Nadia’s Maniacal Plan to Conquer Europe by Bike

Tomorrow is the day I set off for Lisbon, Portugal. I might not get to see much of it, which is quite disappointing every time I

A Facebook follower was very generous in helping me design this for a tshirt after my husband and I cycled from London to Paris last year.

A Facebook follower was very generous in helping me design this for a tshirt after my husband and I cycled from London to Paris last year.

think of it.

I’m freaking out. I spent most of the second half of yesterday holding back tears. I’m so scared. And for the gazillionth time I asked myself, “Why I am doing this?”

On the train on my way back home from a short wedding anniversary trip to London, I posted the following on Facebook (feel free to follow me on FB but I will have to apologize for not accepting friend requests) as my mind went round and round and round:

Questions that will soon be answered:

1. Can I enjoy myself when completely on my own? As in COMPLETELY on my own.

2. Can I motivate myself when I’m ready to give up?

3. When faced with a problem I do not know how to solve, is my solution to just break down and cry? (Yes is the answer to this one)

4. Can I be the kind of tourist who does ABSOLUTELY no shopping (except for food) for quite a long time?

5. How long can my back last sleeping on the ground?

6. How long can I last without a shattafa?

7. How much pain can I REALLY handle?

8. How long can I go without soap and clean clothes?

9. How much do I REALLY enjoy nature?

10. How long can I go without getting my eyebrows done without looking like an ape?

I have a very contradictive personality. I’m superstitious. I don’t want to tell people about my plans in case it jinxes it. I fear their collective evil eye. Yet I am, at the same time, a compulsive sharer. I want to be able to write about my plans and my experiences. It helps me process through my thoughts much better than keeping them to myself in my head. And I will not lie: I also need the support and encouragement of my friends.

So I’m just going to get it out there and tell you about this trip I’ve been planning for the past few months. If anything bad happens before, during, or after the trip, I’ll lay it on YOU, the reader, for your evil eye. So before you read any further, cleanse your heart, purify your thoughts, and send me nothing but good vibes.

Last year my husband and I cycled with one of his work colleagues from London to Paris. It was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life. We cycled 388 km over a period of three days and it felt wonderful.

I decided then and there that I wanted more. For months after the trip I dreamed of the possibilities. I spoke with my husband Colin many times about him taking time off of work to go touring together. One night I was serious: “Colin, I’m going to do this. Here are the dates I propose. Can you come with me?” He couldn’t possibly take that much time off of work, he told me. Why don’t we, instead, do another short cycling trip, he suggested? I wasn’t going to have it. “I’m doing this. I need to do it. I need to get it out of my system and at least give it a go. You can join me on part of it.”

And it was then, sometime in January 2014, that I started planning and preparing in earnest. I’d go to Europe and cycle east for as far as my legs could take me.

EXACTLY! I cycled for three days last year and suddenly thought I could probably keep doing something like that for days, weeks, and perhaps months. This was not some random thought that passed through my brain one evening and I woke up the next morning, sober from a good night’s rest, and thought, “Whew! I’m glad I grew out of that silly thought quickly!” No. This was a thought that festered in my head and festered and festered until I had myself completely convinced that it was not only possible but highly probable that I could do something like that. THAT is how crazy my head gets. It is only now, a few days before the actual trip with all preparations done, that I suddenly realize that this is perhaps the stupidest idea I have come up with yet.

This came to the fore in the most obvious sense three days ago when I decided to man up and finally get around to trying to take my bike apart so it could be boxed for the upcoming flight. I had been avoiding any sort of technical involvement with the bike, besides buying cool-looking tools, since I started planning the trip. I will admit to taking a full one-hour course on bicycle fixing a few weeks back. It was very interesting. I can’t remember a thing from it. I know. I’m f$#@ed. I realize this now that I’m at the point of no return.

So I put the bike out in the back garden of my house in the UK and I set out to take it apart exactly the same way the process was described in a youtube video. I’ve done it. It’s in the box with lots of other stuff now. The thing is, if that bike actually gets to Lisbon in one piece, I’m not sure I have the slightest inkling as to how to put it all back together again.

My original plan was that I would get to the airport, pick up my luggage, pass through the security doors, and find a corner somewhere in Lisbon Airport where I can put the bike back together. I’d then take the metro to the center of the city and cycle to my hotel.

