Brighton to Eisenach


Brighton to Eisenach

I didn’t trust myself to wake up, pack up, and get to the ferry terminal in time for a 9:30am departure so predictably I decided to stay up through the night.  This meant I would be grumpy and tired for my arrival in France, but at least I would be there.

The last evening I spent in Brighton at a JD Wetherspoons pub – my reliable refuge for free wifi and cheap beer/beef burgers.  The last stragglers, me included, were shipped off at 12:30am.  I took one final ride around Brighton before heading to Newhaven, only 15kms away, at a leisurely pace.  It was a dreary farewell to Great Britain.  Light spotty rain endured through the night and the promise of one last British sunrise was betrayed by a skyline that grudgingly shifted from dark grey to slightly less dark grey.

I waited to board the ferry with several other much more sensibly packed cyclists.  The grey skies lifted en-route to France and by the time I arrived it was sunny and noticeably warmer.  The French customs official eyed me and my passport, mercifully recognising that the shady looking long-haired guy in my passport was indeed me.  My passport was stamped – now begins my ride across the Schengen region of Europe before my 90 days are up.

I pushed my bicycle around the harbour and local market of Dieppe.  Locals eyed me suspiciously – not sure what to make of my bicycling behemoth.

I found a McDonalds (for the free wifi, but also for the Royale with Cheese) and phoned home to assure my mother that the ferry hadn’t sunk.  I’d now been awake for about 26 hours.  I was feeing OK, but in no hurry to make any great progress to my next planned destination – Paris.

I pushed my way out of Dieppe via a long steep hill.  I found a camp site only to realise I’d neglected to withdraw some cash while in Dieppe.  I hadn’t seen any recently and I didn’t want to return to Dieppe and face that hill again.  I showed my Mastercard to the camp operator and managed to communicate that I wanted to stay – but I needed to find somewhere to withdraw Euros.  They indicated to the supermarket across the road.  There was no ATM, so I fetched some groceries, greeted the cashier in broken french, and indicated my need withdraw money.  He responded in French and I quickly understood that I needed to spend 10 Euros to use my card.  I felt unable to enunciate that Visa and Mastercard merchant agreements prohibit arbitrary “minimum purchase” limitations, so I pushed my groceries aside and communicated that he should continue to serve the people waiting rather than make everyone wait for me to find something else to buy.  He retorted something in French.  Uhh OK.  I tried again.  He obviously understood my gesturing, but with a stereotypically accurate shrug and smirk he, for whatever reason, wasn’t going to push the “Cancel transaction” button.  He shrugged again and nonchalantly offered, in English, “hurry up.”

I hurriedly grabbed some extra items that I didn’t really want, returned to the cashier and again requested in sign language that I wanted to withdraw 20 Euros.  Clearly he understood but denied my request in French.  The lady next in line reiterated my request in French.  He told her why he wasn’t going to comply with my request.  “Oh, OK…” she uttered, her eyes drifting down to her groceries with a tinge of shame.

This was what I had feared about France.  Refusing to speak English is one thing – fair enough – but being an obstructive asshole is quite another.  This seemed like a good time to pass on a message, as a friend had requested, that the French are a bunch of cheese-eating surrender monkeys.  But I opted instead to shrug, tell the cashier “never mind, then” and walk out of the store.

I had wished for a more challenging experience, but I immediately longed for the polite simplicity of life in old Britain.

Cycling further south I found an ATM, a much friendlier supermarket, a camp site and finally – rest.

Late the next morning when I finally awoke, I was still a little peeved about my encounter the day before.  I endeavoured to get to Paris as quickly as possible, take a picture of the Eiffel tower and bugger off to Belgium as quickly as possible.

