycling!)
Is it dangerous?
Yes. Our biggest concern is being hit by a car or truck. We just hope this doesn’t happen. Accidents can happen anywhere even when one isn’t attempting something adventurous.
Do your bums get sore?
No. We have buns of steel – heh! No really, they don’t. We have Brooks saddles which are made of molded leather and are super comfortable. Our padded bike pants help too I’m sure. So while our legs hurt everyday – our bums are happy.
What kind of bikes are you riding?
We are riding custom built Surly bikes. They are touring bikes that Michael has spent a lot of time getting just right for our journey. The baby trailer is a Burley d”lite and is affectionally called “el cochecito magico” (magic buggy).
How heavy is Mic’s bike with the trailer?
Including Amaya (but not including Mic) we estimate the whole setup to be 80kgs. Not particularly easy up hills!
Is it challenging with a 2 year old?
Yes, but it would be regardless of whether we were riding or not. I think this question warrants an entire post.
What does Amaya do in the trailer?
She sings songs, reads books, sleeps, plays with her toys and looks out the window. She loves it! Check out the clip below for a small insight…
If there are any other burning questions feel free to ask in the comments 🙂
We are having a well-deserved rest from riding in London which has given us time to sift through hours of video footage and squash it into a two minute insight.
So we are sorry about our silence of recent date – we have been enjoying some amazing weather in Brittany and have been too busy cycling to blog. Unfortunately this all came to an end about a week ago when the heavens opened and we (with the exception of Amaya) were significantly drenched.
Since the mechanical elephant of Nantes we followed a stunning canal deep into Brittany. We passed castles built into cliff faces with witches hat turrets, enjoyed coffee in ancient town squares, camped in a forest where legends of King Arthur are told, scoffed crepes, wound our way along the flat tow path of the canal, passing river barges going up the locks, and cherishing the car free environment with the birds providing the soundtrack.
We had both been anticipating this section of our journey and it didn’t disappoint – this is France at its best. It has been one of those experiences where we wished we could somehow take away more than just our memories and a few photos. If only there was some way of capturing those moments in a more substantial way and transporting them with us…
Meanwhile there have been a few causes for celebration: Amaya’s second two-year-old molar finally poked through, her age caught up to her teeth on the 15th, it has been two months on the road, we made it to Roscoff which marked the end of our 1300km cycle path that we had been following since entering France, and we passed 2000km!
Sometimes we even find it hard to believe that we have managed all of this through simple pedal power! That we have actually transported ourselves from Barcelona to Brittany on bicycles!?!?!
We are now in St Malo where we are catching a ferry to Portsmouth and then visiting Jonny (Shoshanna’s brother) and Helen and their new baby, Henry in London. We then make our way back onto the continent and meet up with my parents and ride through Belgium and Holland for a few weeks and then up into Germany and the Baltic Sea and down to Berlin. Fortunately there is a lot of cycling ahead of us.
I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I’m a bit of a fair weathered cyclist, so when it starts to rain I tend to stop enjoying myself. Its been a personal project to over come this issue but after several years of counselling dedicated to the topic I can still only manage to keep a smile on my face for so long. Some cyclists love cycling in the rain. So they tell me. But I wonder if the weather we have been having lately would even wear down the hardiest of those rain dancing warriors. Its not so much the actual getting wet while you are on the bike (although having rain pouring off my helmet onto my face isn’t my favourite sensation in the world) its more the added level of difficulty the wet adds to every aspect of the day. Packing up a tent while its raining is difficult if you want to keep the inside dry for the next night. Then what about lunch? If we didn’t have a toddler who likes to sleep during the time France likes to eat we might consider (on a particularly miserable day) splashing out on a restaurant meal and having a few hours of dry warmth. Instead we look for anywhere that will provide us a little shelter. Like a bus shelter with resident snails. It doesn’t make for the most entertaining of breaks but it keeps you out of the rain.
