Having cycled London to Amsterdam twice, and really enjoyed the stretch of the North Sea Cycle Route (NSCR) that it involves, I thought it would be fun to follow the route(ish) a little further.
The original concept was Hook of Holland to Hamburg, then take the ferry back from there to Blighty. Except the Hamburg-Harwich ferry turned out to be no more. Faced with a choice between a long swim and a bit more cycling, I decided to keep heading north, adding Denmark to the itinerary to take the return ferry from Esbjerg. This gave a route of three countries totalling around 600 miles, which would take a fortnight at a civilised 40-50 miles a day.
Navigation on this route is relatively straightforward: on disembarking from the ferry, turn left then try to keep the blue stuff on your left for the next 600 miles.
A thread on CycleChat suggested that the official NSCR got a bit scrappy through Germany, and I'm not a purist about these things: any pleasant route in the right direction would do just fine. I plonked down a bunch of waypoints roughly following the coast, but cutting across the German headlands, and called it a route. If you're a militant Sustrans routeist, there is nothing to see here, move along.
My GPS wasn't capable of storing the entire route in one chunk, which meant we needed some kind of device able to store the entire route and load chunks of it at a time to the Garmin eTrex Vista HCx. My MacBook Pro 17 was rather big to fit my self-imposed 25 litres of luggage space (around half of which would be taken up by bike kit). Eric suggested a mutual friend who would lend us a netbook, but I just stuck my fingers in my ears and sang la-la-la: I had at long last, after many years of trying, found the perfect excuse to buy a MacBook Air!
This may sound like rather an extravagant purchase for a holiday, but I had my plan all figured out: I would buy a secondhand one, use it for the holiday then sell it afterwards for the price I paid for it. Voila, a free MacBook Air. All I then had to do was make sure no-one was looking when I quietly hung onto it instead.
A week or so later, I had a mid-2011 MacBook Air 11 with a meaty i7 1.8Ghz processor, 4Gb RAM and a 256Gb SSD - and for pretty much exactly half the cost of a new one.
I loaded it up with a suitable subset of my standard software, transferred across my Mail folder and Keychain and was pretty much instantly up-and-running. An illegally cute Twelve South Bookbook leather case for it completed the picture. I managed to fit all other technology into the food-bag seen on top of it!
We booked outbound and return ferries and the first night's accommodation, but with only two of us reckoned it would be safe to wing it on accommodation for the rest of the trip. On a previous London to Paris ride, I'd called in at a tourist onfo office at lunchtime to ask them if they could find us a guesthouse at our intended end-of-day destination, and that had worked very well indeed.
I did take the precaution of ensuring there were no bank holidays in any of the countries we were visiting while we were in them, and also ensuring that our final day in Germany ended just short of the border so we wouldn't be asking a German tourist info office to find us a guesthouse in Denmark.
As always, I packed light. Three days' clothing (relying on guesthouse washing-machines to do laundry en-route), toiletries and of course the obligatory gadgets: MacBook Air, iPhone (with Otterbox Defender Ion power case, as it would serve as camera and camcorder along the way), GPS - and a charger for the AA batteries in GPS and Dinotte lights.
I also downloaded a few programmes to the iPlayer desktop app to provide evening entertainment when required.
A sign on the fairing always serves as a good conversation-starter when cycling a decent distance, so I created one for the trip.
Though to avoid the conversations getting too repetitive, I included a FAQ:
Saturday 4th May: Home to Hook of Holland
I could have cycled to Harwich, but I've done the route before (en-route to Amsterdam) so decided to take the lazy route of taking the train to Harwich.
This isn't quite as lazy an option as it could be, as it involves two changes and two sets of stairs.
Eric emailed to say he had missed his train, so I went on ahead to a pub just outside the port. With a MacBook Air, wifi and glass of Shiraz to hand, waiting wasn't too great a hardship.
While waiting, I got chatting to a Dutch couple who had done a LEJOG years ago. As they were leaving, they went to look at my trike, and saw the map on the fairing. They came back in, handed me a piece of paper with their address and number and said they lived on our route in the northern Netherland and we were welcome to stay a night with them. :-)
There was a half-hour wait for food, so I did a quick menu consultation with Eric by phone and with perfect timing Eric and the food arrived within 30 seconds of each other.
Then back to the port to board nice and early. It's a reasonably civilised ferry crossing: although you get nurfed out of bed at an ungodly hour, you can board at 9.15pm to get your head down early. In theory.
In practice, we headed to the bar for a couple of drinks, and of course the obligatory gadget-fest. Eric was bravely ignoring the cycle-touring mantra of not introducing anything new (being hundreds of miles from home is not the time to discover that something doesn't work) with both a new GPS and a new cycle-cam.
Travelling light, neither of us had brought real cameras. Holidays are for memories, not art, so the plan was that I'd use my iPhone to take snaps and shoot a bit of video, and Eric would set his cycle-cam to take one photo a minute to end up with a 10-minute-ish stop-motion video of the whole ride. Eric tested his cam on the ride from the pub to the ferry and discovered it defaulted to video every time it was restarted ...
The benefit of the overnight crossing is that you get a guesthouse into the bargain. A single cabin with sea view adds just £39 to the £40 cost of the crossing, and is compact but well-equipped and comfortable - though the 'wifi@sea' mostly declined to work.
And so to sleep. Well, to bed with an ebook, anyway. Having decided to leave the iPad at home, I was back to using my phone as an ebook. It was a little odd going back to seeing only a paragraph or so at a time, but still worked well enough.