There are so many sad news lately, I will write a blog post with more topical information soon. In the meantime, I wanted to write a little bit about the preparation it takes to plan this journey.
Route planning is key, and much more cumbersome then just plucking in destinations in google maps. In fact, since I will be crossing so many countries, I will not have access to a local cell phone data plan, and will rely solely on local bike maps. From experience I know that detailed, bike friendly maps are key. Google cycling directions are not well developed in Europe, but luckily European governments accommodate bike travel as a way of human transit. Thus, Europe invests in bike routes and trails, and provides good signage for lost cyclists.
Luckily, many stretches on this particular bike tour are on historic bike routes: Once in Dresden, I can follow the Elbe Radweg- a European cycle route- which follows the Elbe river, and will bring me to Prague either on trails or low traffic streets. For this stretch, there are detailed maps through bikeline.
From Prague, I can take the Prague-Vienna greenways, another European effort to connect these two capital cities through trails and low traffic streets. My understanding that some of these trails are truly more rugged, so at times I will have to spontaneously plan for alternative routes. I could not find good maps ahead of time, so my hope is to find the information once in Prague at a tourist information.
Once in Vienna, I can catch the Danube bike path to Bratislava and on to Esztergom and finally Budapest. This is another well-travelled and demarcated bike route along the Danube river.
That leaves me with two stretches, where I will be biking on the roads: Berlin to Dresden, and Budapest to the Serb-Hungarian border. I plan to buy detailed maps locally for those stretches, and rely on the kindness of strangers, should I get lost. From experience I know that most German roads have either adjacent bike paths or signage for bike friendly directions to the next village, so as long as I know the general direction, I will arrive. My hope is that by the time that I arrive in Budapest, I will get a feel for Hungarian cycling conditions and can plan from there.
Getting the bike ready
Readying the bike for a first time tour can be overwhelming: there is so much research and preparation when it comes to making decision on the best equipment. Since this is my third tour, I am not too worried about this part: I own much of the equipment. My Ortlieb panniers have carried me through rainstorms and sunshine. My bike, Jamis Xenith Endura Femme, or as I call her Athena, has proved herself to be a steady partner on over 2000 miles already.
A full bike tune-up is a crucial bit of preparation before a bike tour. I have done two tours with no hitches, and I credit the excellent mechanical work that my local bike stores did ahead of time. They ensured that cables, break-pads, wheels and tires were all in good working order. A good mechanic will spot any parts, which are too worn. In the DC area, I value the expertise of two stores: the Brookland Bike Rack (Kate is a fantastic mechanic) and Freshbikes in Arlington. On a side-note, the latter has the best women’s saddle collection, I know. My saddle is unfortunately due for an upgrade, so I will be chatting with the Freshbikes experts sales people very soon.
The last part of preparation is planning for the bike transport. For the flight, the Washington Area Bike Association provides travel bike boxes for its members, for which I am incredibly grateful.
In my experience, the most important part of training is to get used to biking several days in a row. The trick to a good training plan is to build the stamina for mileage in a way that makes it all enjoyable. In order to make up for the fact that a tour requires a heavy loaded bike, I built my muscles through other strength training, such as hill repeats for example.
On this trip, I expect to end up covering around 750 miles by bike, and averaging around 250 per week. That means that before I get there, I need to get very comfortable with at least half of that mileage weekly and I need to build my ability to ride multiple days in a row. So far, I am off to a good start: For example, this week, I did about 175 miles, riding Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday – balancing off days with multi-day riding.
To keep all this pedaling fun and interesting, I combine three different styles of riding: group rides, which build my stamina and motivate me to push on the miles; multi-day touring trips; and easy days on Washington DC’s beautiful trails. The latter reminds me how calming and enjoyable biking through nature can be. Luckily, the Washington DC area can provide all these.
Group Rides as a fun way to make the miles fly by:
Group rides are often a different kind of riding. While touring, one often pedals slowly through the day, with plenty of breaks and time to appreciate the beauty. Group rides on the other hand are often fast-paced, which can be quite challenging. Simultaneously, other riders often cheer one on, and the camaraderie can make the mileage and tough climbs pass in a heartbeat. Thus, they are just an enjoyable way of training for mileage. Here are two of my favorite group rides in the Washington DC area:
To train up for slow and fully packed riding, my friends and I are planning a mini-cycle-tour: We plan to bike from Pittsburgh to Washington DC via the Great Allegheny Passage and C&O Canal Towpath. That’s a 335-mile non-motorized route, so no traffic and just nature! I will be sure to post updates from this beautiful trip over the July 4th weekend.
Additionally, I have some favorite Washington DC’s trails and neat bike friendly routes to help me remember that slow biking is rejuvenating:
I have wonderful friends, with whom I ride certain routes and trails, like the Hills of Anacostia and additional loop to Alexandria and the Arlington loop. Plus, DC is blessed with beautiful trails. The Mt Vernon trail is my personal favorite, but can be too busy during peak hours. Beautiful alternatives are the rarely traveled Northwest Branch trail, the Anacostia River Walk Trail, the Capital Crescent Trail and the Washington & Old Dominion trail.
The most important lesson: enjoy the ride, take a moment to find joy in each one, whether it is the thrill of riding in a pack, or the beauty of finding butterflies on a trail.