OK, it hasn’t been THAT BAD, we have had a LOT of rain (almost everyday for the month of May) but most of it has been intermittent. We have only ridden in a constant downpour for 2 of those days. But its wearing us down, it makes camping not very fun, and to top it off the temperature range has been more of less between 2 and 12 degrees. With, might I add, not only rain but also wind, AND we have been hailed on – twice. Essentially we are riding through a bad Australian winter. Yuck.
We are told this is very unusual weather for May in this part of the world – normally it is glorious. I’m not sure if that makes me feel better or worse. The crux of the matter is cycle touring has you completely exposed to the elements all day long. It’s an occupation that makes you vulnerable in many ways, and the bad weather has made us even more reliant on people’s kindness.
We were riding through the pine forest on an old railway track in a downpour when I was hit with excruciatingly painful stomach cramps. The sort of pain that makes you wonder if you need to go to hospital. There was nothing around so I had no choice but to ride on. Every time my legs hit the highest point of rotation the pain worsened forcing us to slow down. Now moving at 8km/hr we weren’t using enough energy to keep up the blood flow so we started to get cold. I kept looking at the ground wondering if all I could manage was to get off the bike, lie down on the grass beside the track and quietly… what? shake? shiver?… try to pass out so it would all go away? All I wanted to do was lie down so the pain would go but I had to ride on. Eventually we made it to a little town, we searched for a hotel, nothing. But it did have a very simple campground with a few sad looking caravans. I collapsed into a chair shaking, and crying, unable to bear the pain anymore. After establishing that I wasn’t about to die, the shocked camp ground owner quickly cleaned out one of her caravans and let us use it for no charge. She didn’t have to, but she did, and we will be eternally grateful. Yes, we are vulnerable, so when people are kind it means so much more.
We also meet the other sort of people who are unhelpful and thoughtless and then wish us a “bon voyage!” after telling us the camp ground we were relying on is closed, and the hotel no longer exists, and we have to ride to the NEXT town in the rain after a day that has already been too hard and too long with no guarantee of a place to sleep there either. Thanks, its currently a WONDERFUL journey (exasperated cheesy grin).
Thankfully this is a rarity, and as travellers discover most people are gems, with only a smattering of bad eggs in between. People are especially kind if they understand what you are doing isn’t a holiday, and the kindest of all on our trip thus far have been Bernard and Beatrice who we met in a small town in Spain. They invited us to stay with them in their small town of 26 people in a rural region of France. Their beautiful cedar home is situated amongst flower and vegetable gardens and filled with mosaics, paintings and other works of art all created by Bernard. Enthusiastic cooks and keen on us trying some of the local delicacies Bernard and Beatrice treated us to asparagus soufflé, chestnut soup, homemade Pineau (a French aperitif), and Beatrice’s homemade herbal liquor. All the vegetables came directly from the garden and we enjoyed ourselves planting potatoes, flowers and learning about the agriculture. Planing to stay only two nights, we ended up staying four – and it was tempting to establish some roots of our own and live the quiet life in this little paradise, dancing to local folk music and living off the land but alas the journey must go on.
And so we continue to limp our way up France slowly, slowly inching our way north. Riding for a few days then hiding as best we can from the cold, the wet and the wind for a few more. While we are waiting for the weather to improve I am continuing on my quest to stop my mood being directly linked to the rain. If the forecast is correct at least I will be happy tomorrow!
A few days ago we stopped in a small town called Umieta after spending much longer than excepted on the road. Our intended destination was San Sebastian but the bicycle path we were following changed from a pleasant dirt track to one more suitable for mountain biking. Amaya had endured 20km of pot holes filled with muddy water and we were exhausted after a couple of days of difficult mountain passes. So in spite of being only 10km short of San Sebastian we hastily found a hotel. The hotel owner was excited to hear Shoshanna was from New Zealand and called out to the neighbour who also happened to be a Kiwi. Yos has lived in Umieta for the last 9 years with his wife, Maria, and lovely daughter, Intza.
