DAY EIGHT - The Border to Bad Benthiem

We woke up to more rain in the morning. The caravan park was bleak, the bikes needed to be packed and the wet tents folded away. Everybody quietly got ready and we left at around 7:30.

We went into the main high st in search of coffee and breakfast. We found a nice coffee shop, but they didn't open til 8, so we waited outside. We took out the map and started to sort out the crib sheet for the day.

The rain had forced us to alter the route, so now we were scrolling down the page looking for anywhere within 100 miles east of us beginning with a 'b'. The place we found was called Bad Benthiem, so we decided to head there. After coffee and postcards home we moved on to a bakery which had now opened, serving sandwiches and croissants. We made use of their toilets too.

Weirdly the kind lady who had helped us find a campsite the night before walked into the bakery and asked how we slept! This was a rare coincidence as she lived 12 miles away, and it was 8am.

We left the border town at around 9, and head northeast in the direction of Bremen, we ideally wanted to get there within 2 days, but the weather was slowing us right down and we were still 220 miles from there. We passed through a  number of dull German towns (notably entering 'The Kingdom of Pleasure' in one instance) before crossing the border back into The Netherlands as we snaked our way over the landscape. The rain was on and off today, not as bad as the day before, but still enough to slow us down a bit.

We stopped for lunch in a small place called Isselburg, then carried along through the borderlands. We had to cross a huge river, which cost us lots of miles trying to find a bridge, and in fact the mileage for the day was double what it was supposed to be in the end (goodbye to the idea of Bremen in two days).

Once we crossed the border for the 3 time that day we were back in The Netherlands, and annoyingly would be spending the night there as now it was getting late too. The location was really nice, lots of woodland and peace and quiet. It did mean however that we had to ride about 5 miles of dirt track which wasn't very smooth going.

We found a campsite by a lake and struggled with a newspaper which said London on the front and had a big picture of fire.

The campsite had hot showers, a washing machine and WI-FI. so we were pretty comfortable there although a bit overlooked by the neighbours. We sadly hadn't made it to Bad Benthiem, but we did choose a campsite called Berkelhook! we were now 141 miles from Bremen, and 395 miles from Berlin.

Total miles: 72
Total time: 10h 45m


DAY SEVEN - Best to The Border

 Waking up to the sound of rain at 3am was repeated throughout the early hours of the morning until we finally got out of bed at 6am. Hot showers and porridge helped warm us up before we began to pack away our soggy tents. We attempted to take shelter and wait out the rain but it didn't seem to be stopping. After two and a half miles Andy experienced a second flat tire. Three miles later the rain became so severe that visibility was limited and we could barely see the bike in front of us.

We took shelter in a cafe, and enjoyed a 45 minute latte break before the rain clouds finally calmed down and we were able to set off once again. The use of free WiFi in the cafe helped us plan our route out of Best which was slow and wet to say the least.

A break in the poor weather let us clock up a few miles before stopping in a petrol station to stock up on essential energy food and to get some lunch. By this point in the trip we were all beginning to realise how much food we needed to make it through each day.

After a long section of straight and boring roads, Ed and Andy spotted a BMX track hidden behind some trees and couldn't wait to test out their road bikes on it. Unfortunately, they hadn't taken into account that their kit wasn't cut out for the bumps and jumps that they attempted and lost a few items along the way! 

 Although the bad weather and dirt track had slowed our progress we still wanted to make it to the German border before it got dark. 
We pushed on for around 35 miles before seeing the sign "Willkommen in Deutschland". We had made it through 3 countries in as many days, but we were now running out of time with no campsite planned!

We stood looking at a map, but it gave us no help. We then stopped a jogger and (in Andy's best German) proceeded to ask if she knew a place we could camp. She said that she couldn't help us. In fact she didn't know of any campsites within 10km. We had already been impressed by the kindness of strangers on the continent, but were impressed further when the woman offered to go back to her house and get her English speaking son to print us off a map to a campsite and also explain the directions.

The campsite they directed us to was 12km away in a small border town called Goch. The campsite was in the middle of the woods and was closed. Luckily for us Ed had noticed a few caravans turning off the main road 10 minutes earlier, so we headed back down to find out if there was a campsite we could stay at. We found a council run caravan site, which appeared to be caravans only. We only suspected this as all the people staying there were staring at us out their windows. We didn't have to pay for the site though in the end as the office was closed which was a plus! The site also had no toilets or showers though which wasn't good. Jess had to make a short trip back into town to get some painkillers and use the toilet as she wasn't feeling very well. We made spaghetti for dinner before the rain started again and we had to retreat to our tents.