For several weeks I had noticed a grumbling in the drivetrain of my bicycle.  It was subtle, only seemed to occur when pedalling heavily and was somewhat irregular at first.  I’d even stopped of at Thorn/SJS Cycles in Bridgwater, England – manufacturer of my bicycle.  One of the engineers had taken it for a test ride, but hadn’t noticed any problems, or put it down to the “Rohloff noise” that such a device normally makes.  Whatever it was – it was getting worse – much worse.  My troubled left knee was also getting worse – much worse.  Gulp.

I had visions of being stuck in the middle of France, crippled and unable to ride.  Or my bicycle crippled and unable to be ridden.  Whatever the mechanical problem was, the bike was now shuddering every wheel revolution.  I couldn’t take it any more – I had to at least try and identify the problem, even if there was nothing I could do about it myself.  I pulled over, stripped the luggage from the bike and flipped it upside down.  It only took a minute to reveal that the problem plaguing me for weeks was nothing more than the metal rod holding the fender rubbing against the sidewall of the tyre.

I felt stupid, almost as much as I felt relieved.  A few seconds of brute force, and my rear wheel was once again spinning free.

The further I travelled from the coast and the closer I came to Paris, the better my experience with the locals.  Perhaps I was trying harder, perhaps the locals were more forgiving, perhaps I was butchering the French language slightly less.  Whatever the case, while the French are definitely cheese eaters, perhaps surrender monkeys is a little harsh. Light rain fell intermittently through the morning and I struggled against fatigue.  I spotted a bus stop and decided to sit down for a few minutes.  I aimed my bicycle at the curb but my angle of attack was too sharp and the pavement too slippery.  The front wheel skidded along the curb, its angle of momentum diverging from my own.  The bicycle started to topple over and without time to think I instinctively pushed myself in to the air and to the side to free my feet from the pedal straps and get clear of the impending pile of bags and bicycle.  I wasn’t travelling at any great speed, but the impact was enough to shake me up.  A driver stopped to make sure I was OK.  He helped lift the bicycle while I reattached the bags that had fallen off and commented that my bicycle was very heavy and that I should careful.  My neck hurt for a little while, but I was fine.

I cycled day and night, covering my best distance for a single ride yet – 145km.  Nothing amazing in bicycle touring terms, but hard going on my 75kg “motorcycle without a motor.”  The rain worsened as I approached the camp site, developing in to a full blown storm.  I donned my bright yellow poncho, only 8km to go – I can get there… I stopped on a bridge, trying to wipe away the surprisingly painful mixture of rain and dried sweat as it seeped in to my eyes.  Cars whizzed by on the poorly drained tarmac bucketing piles of water at me.  The storm was shortlived and I checked in, set up camp and rested and rested there for two nights.  I’d deserved it.

I entered Paris along a main road with a train extension under construction.  It was difficult to navigate and not exactly the picturesque image I had in my mind.  Before too long though, I was surrounded by the cobbled streets, restaurants and latte sippers I’d imagined.  I was still getting accustomed to riding on the right (wrong) side of the road and doing so in a city with chaotic road convergences and unfamiliar road markings wasn’t making things any easier.

I made my way to the Cite des Sciences hostel, made sure they had bicycle storage as I’d read, and checked in for a couple of nights.  This was the first time I’d stayed in a hostel since starting the journey.  I’d been paranoid about leaving my bicycle and possessions anywhere, but I put it out of my mind and just relaxed.  The hostel was just outside the city limits of Paris, but close to a metro stop and a short ride from the city centre.  I spent two whole days and evenings walking and suffered accordingly.  A whole afternoon went by while I barely scratched the surface of The Louvre.  I wandered Montmarte, avoided multitudes of street vendors peddling cheap Eiffel Tower recreations, occasionally watched the police chase after them and observed thousands, upon thousands, upon thousands of tourists…  I visited the Eiffel Tower during the day, and then again at night.  I sampled crepes all over Paris (Indians make the best crepes, it seems)

I had barely scratched the surface of the City of Light, but I could stay another week with much the same result.

