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In the spring of 2009 our adventures will continue by bicycle.
We were thinking of leaving from France and either cycle western Africa (France, Spain, Portugal, Marocco, Mauritania, Mali and Senegal) or cycle northern Europe (France, Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Iceland).
After lots of research we decided to take the Northbound route.
We are leaving the first week of May, and will cycle through France, Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Norway, to reach the North cape (the most northern point of Norway). Once we reach the North Cape we will fly to Iceland, and cycle in Iceland.
May 15th, 2009
We started once again from Philippe's parents home in Southern France. We biked north, following small roads connecting remote villages in the 'Massif Central" mountains. We cycled through Auvergne, a French vulcanic region. Here we cycled along scenic mountain farmland landscape overlooked by snowcapped vulcanoes.
In this region many of the hamlets are built from rough stone from the roof to the foundations, finely renovated and subtily modernised. Yards and gardens are a wonderful harmony of utilitarian and ornomental things and plants. The tiny roads are winding in between the small cereals fields and cattle grazing area.
After passing the last volcanoe of the region we had a long way down into lower hills.
We visited Vichy on our way to the Nivernais Canal.Here we took a paved path that follows the canal for 180km and 65 locks. The path used to be the barges hauling road. The canal took us along fields, rocky hills, and limestone walls where we did some fossil searching.
Once finished with the bike path, we continued our way north in the constant sunny weather. We bike through the Chablis area, a vineyard region famous for his wine.
Later on we crossed the Champagne vineyard area famous for...guess what? Yes, Champagne.
Then we biked through the French Ardennes sadly famous for WW1 battlefields with his numerous military cemeteries.
We then finally reached Belgium through the Ardennes in Wallony. The morning we arrived there, the northern european weather greeted us. We had pooring rain without a break, two days in a row.
After ten days of sunny weather we were cougth off guard by the rain and we got wet, cold and miserable.
Because of the weather condition we didn't see much of the Ardennes keeping our hoods tight on our heads all day.
We visited the downtown of Bastogne (where there was a big battle during world war 2). The downtown was full of cafes, stores, and hotels, luring you inside with their neon ligthning and yummy smells.
Our smiles returned a few dozen kilometers before the border with the Netherlands, when the weather cleared a bit and we could finally take off our hoods and look at the forested hills around us. We did get a glimpse after all!
We arrived in the Netherlands on a wednesday morning, wednesday and friday are the dutch Market days, so we spoiled ourselves with some traditional harings and onions on the market in Maastricht.
The typical dutch brick housing, fields, cows, windmills and canals were surrounding us instantly and the sunny weather was back.
The last 30km before arriving in Wageningen must have been the most frustrating so far. We had to cross 3 different rivers and had to take ferries for each. First river, the 'Maas', no problem. Nice ferry and cheap (€ 0,55 each). Second river the 'Waal', we couldn't find the ferry so we asked someone and apparently the ferry hadn't been there anymore for 30 years! They explained us where to catch the ferry but once arrived there, it turned out the ferry crosses only in the weekends. We continued on the dike, against the strong wind to reach the closest bridge.
After crossing the bridge, we had a mechanical problem. One of the bolts holding Phil luggage rack got loose and lost on the road. We stopped at a gardening centre to replace the bolts and the gentleman was so happy to help us. He offered us coffee and gave us the bolts for free. Thank you (dankjewel)!
We arrived in Wageningen yesterday and will spend some days here to visit friends and family.
May 25th, 2009
Wageningen (Netherlands) - Halmstad (Sweden) click here for map
So far we cycled 2600km from southern France.
After spending 2 days visiting friends and family we left on a rainy Sunday morning.
We cycled northeast through The Netherlands for another 2 days to reach Meppen in Northwestern Germany. We continued Northeast through the fields and villages. As we were going along, we noticed what looked like a life-size decor of a fairytale movie to our right. An old castle surrounded by picture perfect brick houses. Going towards it, we realized it was real. Looking in our guidebook we quickly learned we were standing on the edge of a Unesco world heritage site, the town of Lubeck.
