Oh dear. I almost called my shiny new bicycle touring blog ‘Existential Cranks’ because I thought it was clever. Is this next tour really going to be about sweating out lingering existential angst though? Bollocks to that. It’s definitely got a certain carpe diem vibe this time around. This upcoming Arctic Norway-to-somewhere Mediterranean (possibly Gibraltar, maybe Sardinia) is much more about celebrating decent health in my 50s, and a continued lust for adventure. My dog is coming with me and I am slow as a snail on my fully-loaded touring bike. I carry my home with me. Dog and Snail Bicycle Travels. Simple, and not nearly as pretentious and onerous as the other idea.
The time to fling myself off the cliff is nearing. The tiny house is sold, the car is sold and all personal belongings have been mercilessly whittled down to what will be carried on the bike, and two boxes to be left with my parents here in Wabamun, Canada. Murph and I fly from Calgary to Amsterdam on May 30th – about 5 weeks from now. After a few days recovering from jet lag, we hop onto a flight to Helsinki, then Ivalo, Finland where we begin to pedal north for 500kms. Once we reach the most northerly road-accessible point in Europe, the North Cape, we will start heading down the west coast of Norway, eventually joining the Pilgrim’s Route (Eurovelo 3) to see how far south in Europe we can get. After the tour is over, we will resettle in the Brexit-addled UK.
My little terrier, Murph, as mentioned, will be my returning co-pilot. This will be our fifth big tour together since 2008 when we crawled up the Massif Central from Burgundy, France, and free-wheeled down the other side into Provence. I was so green and so unfit, but by the end we were completely dazzled by the freedom and exhilaration of bike travel. I was amazed that my little dog was such a natural vagabond. She charmed everyone we met along the way and opened doors to wonderful, warm encounters, insistent offers of drinks, meals, free camping and great stories.
Our last tour of note was a soggy 7000km trek through eight European countries over three months in 2016. Murph was already twelve years old and I was certain it would be her last bike adventure, especially after a devastating cruciate ligament tear two years ago from which I never thought she’d recover. Well, she is now fourteen and a half, zipping around like a pup, and despite being quite hard of hearing and needing long naps, is still full of terrier beans! When I pulled out my dust-covered touring bike a few months ago, her whole body started wagging and she tried to hop unaided into her bike basket. I took it as a clear sign and started planning another dream tour in earnest, but I thought I’d better make it THIS year in case Murph finally decides to act her age.
Of course, touring with a dog is all about the dog. Her needs, comfort and enjoyment come first at all times. In consideration of her mature age, I plan to take more breaks and spend fewer hours in the saddle daily before we set up camp. Where she was responsible for socialising me with other humans in the past, she’ll now teach me to slow down and smell the wild blueberries. Her personal kit has been massively upgraded; she has her own dog-specific sleeping bag, a very expensive Thermarest Trekker air mattress, a luxurious padded perch on the back of my bike (with sun and rain covers) and a full complement of technical clothing to protect her from the elements. She will also have absolute control over daily mileage decisions. She is less keen about strangers fawning all over her now, likely because of her hearing (she gets startled), so I’ve prepared signs in the languages of the countries we are crossing, asking people to leave her be unless she requests attention. Queen Bee. Finally, if at any time during the tour I feel she’s not coping, we will stop and rest a few days or call the whole thing quits.
I plan to maintain this blog along the way (to follow us and receive new posts, use the link to email alerts on the right) and will also attempt to make fabulous (ha!) videos on my new YouTube channel. Links will be posted right here shortly.
I have never tried to raise money for charity on previous bike tours. I HATE pestering people for money. It has been pointed out to me, however, that I am very selfish to squander the opportunity to do some good.
It is also my desperate hope that this entitled and self-indulgent travel will raise a ton of money for my favourite charity along the way; The Oldies Club. These gorgeous people work to find homes for overlooked elderly dogs who are stuck spending their golden years in shelters and fosters all over the UK. The link below will allow you generous, dog-loving folk to donate what you can – as little as £2 or $2 – more if you can. Also, please consider them if you are ready to give a beautiful old soul a loving new home. Do it for Murph!!