One of our biggest taboos during our trip was talking about arriving at the Black Sea as if it was a given fact we would arrive at our final destination. Throughout our journey, it became a necessity to end any mention of Constanta or the Black Sea by saying “if we arrive at the Black Sea.” Whenever we became cocky or confident, it seemed our bikes broke down or the Danube threw a major obstacle in our face such as a pack of wild dogs or a bent-to-high-hell wheel. This was never more true than our final ride from Silistra to Constanta.
We got through the Bulgarian/Romanian border with relative ease early in the morning. Then, as soon as we headed eastwards, the roads turned to cobbles and sloped upwards. All morning long we dealt with jiggly arms and particularly tricky nobby hills. The sun was smoking the land early and sweat just sopped off our arms and backs. Nevertheless, we enjoyed the scenery of terraced wineries and farm fields, with even one Dervish Monastery, taking us away from the Danube for the lady time. A herd of goats and sheep blocking the road and hunched over old folk creeping along with canes to the monastery were more of a laugh than a hinder.
Near lunch, our lackluster breakfast took its revenge as the rolling hills got steeper and steeper and our energy levels bonked. I even got a puncture four klicks from our planned meeting spot but was able to ride into town on low air. Tom and Woody whipped up sandwiches while I displayed my vastly improved ability to mend a flat in short time. We were back on the road before an hour’s time and all thinking without saying it that the smell of salty winds was in the air.
The hills were becoming fun and somewhat easy when the traffic evacuating Constanta started about 45 kms from the end. A long line of cars with no central destination poured out of the city. Jerk after jerk zoomed into out lane to gain a second’s time on their overall traveling time. Cuss words flew from our mouths and some not-so-nice hand gestures may have been flashed.
About 15 kms from Constanta, we came rocketing out of a forested section of road to be hit by an incredibly strong headwind that decelerated us to snail speed. We inched along the final stretch of highway with the exhaust of cars clogging our lungs and dismal views of hideous fuel refining factories to the south of the city.
Nothing would keep us back though. Out energy grew as the building grew bigger around us and older and more refined the closer we got to the center. A few traffic lights slowed us down in the last couple klicks but about 4:00 yesterday we reached road’s end and saw our first glimpse of the blue Black Sea. Our journey from the Black Forest to the Black Sea is done!
Since arriving in Berlin and procuring what was I assume a completely legally obtained bike from a friendly second hand dealer in a local flea market I’ve come to regard it as a proverbial pedalists paradise. Well, in contrast to previous glass strewn bike lanes of Scouseland anyway. No more must I be on the watch out for taxi drivers who consider the fact that the cycle lane does not contain a speed bump to be an open invitation to get thoroughly involved. Cycling routes snake across the city making it possible to navigate from A to B (or as the Germans would say A nach B) whilst avoiding unnecessary games of chicken with assorted BMW, Audi or Volkswagen. Given my penchant for accidental dissembarkments, bonnet surfing and my head’s seemingly uncontrollable gravitational force towards objects much harder than itself, this is nothing but a good thing. And everybody cycles here, only the other day I noticed what looked like an Octogenarian passing in the other direction and given she was rocking at a fair old pace the face tuck provided by the wind probably knocked 20 years off the old dear.
A few curious things have cropped whilst on pedal power around the German capital that I thought I’d throw my 2 cents in to the ring for. One thing that i genuinely can’t get my head around is that it is illegal here to cycle without a bloody dynamo light attached to your bike. As if my puny twiglet legs aren’t issue enough I’m supposed to attach a third break to my front wheel that sounds like an asthmatic donkey and has the illumination powers of a damp candle in a stiff breeze. I’ll take my chances with an LED light thanks all the same…and whilst the asthetics of legally requiring a working bell to your bike appeal more I’m yet to find one that doesn’t sound camper than Christmas to further tarnishing my already heavily damaged macho reputation.
One curious habit I’ve noticed of the old Deutschlanders is that waiting at a traffic light appears to offer up a chance to partake in some role playing, most people taking the guise of a famous native F1 driver and getting involved in some dodgy overtaking manoeuvres. Quite happily perched at a red light its apparently commonplace for some good old fashioned jostling for position prior to getting the nod from the jovial green man. This would be fine aside from the fact that it appears approach velocity to the lights is not considered for this starting grid line up and the old, infirm and obese will quite happily plonk themselves in front of you prior to the off. Thus ensues a slow moving pelaton away from the lights until this sort themselves out just in time for the next red man, and don’t consider jumping that light, a €130 fine awaits if you do. (On that note I find it curious Berliners continually float various laws such as the smoking ban yet rarely will you find someone who dares to cross the red man of justice at the lights.)
