While cycling 120km through the beautiful Tweed Valley (and feeling pretty knackered afterwards) I had some thoughts on the route. I am now pretty much set on the first bit from Edinburgh to Newcastle, which should take the first two days. Boarding the ferry at 16.00 means that I should aim to cycle more the first day, and the idea is to stop around Byrness for the first night. Either hostel or camping, depending on the weather. I think I will aim for the safest option weather wise, as I know from experience how crucial the first day is. If something goes utterly wrong, it takes a lot to get confidence back soon. And I am pretty aware that I need to push all the way trough, due to the lack of daylight and the colder weather, and there might be not as many stops en route as usual! Byrness seems like a sensible option, but if anybody has any recommendations, please leave a comment! Also happy to crash on a couch, I need zero comfort, just a dry place to sleep! The next day will be the remaining 80k into Newcastle, the first place of memory I so long wanted to return to. Hopefully there is time for a coffee before boarding the boat to Amsterdam. I studied in Sunderland from January to June 2003, not the best place in the world, but I loved the Baltic in Newcastle and the town’s shabby-chic charm, and the proximity to Edinburgh. Without my time in Sunderland I wouldn’t have discovered Scotland’s beauty, I would not listen to The Clash and The Smiths, and I am pretty sure my life would have taken different turns. I walked the West Highland Way for the first time and fell in love with my current home. Once in love with Scotland, that love never went away. So I am pretty curious what Newcastle has for me, even if it is just a short stint. I am returning there with very fond memories, so the coincidence that the ferry back home leaves there, is a nice one. But maybe it’s just one of those coincidences that are meant to in life!
I will hit Amsterdam the next morning, and unfortunately without much time to explore it. It’s a bit of a pity, as I haven’t been there before, and have friends there as well, but bike touring and big cities don’t fit well together. Instead of risking getting my kit stolen and becoming comfy on day 3 this will be a short rendezvous, and from there onwards the weather will pretty much dictate the plan. The ideal route would be heading straight westbound for Germany, but I am up for ideas which is the best and most interesting way. So all you Dutch people, please let me know! It’s roughly 126k to the German border, an easy target for a day in summer, but I think I will spend one night in Holland before crossing the border, and will spent the whole evening eating cheese and liquorice, the tow things I connect the Netherlands with.
The next chapter will be crossing the German boarder on the second day after the ferry crossing, and heading down the Rhine for a bit. My plan is to cross the Hochsauerland mountains and then head towards Ilmenau, and I am not fixed on the actual route in between. I am tempted to stop at my parents place en route, but that would ruin the surprise a wee bit, and I might get to comfy there and not continue. So I think it will be very likely to choose a more southbound route and stop in Ilmenau on 22 Dec. I am pretty careful with timings, as I am aware of the fact that this trip bares a big risk on the weather side, and snow could make me compromise the whole plan, but I am positive that I might be lucky and only encounter moderately wet and cold conditions, and manage to warm my self up for the night with Glühwein and Lebkuchen. having camped in minus 10 degrees I am used to numb feet the whole day, and the sheer joy of a warm cuppa. Unfortunately Germany is no heaven for wild camping, and there is nothing much worse than German camp grounds, although they must be pretty empty anyway, or closed. So whoever of my German pals reads this, if you live somewhere nearby, I need a couch to crash, nothing else. Otherwise I will just knock on people’s doors possibly, although from experience people might not trust me. But who cycles from Scotland to Germany should be trustworthy enough! Ilmenau will be a welcome stopover, before finishing the final 50km to Erfurt, to crash at my sister’s house (a more settled kind of person than her younger brother). I not only studied for 6.5 years in Ilmenau, I also managed to get most of my professional experience I can bank on nowadays from running the annual Himmelblau-Festival from 2003-2007. I shook hands with some of Germany’s big names in music on that stage, had some absolute highs and lows as well. So remembering those will be very special, I spent my last winter there in 2005 finishing my diploma thesis off. And thanks to hopping continents up until last winter, that was the last winter I had for 4 years to come. I honestly hope to have some snow there, the last bit to Erfurt should be manageable even in bad conditions, I have roughly 8 hrs for 50k, some of them can even be cycled in darkness with lights, I still know that area very well. And maybe I make some publicity stunts as well, this used to be my playground!
The plan is to arrive in Erfurt, the capital of Thuringia, at the late afternoon of the 23 Dec, after roughly 800k on the bike. That would roughly equal some Xmas trips I have done in the past in New Zealand, and I am pretty sure the kiwi flag will have a prominent space somewhere, as I will be there in spirits. Having had three amazing Xmas trips down there in 2006, 2007 and 2008 this lovely little country on the other side of the planet has changed my life for the better ever since I stepped my foot on the ground. It wasn’t love at first sight, I struggled for the first few weeks, but once in love, it never went away. I am still checking NZ news on a daily basis, and hope that some folk from down there will follow the ‘crazy German’ here. As much as this trip is a tribute to places that shaped me, NZ can’t be excluded, as it had the most significant influence on me so far. I can still remember kayaking the Abel Tasman NP on Boxing Day, trying to cycle the Molesworth road in 2007 and failing due to a busted tyre, and cycling the Desert Road in a heavy southerly in 2008, with a bad cold on my way from Auckland to Wellington. Those memories are still fresh, as things had happened yesterday, and I am pretty sure this Xmas will be a very special one indeed! let the quest for Glühwein, Lebkuchen and Stollen begin! I am also curious about how this trip shapes my perception of my ‘real’ home Germany, which hasn’t been the best in the last few years.
If you have any recommendations on the planned route, places to stay and eat etc., please post a comment, or email me to markus (dot) stitz (at) web (dot) de. Please also get in touch if you want to support me in any other way, I am just looking for sponsors, and anything is welcome!