Last week I was contacted by Nicholas Waite, a cyclist who is planning to travel from Tarifa to Nordkapp by bicycle in 2018. As with anyone attempting such a feat, he has done the wise thing and read my book: Spain to Norway on a Bike Called Reggie (great Christmas present by the way…). He subsequently emailed me with a few questions which I am happy to answer. Below are my answers to Nicholas. For a full list of the kit that I took with me in 2015 you can visit this page of CyclingEurope.org. If you can add anything to what I have written below, please feel free to comment. Over to you Nicholas:
- NW: Why did you choose western Spain as opposed to eastern Spain which looks geographically more direct?
APS: Good question to start with! I never really considered the eastern coast of Spain and I think this is because of two reasons. Firstly, in my mind (despite the evidence provided by any map of Spain and Europe) I always consider France to be sitting on top of Spain so to head north from Tarifa seemed to be the obvious thing to do. Secondly, I had cycled across southern Spain in 2013 towards the end of my trip along the EuroVelo 8 from Greece to Portugal and I didn’t really want to retrace my steps. That said, in 2013 I followed an inland route from Valencia to Seville and if I had followed the coast of eastern Spain in 2015, I would only have been repeating the journey (albeit in reverse) from Valencia to the border with France.
- What type of navigational aid did you use?
Paper maps mainly, supplemented with online mapping; Google Maps, some apps that had allowed me to download some maps (but they did keep crashing so as the journey progressed I used them less and less). In Scandinavia I also used Open Street Map much of the time and by the time I arrived at Nordkapp, I wished I’d used it more.
- If the answer to above is a combination of paper maps and technology what was the technology and what maps?
Ha! I should have read all the questions before answering. It’s also worth pointing out that I tracked my route using an app called Cyclemeter although many alternative and presumably equally good apps are available.
- What was the total weight of your bike, panniers, water bottles etc. and you? i.e.: How much total weight were you carrying?
I’ve never really weighed things like bikes and luggage. The bike, I think, is about 15kg and the luggage probably another 15-20kg. As for me… a little on the large side. I wouldn’t obsess about this. Yes, the lighter you, your bike and your luggage are, the faster you will go… but it’s not about speed. Testing out a day’s cycle with all the luggage is probably a worthwhile thing to do before you set off.
- What make and size of tent did you use? Would you use it again or buy something different?
When I cycled from southern England to southern Italy in 2010 I took a one-man tent. It was too small bearing in mind you sometimes need to put all the luggage inside as well. For the second long ride – the EuroVelo 8 one – I upgraded to a two-person tent, a Robens Osprey 2. It served me well and I used that to cycle from Tarifa to Nordkapp as well. It’s now suffering a little with stretched material and wouldn’t survive a third trip but it has been erected and dismantled many more times than your average tent and I would certainly recommend it.
- What make and model of cooking stove did you use? Time again, would you buy differently now you have seen what others were using?
I took an MSR Windboiler Stove. It is great at heating water very quickly but not that great at simmering things. Next time I will stick to a simple gas bottle and valve attachment arrangement.
- What type of towel choice? Was it a large chamois cloth or actual towel?
I used a lightweight Lifeventure camping towel. It does the job and dries very quickly. When staying in hostels / hotels it was nice to benefit from the ‘luxury’ of a proper one however. Needs must.
- The WarmShowers organisation. Is it worth signing up to and using?
Yes, absolutely. Obviously, to be fair to the way the organisation functions, you need to be prepared to host people in your own house from time to time but it’s a very good way of meeting people while cycling and, unlike Couchsurfing, you immediately have something in common with the people you are staying with. I wouldn’t use it every night – sometimes you just want to be by your own – but WarmShowers is certainly a useful addition to the range of accommodation options available to you.
- What were the top 3 must see places you passed by… (I am guessing Mons Klint or Campingplatz Wees am Ostseefjiord Schlei will be one of them and Sortland won’t be.)
Yes, let’s leave Sortland out of this… Mons Klint was indeed beautiful and relaxing. I needed a day off in a place where I could relax rather than get exhausted on the tourist trail (which is what happens if you take days off in big cities). I loved the cities of Salamanca, Pamplona in Spain (and Rioja was a beautiful little region that I stumbled upon), cycling in The Netherlands, albeit briefly, meeting up with friends in Hamburg, the whole of Denmark come to think of it, and then the wonderful, spectacular scenery of much of Norway. Tromso was also a highlight. This is a paragraph that could be easily extended if I continue to sit here and reminisce.
- Why did you choose the route you did from Germany through Denmark? Again, it looks more direct from Hamburg to ride to Fehmarn and then a ferry to Rodby as opposed to the route you took up to Sonderborg and then across.
Because I wanted to visit Copenhagen. Yes, it would have been much easier and quicker to travel north through Jutland but, having never visited the Danish capital before and having heard much about its cycling crendentials, I didn’t want to miss out.
- Weather aside (as we both know that can be huge determining factor on a day’s ride) what was the toughest terrain of the trip?