Total miles: 56.07
Time in the saddle: 4h 22m
Total time: 12h

DAY SIX - Brussels to Best

To be riding out of a big city like Brussels at 8am on a quiet Sunday was really cool. The wide streets were empty, so we could ride 5 a breast down the long sloping hills towards the river.

The first shock of the day however, came at the bottom, when the entire road turned into cobbles. Probably 2 miles of cobbles.

Once we got to the river though is was a smooth bike path, where we reached speeds of around 22 mph which was great.

The exit out of Brussels was heavily industrialised. We kept comparing the huge bridges and motorways that hovered above to something from War of the Worlds.

The hard streets inflicted some damage, mainly in the shape of a rusty old nail sticking right out of Andy's tire.
We stopped on the side of the road, changed over the tubes and started rolling once again!

This was to be a bad day for Andy.

We carried on along the well-thought-out Belgian cycle paths, cutting our way through some surreal suburbs and green countryside. We were doing well to avoid oncoming cyclists also using the path, until two roadies came spinning towards riding side by side. The one made a late attempt to duck in behind his friend, but it forced Andy off the cycle path and onto the grass. He tried to get back onto the path but ended up getting his front wheel caught in a small ditch and slammed down on the pavement.

 After some anti-septic wipes and a sit down we were ready to go again. The cyclist who caused the crash had glanced back, but didn't stop.

We stopped for lunch in a small town called Herentals, but being a Sunday, nothing was open. We asked a local woman and she directed us to a bakery which sold bread and pastries as well as sandwich fillers. 

After lunch we were probably only 15 miles from the border with The Netherlands. The sun was out and the roads we nice and flat.

We were riding really well as a group this day, and at one point, kept a speed of 18mph over about 5 or 6 miles, taking it in turns to brave the wind at the front.

The scenery was amazing too, and the campsites we kept passing with lakes and forests were becoming more and more tempting.

Getting to Best was a bit of a chore. We arrived in Eindhoven at around 5pm, and had to negotiate our way through the busy city, onto the ring road and out the other side.

We stopped off at a super market to get some food for the campsite, and Andy's bad day got worse as Jess kicked over and smashed one of his beers!

We reached the suburb of Best at 7pm, struggled to find the right road, but eventually came to the campsite at 7:20pm.

The barking dogs and woman who refused to get out of her chair were not very welcoming. The price was good though, and they had hot showers and a friendly cow in the field.

We cooked up pasta for dinner, with pesto, bread and a beer each. The sun set behind us and we pitched the tents ready for our first night camping.

Total miles: 91
Time in the saddle: 6h 34m
Total time: 11h 30m


DAY FIVE - Bruges to Brussels

After an emotional farewell with Marc, we set off for Brussels via the canal paths. We anticipated bad weather again but the sun came out and we enjoyed the countryside route. Heading towards Gent (a medieval city), we lost the path several times but were re-directed by some helpful local cyclists, even beating one in a friendly road race to the next cycle path!

We stopped for lunch in Gent and admired the beautiful architecture including the Gravensteen castle. After a quick saddle adjustment for Jess because she was in a lot of pain, we headed South-East on a very long straight main road towards our final destination. We battled with the wind and had to negotiate roadworks and traffic but were rewarded with the bizarre sight of Birmingham in capital block letters at the side of the road!

We stopped to check it out and discovered a nice little bar which had once been visited by the Lord Mayor of Birmingham and had our coat of arms on the wall! As we were making good progress, we decided to stay for a celebratory pint of Belgium's finest.

On arrival in Brussels, we headed to the home of our friend Morti from Brussels Bike Polo who we had met previously at the London Open tournament. We dropped off our bikes, washed our kit and headed downtown on foot to find some well-earned dinner. Just as we were discussing how lucky we had been with the weather, the heavens decided to open and drown us whilst we were walking home! We made impromptu raincoats from black bags and ran all the way back to the house to play Uno and listen to soft jazz hoping that the worst of the rain would be over by the time we had to get back on our bikes. Thankyou to Joaquin and Morti for their hospitality, it was much appreciated.


