Heading north by east - Jimmy Carter thinks I'm a sinner - CycleBlaze

April 19, 2007

Heading north by east

Robert: hair with a parting (geddit?)
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Robert's biggest decision was whether to cut his shoulder-length hair.

'I like it long but it gets hot and with a helmet it gets really hot. So I got it cut like this.' He he turned to show hair now well off his shoulders and tied in a pony-tail.

Robert is as French as the blue, white and red flag that he flies from the front of his bike with the circle of gold stars on blue that is the emblem of the European Union. He comes from Belfort, not far from Mulhouse where I met Steph, and he wheeled into camp behind us having taken a loop round through the Black Forest.

'And where are you headed?' I asked, almost automatic repetition of the question every bike-traveller asks of another (the other is 'And how long have you been on the road?').

'I'm following the Danube to Czecho and then turning north.'

'How far north's that?'

He smiled, delighted to be asked.

'To the North Cape.' That's as far north as you can go before bumping into seals and icebergs.

'I want it to be cold when I get there, though,' he said. 'This weather now is great but this warm in northern Norway in mid-June will be catastrophic.' He gestured picking biting insects off his bare forearm. 'Too many mosquitos and flies.'

He opened his handlebar bag and pulled out a neatly printed and laminated diagram of his ride, with all the countries marked. He would find it useful to explain himself as he went, we felt sure, because he spoke only French and not even that tiny amount of English you'd describe as 'un petit peu'.

I followed the line up through Poland and Latvia and, I think, Estonia before it turned on its heel in northern Norway and tumbled back down by the coast of western Europe, probably following the North Sea route through Germany, Holland and Belgium before re-entering France.

'I'm travelling too heavy, though,' he grimaced. 'This weighs a ton when it's loaded.' I could see why. Apart from a folding chair (1kg, he said) on which he could enjoy his two cigarettes of the day - one before his meal and one after -he joined us for breakfast with a proper metal coffee pot and his jam left in its glass bottle rather than emptied into something lighter.

It all weighed more than it ought to, and he knew that. But on the other hand, if you're travelling north and then south across a continent after first heading east, what's a thousand grams of folding chair compared to the contentment of so many summer evenings sitting back and enjoying the view?

Except, of course, that Robert will be perfectly happy in northern Norway if it's too cold for any of that.

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Paradise on two wheels: no cars allowed
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