Mom, I cycled from Amsterdam to Lisbon

Hi mom,

There’s some stuff I’ve been keeping from you.

Valentijn and I cycled from Amsterdam to Lisbon in a month. You knew that. I’ve told you about most of it. How awesome it was to spend four weeks in the outdoors, about really getting to know a country when you move very slowly - how you see cultures and people changing gradually, not abruptly at a border -, about how your mind descends into your body and leaves you unable to think about anything except for moving your legs and eating food, about climbing mountains and crossing cities and facing snow and heavy winds and rain; all of that good stuff.

There’s also some things we didn’t tell you. Things moms shouldn’t know. But now that we made it home safely, we can tell the whole story. So brace yourself, mom. Here’s what we left out:

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Basically, we had absolutely no idea what we were doing.

That included navigating our way through Europe. On the fourth day, when we crossed the border from Belgium into France, we cycled onto the freeway. On purpose. We were almost at the hotel, we had had a 130 k day behind us and we wanted to eat and sleep. The only problem was, we had to cross the exit to the A2. So we did.

That big blue sign tried to warn me

That big blue sign tried to warn me

Another bad one was when we navigated our way into a little unpaved road in the French countryside. At some point this particular path got a bit sticky. The thick brown French clay started slowing us down. We checked Google maps and concluded the path wasn’t that long, so we decided to walk the last part to avoid having to go all the way around the hill.

That was stupid. Don’t do that. Around half way into it we got stuck. Literally. The bikes were completely jammed, the clay was everywhere: between our brakes, inside our derailleurs, between all the gears. There was endless clay in front of us and behind us, and there was nowhere else to turn.

There was only one solution: removing as much clay as possible with sticks, walking for a bit and starting over. That took considerable time. We were very lucky no brakes were ruined, and we were even luckier someone decided to build a little cafe in the middle of a forest at the end of the clay road.

Another thing we discovered is that nobody cycles to Lisbon. And that’s because cycling in Portugal is suicidal. There are no emergency lanes, and nobody understands the concept of speed limits. Portugal’s nature is spectacular, the food is awesome and everything is very cheap. But if you cross the country on your bicycle, you will either spend your time on powdery sand roads or on narrow N-roads where trucks pass you by going 120k an hour. Don’t go cycling in Portugal.

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What you definitely should do, is know when to stop.

Our longest day, cycling from Nointel to Trappes, took us somewhere around eleven or twelve hours. It involved a lot of steep climbs. After ten hours of cycling, things turned a bit ugly. It was getting dark, our food supplies were running low and we were cycling a busy road. At some point Valentijn’s face went completely gray, his eyes were swollen and he told me he could feel his heart skipping beats. He was genuinely afraid for his own well-being. That wasn’t good. I could only imagine what he felt.

A week or so later, I didn’t have to imagine anymore: I discovered for myself. We were heading to Salamanca, and there was a 6 Beaufort wind blowing right in our face the entire day. It was like climbing a hill for eight hours.

About 10 k outside the city, I could feel the blood leaving my face. My vision went blurry and all I could see were vague outlines. I’ve had moments like that before, where it felt like I was going to faint, but I just had to sit down and eat. That time was different. My chest started hurting and I got nauseous. We had officially pushed ourselves too far.

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And finally, what you also should do, at all times, is make sure your wheels are attached to your bike. It’s very important. Valentijn had to remove his front wheel at one point, and we put it back on quickly, when we arrived at the hotel. We thought we would make sure it was on tight enough before we left the next morning.

Don’t do that. The next morning you’ll only be able to think about breakfast.

So after breakfast we cycled through the city of Burgos, to head to Valladolid. And we started out going real fast. In Burgos there’s a lot of new bike lanes and we were enjoying them. There was one little crack in the road at some point, but that was no problem for Valentijn. He just yanked his bike up to jump over it. That’s when the front wheel came completely off. You can imagine the crash. It was quiet spectacular. It’s almost unbelievable, but Valentijn was fine and so was his bike.

We are both fine, so now it’s just lessons learned.

I know, I know, pretty basic lessons.

I’ll talk to you next month.