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Preparation to “Cycle Abroad”

In preparation for my cycling tour to Amsterdam I practice by attempting to cycle from Jena to Ulm in three days. However, with limited preparation for my trial, I quickly realise the importance of preparation.

I do not like planning things. Plans are time-consuming and often they do not work. So I asked myself: "What's the point in spending hours and hours planning my cycling trip from Mühlhausen (in the middle of Germany) to Amsterdam when I could also do what I am after eventually which is cycling?” Therefore, I decided that it is sufficient to do one tour in advance and see how it goes. At least this "trial" was one of the better ideas I had because of the numerous mistakes I made.

My first mistake of this trial was to disregard the elevation. I wanted to do 400 km from Jena to Ulm (both smallish cities in Germany) in three days but dismissed the 2,700m elevation. It was this elevation that hurt the most, especially because I had packed too much. Which leads me onto my second mistake: carrying excessive weight. The things I carried included two saddlebags , with too many clothes; my washbag, admittingly containing too many luxuries; lots of nutrition (4 liters of water, 8 chocolate bars, at least 6 bread buns); and of course my rucksack which had inside some tools, and spare inner tubes. Looking back, it turns out that I only used half of my clothes, when in reality, two t-Shirts, one sweater, a pair of leggings, my waterproof gear, thin cycling gloves, and my two bike shorts would have been enough. At a cost, this means washing your clothes in the shower and hoping that they dry during the night, but it would have been worth the patience and speaking from experience, the longer the tour takes, the less you care about your looks, how you smell, and what other people may think of you. Furthermore, in terms of supplies, I was able to replenish much earlier than expected which made the enormous amount of nutrition that I already carried excessive.

Another one of the bigger mistakes was to not book accommodation in advance. My tactic was to cycle as much as I can and look for a place to sleep along the route. This caused me to go full tilt on the first day and gave me sore legs for the rest of the trip which resulted in knee-pain on the third day. This constant improvisation of looking for accommodation online on trail was not only stressful but also did not work out as planned which is why I had to ask my girlfriend to find something for me. This was the only option because it was too complicated to find anything cheap and quick without having reliable internet connection. Therefore, I had to make a detour of 20 km on the second day and cycle back into a city, which was the opposite of where I wanted to be. At the end of the second day, it became clear to me that I would not be able to do the trip in just three days. Having risen early on the third day, I quickly realized that this day would suck hard. It was cold, I still had as much as 180 km ahead of me, and the weather promised to worsen in the afternoon (which never happened). Therefore, my advice is to never trust the weather forecast. This lingering fear resulted in me trying to cover as much distance as possible before the rain came on, despite my fatigue.

Moreover, the cycling route on this day ran along a busy road mostly used by trucks. Cyclists and truckers, who never like each other’s presence, have to share. I was their inconvenience, often because I caused them to lose speed. Then they would overtake me while not keeping their distance creating risk. That was when I thought it best to drive off the street and into the bushes. When I started to look out for accommodation again that evening, not feeling too hopeful to find something quick and cheap, I saw that the weather for the next day was going to be nothing but rain. Although I am not proud of it, I have to admit that this pulled the final trigger to give up. It was a further 50 km but I was already too discouraged to continue. This time the weather forecast was right, and it indeed rained nonstop the next day. I thought: “How am I supposed to cycle 500 km when I cannot cycle 400 km?”

In perspective, the trip was the definition of a rookie-mistake, but at least I learned something for my more important trip to Amsterdam: Book in advance; train harder; pack less; cycle less on the first day; cycle slower and push your bike if the elevation is too steep or you are going to regret it later; do not listen to the weather forecast; and most importantly man up and stop whining when the going gets tough.

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