Checking out at 10:30am, I noted what a gorgeous day it was and while I wanted to explore further, every muscle below my knees was sore and I stepped gingerly around blisters on my feet.  The pain was less than it had been the night before, but a day off my feet seemed to be a good idea.  I would pull the bike out of storage in the evening, leave Paris by night and hope that there would be no hills to force me back on to my feet.

There, of course, were.

The more often you do something, the better at it you become.  I was become quite adept at falling off my bicycle and while this is something in which I would be quite happy to remain a novice, it appears, as I was warned, to be a compulsory lesson of bicycle touring.

The primary cause of the incident was like most that had gone before it.  As I bobbed and weaved around cars littered along the supposedly dedicated bicycle lane, my front wheel nudged up against the edge of the lane – normally level with the surrounding pavement but in this case raised a few inches.  The bicycle began to straighten up along the bicycle lane, while my body was still heading off at an angle.  This discrepancy was too much for me to adjust for and the bicycle  began to lurch over – my mind snapped to attention, realising the inevitability of the situation.

I timed my departure from the bicycle perfectly, leaping from the pedals and transforming my forward momentum in to a mild jog.  I came to a stop – startled French onlookers gazed at me.  Then at the bicycle.  Then at me again.  I felt like a secret agent having leapt from a moving train.  In retrospect, I may have looked like an oddly dressed tourist who can’t ride a bicycle very well, but that just isn’t how I remember it.  Nobody quite knew what to say – I shrugged as Frenchly as I could, picked up the bicycle making sure everything was still attached, and went on my way.

The majority of petrol stations in France don’t have shops attached.  This is, frankly, annoying.  The ones that do sell nothing but motor oil and spark plugs.  Not a single petrol station in France was willing to sell me a nice cold fizzy sugar-infused drink.  Boo.  I can only assume this is some sort of lefty protectionist policy designed to protect kiosks.  Problem is, kiosks are few and far between in most of France – and half the time the owner is closed up for an afternoon siesta.

The other odd thing I found is that in a nation of smokers it can be exceedingly difficult at times to find somewhere that sells cigarettes – almost all kiosks are strangely devoid of tobacco products… You can buy a bottle of wine or spirits any hour of the day or night, but you want to buy a packet of smokes at 10pm?  Fuggedaboutit.  I can only assume this is some sort of lefty protectionist policy designed to protect tobacconists.   Leaving Paris at night I found myself smoking the last vestiges of my tobacco.  I asked a passerby where I might resolve this minor dilemma – He grimaced and told me at this hour it would be very difficult.  Ugh.  I passed three or four kiosks, peering in to see if they had a cigarette display.  They didn’t.  I parked my bicycle outside another kiosk and ventured inside.  I was again disappointed.  The staffer addressed me.  “No cigarettes?” I asked.  He looked left and right, then reached in to a drawer and pulled out two cartons.  I pointed to the variety I wanted and paid a surprisingly reasonable sum for a packet of contraband Marlboro.

My next destination was Amsterdam.  This was largely in the wrong direction considering my final destination – home.  The prevailing winds weren’t helping, and while they weren’t particularly harsh, they hampered my progress and spirits nonetheless.  It just isn’t right for an Australian to travel through Europe and not visit Amsterdam, I had decided.

I travelled across the mostly rural north of France over several days.  Fizzy drink refreshment was few and far between, but supplemented by odd architecture and plenty of forests in which to wild camp.

As I crossed in to Belgium, literally 10 metres from the border stood a largish petrol station.  Its many massive shelves were stocked with a vast assortment of tobacco, cigarettes, fizzy drinks and snack products – a big “fuck you” to whatever legislation prevented such convenience from ever taking hold in France.  As I sipped on a nice big fizzy energy drink, smoked a cigarette and watched the world go by, I noted with some amusement that its customer base was largely French people zipping across the invisible border.