That said Berlin is great for cycling and providing a fruitful training area for the Eurotrip ahead
For any of those that are interested, just to prove myself and Tom took the Taratino from Lands End To John O’Groats in 2007 I’ve uploaded a few select pictures from the journey. Not included are many of the lovely beer gardens we frequented on route although a cheeky one of the eagle and child beer garden (that doesn’t really do it justice!) is in the bunch.
Just flicking through these pictures reminded me of two things that are going to hit home during the ensuing journey down the Danube:
1) There is genuinely no better way to travel around a country (if time permits) that via pedal power. Progress is made in a timely fashion whilst an appreciation of the great outdoors is garnered that is simple not possible when rocketing through powered by the good old combustion engine.
2) This is going to be unbelievably hard work! The screaming thighs (incidentally a good name for a metal band i reckon), the dehydration, the fatigue and the breakdown trauma make this one hell of a challenge!
Bring it on.
Five years ago, on a country lane in western Argentina, the seeds were planted that would eventually give birth to the legend that is the Tarantino. After deciding to conduct a simple winery tour on bikes, Woody and Tom were hynoptically drawn to a old and battered tandem sitting lonelily at the back of a bike rental shop. There was to be no going back. Three wineries into the tour their imagination were sufficiently lubricated to dare to believe they could travel with one of those two seated machines across the UK. Neither expected it would really happen. The fate of the Tarantino was seeled. Fast forward almost one year, a pratical month or so before the planned departure date, and the same two are standing in a back street bike shop in sunny Bolton, north west England, eying up a silver queen of a bike with the name printed in black across it. “Tarantino”.
Tarantino wasn’t going to come easily. Foolishly (bravely) the original duo decided to cycle on some pretty busy roads through Manchester to Woody’s family home where the new silver beauty would rest until the day of departure. Everything went smoothly for about 10km until Tom (on lead) suddenly found himself peddaling air. As the screaming from the rear seat (Woody) quickly revealed, the front peddals had mysteriously disconnected and spun off down a traffic heavy main road. As far as reasuring starts go, this was hard to beat. They walked to a nearby garage and got the necessary tools to fix the peddal, then took the train back to Stockport.
In hindsight, it probably wasn’t the best of preparation. One wine infused fun cycle, one failed trip with a loose peddal. With all that tandem experience, Woody and Tom set off from Penzance on the planned 17 day trip to the north of Scotland. They quickly discovered, after Woody wobbled his way down another busy road, that Tom made a better front man and Woody a better navigator and that was the way it stayed. They also swiftly found out that the Tarantino doesn’t like hills, most of her gears are useless and Cornwall is the hilliest place in the world. The first incline nearly broke the chain and they sat on the side of the road, dispondently thinking they had yet to reach the start line, wrenching it back into place. Safe to say, their relationship with the Tarantino was not always a loving one. Anger and frustration played a huge role in getting her to the finish line.
Things did smooth themselves out. They started to understand one another, to treat her gears with care, the understand her limits and push her, baggage and all, up some ridiculous Cornwall slopes. They shared moments of terror (screaming down an A road outside Exeter at hair raising speeds with a panier strap flapping dangerously between the spokes) and times of tranquility (propped up against a bench in a beautiful beer garden). They came through some hard times. In the depths of Scotland, the Tarantino’s spokes gave out. A hidden pot hole at the bottom of an endless downhill put pay to four or five of them as they pinged out of the wheel. The first mechanic didn’t do a good enough job and Tom was forced to cycle solo through Scotland villages at 4.30pm on a Friday, while Woody hitchhiked around with a very obliging Irish fellow, desperately searching for a bike repair shop. In the end it was an ancient bloke in a dirty back yard shed who fixed her up for the final stretch.
Right to the end there were moments when the Tarantino nearly didn’t make it. Hurling down the coast of northern Scotland, Tom suddenly spied a hidden cattle grid approaching at great speed. One shout to the navigator was all it took. Those dodgy spokes were on the back wheel and the weight of the rider over a cattle grid would surely have spelled the end. With the same disturbing lack of regard for his own safety that Woody demonstrated frequently on night’s out in Leeds, he leapt from the saddle and rolled into a cow muck covered field, while Tom and the Tarantino sailed harmlessly over the grid.