DAY THREE/FOUR - Dunkerque to Bruges

 We woke up to a message back from Marc in Bruges, who said he was on his way down to meet us and to collect Matt's bike. He said he would take it back to Bruges to be fixed, and in replacement would be bringing one of his own bikes.

This was a complete god send and would save us lots of time roaming around northern France looking for bike shops.

Ed and Andy rode up to the supermarche, and picked up breakfast for us all, whilst the rest of us packed up the equipment and waited for Marc.

Marc arrived at around 10am and after a quick bike swap and a final confirmation of his address we left the b&b and attempted to get out of Dunkerque - not an easy task. Marc had brought down his commuter; a  town bike perfectly suited to rolling around Bruges rather than pushing 57 miles through the rain. We also swapped the saddles over as we had now reached the illusive 200 mile mark (apparently the point a brooks saddle will be broken in)

 It was great to be riding in mainland Europe, and suddenly it felt like we had come further than 200 miles.
The scenery was really nice as we approached the Belgian border, and we decided that after another 10 miles we would stop for lunch.

As we were riding along the coast for the only time on the trip we thought we should visit the beach, and whilst Dyfan got over his fear of sand, we searched for somewhere to shelter from the rain and eat.

After lunch we set off again, and as we were riding down the busy streets Dyfan swerved to miss some pedestrians and ended up getting his front wheel jammed in the tramlines, he tried to control the bike but ended up slamming into the road. A crowd quickly gathered and helped him back onto his bike, one guy even grabbed the bike as if it was the tour "Go On!" he shouted.

It rained all afternoon, and the last 20 miles were pretty grim. We were cycling alongside the canal though which led straight to Bruges, and about 7 miles out we crossed a bridge which took us through the windy suburbs and towards our destination.

 When we arrived in Bruges we struggled to find Marc's road. We knew the area, but decided to ring him. He came out to meet us and, soaked from head to toe, we followed him back to his house.

We joked about how excited we were for warm showers and warm food, but we didn't expect the incredibly warm welcome we received.

Marc and Carine were cooking up a pasta dinner, and gave us some beer and wine too. We were shown to our room with hot showers and comfy beds, exactly what we needed after 60 miles in the rain.

Marc had also picked up a new quill stem so my bike could be up and running again the next day. Luckily for us the next day was a rest day.

 We woke up the next morning and went downstairs to fresh coffee and a continental breakfast before being taken into the city centre for a tour and some lunch.

Then in the evening the guys took us for a few games of bowling and a stone grill dinner which gave us all the energy we would need for tomorrow's 70 mile trip to the Belgian capital.


DAY TWO - London to Dover to Bourbourg

After only 4 hours sleep, it was tough to get up wanting to ride again. We all got showers at Xander's and collected our washing from the tumble drier. The panniers were packed again by half 7, and we left north London, heading for Greenwich.

We were meeting Dan, Simon and Ash there, and also grabbed a McDonalds Breakfast and swapped Dyfan's rack for the one Ash had donated before setting off again. Dan handed the Garmin to Matt, and he left us, Neil also headed back to the train station, bound for Birmingham again, so there were 7 of us now heading south out of the capital and towards Kent.

This was one of the nicest routes I've ever seen in the UK. Rolling hills everywhere, and beautiful countryside. It was also one of the hottest days EVER, and after pausing at the top of a fairly big hill, we were approached by a family walking their dog who asked what we were doing and then offered to fill up all our water bottles!

They also donated £10 to the charity before saying goodbye, and stocked up with H20 we set off again!

We stopped for lunch in a small place just outside of Maidstone, then continued up and down, up and down, up and down the rollercoaster roads of the south downs. Simon helped keep the pace up at the front, and left us shortly after Maidstone to get the train back to London, Ash carried on until Ashford.

Our next sop was Dover.

When we got to the white cliff town we were hungry. We began searching the town for food, and in the process, whilst climbing a ramp next to some steps, Matt managed to snap the top section of his stem!

This was a very low point, The only bike shop in Dover (actually) was only just opening, and had no stock for sale! The only option was to find a place on the other side of the water, so after a greasy burger snack, we walked onto the ferry, and taped up the stem as best we could.