I was stuck in Belgium for a while.  This was due to the time-warping combination of a nice camp site, electric hookup, an open wifi connection and an unexpected desire to rewatch all seven seasons of Joss Whedon’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”.  Listening to the “Dr. Horrible” soundtrack, it seemed, can have unexpected consequences.  I was heading towards Amsterdam but it was here that I decided to instead head for friends in Germany and catch a train to Amsterdam

This deviation took me through Brussels.   As I walked my bike through an inner market I was met with friendly but incredulous looks from the locals.  Stopping to eat a corn on the cob, I took a moment to stop and watch the world go by.

As the afternoon turned in to evening I needed to find somewhere to stay for the night.  I headed for a camp site a few kilometers out of town to the east.  Passing through the very middle of the city I noted something wrong with my bicycle.  Something seemed to be rubbing against the back wheel… I jumped off, expecting that I would need to adjust the rear fender again…

The rear rack and all the luggage attached to it were hanging horribly askew.  Stripping my luggage from the rear of the bicycle I located the problem…

The bolts on both side of the rack had sheared off.  I carried spares, but I had no way of removing the bolt remnants from the eyelets on the bicycle… It was just before 5:30pm – even if I could make it to a bicycle store they would be closed or closing.  Trying to ride the bicycle in this condition was barely possible and almost certain to cause further damage to the rack, frame and/or wheel.  I was stuck.  I took a deep breath, smoked a cigarette and considered my options.  Music rang in my head and in a flash I knew what I had to do…

I admired my work proudly and headed for a camp site out of town – riding as delicately as one can with a loaded touring bicycle on cobbled pavement – hoping my fix-up job would hold.  The load had been enough to destroy two 5mm bolts – I didn’t know how long a bit of small gauge coaxial cable and gaffer tape were going to hold.

It was well and truly dark by the time I made it to the camp site, a few kilometers out of town.  Electric hookup and open wifi again…  My original plan was to stay for a couple of nights and head back to Brussels on Monday when the bicycle shops would be open, and try to get my bicycle fixed.  Monday came around, the weather was naff and I wasn’t sure how this was going to work – I would almost certainly have to leave my bike somewhere to have it fixed, the camp site was too far out of Brussels to walk to and from.  I suppose I could pack up and find a hostel in the city…

In the end, after four nights of waiting/procrastinating/bad weather, I decided I would reinforce the rack as best I could and try to push on to Neuss, Germany.  It was a good 150km away, as the crow flies.  It would be substantially more by road.  It was risky, the rack could fail at any moment and I could be stuck somewhere remote.  I decided to take a chance; throw caution to the wind.  It was, I reasoned, what MacGyver would do.  Besides, I only had 90 days in the Schengen Region – most of continental Europe.  Time was moving inexorably forward and I wasn’t.

It was early afternoon when I left.  I was going to try and ride as far as possible towards Neuss – I didn’t expect to make the whole distance, but I was going to at least give it a shot.

I had some issues trying to cross the border between Belgium and the small part of The Netherlands I would have to cross to reach Germany.  There is no border as such, just a small river.  The small line across the river on my GPS turned out to be a dirt road leading to a ferry.  It was just after midnight.  The place was dark.  There was no ferry man with whom to a fix a price.  I was now close enough to ask the GPS for a route to my final destination in Germany.  It wanted to take me way off course to the North – so far off course I wouldn’t be able to make it in a single ride as I was hoping.  I looked at the maps myself and found a road that crossed the river some way south.  It was slow going, the dirt roads turned in to patchy gravel roads.  The weight of the bicycle would sink in to the soft gravel at times as I wrestled with the handlebars to keep the thing upright.

I found the road crossing the river – a massive elevated highway.  I was under it.   I knew it was a motorway from the information on the GPS but I was hoping the bridge would have a pedestrian crossing/cycleway like so many do.  From what I could see, it didn’t.  Some way further south after 35km and four hours of frustrating detours, I arrive in the town of Maastricht, found a park bench along the river and made myself a nice warm coffee.

