Tuesday, January 17, 2012

#Cycletouring Route Planning Anxieties

Today I started planning my European adventure routes. Such excitement to finally be getting something tangible on screen. But after just one day at it, I now worry that I might be over complicating it.

Despite months of pre-planning - reading books, blogs, forums, twitter etc - I find myself getting bogged down in the details of the route and specifically the actual roads, which is what I didn't want to happen.

When I sat down in front of Google Maps this morning I looked at the whole of Europe and thought, "Where shall I go?". Whilst the EuroVelo routes appeal to me, the fact that many of them have no definitive route kind of puts me off. Surely it's going to take far too long to research each road to follow the route accurately? But then are they actually routes to be followed so strictly? Are they not just suggestions of daily or weekly start and end points. The fun being choosing and executing the actual route between the two points. I thought about just picking my own routes and seeing how I got on with that. I thought I needed an angle though, so I have chosen to cycle around the coast of Europe.

Today I have made it from The Hague to northern Portugal. But now I am worrying about the roads I have missed and/or the towns and cities I am visiting or not visiting. I intend to camp so don't really need to stop in towns and cities. I won't be needing hostels so don't need to be in busier areas at all. I have the freedom to either stop at a campsite on spec or camp by the side of the road if and when I need to. That part is flexible. I also want to avoid as much traffic as possible. But that's what the EuroVelo routes are designed to achieve though surely? Maybe I should just use the EuroVelo routes as a guide then? I guess all will become clear eventually.

Primarily want to  experience rural cycling and see village life. I don't want to be in the towns and cities with all their traffic and tourists. But I also want to see a bit of history and that's not just found in the big towns and cities, right? The idea behind this trip is to see more of Europe, not all of it in one go! Calm down there mister!

Ok, maybe I should not be so concerned with the route but with the journey as a whole. But now another issue has presented itself. Do I plan my cycle tour by the routes and then find WWOOF locations along the chosen route? Or do I choose WWOOF locations in areas I like the sound of and then plan the route between them? At present, there is nowhere specifically that I want to see but I think my memory will be jogged as I plot my routes. But my planning does need to have some structure to it as I need to arrange visits to farms in advance. I can't just turn up and expect to stay. So I do need a bit of a plan in place. Unlike just planning a tour on which I can go where I please, when I please, this tour will have deadlines to meet and destinations to reach by certain dates. But I don't want to put pressure on myself and make the journey feel rushed. Which then leads me onto another point, distance.

I know I can cycle a lot. I know I can cover great distances in a day but this trip is not about distance, it's about seeing rather than just doing. What distance should I aim for in a day? 50km? 75km? 100km? I guess I won't really be able to answer that question that until I have ridden a few local routes with fully loaded panniers. But for now my intention is to cycle about 500km in 5 to 7 days and spend the following week or two weeks on a farm. That way I get the solo travel for a week combined with the interaction of farm work between the periods of solitude. I get the best of both worlds. Ideally I'd like to arrive at farms on a Sunday, giving me the 6 or 7 days I need to comfortably cover the 500km in-between and depart on a Monday for the same reason. Another reason behind this is because eventually I am going to lose track of the days. I'd like to know that I will always arrive on a Sunday and leave on a Monday rather than having to keep endless notes about what farms I should arrive at on which day. If I aim for 100km per day for 5 days I could end up with a day or two to spare at the end of the week or use those extra days as a buffer if I fall behind during the week due to problems with the bike, difficult terrain or bad weather.

Am I thinking about it all too much? As folks on Twitter have been telling me, "Don't think too much", "Be flexible", "Don't get bogged down in the details", "Just get out there and do it!". That's fine for someone just planning a tour with no fixed deadlines but, as I mentioned previously, I will have to make certain dates arranged beforehand, but I do like a little structure in my life.

I think that in writing all this down for the first time, it has actually helped me identify just what I need to do:
  • Don't get too bogged down in the actual routes or worry that I might miss a nicer view on another road or see a better piece of history elsewhere. The stuff has been there for a good few years and it's going to be there for a good few more should I ever want to pass nearby again. 
  • Pick a route and stick with it for now (unless a farm choice is unavailable and the route has to be altered at a later date). Every road is not going to be the scenic idyll that I am imagining in my head. Some roads will be busy, in bad condition, in less than favourable locations and with less than favourable views and scenery. Some routes will pass through industrial centres and pass by factories rather than rolling fields, ocean views and mountain passes.
  • Don't get too concerned with the distance. When it's just me and the bike I can easily cover 100km in 4 hours even with a few hills. Even if 100km takes me 8 hours some days, there will still be enough time to stop and rest, to eat and to take photographs. Make 100km the maximum for now. 75km to 100km per day is a distance I can handle at a pace that is still relatively leisurely. If I do fall behind though and the buffer days are still not enough to catch up, I can always alter the route. I don't have to stick with it because it's a challenge. It's my journey. It should be my rules.
  • Enjoy the planning stage. This part should be just as fun as the journey itself. The possibilities I have are almost endless. Lots of people would love to be in my position and here I am worrying about silly little details. I have a habit of sweating the small stuff but often find they usually work themselves out in the end. I will think about the times that's happened in the past and just go with the flow a bit more. This journey is my chance to slow things down a little.

The planning is clearly going to be a little more complex than I thought but I will endeavour to enjoy it and try to stop fretting quite so much.

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