TINA VS. NORTHERN EUROPE
While the Soup Bæs CX slogged it out during the weirdest season in recently memory, our close friend and (now former) team mate Tina traded her skinsuit in for a few weeks in the Northern European summer.
Any unecessary guilt over torching her team-issue lycra manifested itself into these filings and official rules from a different kind of tour. Read on, enjoy the shit out of it, and begin planning your own European escape for 2020.
“Let me start by setting the record straight. I’m probably the worst Soup Bæ ever, and by probably, I mean definitely. If there was an MVP awarded at the end of the season, well I’d win the opposite of that.”
“I ‘joined’ the team at the beginning of last year, promptly got a wrist injury and didn’t end up riding a single ride or racing a single race. Then at the beginning of this year, after torching all my lycra because I’m officially done with flammable and unflattering riding gear, I gave racing a miss and went to take on Europe instead.”
I: EUROTRIP (2004 film)
So, as the worst, most unofficial member of the Soup Bæs CX team, I have good authority to tell you the following:
1) Racing is fun, but touring is the tits.
In June I skipped town with my Curve Grovel and headed to Germany. I had a return flight booked for 3 weeks later and the lightest touring set up I’d ever had. We’re talking frame bag, handlebar bag, and a saddle bag alongside possibly the saggiest homemade snack pack for my handlebars because #snacksarelife and how the hell else was I going to fuel the next 3 weeks?
THE NEXT 3 WEEKS…
II: TECHNICAL FABRICS
2) When choosing touring kit, look to emphasise flow and vibes over tech fabrics and aero.
If you know me, you’ll know that at my core I am nothing but an overenthusiastic nerd. What I lack in skills and cycling industry defined cool, I make up for in smiles and gusto. It’s no wonder then that the I met my friend Rachel in Berlin we officially blessed and named the tour we would soon depart on the
‘Rad Shirt Tour’
It just so happens that “rad” means “wheel” in German, and we’d each had one bright and colourful ‘rad’ shirt to come along with us on our travels.
III: KITCHEN TABLES
Together we rode about 700km through East Germany, a tiny bit of Poland and parts of the Netherlands. When we parted ways in Hannover I had 11 days til my flight home, zero plans and the enthusiasm of my dog Reggie back home. I put the call out to my Instagram family to see what possibilities they could conjure up, one particular friend delivering in spades with the following:
“Why don’t you head north through Denmark, and then south through Sweden?”
4) Throw caution to the wind and go big.
So at Rach’s kitchen table I formulated a loose plan in just 2 hours, hopped back on the bike and hit the road. If I wanted to honour my friend and complete their suggested adventure, I needed to cover some big distances to make it back to Berlin in time to fly home. Fortunately I’m a task orientated mother flipper and boy-oh-boy do I love a challenge.
IV: BROADSHEET NORTHERN EUROPE
The next 11 days would be life changing, 1700km of pure, joy filled bike touring. In that time I ate my weight in strawberries and drank more chocolate milk that is probably scientifically possible. I chose to stay in AirBnB’s because hot showers are nice and it meant I had a guaranteed human interaction each day – touring solo can be a lonely business.
As it was high summer through Northern Europe, the sun would rise at about 4am and set after 10pm. I’d end up getting 4 hours sleep a night, leaving me feeling like a newborn baby the trip had left me that sleep deprived.
5) Embrace local cuisine from the roadside.
By the time I hit the road each day I’d be pretty famished. Some days I was organised and had some pre-breakfast food on hand to keep grumpy-pants Tina at bay.
Other mornings I’d just smash a Snickers as I packed up. Usually I’d just roll out in search of the nearest bakery or supermarket – or both! When it came to resupplying from either of these places, I’d be eating at the front step or out in the carpark, my hands getting to work and turning the assemblage of sandwiches and the chugging of smoothies into a fine art.
V: BREATHE IT IN
6) Stop to take in your surrounds.
My touring style can be best described as a rather contradictory “leisurely hustle”. I often stop to take photos, smell flowers, admire trees and of course pat dogs, but when I need to meet the kind of deadline that involves safe passage across sea’s or fjords, or guaranteeing a place to rest my head for the night, I can seriously smash it.
Thanks to lactic acid debt I always found that in the mornings I’d be painfully slow to get off the mark, but after 100km or so I’d be flying high, the endorphins and sugar from local bakeries would hit, and I’d genuinely raise the average speed by a couple of knots.
VI: BONK DODGING
One of the absolute highlights of touring is the ability to consume whatever you want and genuinely not give a flying fart. Yes I’ll take 4 pastries to go, with a 1kg punnet of strawberries on the side and a litre of chocolate milk served straight. Touring in Northern Europe meant it was easy albeit expensive to stay fed and hydrated, but ensured that I wouldn’t break one of my cardinal touring rules:
7) Don’t get hungry or thirsty. Ever. Like don’t even think about it.
8) Don’t be afraid to say hello.
The other aspect of pure, unadulterated touring joy is the page in which you move in the world. There is something very unassuming about a cyclist that gives people the familiarity to continue with their daily lives as if you’re not there. This window into normal life is such a treat. I’d wave down just about anybody – farm animals included, and more often than not people would want to say hello back and have a chat with you. There’s a real humanity to being on two wheels.
The pace also lends itself to really feeling a place. Being out in the open air had me exposed to the elements and able to feel the changes in barometric pressure as a storm would come past. I had the sun on me at all angles as I traversed the landscape throughout the day.
I could genuinely tell when we moved from one agricultural hub to another by the look and smell of the crops. The distinct forests literally felt different depending on if it was a pine plantation or a native wooded area designated for hunting and leisure.
The best days on the bike were those where I crossed multiple ecosystems and communities. In particular, one special day in Northern Denmark.
I’d started the day at a rural homestay near Brondeslev and meandered through rolling farmland to the seaside town of Hirtshals. This picturesque town had all the typical ocean faring highlights: a lighthouse, a bustling wharf and of course excellent fresh fish and chips.
From there I turned northeast along bike paths and trails that crisscrossed windswept heathland, forests and rolling sand dunes. At times it felt like David Attenborough was going to pop out from behind a tree with a film crew to document the ecological diversity of the area.
By the end of the day I’d covered 160km of the most varied and spectacular landscape along a historical coastline scattered with plenty of relics from WWII. It was truly a special day.
Not all days on the bike can be magical. I did spend a lot of time getting lost, and some days were a downright drudge.
The first day of my solo tour I had to ride from Hannover to Hamburg in the muggy, drizzly weather because I missed the train (oops). That’s 170km of riding along a highway-side bike path I’ll never get back.
What I will say is this, spending 11 days in my own company, and only my own company has been one of the greatest gifts of touring.
I’ve come to learn more, know and dare I say love myself through bike packing solo. There has been a learned level of compassion for myself that I have since brought home, and there’s nothing like a physical challenge met to grow one’s self esteem.
IX: HEADING HOME
So, as I tap out of the racing scene, having never actually raced as a Soup Bæ, I turn my attention to any excuse to get on my bike and tour. I’ll trade lycra and life’s worries for a punnet of strawberries and a loose plan hatched at a kitchen table any day.