Finished visiting Lubeck, we followed sea shore promenades and dikes to Puttgarden, from where we took a short 45min. ferry ride to Rodby, Denmark. Our first night there, we camped in a forest full of ticks. We killed a few ticks in the tent but nevertheless Leandra woke up with a tick on her leg.
As we left Copenhagen it started to rain. We had rain for a few hours untill we reached Helsingor. In helsingor we took a 15min. ferry ride to Helsinborg in Sweden.
We have succeeded in finding spots for wild camping almost every night so far. Soon we will reach less populated areas with more wilderness. On top of that, here in Sweden and in Norway they have the so called ´allemansretten´ meaning that in the countryside, by law, you have the right to camp in the wild. as long as you are not on private property and 70 meters from the nearest house.
Otherwise, people have been very friendly and helpfull since the day we left. Mileagewise we have been able to make up to 150km a day in the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark.
Just so you know, Internet cafes are scarce in the countries we are cycling through. We try to make the news whenever we can...
At this time we are unfortunately unable to upload our pictures because of internet safety measures at the internet cafe..
June 2, 2009
We have pedalled a total of 3472km in 32 days. We cycled southwestern Sweden, more or less following the coast. We reached the Norwegian border about 100km east of Oslo and since then have been cycling northbound in the central mountains aiming for Trondheim and the western fjords.
Our flights from Northcape to Iceland are booked for June 29. The day we booked these plane tickets we were counting on the cycling distance from southern France to Northcape to be about 4500km. With the time we have learned that we underestimated the distance, and it might just be more than 5500km total. We are and have been biking against the clock, making a minimum distance of 120km a day, 7 days a week. We needed to catch up with the mileage of the first weeks in France, where we couldn`t make much mileage due to pains in knees and Mountains. We have now made enough mileage to bring our total average per day of all 32 days to 110km.
Just a few days ago as we were doing random maintenance on the bikes, we noticed a crack in Philippe's rear rim. Taking a closer look, we actually ended up finding 3 half inch size cracks. This was quite a shocking discovery! We are expecting our bikes to do much more mileage! We both didn't sleep too good that night, wondering how we could fix this problem.
We decided to switch rims, Philippe's rear rim went on Leandra's rear. We took off the cassettes so each of us would keep the same drivetrain. Of all wheels, Philippe's rear wheel is the one dealing with the most stress: pulling the trailer, carrying the food, and carrying Philippe. The bikes have ridden a total of 11000km by now and we expect them to double this distance before the end of the year so they better behave! haha.
We have stopped counting pimples and abscesses on our butts, crotch and groins. Since day one we have been rubbing an antiseptic solution on eachother every night. but all of this loving work does not seem to do much so far. Some days Philippe has to bike the entire day in standing position, not able to sit. Funny because on our previous trip, we didn't suffer any of these sort of things.
The heat has been having it's effects as well. Leandra with her blonde hair and fair skin, got sunburned on her left leg and left shoulder (we always go the same direction so the sun is always shining on the same spot). Thanks to her sunburns she was forced to wear full pants and a long sleeved shirt. Half way through a mountaineous day, Leandra (who is dealing with Raynaud's syndrome in her daily life) started a heatstroke that we stopped with the icecold water from mountaincreeks around us.
As we are now in higher elevation, the temperature has cooled down. The weatherforecast is predicting us a mix of sun and rain for the next days.
We should be reaching Trondheim, and thereby the mid-Northwestern coast in a day or two.
June 12, 2009
Tynset - Bodø
We have pedalled 4500km in 43 days.
As much as we were supposed to have rain, we were totally not prepared for snow! 3 days in a row we had cold weather with lots of snow. Reaching the coast the snow turned into rain and thankfully stopped once we arrived in Trondheim. Even though it was snowy and rainy, from underneath our hoods, the scenery was still very nice.
