Posted 21 April 2022
"I'm thinking of heading off cycling again," I mused to my friend James while on a rather muddy walk around Hampshire in January 2020. "Indefinitely, this time."
Back in 2016, I had untethered myself from my commitments and headed off cycling to the USA for six months (journal here). On my return, I resumed my previous career and even bought a house. But it wasn't going to do. I was consumed by a nagging feeling that I wanted to see more of the world - by bike, naturally. So I resolved that, by the age of 35 and before my body had descended into decrepitude (at the time of writing, in April 2022, I'm 33), I would be heading off cycling again - and this time, "indefinitely!"
As you'll all recall, from early 2020 the COVID-19 pandemic spread around the world. Being able to freely leave one's house became the subject of wishful thinking; let alone heading off camping, travelling abroad, or even traversing a continent (or continents) by bike! While it felt at times as though these pleasures may never return, to get myself through the toughest times I doubled-down on my resolution to once again head off on two wheels. Plans were formed. Ideas were hatched. And re-hatched. And crossed out and hatched all over again. I would now head off whenever COVID seemed to have receded sufficiently from the headlines, and a new normality had formed.
My initial thoughts were to head off on the "traditional" Silk Road cycling-around-the-world route from Europe (avoiding Iran, like all British passport holders). Europe/Turkey/Caucasus/Central Asia....
Working through the dates, however - I couldn't emerge at a plan I was happy with. Avoiding high Summer in Central Asia meant crossing Europe in Winter, and setting off straight into a slog through poor weather and short days did not appeal (I need to slowly warm-up to these things!). I also wanted to not feel rushed - always a problem with shorter trips where you have a flight home to catch, and really one of the benefits of heading off on a longer open-ended tour.
So I set my mind to coming up with other ideas. A combination of having some time ago read Andrew Sykes' book "Spain to Norway on a Bike Called Reggie," and having enjoyed dipping in and out of reading Jacob Ashton's journal of his huge trip (although he travels rather lighter, and at a different pace, to me!), triggered a thought of a destination both of their trips shared - Nordkapp. The top of Norway, and the most Northerly point in Europe accessible by road. Surely an underwhelming destination in itself, but hopefully the journey there would be good... I hadn't previously visited Northern Europe / Scandinavia at all, so it would be new ground for me. I could then aim to head to Southern Europe over the Winter - passing through Tarifa in Spain would mean ticking off both the most Northerly, and Southerly, points of continental Europe (at least, those points accessible by road). This seemed like the start of a plan.
In this vein, Spring 2022 emerged as the target for departure. I would head up through Scandinavia into Summer, cycling to the top of Norway with the midnight sun. A loop back down through Finland and the Baltic states meant I could avoid re-tracing my steps ... although the proximity to Russia becomes a cause of slight concern in the case of World War III erupting! Let's keep an eye on that. As Autumn falls, I intend to make fast progress towards Southern Europe to spend the Winter there (with better weather and longer days) - possibly visiting the Canary/Balearic Islands and hopping over to Morocco. I might even fit in a brief trip back to the UK.
As 2023 begins, and Winter tails off, I can hopefully then start heading towards Turkey, and the edge of Europe...
I was happy with this plan. I told work of my intention to leave, and started to make arrangements to rent out my house. Countless hours were spent selling many of my belongings (don't we all have too much stuff?) - so the first few days of the trip are sure to be a welcome relief from boxing up stuff sold on eBay, or dealing with time-wasters on Facebook Marketplace!
My best friend James - with whom I first shared my thinking - was getting married over the Easter weekend of 2022. After they'd tied the knot, I would be free to go...