2017 was a bit of a stagnant year for us. We had heaps of opportunities to take jobs overseas, have adventures and live life differently, but fear just seemed to keep getting in the way.
When we had our son Sam in 2016, we promised ourselves that we would be able to be great parents whilst still having adventures and bringing him along for the ride. We swore that we’d still be exciting, have fun and live life differently. Before we had Sam, we lived in Uganda, climbed the ‘Three Peaks’ (the three highest points in England, Wales and Scotland) to make a music video, cycled on a tandem from London to Berlin to run a marathon, and backpacked around the world – and we were absolutely sure that this would continue.
But, as Sam turned 1 and started nursery, things started to change. We got bogged down in a world of baby classes, play dates and trips to Ikea on a Sunday. Sam loved nursery and we suddenly started feeling like routine was more important than it actually is. Compared to many of our friends, we were still seen as a bit ‘crazy’ and ‘hard to keep up with’ but, measuring against our own values, things had become DULL and life had become small.
Luckily, in December, we managed to break out of this a bit, firstly with a 4 day trip to Morocco. Just a short trip but it felt like we were back ‘in the world’ having adventures, meeting new people, exploring hidden alleyways, visiting local souks and living fully in the moment. Then, a few days after we got back, my friend and I randomly walked from my home near St. Albans all the way to South London in time for our work Christmas party in the snow! It was only an overnight walk but, as we walked the route of my commute in the dark through deserted towns and villages and imagined everyone fast asleep in their beds, the feeling of ‘living life differently to most people right now’ was something I was again becoming a bit addicted to.
So, when I returned from the walk, despite one of my toe nails falling off, I announced to Rob that 2018 had to be a year when we become us again. A year of adventure and of living life differently.
And then the Yes Grant was advertised and we knew this was an opportunity we had to go for to take us out of our comfort zone and get us living. We had vaguely been talking for the past year about the idea of doing a long distance cycle again and once, after a few drinks, Rob had suggested Paris to Amsterdam – and the rest is history! I put in an application and we were completely shocked when Dave and Emma called us in January, under the guise of conducting an interview, to tell us we’d won!
Shocked and then slightly concerned when, two days later, we found out I was pregnant. After a quick google about cycle touring and a mini freak out, we decided ‘screw it’, it would just add to the challenge – and perhaps this would be the newest Yes Tribe member yet!
Due to the unexpected pregnancy, we decided not to hang around and planned the cycle for April, when I’d be 4 months pregnant and hopefully still feeling spritely enough to cycle 420 miles! This meant that we didn’t have a great deal of time to train, particularly due to the snow filled January and February. We focused instead on buying/borrowing equipment, doing a bit of training on an exercise bike, route planning and setting up our blog. We were SLIGHTLY concerned by the limited training but remembered our very own Dave Cornthwaite saying that he could hardly swim before embarking on 1001 miles down the Missouri River and felt entirely reassured!
April rolled along before we knew it and we found ourselves hauling our bikes, panniers and toddler on to the Eurostar to Paris to start our big adventure, slightly nervous but mainly excited about having 12 days out of the office! We’d planned to cover around 40-45 miles each day – something which seemed pretty easy when we considered we’d done 100 miles a day on our London to Berlin tandem trip. However, that completely didn’t take into account the toddler we now had in tow and we actually quickly realised that this was probably our daily limit without tantrums, tears and exhaustion – and that was just from us ;-)
This over-confidence about being able to easily cover 45 miles per day did lead me to convincing Rob to take a teeny weeny 10 mile diversion to see the Eiffel Tower on day one! We thought this would take us around an hour but unbeknownst to us, it was actually the morning of the Paris marathon…. Ooops! This meant we got stuck between two roads full of runners and it took almost 4 hours to navigate our way in and back out of the city. Not a great start and meant the day was half over before we even left Paris.