In Trondheim we got some spare parts for the bicycles, we both got new chains and cassettes, Philippe a new front derailleur and Leandra a new front plate.
From Trondheim, we were now on the western coast lined up with fjords and inlets dotted with many islands. We were using a combination of small roads and the former main road, the rv17 (http://www.rv17.no/), a scenic winding road going along the coast. The road isn't continious and there are many short ferry rides, as many as 3 per day.
We are spoiled with all the fjords, inlets and islands forming a complex water maze protected from the wind, that must be a dream for kayakers. We see more and more snowpatches on the mountains around us, giving us the sign that they are getting higher and higher as we progress northbound. Most of the mountains are rounded by glaciers that nowadays are gone. Some mountains still have razorsharp edges, these must have been sticking out of the late icefields. We often try to imagine how big the icefields must have been.
As a little surprise we saw a samoyede! On our last trip we saw a 'Nanook' in Switzerland, and now we came across another one. Of course we stopped for some hugs and kisses.
For campsites we have been very very lucky as well, finding mountain lake shores, deserted fjord beaches, or mountain passes with breathtaking views.
Leandra's gear shifter quit on us and the puzzle of springs and tiny parts was impossible to put back together. As we were trying to fix this problem, a friendly fellow named Karsteinh invited us for some coffee and cake. he is a pilot who flies in Northern Norway. He usually flies the flight we will be taking on June 29th.
Leandra has been riding on 3 speeds for almost a week now. She is realizing that you can do quite some amazing stuff with only 3 speeds, which is good because we have to wait until Tromsø untill she gets a new one!
We meet many people driving this road with their RV's, one evening we have been invited by a French couple for a drink.
We are now in Bodø, above the arctic circle. We have sunlight 24 hours a day.
June 15, 2009
Bodø - Sortland
4700km in 46 days
Just after writing the last news, we took the ferry from Bodø to Moskenes, Lofoten Islands. The Lofoten Islands have even more dramatic landscapes than the western fjords thanks to sharper and higher mountains.
We have caught up with the time and are now certain that we will make it to Northcape in time. Therefore we can now take it a bit easier. This morning we woke up to pooring rain, we decided to take the day off so we can rest a bit and spend some time on the website.
We have about 2-3 days to Tromsø, here we will pick up the new gear shifter for Leandra, that should be there on Thursday.
We are also preparing our trip around Iceland, which is to come after reaching Northcape.
June 24, 2009
Sortland - Nordkapp (North cape)
5534 km from Southern france to the Northernmost point in Europe, cycled in 54 days.
We had bad weather leaving Sortland, but the wild rugged coast with waves pounding the rocks alongside us was a true enjoyment. We followed the westcoast of Andøya, there was barely any traffic and very enjoyable. We reached Andenes from where we took an hour long wavy ferry ride. An hour was long enough, even though there were plenty of puffins to look at, our stomaches were starting to let us know they would not be able to swing from left to right much longer anymore..
In Tromsø we were happy to find Leandra's new gear shifter had arrived just before we showed up. Leandra was very glad to have her speeds back after 2 weeks with only 3 speeds.
These last days since Tromsø we were cycling through tundra like landscape. Sometimes with small birch bunches. There are lots of reindeer herds everywhere. They are roaming free in the mountains but are actually cattle. They are not scared of cars and cyclist, and therefore we have lots of close encounters.
It is now tourist season, we see as many RV's on the road here as there are on the Alaska Highway.
The day of arrival at Northcape, the weather was gorgeous. Blue skies and not too much wind. Which was motivating as we had to work hard till the last meters. The day of arrival we went through our longest tunnel yet, 8 km long and going 212 meters deep under the ocean (very long, cold, dark and steep). We had major hills for the 30 last kilometers, from Honningsvåg to Nordkapp, plus the 30km back (North cape is at the end of the road)
We had our first tire blow up at 5000km, it was Philippe's rear. Quite surprising as we were expecting the tires to let us down at 3500km. Also Philippe is having problems with his free wheel that doesn't lock properly anymore. His bike barely made it to North Cape, so we somehow need to find a way to fix the problem as he will certainly not be able to bike more than a few days with his bicycle in this condition.
