There are not too many situations where it is possible to cycle 5 countries in one day.
Only recently, during some spring cleaning I came across a forgotten diary documenting such an event.
The European summer of 1987 I spent working in the London National Health Service saving money to buy a Touring Bike and Accessories and dreaming of a European Cycling Holiday.
With my bike, I departed London for Amsterdam mid September, arriving in Venice 6 weeks later.
In that cycle tour I visited 7 countries, 5 of those were in one day!
A memorable start
After 3 days "rest" taking in the sights of Amsterdam, I packed my panniers and headed out from the "Adam and Eve" Hostel.
Much to my surprise, within 5 minutes I found myself in the middle of a 5 lane motorway.
However, if ever you are stupid enough to get in this situation, the safest place to do it would have to be in The Netherlands.
I was on my own but never lonely
For 2 weeks I traveled the smaller roads, stayed in Youth Hostels, Farm Houses and Private Homes. Typically I would ride 50-75km per day and by night I would meet other tourists with similar
agendas. Some were cycling, some were driving and I recall there was a hitch hiker who I would race to the next overnight stay.
With retrospect (reading the diary) I am surprised how limited my physical preparation was for a 6 week cycle tour as I only had the bike for 4 weeks in London before leaving. However, my daily routine was simple. Always an early start, then 25km before a leisurely morning tea, followed by another 25km before lunch and then 10-25km in the early afternoon to confirm the accommodation for the evening.
Cycling is great in The Netherlands
It is possible to travel the whole country on a bike path. However, I found that every day just after the final school bell, the roads were a safer option. Teenagers would flood the paths with
their mopeds at high speed taking the whole lane. The roads in The Netherlands are flat, and most people would think that this is a bonus. However, after 2 weeks I reached the southern border and
I found hills! The beauty of riding in the hills is that you didn't have to peddle when riding down them. Maybe that is when I first appreciated interval training.
Aachen is a cool place
Friday September 25 1987, I crossed the border into West Germany (as it was known then). I recall being surprised by the richness of the history and the stature of Aachen. The youth hostel was in a centuries old building with large dormitories and there I met an interesting multicultural group. One of the members had a car. My bike had a rest as the group spent the weekend driving to places like Cologne and Maastricht. I remember the confusion at the border crossings as we handed over passports representing up to 5 different countries.
Now that I am in Germany where do I go next?
The weekend was coming to an end and the group were going their
separate ways and I recalled a cycling reference that when in south of The Netherlands it is possible to ride 5 countries in one day. I don't recall why I thought I could ride the 200plus km, but
clearly the temptation for the bragging rights was too strong.
It was Monday September 28, 1987 and my routine was disrupted, I had a late start to the day and my legs did not feel right. But that was soon forgotten as I was back on my bike as everyone
around me went back to their "normal" Monday routine. From Aachen I rolled back into The Netherlands and turned left into Belgium within a half hour I had ticked 3 countries.
Then it got tough!
Straight away the going was tough in Belgium. I had no knowledge of the roads ahead and I started to have doubts as I was riding slower and slower. I was sure that my "lazy" weekend was catching up with me. I had a granny gear with my triple front chain ring but that didn't stop me having to get off the bike and walk for extended periods.
It was a clear autumn day, and with a lack of wind I was soon quite hot. There was almost no traffic, and the road had no end! I did not appreciate the reason my progress was so poor was because
I was climbing a big hill. Only when I saw a clearing in the pine forest that was designed for ski runs did I realise! Soon after the ski runs I remember the beautiful descent. With big sweeping
turns it was very fast, physically I was refreshed but the biggest change was my mental state because the suffering earlier in the morning was put into perspective.
Although I did not have the difficulties that I had encountered
earlier, the roads in Belgium were dead. Stopping
only once in the mid afternoon at a Begium bakery I found the conversion to local Francs had a strange ratio. It wasn't until 5pm that I reached the border to enter Luxembourg. It may have only
taken 30 minutes for the first 3 countries, but it took another 7 hours for the 4th!
No stopping now!
Unlike Belgium, the roads in Luxembourg were fast! (It was that beutiful rolled black bitumen). Or maybe it was just the darkness quickly coming in. I noticed the evening was getting cooler
and the kilometres on the road signs to Luxembourg City were reducing at a respectable rate. Before riding the elevated highways offering spectacular views of the Capital, I had stopped at
an Italian Restaurant for dinner. Grateful that they served me just before closing time and that I could communicate with my Italian.
It was a great relief to reach the village on the French border. I noted that the township on the Luxembourg side was lively with a variety of hotels and cafes but I was focused on
following the signs through to passport control and get into France!
France here I come!
I declined to pass through the border as the officer waved me on. I refused a second time and could see the frustration growing inside the booth. It was 10pm and the evening air had a
considerable chill, however in 1987, in the post Rainbow Warrior situation there was a requirement for Australian and New Zealand Passport Holders to hold a Travel Visa to enter France.
I better not turn around
The stamp was in my passport, 5 countries cycled in one day! My goal achieved, I was expecting to stop. However, as I looked down the road into France there was nothing. I looked behind the
grumpy Security Officer and I could see multiple food and rest options in Luxembourg.
I could not turn around! I did not dare get him out of the booth again. So I continued down that dark road.
What happened next?
This is a whole new story, it wasn't for another 3 and a half hours that I found somewhere to stop? The next day, I did back track into the Mosel Valley and down the Rhine. From there I cycled
through Switzerland and into Italy.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Robert Gaggini is founder of Adelaide Cycling Academy and owner of Infuga Retreat. As a cycling coach Robert brings years of experience to a wide range of Cycling Activities.
Winner of multiple cycle races including Mt Gambier 100mile classic 2005, and Alphutte 2003, (4th in 2012). Participant in a variety of endurance events including Paris-Brest-Paris, and is a 40km per day commuter for over 20years.
If you require any assistance with training plans, cycle coaching or if you just want to ride faster, Robert is happy to assist.