How to sum up a trip lasting 120 days across 8 countries during which we clocked up more than 2,000 miles? Well, piece by piece might be the way to do.
To be precise Phil has actually ridden 2,123.5 miles (2,160.7 miles including rest days) to get to Rome – spent around 183 hours on his bike, gone at an average speed of 18kmh and climbed an altitude of 39,962m (40,801m including rest days). Enough to keep any good stats freak quiet. I myself chipped in by riding more than 1100 miles and Tim notched up more than 600 miles after he joined us near Basel. We have stayed at 80 campsites ranging from the deluxe with great views, clean bathrooms and friendly management to the impoverished, dirty, unfriendly sites with grim outlooks. Never a dull moment.
I’ve lost count of the number of trips we’ve made to the washing up sinks and the number of salads we have eaten at lunchtime.
One important number of course has been the amount Phil has raised for his charities – currently at 18,668 pounds (21,112 including gift aid). During the trip we have received dozens of generous contributions from fellow campers or campsite owners. More than ten people have joined us at some stage on the route and contributed so much. Phil’s mum Ruth, his girlfriend Brandi, his brother Tim (for more than ten weeks) and his sister Bridget (on three separate visits) There has also been an assortment of Phil’s friends – Stanley in Switzerland and then Rome, Sam Walker in Strasbourg and Rome. Bilal, Bridget’s boyfriend came to Rome as did John plus three of Ruth’s golfing friends.
It is amazing that Phil has pulled this off – cycling such huge distances over challenging terrain by only pedalling standing up. He has become leaner, fitter and more confident. There were some very tough rides climbing up steep mountains near Andermatt in Switzerland and in the Italian mountains and hills (of which there are very many) Sometimes the elements would be against us – the driving wind, various storms and occasionally the burning sun. Sometimes, despite Phil’s best navigational skills, we had to end up on roads which were dangerous – Phil for example narrowly missed being hit by a speeding car on the way up the Oberalp pass in Switzerland. We saw quite a lot of other crazy drivers too. Then of course we had to contend with the bone-jarring condition of many pot-holed and pitted roads, especially in Belgium and much of of northern Italy. Sometimes Phil would conjure up a route which meant going on small roads which would degenerate into farmyard tracks with sharp gravel and random stones – we were lucky to get away with only five punctures on the whole trip – and only one of those happened to Phil’s bike which has broader tyres than mine. We only had to visit a bike shop en route three times to fix broken spokes and buy a couple of new tyres. The van also performed brilliantly – we needed just one visit to a garage when in Luxembourg there was a small problem with the starting mechanism. At the outset Phil wanted to broadly follow Eurovelo 5 route, based on the old pilgrim Francigena route from Canterbury to Rome. We ended up taking a very loose version of this route – adding miles to the itinerary, especially in Switzerland where decided to follow the big bend in the Rhine valley rather than cutting straight across country. Despite the challenges of the ride many times we whooped with joy at the freedom of the being on the road – in quiet places, in the mountains and by the sea.
Buying food supplies, eating them – and simply talking about food has consumed much of our trip. Well, to misquote a former French general – a cycling team has to march on its stomach. We have had our staple favourites – from Phil’s beloved porridge ceremonies on cycle days to noisette chocolate bars. When you are burning 1500 calories on a ride you can just about get away with some indulgences. Lunch was usually bread, salad ham, variety of cheeses, crisps with tuna and egg sometimes thrown in to liven things up. Phil was head chef in the evening ably assisted by sous chef Tim. Their repertoire included spaghetti bolognnaise, chicken with gnocchi and thinly sliced steak. Phil would always be demanding more healthy stuff to help him on the ride – more broccoli, spinach and courgettes than any human being should have to eat. In Italy shopping for fruit and veg is far from straightforward. First you have to don a plastic glove to pick up the stuff and then try to remember a specific code word for each item when you weighed everything on the do it yourself scales. On the naughty side in France we ate a lot of croissants, brie, baguettes and cakes – in Switzerland it was chocolate and emmental cheese and in Italy parma ham, fresh pasta, pizza plus several divine ice creams and tiramisu when we ventured out for a meal. Large pots of Nutella also disappeared in man supper time raids. I have lost count of the number of cups of filter coffee I have consume to keep me going – and for a while Phil and I were addicted to Leffe beer when travelling near the Belgian border. But for most of the trip we have avoided alcohol apart from when we reached Chianti region and Phil and Brandi could sample the local fare.