The ferry crossing was a good chance to relax and have a nice (expensive) beer! The crossing was 2 hrs so we got down to some planning for the next day.

We decided that we would make an attempt to get to Bourbourg (10 miles) and to the campsite.

As soon as we got off the ferry I tried to ride the bike, but the bars were still really shakey. Andy offered to ride for a bit too, and as he did, the stem snapped completely, and he flew off into the road! Now we were in trouble. It was 20:30 or 21:30 French time, and we had nowhere to sleep!

Ed and Dyfan rode off in search of a bed for the night, and came back after checking us in at a B&B down the road.

We all stayed in one big room, and they let us use the internet and lock our bikes up safely.

The next day we would have to find a bike shop to grab a new stem, we also messaged Marc (in Bruges) to let him know we would be arriving a little late the next day.

After a bowl of pasta, and a couple of coffees/teas each we went to sleep, in some comfy B&B beds.

Total miles: 70
Total time (including ferry): 11h 30m


DAY ONE - Birmingham to London

We are now back from the ride, and had an awesome time. We tried our best to keep the Facebook and Twitter pages updated, but now were back it's time to share some the finer details and the photos, and of course to thank the people who have helped make the trip possible.

Day One. 

August 2nd 8am, and Matt's house became a hive of activity, family and friends came to see us off, and take some photos, and the five of us were not alone. Neil, Tom, Dan, Ash and Marcus all came to join us for the trip down to London which was great. 

We set off at around 8:45, all kitted out in our shiny new jerseys, and each with around 15-20kg worth of luggage. The bikes were so heavy, that we began to keep tally of the amount of times Jess fell over with her bike, I won't say how many it was, but it was below 16 and above 14. We headed south (as that's where London is) and made it as far as Warwick before our first technical stop. Ed's rack mount bolts had shifted into a position where they were blocking his chain from changing gear. He could use the highest 3 on two front rings, but no more. To fix the problem we needed to take the wheel off, but Ed was happy to carry on with the limited gearing, so after meeting up with Sarah too, who also joined us, we pushed on passed Warwick and the next stop was Banbury for lunch!

We found a great pasty shop, and the guy even gave us some free pasties which came in very handy later in the day. A kind woman and her daughter also donated some money to the charity and then went home and joined our Facebook page.

We were full again, and although a bit tired, knew that we still had around 80 miles to go. 

Sarah and Tom left us in Banbury and headed back to Birmingham, and the next stop Bicester is where Dan left us and kindly went home to confirm our route to Dover the next day.

We had done this route before, and really enjoyed the descent that followed the infamous Chinnor hill. The hill crosses the Chilterns with a 14% incline up through the trees, It's a struggle, but the 10 mile descent into high Wycombe makes it all worthwhile.

Dyfan had begun to have problems with his rack. The two stays at the top had both snapped, and were being held on by tape, This was going to have to be sorted in London, and luckily Ash offered to donate a rack he had at home, and said he would bring it the next morning! What a guy!

We got into London outskirts from the West at around 8:30pm and thanks to the help of Marcus and Ash riding up front, we made our way to Highgate and to the pub just in time for them to say that last orders had past, and that we wouldn't be getting a beer! Devastated! However we were given a few cans by somebody which flew down. We were all tired and as our original host had already left the pub we were now also homeless. 

Then stepped up Xander to save us, and the best part was that he only lived 500 metres down the road in a great apartment. We split up, over the basement floor and ground floor bedrooms, and after some pasta and pre-bed prep we were fast asleep.

Total miles: 131
Total time: 14h 30m



Over the weekend I've compiled my bits, and kept them safe in a washing basket. (thanks mum for kindly donating that...)

So, it comes to that stage, before every time you pack, you lay your stuff onto your bed. And here is hat exact moment of my packing process.

It consists of:

Team Sky Jersey
Team Sky bib shorts
HTC Columbia Jersey
HTC Columbia bib shorts
3 pairs of cycling socks
T-Mobile cycling gloves
HTC Columbia peak cap
Giro Helmet
2 boxers
2 ankle socks
1 thick socks
1 pair of Crocks (donated from neighbour - thnaks Paul)
2 plain t-shirts
Wrexham FC waterproof jacket
Trackie bottoms
Wrexham FC shorts
Sunglasses with changeable lenses
And various other bits...