We sped up a bit after that though and started to get into the swing of things. I have to say though that our first four days in France from Paris to Fourmies were actually pretty tough. This was partly getting into the swing of things and realising that we were going to have to stop approximately every 20 minutes because Sam wanted a snack/jumper off/jumper on/to hold a Thomas the Tank Engine toy/to ring the bike bell etc etc etc, but also because the weather was quite dodgy, the cycle paths were pretty hilly and not always in amazing condition, and the shops, restaurants and bars in almost every town we passed through were completely boarded up.
Day three nearly broke us when it was 8.30pm and we were cycling up a hill on a crazily busy road in the rain with lorries hurtling past us after a wrong turn. Despite day four to Fourmies being immeasurably better with sunshine and a disused railway path, the hills continued and there was a moment at the end of the day when we did seriously consider just jumping on a train.
Luckily at this point we realised that, rather than trudge North through hilly France, we could leave the cycle path and take a wee detour to cross into Belgium early (past the town of Willies- heehee!).
This turned out to be an amazing plan – as we crossed the border, the sun came out, the cycle path improved and, for half a day, was completely downhill- bliss! There were also a lot more cafes and restaurants open which slowed us down as we stopped for lunches, ice creams and Belgian chocolate treats! From this point on, we started to really enjoy ourselves – we got into a great routine and had a blissful time cycling along the rivers and canals of Belgium in the sunshine, with little breaks in beer gardens with playgrounds for Sam along the way. A definite highlight of our trip through Belgium was a last minute route change to cycle along the canal right through the centre of sunny Brussels – we got some interesting looks as we arrived into the Grand Place on our laden down bikes! Sam had a ball running around the pedestrianised square and Mum and Dad enjoyed a cheeky drink in the sunshine.
As we left Belgium and passed into Holland, the cycle paths and signposts continued to be amazing, although we were stupidly using a map from 2010 and were for some reason surprised when we kept getting lost! Google maps and random Dutch cycling apps came to our rescue. We were also somehow surprised by the wind (duh, why are there windmills everywhere guys?! – don’t know how we hadn’t figured that out) which made some easy, flat days actually quite a challenge and pretty exhausting – but the scenery and sunshine more than made up for it. An absolute highlight for us was our next to last night in the beautiful town of Gouda – like a mini Amsterdam but super chilled – we highly recommend a visit! Cycling into Amsterdam along the River Amstel on the final day in gorgeous sunshine alongside hundreds of other cyclists was SUCH a joy. Such a huge sense of achievement, pride and relief tinged with sadness that it was all over.
We had an absolute blast and such a great adventure! Thank you so so much to Berghaus, Say Yes More and the amazing Yes Grant for making this happen for us – we would never ever have had the guts to do this without your backing!
Cycling such a long way with a toddler can be tough – I’ve already mentioned the multiple stops every hour and the need to find playgrounds at every opportunity. It also means that you can’t set off for the day early because you HAVE to have breakfast and a play before even broaching the subject of getting on the bike, you need to take long lunch breaks to ensure energy can be burnt off, and you need to try to finish in a reasonable time for dinner to avoid a meltdown (although we totally failed at this one and Sam ate at 10pm each night!).
However, it’s also completely wonderful! Sam had an absolutely fantastic time. He adored spotting boats, planes, trains, cows, horses, sheep, rivers etc from the bike and his speech came on crazy amounts in just a week and a half. He entertained us with his repertoire of songs: Paw Patrol, Thomas the Tank Engine and the Wheels on the Bus pretty much all day every day. And, overall, he hardly stopped smiling for the entire trip. Rather than feeling like we had an adventure that he joined us for, he was actually an integral part of the adventure and I think he had the time of his life!
So, for any parents of toddlers (or who are pregnant!) who think that this sort of thing isn’t possible: it IS! With, to be honest, not that much planning or training at all. Living life differently and having adventures does not have to stop with kids at all. We let our lives get smaller and ‘safer’ but, now that we’ve broken outside of that comfort zone, there’s no going back. There’s a big world out there and seeing it through the eyes of kids just adds to the wonder.
For more pics and info about our story, see here.