Yos invited us to have lunch on Sunday in a Cider House. We had no idea what an awesome experience this would be. It is an amazing place, people eating big hunks of bloody meat, seated at long timber benches and yelling to make themselves heard. The best part of it all is that cider is drunk directly from the 14000 litre barrels. One simply holds ones glass under the tap and, presto, freshly pressed apple cider.
To add to the experience a semi professional rugby team from Barcelona was celebrating their win over San Sebastian. There were a number of kiwis in the team who treated us to a display of the Haka. A magical clash of cultures!
We left full of cider, protein and joy. Not making it to San Sebastian after that nasty day of riding will be something we always remember with fondness.
Riding westward across Catalonia into a westerly had me making some not very complex calculations: High levels of unfitness + insane headwinds + mostly uphill = LOTS OF PAIN. Multiply this with: Beautiful valley’s + medieval villages + time together as a family = worth it???
We are TRYING to take it easy. Ease our bodies into the trip. Obviously the headwinds have a different idea often forcing us to travel 10km/hr less than we would normally. This makes the short easy days we plan into WAY TOO LONG ones with the final 10km feeling like it might break our bodies. Adding to the issue is we are taking FOREVER to get going in the morning. Our systems need some time to be sorted out and refined. We are frustrated even though we know its a natural process that happens in a tour and soon we will be a well oiled machine, each item with its place, each team member with our own unspoken roles. Despite all of these issues we are certainly pedalling past some pretty cool places:
Meanwhile, Amaya is being a little legend. While we are battling the wind, Amaya was being the best behaved little girl EVER. She loves it. She gets up, potters around the hotel room, eats breakfast, if she’s lucky a sneaky baby chino (yes – this is part of the reason we are late getting on the road!), gets spoiled and doted on by the proprietor, then into the magic buggy for some reading, snacks, and great views. A stop at a park for a play and lunch, then a nap while we do some good afternoon riding. Her life is a beach, two primary carers, predictable, and always with new and interesting experiences.
Thanks to using google maps on walking mode we encountered a little more adventure than we had bargained for. It instructed us to cycle down a dirt road into the wilderness. Scenic yes, but it made me feel a little insecure trusting google to get me OUT of the middle of nowhere to where we were planning on staying the night. The promised bridge that would take us back to civilisation and into our first campground turned out to be a dam wall. We had a few mini freak outs carrying Amaya in the magic buggy up a narrow stair case next to the enormous precipice so we could cross over. The bridge was made out of metal grate, LOOK DOWN Mic said, its an AMAZING drop! WAAAAAAAaaaa!
Goodbye Catalonia… Hello Aragon (Please don’t be so windy!)
While cycling the Danube River in 2008 we met Albert and Sandra. At the time they invited us to come and visit them in Catalonia, Spain. Four years on we took them up on their offer (which was still good). They live in Artés, a small village in the hills of Catalonia.
Luckily for us our arrival coincided with the annual fair. It is a big deal we are told in a village where not much else happens. The villages eagerly await the opportunity to check out the latest tractors and farming machinery while chugging down copious amounts of vino tinto and the odd coca de leche. There are also the obligatory tacky rides, which Amaya was very much into (and I thought she had taste!). In fact, being the little nerd that she is, she had read all about merry-go-rounds but never experienced their joys. I am not sure who enjoyed it more?
We moved through the Fair slowly, with Albert and Sandra stopping and speaking to what seemed like every second person. All wanted to see Baby Marc, Albert and Sandra’s baby boy. To the disappointment of Aunts, uncles, grandmothers, cousins once removed and friends of distant relatives, Marc slept on soundly in his baby carrier.
We were treated to some Catalonian specialties, including: Paella (not sure if it is strictly Catalonian) Pan con Tomate, Dried sausage amongst other delights, all washed down with home made wine thanks to Sandra’s father who harvests and makes over 1000 litres a year.
On our final day we were taken to two quaint villages an hours drive into the hills. The photos below barely do them justice. Gracias Albert, Sandra y Marc. Esperem veure’ls a Austràlia un dia proper. adéu.