As I write this I am somewhere between England and France, about 195m below the surface of the English Channel, on the Eurotrain bound for Paris. I should be in Milan, Italy now cycling towards Como and the Dolomites with my newly initiated cycle partner, and wife, Jen.
On thursday morning all of our preparation and training had come to fruition. 6 months in the planning, the car was finally packed with two large card board boxes holding our fragile bicycles wrapped in copious amounts of bubble wrap and foam. We had crammed what was left of our life in Sydney into those boxes and wanted to make sure they would endure the long and arduous journey to Milan, Italy. The plan – to cycle around Italy drinking wine and eating cheese for the next 2 months. After running a few last minute errands around town we arrived at the airport nice and early only to find our flight had been cancelled. We decided to shop around for alternate flights to have no success. With about 20 kgs of excess luggage we were expecting a heavy penalty. The staff behind the counter soon informed me the airlines policy was to charge $65.00 per kg. This was mad, I had traveled to several countries with bicycles and had never heard of such a fee. With two separate flights booked we were looking at a fee of $2600 in excess cover charges for our extra bag. I argued I could sell everything I had on me there, upgrade to Business Class and then buy all new equipment in Italy and still pay less then that fee. We scoured every airline sales counter we could find and settled with a China Southern flight to London via China. The last flight to depart that night was reasonably full and we left after a long day of pushing our expensive excess luggage up and down Sydney airport. I even managed to sweet talk the counter staff girl into reducing the excess luggage fee to a one off payment of $100. I was happy, we were on our way to Europe, the bikes were onboard and we managed to get away with the worlds most expensive excess luggage fees. I know it wasn’t Milan, but it was Europe and we planned on letting the rest work itself out.
Jen started to panic. We weren’t on a flight to Milan and this didn’t resemble anything like what we had planned for the past 6 months. A combination of disappointment, tiredness and hunger placed Jen in a bad mood and I needed to calm and reassure her. My theory was that Europe was like a few suburbs in Sydney, you could just about drive anywhere in such a short space of time. Yes we were landing in London but surely Milan wouldn’t be that difficult to get too. We had options and maybe more importantly, we had time!
Previous adventures of mine had been restricted by my calendar. The freedom to choose a place on a map and ride was dependent on annual leave and long weekends. The decision we had made to live our lives this way was a conscious decision I had been dreaming of for years, but perhaps, I soon realised, this was a hard decision for Jen. Perhaps the planning and focus on Italy had so engulfed her that the thought of traveling somewhere else with no plan was just too scary. Our compromise had always been that if she was to travel with me by bicycle, Italy was our country of choice to start.
We landed in Heathrow’s Terminal 4 about 48 hours after our arrival at Sydney airport. We were beyond tired, we were in another world. Days and hours all blended into one. We found our bicycle boxes and proceeded to open them with caution, hoping and praying that they had survived the journey. Perfect! Not a problem in sight. We picked a dry patch outside the departures hall and began assembling. It was fast becoming night and we needed a bed. Jen’s sister Kelly lived in North London and this was her domain. As we pumped our deflated tires and ensured our handlebars were tightened, Kelly found us a room in Kings Cross. We wheeled the fully loaded bikes onto the underground and caught the Express service to Paddington station. As we emerged we were welcomed to London by heavy rains, one-way streets and double decker buses. We needed to navigate about 6 kms of central London to find our hotel in Kings Cross. Using London’s handy bicycle lane system and frequent signposted area maps, we pulled into our hotel and room for the night. A bed, shower, clean of the teeth and fresh pair of undies was all that stood between me and 9 hours of uninterrupted sleep. We woke fresh and raring to go. With this unscheduled stop in London, we managed to squeeze in a few lagers with some family in town and discussed our options. Was Milan still on the cards? We knew flying was of no further interest to us and settled on traveling by train. Pulling into the Gare Du Nord in Paris by train and offloading our bikes screamed adventure over a RyanAir flight.
It was time for our train on the Eurostar from London’s St Pancras. With such dedication clearly visible in London towards cycling, the trains were able to accommodate our heavily loaded touring bikes. Although our travel plans may have deviated from what we originally expected, our newly adopted philosophy of ‘Wing-in it’ was working well. Perhaps these things happen for a reason, only time will tell.
Jusqu’à la fois prochaine. Until next time.