There was some hard climbing to be done in central Spain although the Pyrenees were never that challenging as I crossed them in the far west. The next hills of any significance were the mountains of southern Norway when there was one particular day of climbing that started rather abruptly and continued for several hours, very steeply. A few hills here and there along the coast further north but nothing like crossing the Alps.
- Time again, would you do it differently in any way? Different route? More emphasis on different accommodation? Different time frame in terms of number of days you gave yourself to do it?
Another good question. I don’t think I would. I was happy with the choices I made. Yes, I would do it differently next time but only in order to avoid not repeating myself! Perhaps that eastern coast of Spain and then a route via Switzerland? Be a bit braver and wild camp more in Norway? Who knows?
- What make of wet weather gear did you wear? Trousers and jackets.
The jacket was a Mountain Equipment jacket and the waterproof trousers were a cheapish pair made by Peter Storm I think. Let’s face it; if you are cycling and it’s raining, you are going to get very wet. The ‘waterproof’ gear is never really that but is does keep raindrops off the skins and that helps in not getting too cold from evaporation of water.
- Did you think carrying your GoPro was worth it? I have one and find them quite limiting.
Yes, I used it from time to time but quite selectively. Some people video the whole of their journeys but the battery isn’t great and it takes careful management. Fun, but not essential. Most of the video I use in the talk that I give about the journey is actually footage taken with my iPhone.
- Did you charge your technology at night with spare external batteries as a back-up or did you have a hub generator as well?
I didn’t have a hub dynamo system – next time perhaps – but I did carry a couple of PowerMonkey back up batteries. I could be self-sufficient for about three days if I was very careful. Whenever I could, however, I used the opportunity of recharging everything. It can become a bit of a chore but the alternative is to carry lots of spare batteries. Or use a hub dynamo…
- What campsite guide did you use?
I didn’t have one guide. I used the Rough Guides that I had downloaded to my phone, Google searches are very good and I would sometimes pick up a brochure provided by a tourist office. There is a good guide for the campsites in Norway that you can find on the NAF website.
- Did you simply google accommodation in the town you were arriving at on the day when you hadn’t had something previously booked?
I usually used Booking.com. I rarely, if ever, booked anything in advance. It’s simply not necessary nowadays.
- Why head south from Maastricht to Aachen and not just simply continue north?
Aachen is more to the east of Maastricht rather than south so I have never considered it being out of the way. I was born and brought up in Halifax and Aachen is the twin town of Halifax so it was an interesting destination. I was also heading for Cologne and the Rhine so Aachen was en route. That said, looking at the map, I could have taken a more northerly route. Perhaps next time I would and try experience more cycling in The Netherlands.
- How did you cover your helmet in wet weather? With a helmet cover or just pull your wet weather hood over the top?
The Mountain Equipment jacket that I was using had a very large hood. It was a case of pulling it over the helmet and battling again the rain.
- Butterfly handlebars versus U drop bars. Have you used both? Why choose the butterfly ones?
I could write an essay about this! (And have, elsewhere on CyclingEurope.org.) More comfortable, more upright position. I now have a second bike that I use for commuting and day rides – a Cannondale CAADX – which has drop bars. Do I ever use the ‘drop’ bits? Never…
- Knowing what you know and obviously having met people who have done it, what would be your recommendation for the direction taken. Nordkapp to Tarifa, or as you did it, Tarifa to Nordkapp?
Bearing in mind I started in April and finished in July, I had no choice but to do Tarifa to Nordkapp. However, I also wanted an iconic, spectacular ending to the ride and I’m not sure if Tarifa would have ticked that box. Nordkapp certainly did; remote, windswept, majestic…
- It looks like my launch date will not be a million miles dissimilar to yours. My plan is the second week of April in 2018. Would you choose a different start time knowing what you do now?
No. It worked out very well in the end. I did sometimes feel that I was cycling at the same rate that the season – spring – was progressing across the continent so I never experienced an extended period of very hot, dry weather, just the odd day. I would stick to your plan of setting off from Tarifa (I assume) in April.
- Were you swamped by midges by the time you got to northern Norway?
No. Midges were few and far between. There was only one day where I was comically surrounded by a phenomenal number of big, black flies. It was whilst I was climbing a long hill and there were farms nearby. I couldn’t figure out why the flies preferred me to the cows!
- Was your daily diary paper or digital?
Most of the notes that I made were posted to CyclingEurope.org at the time. It can become a bit of a chore however making sure that every evening you have written up what you need to write in order to later remember everything whilst re-writing the story for the book. There were a few days when, for whatever reason, I didn’t write up what had happened and struggled to remember the details the following day. The other thing to consider is uploading the text and pictures which will require a good bank of data on your mobile contract or a wireless signal. I also collected lots of bits and pieces and regularly sent them back to the UK. These odds and ends – maps, brochures, receipts… were extremely useful when trying to piece together the trip for the book. In northern Norway for the final few weeks of the journey I stopped writing notes and every evening I made an audio recording via my iPhone. When I next embark on a long journey, I may do that all the time.
Nicholas has his own website – The Lae Man – where he records details of his own travels.