It felt like the only thing to do. The right thing to do. Waking up on our last day in Barcelona we cancelled plans for more museum tours, dug the bikes out of the hotel basement and took them on one final ride around the city. They were delighted to be out in the fresh air … and so were we.
We showed them all the city sights including the Olympic Stadium, Las Ramblas and the Mediterranean beaches where we all gazed out to sea dreaming of future adventures together.
It turned out to be our favourite day in this magical city – better than the Gaudi, better than the old city, better even than the great restaurants. Perhaps this means all four of us (two bikes & two people) have now officially caught that notoriously infectious bicycle-touring-bug.
Then we collected some large cardboard boxes from a local bike shop (ones that new bikes come in) and carefully packed them up. A daunting prospect beforehand, this ended up much easier than we had expected.
Here’s all we did:
- Removed anything that stuck out (like the top box mounts)
- Removed the pedals and front wheel
- Twisted the handlebars, parallel with the frame
- Put the saddles down
- Took some air out of the tyres
- Protected anything delicate with cardboard (like derailleurs)
- Wrapped them up in lots of bubble wrap and tape.
The main problem was filling the space around the bikes so they didn’t rattle around. Stuffing our clothes and panniers down the side wasn’t enough until Clare came up with an inspired idea to pad the space with lots (yes, lots) of kitchen roll, which was light and exactly the right length.
The bike boxes just fitted into a large taxi to the airport and Easy Jet looked after them nicely on the flight to Bristol. We were rescued from an airport rebuild by Andy’s parents who squeezed us into their small campervan for the journey back to Bath.
Frank Sinatra once sang
“… it’s oh so nice to go trav’ling, but it’s so much nicer to come home …”
And it was … home cooked food, a familiar bed, even catching up on 8 weeks of Strictly Come Dancing!
Having never been away for so long before, we were surprised that some appliances had stopped working in our absence. A flat car battery was predictable but the washing machine had also gone on strike as the pump was jammed by sediment that had slowly settled during the last two months.
Encouraged by his new bike maintenance skills, Andy decided to fix it himself but only managed to flood the kitchen twice before giving up and calling a plumber. A reminder of those early puncture repairs but at least all that Spanish kitchen roll came in handy!
As we arrived home, Bob T sent us this lovely phrase from Little Gidding by TS Eliot:
“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”
After living for so long in our bicycle bubble, coming home did feel a little like that. We briefly looked at Bath through the eyes of a visitor – as a beautiful and distinctive Georgian city that’s feels like a great place to live. It was good to be back.
As I’m sure you can tell, we’ve both loved our first bicycle tour and would recommend the sense of freedom it gave us to anyone.
Talking to many of our friends it seems that men are often (not always) a bit keener to go on a bike tour than women are. So for couples like us, no longer in the first flush of youth and who haven’t done lots of cycling before, here are Clare’s ’12 top tips’ to help other women enjoy it as much as she did:
- You don’t have to be super fit – fitness develops as you cycle.
- Buy decent equipment – a good bike and saddle become your friends.
- Cycling shorts with padded underwear are surprisingly comfortable – wear Lycra when you want to feel more sporty.
- You can happily exist without many clothes – as women’s clothes are lighter than men’s, it’s OK to include a few extras.
- Take a luxury item – not necessarily a hair dryer (though I’d take it again!)
- Make him carry more weight – it will help him feel manly.
- Don’t let him be too ambitious with the daily distance – a few hours quality cycling is much better than hours on end.
- Make time to see the sights – have rest days in interesting places.
- Make sure you know where you’re going – don’t let him take you on too many ‘dreadful detours’.
- Don’t go over any mountains unless you’re sure – I wouldn’t have gone over the Pyrenees if I’d known what it would be like!
- Learn a bit about bike maintenance – at least you can give him some advice when he has to mend a puncture.
- Always stop for coffee and enjoy all the eating and drinking – you deserve it!
Thank you for following this blog over the last two months and for all your encouraging comments. Here are just a few of many that made us laugh:
“Cycling is life with the volume turned up.”
“Fab inspirational effort. I am planning to cycle into town tomorrow… and back …”
“What with beard and fishnets, I think Andy is having a retro Kenny Everett moment … and it’s all in the best possible taste!”
“Canal paths are like fish and chips, nice to start with but then too much and rather boring.”
“Go over the mountains or you will regret it forever. However you will probably curse me all the way up the first 3 hour climb!”
(He was right on both counts.)
There have been a few unintended consequences from our trip:
- Andy (who was overweight) has lost 12lbs, Clare (who wasn’t) has lost 3lbs despite eating more than she has ever eaten before.
- Andy is keeping his first beard (for the time being).
- Most surprisingly, since we got home Clare has been cycling up every Bath hill she can find, knocking minutes off her old times. (Perhaps she does want to go back to the mountains after all?)
So what’s next for us? Now that we have caught the bicycle-touring-bug we plan to do lots more in future. Our bikes are keen too – here they are dreaming of those future adventures on the beach in Barcelona.
We’ll let you know when the four of us are ready for the next one. Until then … happy pedalling!
Clare and Andy