We'll be spending a few days here in Honningsvåg waiting for our flight to Reykjavik (Iceland) on the 29th.
Our photocamera has been causing us some problems as it doesn't want to work some days. Thankfully we can take pictures with our videocamera, but unfortunately we do not have the proper cable with us to upload the pictures from the videocamera to the computer. Because of this problem we can not show you all of our pictures, but at least a good idea of what we have been seeing.
June 29, 2009
En route to Iceland, leg 5
We've had 5 days for regrouping. Our time has been spent fixing up the bikes, doing research on the internet, taking little walks and reading.
We fixed the freewheel problem on Philippe's bicycle. We looked at it with a bicycle mechanic and decided to buy a new wheel instead of just replacing the freewheel for which we (and the bike mechanic) had no tools.
Leandra has been cycling with a broken wobbly rim for a while and we helped her out by switching Philippe's old rim onto the spokes and hub of the wobbly broken rim. We were happy that we were able to do this by ourselves, the rim is dished and true.
Our bicycles have been starting to show their mileage during this trip. It is becoming an annoyance that our bicycles are not equipped with the 'standard' worldwide brand. Therefore the parts we find along the way are not compatible with ours and often neither the mechanics or us have the proper tools to deal with the gear on our bicycles.
We have been spending quite some time researching our route in Iceland. We have decided to make a combination of cycling the ring road and as well exploring the challenging interior rough gravel roads.
In the late evening today, we are leaving on our way to Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland, where we will arrive tomorrow, on Leandra's birthday. For the last time today we bought our favourite cheap goodies at the store. We'll be missing the super cheap 500gr marzipan for $2!
29'er Gary fisher x-caliber mountain bikes with front suspension. Philippe had the 2007 model, Leandra the 2008 model.Our bicycles were equipped with v-brakes and Sram components. During our travels we learned that Sram is hard to find in other parts of the world. The parts that needed replacement, have been replaced by us with Shimano, as this brand is found everywhere.
We equipped each bicycle with luggage racks on the rear, cramponed pedals, 2 bottleholders.
We used the bob trailer for our extra gear. We love this trailer as i is extremely versatile. The one wheel makes it a true 4x4 trailer, the weight doesn't need to be balanced (we heard complaints from people who had one of those bicycle wheel 'one wheel' trailer, that they had to be super careful with the weight balance), also the drybag makes the trailer float when crossing rivers which is very handy. We've used the trailer for 15,000km we've regreased the bearings once, as maintenance, but actually it wasn't necessary. The only 2 downturns on the bob are 1) the weight. it is fairly heavy. 2) As they say on their website, the bob is not made for 29'ers. We had lots of derailleur hanger problems, as when going over obstacles, the bob attachment would push on the derailleur, benting the derailleur hanger (we took about 5 spare derailleur hangers).
We found some amazing tires at Decathlon in France (B'twin pneu vtt 9.90 euros). Rather than buying the superpricy marathon tires, we decided to give these 10 euro tires a try, we added a liner to them and we were stunned by their performance! The rear tires would blow between 4000-6000km, and not because the thread was worn out, but because our rims are made for tubeless tires, therefore the tire would wear out and blow around the rim. I don't remember any blown front tires, so most likely the front tires made 7000km (as we changed them between the two journeys). Also we had barely any flats. Knowing the rear tires would blow up after 4000km, we took 2 spares with us on our journeys.
As these tires are a little different size than the 29'ers, we used talk powder to ease putting the tires on the rim.
Panniers: We used the ortlieb bags, totally waterproof and light. Philippe had a cannondale front bag, it was made from fabric and not waterproof, this was annoying at times of rain. Leandra had a no brand front bag that was totally waterproof.