Tom, Woody and the Tarantino all made it to John O’ Groats (and back, in the truck of a football hooligan from Stoke) and now they, along with their new American addition, are ready for the next adventure. It’s been a long, rusty hibernation in the Woodsmith house in Stockport, but the Tarantino has been on some day trips with Woody’s folks. I’m sure it’ll throw up some dramtic moments again but with a bit of determination and luck we’ll get her to the finish line again (and then probably throw the battered scrap into the Black Sea…).
49 days to go…
I remember a pang of jealousy when I learned that Tom and Woody were tandem cycling across England and Scotland. It was a bit foolish to feel as such seeing as at the time I was traveling across Mexico and Central America. Yet, I was quickly discovering that backpacking from town to town via bus, the type of traveling that so many friends raved about, was not really that appealing to me. I wanted to either be living in an exotic locale and fully immersing myself in the culture or challenging myself in some other way. The idea of seeing foreign places while pushing your physical capacities to their utmost extremes appealed to me greatly, and, often, I envisioned what it would be like cycling with Tom and Woody.
A couple years later I found myself with the two in a Liverpool restaurant eating one of the best hamburgers I have ever bitten into with caramelized onions and a Portobello mushroom that rivaled the size of the meat patty. Sometime between lunch and afternoon beers at the Liverpool Philharmonic Pub we got to talking about Tom and Woody’s idea to up the ante and cycle from the Black Forest to the Black Sea along the winds of the Danube. I immediately liked the sound of it and told them I’d love to join if they’d have me. We decided to keep the lines of communication open.
In the ensuing two years, the idea has kept simmering and slowly turned into a full blown reality. The exact details of it have gone through some mutations along the way but the general gist has stayed the same. We must ride the length of the Danube from the Black Forest to the Black Sea, enjoying the culture, sites, restaurants and people along the way. For a long time it was going to be a duo tandem ride, but that idea came unraveled due to logistics. Call me stubborn, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me. I’ll be pedaling solo on Joni Mitchell, my shades of blue Norco VFR Disc 2 hybrid bicycle, on this journey that excites me more than any trip I’ve ever embarked upon!
Black to Black has been an excursion a long time in the making. The idea spawned from the tandem excursions of two of our trepid trio in 2007 navigating their way from Lands End to John O’Groats (the southern to the most northern tip of the UK). Whilst raising money for a Parkinsons charity, Tom and Woody learnt the appreciation of seeing their native homeland via pedal power and sampled the pastiche of wonder that is the Great British Beer Garden. Through the toil of the 1500 km trip, light relief was provided by not only the scenery on show but the subtle nuances and personalities of over 50 pubs and the charm that came with each. The long days en saddle were punctuated with stops at some beautifully scenic spots along with some endearing traditional British pubs that powered weary legs to keep pedalling to see what was in store next. (For those keen to know, The Eagle and Child pub in Stavelely in the Lake District came top of our standing at the end of the trip. Several lovely beer gardens, great staff and a cracking beer to boot meant this pub was impossible to beat). A few trials and tribulations were endured as to be expected, but the trip was a huge success; however, a swift repeat performance became hampered through studies, location and generating an idea to top the Tandem Trip 07.
Flash forward four years and their displacement to main land Europe (Tom in Vienna and Woody in Berlin) combined with the long held yearning for more cycling adventures lead them to contemplate tackling double the distance on a trip to encompass ten different countries across the eastern side of their enthralling home continent. Thus the Danube (or Donua, for locals) 2011 was borne. Enter Anton. The third member of the current crew will join up with Tom and Woody for this European adventure from across the pond in Canada sharing equal excitement and enthusiasm for the journey ahead. For Tom and Woody, the tandem has made the journey to mainland Europe for its second major outing and for the three of them this represents unchartered territory. And all the better for it. Once again the challenging days will be alleviated by an attempt to find the most enticing beer garden on offer along the shores of the Danube. No doubt there will be many, but the unknown is the beauty of the trip, and stumbling across a local dispensary after a 140km day to enjoy a refreshing local tipple shall make the long days all the more rewarding. Once again a charitable cause is at heart. This time the Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation is the very worthwhile cause and all donations would be much appreciated. The 3000 km in 24 days will be a tough task but riding to raise money and the prospect of some stunning scenery is enough to subside any trepidation on our behalf. We shall update the blog as often as possible to keep you all in the loop with how we get so for now enough of the back story and more to the journey itself:
Black to Black: The Forest to the Sea
Ciao for now,
Woody, Tom and Ezra Anton