London to Auckland – stage one.  The story of the recent adventures of one of our volunteers.

Introduction

My husband Nigel and I cycled from London to Auckland between April 2018 and March 2020. During this time we visited 28 countries, 20 capital cities, cycled over 35,000km (22,000 miles) and climbed over 160,000m. The following piece is about how our adventure unfolded and some of what we learned over two years on the road …

Why?

About 6 years ago when we were talking about our future and came to the conclusion that we didn’t want our lives to be just about work. We both enjoyed travelling and as we don’t have children we were fairly free to do whatever we wanted. Nigel had always had a dream of travelling around Europe in van with a bike and kayak to just explore for an extended period of time. However, as our conversation progressed we both thought ‘why don’t we cycle around Europe instead of driving’? It sounded like a great idea and a few beers later when we felt even braver and more adventurous it developed into …’let’s cycle to New Zealand’!  Even in the cold light of the following morning when we discussed it again it still sounded like a good idea, so the seed was sown!

We’d initially said that we’d start out in spring 2020, for no other reason other than it was a nice round number! However, our savings plan progressed faster than we had hoped, so we brought it forwards to spring 2018 as we had no reason to wait for 2020 other than it was the made-up date we had initially given ourselves! And the current Coronavirus pandemic has highlighted just how fortuitous that decision turned out to be.

Northern Europe and Scandinavia April 2018 – May 2018 – A Comfort Blanket

The purpose of our journey was never to set any kind of speed record or to just clock up the miles, so we came up with our motto to ‘discover the world from the back of a bike’. We set off from North West London early on Easter Monday (2 April 2018), with a few friends to wave us off. As it turned out it wasn’t a great day to set out as the traffic was horrendous and it poured with rain as it usually does on a bank holiday in the UK!

Leaving a Very Wet North London – Not Looking Very Cool to be Honest!

We’d also never actually been on fully-loaded bikes until this point.  Although we’d had a couple of short practice runs within the UK, they were never with this amount of weight, which including the weight of the bikes was about 45kgs. This weight fluctuated somewhat during our trip and depending on how much food and water we were carrying could increase to as much as 60kgs each – which still amazes us considering I don’t even weigh this much!

Initially we had intended to take a ferry from the north of England or Scotland direct to Norway, but this service no long exists. And as it turned out, the route we finally chose which took us from London to the coast at Harwich, then through the Netherlands, northern Germany and Denmark was a good training ground for what turned out to be some pretty tough cycling in southern Norway.

The North Sea Route in Denmark

The three weeks we spent cycling the flatlands of northern Europe (always against the wind of course!) built our fitness and gave us time to get used to managing the bikes. It also gave me the chance to experience camping for the first time in my life!  The Netherlands had its hottest April day on record, 25C, which set the tone for much of the rest of 2018.

Having cycled to the very north of Denmark we then took a ferry to Stavanger in Norway and cycled along the southern coast to Oslo. This part of Norway is quite mountainous and although it was April there was still snow at the top of many of the mountain passes …

Hairpins in the Mountains of Southern Norway

But the scenery there was spectacular and made all of the effort worthwhile.  It also proved to us, for the first time, that we could successfully conquer some big hills on our fully-loaded, heavy bikes, albeit very slowly!

Martina Doherty

Author Martina Doherty

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