Hi, welcome to the road. To find out what is going on, please click on any of the markers and this will bring up the blog post for that day. Once the trip has finished there will be a story post below picking out our favourite bits from the trip. I hope you enjoy, and if you have any comments or suggestions please contact me 😄
Off the road story
Europe is a great place to travel through as there are no difficult border crossings, loads of road, and you are never too far away from civilisation if you get in trouble. The cities that we past through were pretty cycle friendly, they had a good number of cycle paths and signs making navigation in and out not too stressful. We were still able to find plenty of uninhabited countryside and forest making this the perfect trip for a tour cyclist starting to push the barriers as I was (this was my first unsupported trip!).
Problems do happen
Starting out on my first unsupported expedition with my friends, you could say we were a little naive missing some key spares and with equipment that in hind sight, might not have been ideal to start with. We had cycled long distance trips before, like cycling to Venice the year before, but it had always been with in range of a support car. So setting out without spare gear hangers and a slightly dented rear wheel might not have been the best idea. For those not too familiar with bikes, the gear hanger is a small bit of annoyingly specifically shaped metal that is designed to break instead of your bike if the rear gears get stuck.
The problems start on the rough, hot Macedonian roads where I come off my bike and damage the rear gear changer. Fortunately, I hadn't damaged the hanger at this point so we were able to nurse the bike to the next bike shop. Despite my lack of Macedonian and the shops owners lack of English, we were able to communicate through the mutual understanding of bikes to get the bike going. With a job well done, we decide to have lunch over the heat of the day. Having rested on our laurels, we start back off without checking the gears are indexing correctly, change into the lowest gear and the chain skips off into the wheel snapping the hanger and breaking the brand new derailleur. We go back to the guy who doesn't have any hangers but has an old mountain bike derailleur that comes with a hanger of its own. My bike doesn't have the correct fitting for this so we have to clamp it in place with the wheel attachment.
The hunt is now on for the correct hanger and I enter the nightmare of finding the correct gear hanger. If you have ever had the misfortune to have to replace the hanger you will quickly find that there are literally hundreds of different designs, some only subtly different from each other. Not realising this to start off with I discarded the broken part, so every time I wanted to check I had to remove the temporary derailleur. Finding that it was the incorrect one every time, I then had to remount the temporary fix, reindexing the gears to prevent the problem occurring again.
Concurrently, I had started off with a rear wheel that had a dented rim. Up until the hanger problems it had been fine, but when one thing goes wrong everything seems to happen. A crack started to appear which developed along the rim until a sizeable section fell off. This left me coming into the airport at the end with a zip tied rear wheel with no rear brakes and barely any gears.
The take home message is make sure you are ready for the trip. Know what specialist parts you may need, and look to see how easy it would be to carry a spare. Also, get your equipment in the best condition you can before you set off. It is much easier to do work at home rather than on the road.
People are great
Some of the best encounters we have in life are those unexpected and completely random, which is exemplified by our meeting of Georgio.
In our little band of three laden bikes, people often notice us and usually want to chat. In this particular instance our band of three became briefly four when and unknown cyclist joined the back of the group. It was a long road so we engaged in conversation and fortunately he spoke broken but good English and we explain what we were doing. He took a great interest and offered for us to meet his friends in the local pub. It was getting to the end of the day so we decided why not, it is always nice to meet people.
We get to a small building with benches outside and we pull over where Georgio proceeds to introduce us to everyone, none of which speak English and we speak no Hungarian. A few photos and stilted conversations later Georgio wants us to meet his family but he has to go to the shop first. It is getting to the time that we would normally stop so we decide to resign ourselves to staying locally, and we have come this far.
Stopping at the shops, Georgio comes out with a six pack of beers and a large watermelon, hands them to us, and tells us to follow him. Our bags are full but somehow we manage to strap a watermelon on the outside and carry the beers to his house. Turns out that none of his family speak English either but we have a phrase book. Hours of entertainment trying to pronounce Hungarian and eating watermelon follow.
Eventually we manage to indicate that we need somewhere to stay so, as is the theme of the afternoon, Georgio tells us to follow him. Back on to the bikes and head out on the road until we come across a small sign with a horse and a sandy track. Turns out to be a youth camp with stables that has a couple of rooms and does breakfast. Nothing indicating this, only local knowledge could ever find it. With this he works out a price with the owner that we are more than happy to pay, we exchange pleasantries, and he heads back to town on his bike.
With most encounters I find that most people just want a story. Where ever possible, I try and accommodate people, sharing my story and learning about theirs. The more we can do this, the closer the world will be and the more we will know about each other.