While many roads in Belgium have cycle paths, The Netherlands take things very seriously.  Dedicated bicycle paths along and under major roads, it seems like anywhere you go there’s a bicycle path to get you there.  The exception was when my GPS tried to take me on to a motorway, but I soon retreated and found a route that didn’t include drivers pointing back the way I’d come and telling me (presumably) that I needed to go back.

Dawn broke and within a few hours I’d crossed another invisible border in to Germany.  I’d now been riding for nearly a full day and night and I was getting tired – ordinarily I would find a camp site as soon as possible and crash, but I was so close to my destination… All up, 26 hours and 251 km after I’d set out, my rack and luggage still somehow attached to the bicycle, I arrived at Buettger Strasse and finally was able to rest.

Over the next few days I had my bicycle repaired –the owner drilled out the old broken bolts and tapped the eyelet to take 6mm bolts instead of 5mm.

After several days reacquainting myself with the Buettger Strasse round table, I took a train to Amsterdam.  European ICE trains are cushy and fast.  In just over two hours I was there.  I spent about half an hour examining the metro map and trying to work out how to get to the StayOkay hostel I’d looked at online.  It was about 3km from the station, but further than I wanted to walk with my luggage.  After some head scratching I worked out which tram I needed to catch, found my hostel and checked in.

The next day I went on a walking tour of Amsterdam, a great introduction to the city – a mix of historical information about Amsterdam, the red light district, some great advice and insights – highly recommended for anyone visiting.

Amsterdam is not about sex and drugs and pub crawls – at least no more than any other city.  Drugs are not even legal here, they are simply tolerated.  Still, it’s a strange experience to walk in to a store, opening a fridge to grab a coke and see magic mushrooms on the shelf above.

Five bars and a terrible mixture of Jagermeister and beer later, I managed to stumble back to my hostel, stopping for four-euro slices of pizza on the way – only to deposit them in the bathroom several hours later when the drinks finally caught up with me.  I awoke several times again throughout the night until I had nothing left to give but stomach acid.  The next day was a complete write-off – I had a well-deserved headache and felt very, very fragile.  The weather had deteriorated and as much as I wanted to go explore the city, I couldn’t bring myself to rug up and head out in to the rain.

A day later I felt mostly better and ventured out to Dampkring, the “coffeeshop” that appeared in Oceans 12. I only had one full day left and I knew I wasn’t going to get through a whole gram, so I bought a nice big pre-rolled Amsterdam joint, opened it up and separated it in to a few “portions”

I walked around lightly blazed for the day taking some timelapse footage and taking in the relaxed Amsterdam atmosphere.  It’s amazing how few cars there are in such a large city.  Bicycles are, obviously, everywhere in Amsterdam.  Locals weaves around stoned tourists with admirable skill.

The last day I woke up with symptoms of a nasty cold developing.  The weather had once again turned bad and I spent most of the day in the hostel rugged up hoping I could fight off the cold quickly.  I caught a tram to the central station, bought a ticket back to Dusseldorf.  I made it back to Neuss and spent the next five days in bed with a nasty chest cold.

I stayed in Neuss much longer than I had intended, but the weather was starting to get very cold, and heading out while still sick wouldn’t be a good idea.

Anette and Baer were great and took very good care of me while I recovered.  Towards the end I made the mistake of install Civilization V which, just, runs on my laptop.  After a couple of days I realised that if I want to get home one day, I must never, ever load that game again.

At around 11pm I left Neuss for Eisenach, around 350km to the east.  Baer advised me to head North to avoid hills, giving me a list of towns to pass through.

By morning, after two weeks off the bicycle, my posterior was very, very sore.  I was desperate to find a camp site rather than cycle through the day as I had planned.  I consulted my GPS – the only camp sites nearby between me and my destination were going to take me south east.  I was tired and decided to go for it.

I finally make it through the forest and found the camp site.  It looked more like a resort.  Not my style at all, I just wanted a place to pitch my tent and crash.  I considered backtracking a few hundred metres and camping in the forest, but there was another camp site not too far away and now that the sun had come out, I was feeling a little more energetic – I decided to push on, much to the distress of my arse muscles.