Clothing: On our first journey, we both had 1 pair of fast drying outdoor pants from Mountain Equipment coop, and 2 t-shirts each. We are respectful towards the dresscodes, therefore in the Middle eastern countries, we were always wearing pants and a t-shirt with short sleeves.
Our second journey, as we were travelling through western Europe, we decided to wear fast drying zip off pants and still 2 t-shirts. We chose to take only one pair of pants (besides our Goretex rain gear) to be light. Philippe was wearing Mountain hardwear Mesa zip off pants, Leandra had North Face paramount peak zip off pants. Great choice to have taken these. as it does save weight and space to take one pair of pants that can make shorts as well... Also we had one goretex soft shell each, and thick fleece sweater and we took buffs.
One lesson we learned is to ALWAYS have thermal underwear with you! We decided for a change not to take any thermal underwear on our journey to Northcape and around Iceland, and boy did we miss our thermals on those colder or windy days!
Shoes, For shoes, we just wear our regular hiking boots. Philippe has a pair of Han Wag Lima hiking boots, with which he is very content. after 15,000km they are still waterproof and still in excellent condition. Leandra had a pair of Merrel hiking boots. They are still incredibly comfortable, but they have never been waterproof, are too rubbery therefore make sweaty feet, the sole has split, and so has she sewing. Currently Leandra is awaiting her new Scarpa pro Nepal GTX hiking boots that are to replace the Merrells.
Raingear, Philippe has a Millet Goretex shell that we bought at an outrageous price. We were fairly dissapointed by this supposedly amazing goretex piece of equipment that after not many uses was starting to let water through (though I must admit that that's during days of full hard rainy weather). Leandra had a Schoffel Goretex shell, that was also letting water through after hours in pouring rain. For rain pants, we had TAKU shell pants from REI, we've been happy with them. Leandra had a pair of B'twin gaiters to protect her non'waterproof shoes. The gaiters were good to protect the top, but water would come in anyway from the bottom.
Sleeping, We used the same gear as usual.
Our good old 'Mammoth', The wonderful mountain 25, from The North Face, once again did an excellent job on keeping us dry and providing us a home.
For sleeping bags we both had a down sleeping bag from the brand Pyrenex. The brand Pyrenex is from the Spanish Pyrenees and is made with local high quality duck down. These sleeping bags are over 10 years old, and they are still amazingly good.
Inside our sleeping bags, we use silk liners from Mountain equipment coop.
We sleep on orange Thermarest prolight four season, the 3/4 length version of this matress. They do their job.
Cooking, drinking, Washing, We used our MSR whisperlite for our cycle journeys, this stove can use any kind of gas and is therefore very versatile (we've had this stove for over 10 years so it's noisy compared to the new whisperlite)also this stove is very reliable. We used a smaller 3l pan that actually came in a fondue set that we never used and therefore gave a use by taking it on our journeys!. our kettle was a small GSA hae tea kettle, that worked great and was light and fitted inside the cooking pot, to save space.
For drinking, we had our water purifying pills with us that we used to purify water from sources we did not trust. In Eastern europe and the middle east we were often buying water in the stores as there were few drinkable sources. In western and northern Europe, and in iceland we found lots of drinkable water along the way.
On our journey from France to Northcape and around Iceland, we gave ourselves a budget of 10 dollars a day including everything. Therefore we camped wild all the time. We washed in creeks and rivers... And if we couldn't find any we'd stop during the day at a campground (if we came across one), shower, and go again.
Electronics, We use a Brunton solaris 12 watt solar panel and a pixo c2 universal charger to charge all our batteries. We used rechargable batteries for our headlights and had a spare battery for both our Olympus stylus photo camera and our Canon hv10 HD video camera.
Hygiene, Since we were on a short budget the on our way to Northcape, we were washing in creeks and rivers. Whenever we felt we needed a wash, we would stop at the first river or creek we saw. Another method we used if there were no rivers in the area was to stop at a campground and ask to use their showers, we did this twice and were not told no. On our way to Egypt, we stayed in campgrounds once in a while and took our showers there.