Southern England and northern France and Belgium had their moments but the best scenery was in Luxembourg (a surprising hidden gem situated above a dramatic ravine) Liechtenstein (a fabulous mountain kingdom) the soaring and spectacular Swiss alps at the head of the Rhine valley, the moody and remote apennine mountains above Genoa, the five scenic cliff-clinging Italian villages known as cinque terre, and the all round charm of the Tuscan coast and mountains. “Unbelievable scenes” to quote one of Phil’s favourite sayings. We also visited some cool towns and cities – Strasbourg was fun but the most jaw-dropping places were in Italy – Pisa with its leaning tower, Florence with Giotto’s tower, Sienna with its oldy-worldy narrow streets and of course Rome itself where we gawped in amazement at the Coliseum, St Peter’s Square and the Pantheon to name but a few.
HOW WE PASSED THE TIME (apart from cycling!)
Riding days fell into a regular pattern. Up around 7.30am – a simple breakfast (apart from Phil’s porridge ceremony), packing up camp before setting off between 9.30 and 10am. Depending on the length and difficulty of the ride we would end up having lunch between 1- 2.30pm. In the afternoon we would rest, do Facebook posts and website blog or explore the local area. The evenings were taken up with preparing dinner and clearing up afterwards plus preparing for the next day. Sometimes we would be sociable and do a crossword together but football was the main diversion – either listening to a commentary on the website or by Phil and Tim playing an old version of Championship manager from more than a decade ago.I have heard many gasps about players from the past – Michael Owen or Thierry Henry – performing many imagined feats. After food football came a close second to boosting morale of the Bath to Rome crew. Rest days gave us the chance to explore -but sometimes these became more tiring for Phil than an actual ride as we would walk for miles around the local tourist attractions. We also managed to get a few swims in at some incredible well-appointed open-air pools in Switzerland and in the still-warm waters of the Tyrrhenian sea on the Tuscan coast.
WHAT WE”LL MISS – THE TOP TEN
: The camaraderie of being on the road with regular cycling challenges and pushing oneself to the limit.
: The support of family and an army of old and new friends via social media.
: The chance to sample a range of local delicacies
: The opportunity to see much of Europe at close range instead of speeding by.
: Raising money and awareness for such a great cause
: Being self-sufficient living in our motorhome
: Planning the route and itinerary ahead – so much fun with so many internet resources to call on.
: Getting up each day knowing there would be some unexpected adventure ahead
: Tim will miss the independence of being in his small tent
: Being able to do so much exercise in the open air
WHAT WE WON”T MISS – THE TOP TEN
: Smelly campsite bathrooms with medieval plumbing
: Trying to avoid potholes by the side of the road
: Washing up in cold water in sinks where you have to bend double
: Mosquitos – the little blighters get everywhere though they seemed to like Tim more than Phil and me.
: Driving through tight spaces on campsites and random narrow tunnels and medieval streets in Italian towns.
: Being outshone by the dazzling cycling gear of Italian cyclists
: Having to use tokens for campsite showers which produce limited hot water and trying to change shower cabins where it is impossible to keep dry.
: Trying to get the washing dry when the weather wasn’t favourable
: Hiding in the van for hours during ferocious storms and trying to keep mud from spreading everywhere.
: Inconsiderate and selfish drivers, many of them on their mobiles
To sum up Bath to Rome was a blast!