As I mentioned in an earlier post, 20 years ago I embarked on the biggest adventure of my life at the time – a solo bike tour across Europe. I had no itinerary or agenda – I just knew I wanted to see and experience Europe on my own, and possibly stay and work overseas for a year or two. For the next three months I’m going to provide periodic recaps of the trip (as best I can remember it).
I flew out of Seattle on July 1st, 1992 en route to London for the first leg of my journey. I had a good friend from UO J-school who was now living and working for a PR agency in the city and she had told me I could crash at her flat. Katie is loads of fun (one of the reasons we became such good friends in college) and she worked with lots of fun British PR people. I had fun site-seeing the city again (I had visited
and stayed with her during my first trip overseas two years earlier) and gearing up for the first leg of my ride. My strongest memory from my London stay was attending a 4th of July “BBQ” at one of Katie’s co-worker’s flats. The weather was very Seattlish (Or Londonish) – probably upper 50s and drizzly. Naturally, that didn’t stop the beer from flowing, or the noble attempts by the locals to try to grill hot dogs for their American guests. Interestingly, the woman who hosted the party would go on to become Vice President of Marketing for Microsoft years later.
On July 5th I was sufficiently recovered from jet lag and decided it was time to start biking. Using my maps, I decided on a route that would take me through downtown London and out to the Eastern coast, where I planned to take a ferry to The Netherlands. This was my first real experience when the idealistic dream of lazily pedaling through Europe became a cold hard reality. Navigating the streets of London was tricky enough on my bike – as I had 4 panniers filled with my clothing and equipment – as well as bags on my handlebars and behind my seat. I eventually made my way out of the city and followed the signs – onto a major six-lane highway. There wasn’t much of a shoulder to ride on, and vehicles were zipping by me at 70 mph. At one point a truck (or lorry as they say in the UK) blew past me – closer than any had before. The backdraft from the truck caused me to lose my balance and I started swerving. I knew I didn’t want to go out towards the road so I instinctively turned towards the shoulder, which was heavy gravel. I lost my balance and fell to the side – into the gravel. I was more embarrassed than injured, but I did suffer a decent cut/scrape on my left knee. I was only 2 hours into my adventure and I already had battle scars.
Eventually I made it to Harwich – where I bought my ticket for the crossing to Hook of Holland. I chose the overnight option – I had read in my guide books prior to my trip that whenever possible, I should try to travel overnight to save money that otherwise would be used for lodging. I was able to wash up my scraped knee and find a corner on the deck of the ferry where I managed a few hours of sleep before landing in the Netherlands.
My major destination in the Netherlands was of course Amsterdam. I thoroughly enjoyed riding in this very bike-friendly country. They had large bike lanes – often entirely separate mini-roads that paralleled the highways so you felt totally safe. The roads and paths were extremely well marked with directions and mileage – which made my navigation that much easier.
When I reached Amsterdam, I was faced with the challenge I would face on countless occasions throughout my trip: finding a place to stay/sleep. My guidebooks included “Let’s Go Europe” in addition to Rick Steves’ Europe through the back door.” Both included recommendations for inexpensive lodging – including youth hostels. In Amsterdam I was lucky enough to find a large hostel that also had its own bar in the basement. I quickly met some fellow travelers in the sleeping quarters. One was from Australia while the other was from Canada. After a few beers at the hostel bar,
we ventured out to explore the famed city – including (of course) the infamous Red Light District.
The Australian made it clear that his goal while traveling was to have as much fun as possible – and to explore everything offered. The canadian and I weren’t quite as bold as the Aussie, but we were game to tag along for the experience. Suffice to say, the Aussie experienced first-hand some of the local hospitality and baked goods. Suddenly I felt a little less naive.
After a couple of days in Amsterdam, I headed south to explore other parts of the Netherlands as I made my way towards Belgium. In my next post, I’ll write about experiencing kindness and generosity from complete strangers – and the impact that had on me as I visited Paris for the first time.