As I promised myself, this week I began the final stage of preparations for my European cycle touring adventure. My bike has been repaired, the pannier racks have been fitted, my packing list is almost complete, my panniers have been waiting patiently to be filled for quite sometime and I recently gained my Cytech level 3 cycle mechanics qualification. All that's left to do is plan the route and get in touch with WWOOF hosts in France, Spain, Portugal and Italy for the first leg of my journey.
As so many people have asked me what WWOOFing actually is, here is the link that explains it all. And no! It's nothing to do with dogging!
Initially I had thought about simply following the EuroVelo routes across Europe but then realised that having to work out the roads those routes followed would take more time than just working out my own route. Also, I decided to give my tour a little bit of an edge (quite literally) by attempting a mainly coastal tour of France, Portugal, Spain and Italy. I will start in north east France on 1st May, 2012 and travel anti-clockwise around the coast until I reach the foot of Italy, popping into Andorra and Monaco en route.
Having now drafted the route, I will actually be covering parts of EuroVelo routes 1, 4, 5 and 8 so will still get so sample some of the EuroVelo but have now realised that there is not necessarily one specific road to follow. They appear to be more of an indication of a route. As it turns out, a television show started on BBC Two last night (a repeat of a BBC Four series shown in June 2011) called "On Hannibal's Trail" about three Australian guys who cycled from Sagunto in Spain to Rome in Italy following the route taken by Hannibal. I may well end up cycling a lot of that route myself.
After working out a rough route, I then joined WWOOF France to get in touch with host farms along the way. I am not intending to stick to the coast religiously and will be cycling inland to get to the farms as and when I need to. The first farm I contacted this week have already replied but said "I'm afraid that we are quite a long way from the coast - like 120 miles". They obviously don't know how far I am prepared to cycle! A few more emails have been sent and now I am just waiting for the replies. The waiting is the frustrating part as I cannot contact farms later on the journey until I know where and for how long I will be with the farms earlier on the journey.
Because I am WWOOFing on this cycle tour, at some points I have to be in certain places on certain dates. This has thrown up another issue - how far could I and should I cycle each day? If I were simply planning a cycle tour with no farms visits the distances would not matter, I could simply travel as far as I wished each day. As my cycle tour has deadlines along the way, that has thrown up a few route planning headaches.
I'm sure though, as more host farms get back to me and I can begin to nail down the route and dates, everything will begin to fall into place. I don't want to start getting anxious about deadlines or get too attached my chosen route as that will take the enjoyment out of the entire experience. I want to be flexible. I am not becoming so precious about my route that I cannot change it if I have to. Since coming to that conclusion, I feel a lot more relaxed about the route and the planning. Above all else, it has to remain fun!
In the meantime, I will be undertaking a few test rides with the bike fully laden with all my touring kit, of distances between 75km to 100km to see if I can comfortably complete them in a day. On the tour, I estimate 50km in the mornings and 50km in the afternoons. I certainly don't want to be cycling from daybreak until sunset. I want to visit places along the way, stop to take photographs and eat my lunch during a relaxed break under a shady tree or on a stretch of golden, sandy beach! I realise there will be a few more hills/mountains than I am used to and that the heat will also be a factor in the distances which I am able to cover each day, but I am allowing a couple of days each week to catch up if I have to. I am doing my best to think of everything!