Finally, after more hilly terrain, I reached the camp site.  I will still a little sick in the chest and gave myself a few nights of rest here.

As tough as the hills are they do provide the reward of some amazing views.  For a country as populated as Germany it’s surprising how much open space there is.

As the week dragged on it grew colder and colder and became more and more difficult to break camp early and get moving.  A few nights here, a few nights there and a week since leaving Neuss quickly passed by.

Though it was getting colder, and I was finding it harder to keep warm at night, I’d been very lucky with the weather with very little rain and none while I was cycling.  Until the last day.

I was around 70km from Eisenach.  The previous night I’d wild camped in a park on the outskirts of a town out of desperation as it had been getting dark and I didn’t want to try and find a spot with no light.  Shortly after the tent was pitched, it started to rain.  I was planning to move on as early as possible the next day to avoid any trouble with the locals.  I awoke early to the sound of rain still pattering down on the tent.  Grey skies stretched as far as the eye could see, and almost certainly a long, long way further.  I’d found wifi the previous day but had neglected to check the weather forecast.  I had no idea how long the rain would last.  After a few hours of waiting and a few dog walkers passing by, I decided I really should push my luck by staying any longer.  I donned my bright yellow poncho, broke camp and loaded up the bicycle.

The rain went on.  And on.  And on.  The poncho was doing a reasonable job of keeping my upper body dry, except for a tear along the right arm-hole that grew larger and larger throughout the day.  My thinsulate gloves were fine for a few hours, but once they became soaked in near freezing water, they were next to useless.  My shoes I was to discover later, both had holes in the soles from the metal parts of my pedals.  They became drenched in water and for the last few hours I couldn’t feel my toes.

I arrived in Eisenach sodden and freezing cold, but glad to be among friends once again.

Everyone here in Eisenach has been amazingly helpful.  I needed to rethink all the clothing I had and prepare better for the approaching winter.  Cornelia rallied family and friends and any contacts she had – arranging a sponsor who provided me with several hundred dollars worth of cycling gear and discounts at local stores to help me fill out my new winter wardrobe.  Antonio took me on walking tours of Eisenach, Sandra and Mario took us all to Erfurt to sight-see and buy a sleeping bag.  The new additions to my kit include:

Platzangst proline jacket *
Platzangst “Hell Bent” cycing shorts *
Platzangst winter socks *
Burton Expedition Neck Warmer **
Meindl Talos XCR Gore-Tex boots ***
Odlo thermal sports top ****
Odlo thermal sports pants ****
Mammut Ajungilak Recharger II sleeping bag
* All provided free by Platzangst
** Provided free by De Javu Sk8 & Snow, Eisenach
*** Free pair of winter socks provided by Sports Store Family Heuse, Eisenach
**** Discount provided by Sports Store Schwager, Eisenach

A big thank you to everyone who helped with discounts and freebies but especially Platzangst for the superb jacket, cycling shorts and socks.  Dankeschön!


Map for this leg:

Brighton to Eisenach


Video for this leg:

For High Definition version, click HD above


5 Responses to “Brighton to Eisenach”

  1. andrew says:

    Cloudy cloudy cloudy cloud. cloudy cloud. cloudy cloud.
    cloudy cloudy cloudy cloud. cloudy cloud. cloudy cloud.

  2. Helen says:

    Legendary work Jordan!

  3. John Leopold says:

    You certainly defy the stereotypical image of the bicycle tourist Jordan!! I’m truly enjoying every installment of your blog, and with winter coming on in Minnesota and work staring me in the face I am extremely envious of your epic ride!! Be safe and keep the rubber side down mate….

  4. heath says:

    Hey Jordan,
    Nice work once again. Looks fantastic and well done with the quick fix on your pannier.
    Look after yourself and your knees, there’s still a long way to go.

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