From London To Berlin! Looking back, the months leading up to the L2B (London to Berlin) bike ride passed by in a flash. All the planning, preparation, and training carried out in that time, all came down to these crucial two weeks.
My memory of the trip only appears in short mind clips or snap shoots, i.e. cycling across Blackheath, with the sky pitch black on one side, but light purple/baby blue on the other, looking over at tower bridge, with the Olympic rings hanging in front of the sun as it crept up behind the cityscape of London. I remember us bombing our way through London in the early hours of the morning, bopping and weaving between traffic, and cycling up to the massive Ferry in Harwich, which would take us across the English Channel and drop us off at the Hook-of-Holland. The Ferry trip took seven hours to cross, so we all made a collective decision to find a quiet area on the boat, eat lunch, and take naps.
Coming off the boat after a good three to four hour sleeping session, to jumping onto a 120 mile cycle wasn’t as easy as it looked on paper. It took a few wrong turns and stopping passers by to ask for directions before we eventually started to get our bearings correct. We finally managed to claw our way across the north east of Holland to reach our first target destination, Amsterdam.
I was captivated by the quirkiness and relaxed impression that Amsterdam stowed upon me as we zigzagged our way over the maze of canals leading to the City center. Our hostel was run by a very friendly and generous Chinese family, who went well out of their way to ensure that our bikes were safe and our room was welcoming. We were on the top floor of a four story building, with incredibly steep stair, but to be honest, climbing up and down every day probably helped us all gain a bit of last minute training! Spending three days in Amsterdam was awesome, and in that time I visited the museums, ate some fantastic food, and generally soaked up culture from a city that was so easy to feel relaxed in. However, my mind was always on the main focus of the trip, reaching Berlin.
The morning we left Amsterdam was much like the morning we left Greenwich and chunks of the day just flew by over the five days. We had to arrive at four campsites that were dotted along the route to Berlin.
Each day involved the same routine – Waking up early in the morning, a rushed breakfast, cycle 50-60 miles, and meet the girls with the car for lunch. Then we’d remind ourselves of the plan, cycle some more, and hit the next campsite before it got too dark. I guess when you get tired, and have to physically and mentally force yourself to peddle all those miles, it does put a strain on people’s tempers, and I for one probably let off a lot more steam than I had to! But I soon realized that no matter how frustrated or tired they got, the group of guys and girls I was with worked like a family - making sure everyone was fed, watered, slept in a solid tent and knew exactly what was expected and what the plan was. The amount of banter and laughs we had defies belief! It got to the point where if we weren’t cycling, we were laughing, eating or sleeping!
And then there was the scenery. There would be times where we’d be cycling for hours in pure silence, just taking in the views. We rode through some of the most magical wooded areas, along rivers, lakes and canals, through fields of sunflowers, beautiful towns and cities, up and down the mountain in Goslar (which was spectacular) and underneath the airport runway in Schiphol.
The last day of camping, I felt butterflies in my stomach knowing that we were only 90miles away from Berlin. That night we stayed at a campsite in Dessau which must have been an old summer swimming resort back in the 60’s, because it had a huge lake with old diving boards dotted around… I guess over the year it had become abandoned. We all sat on the bank together, with a few beers, and just relaxed and chatted. The lake had a very peaceful and mysterious feel about it, and occasionally we all would just stare out across the water to see the sun set creep through the tree line on the other side. By this stage we had overcome quite a few bike repair issues, a couple injuries, consumed a dangerous amount of energy drinks and tablets, and junk food, as well as being physically drained. Despite this, everyone seemed so calm and focused, yet excited and hyped up about the fact we’d cycled all this way and we were so close to finishing it off.
So, the next morning, we set off. I remember counting down each mile as we passed them, stopping only when we desperately had to. Now and again I would get cramp in one leg, followed a few moments later by cramp in the other leg, but I refused to let it stop me, as I knew the other guys must have been going through the same pains. It literally felt as it we were fighting for each mile.
Then, as we reached the city of Potsdam – which is just outside Berlin - everything seemed to slow down. I felt as if I’d finally woken up from a deep sleep and was full of this new energy. We stopped briefly by a river, and chatted about what had happened over the past week or so. It was great to hear their perspectives, opinions, feelings, and the high and lows of the trip so far. We made sure not to sit around for too long, and soon we were cycling through the outskirts of Berlin itself, making out way to the finish line – The Brandenburg Gate.
I remember there being a lot of traffic. The closer we got to the center, the more chaotic and busier it became. A few times one of us would initiate a drag race through the city with each other or a random cyclist, and try to beat the next set of traffic lights! We got to a church, and checked the map. It was a bit confusing to find a straight forward route, as there were a few one way systems, and what with us being British cyclists, it wasn’t something we had much experience in. The girls had made it to the gate already, and were waiting for us dressed in their DreamWear 'HOPES AND DREAMS' t-shirts.
We continued to weave our way through the city, then, almost by surprise, we found ourselves on this huge road and in the distance, much like the Eiffel tower from last year, stood the Brandenburg gate.
I could go on and chat about our emotions of cycling through the gate, meeting the girls, hugging, crying, laughing and staring up at the four-horse chariot on the Brandenburg Gate. I could also talk about our experiences while we stayed in Berlin. But I don’t think anything I can say would do it justice in the slightest.
Doing this has shown me that sometimes inspiration isn’t something that you can find, and if you wait for it, you may find yourself waiting for a long time. For me, it’s about getting out there and reaching for it, pushing yourself to do things that you never thought you could. My inspiration came from the team I was living with for those two weeks, Jay, Josh, Fearghal, Philippa and Danielle.
Now, onto the next adventure. The dream continues…