I have a new plan. I’ll pass through the security doors, look for a taxi, go to my hotel room, maybe go out for a meal and see some of the city since I’m there, and then once I have enough courage, try to put the bike together in the privacy of my hotel room. That way if I break down and cry because nothing is working I won’t be making a scene. If I can’t put it all together, I have the address of a bike shop in Lisbon I’ll go to. They told me I needed to set up an appointment if they were going to put it together for me. Instead, I’m just going to turn up and cry and hope I still have that female “it” factor that breaks men’s willpower to resist our requests. Hopefully they’ll find a way to help me out even if I’m not on their schedule.

You see, my plan is to cycle more than 100km the day after I arrive. So I need to start early. I’m a slow cyclist. Actually, three days of cycling last year don’t even qualify me to call myself a cyclist. Sure I’ve done some training. One of my long training days a few weeks ago I got home and broke down crying to my husband. “It was so hard!” sob, sob, “And I was so scared!” gulp, gulp, “I was afraid I’d end up cycling in the dark!” snort, snort, “And the bike is so heavy with all the stuff in the panniers!” blubber, blubber.

That is one of the many challenges I’m facing with this trip. The wonderful, exhilarating, exciting cycling trip from London to

I spent weeks figuring out what to take and what not to take. These are the things I decided to take at one point. Since then I've taken out a couple more things.

I spent weeks figuring out what to take and what not to take. These are the things I decided to take at one point. Since then I’ve taken out a couple more things.

Paris did not involve me carrying any of my stuff on my bike. My husband did that for me. I was with two other men. They planned the whole thing, they navigated, they carried all the gear, and I just cycled and enjoyed myself. This time ‘round I’m doing all the planning on my own, I’m cycling on my own, I need to fix things that break on my own, and I’m carrying all my stuff! Excuse me while I have a short breakdown.

I’ve been packing and unpacking my panniers now for weeks. I am very conscious of the fact that I need to keep the weight down to a minimum. But I also need to keep down the expenses of this trip. I can’t afford to stay in hotels or even hostels for weeks on end. So I need to resort to camping as much as possible. And that means I’ll need a tent and a sleeping bag. And since I’ll be doing this often, I’ve decided I need one of those cute little inflatable travel pillows. I also have an inflatable mattress. I NEED to be semi-comfortable while sleeping after cycling all day long for goodness sake! I need a towel, of course (how else will I dry myself off after a shower?), so I was smart and bought one of those tiny microfiber travel towels. That takes up much less space than a normal towel would. I also need bike stuff. I need a bike lock. I was going to take two because if the bike is stolen overnight while I am sleeping in my tent that would be the end of the trip. But two locks were just too incredibly heavy. So I ditched one of them. I need bike tools. I have some allen keys of varying sizes and a nifty little multiple bike-tool gadget. I have spare brake pads and chain links and an inner tube and an inner tube repair kit. Do I know how to use any of those things? Not really. Since I can’t remember anything from the one-hour course, I’ve downloaded some bike manuals onto my iPad. If something happens to the bike while I’m cycling, the plan is to sit on the side of the road, take out my iPad, and start reading. Could I have done this before the trip? I certainly could have. Did I? No. I’ve been avoiding it like the plague because it freaks the heck out of me. What if I can’t understand any of it? Am I seriously f$#@ed? Yes.

I had to decide no perfume on this trip. No perfume! I am going to stink to high heavens. I had to decide to ditch the washing

These are things I originally planned on taking but decided on cutting out at one point in time. Since then some things have been re-added and others removed.

These are things I originally planned on taking but decided on cutting out at one point in time. Since then some things have been re-added and others removed.

detergent I originally put in my bag. The plan now is that I wash clothes with plain water or by using soap in the camp bathrooms if they have it. I only have four socks and four underwears with me (do NOT tell me that is too much). I have one pair of walking pants, a sleeveless shirt and a sleeved shirt, a fleece, a rain jacket, a thermal top, and pajama bottoms (I WILL NOT sleep in my sleeping bag in the cold without giving my legs a chance to warm up). If it gets really cold, I’m f$#@ed. I have my clip-on cycling shoes, which freak the heck out of me because I can’t always easily unclip them from the pedals when I need to stop but they do improve my efficiency while cycling. And I have one pair of sandals for walking in after a long day of cycling. I have three cycling pants of varying lengths that slightly pad my rear-end, which will definitely end up with “bed” sores by the end of this trip. And I have three cycling shirts, one sports bra, and a normal bra for city walking. The total weight on my bike is somewhere around 15kg. FIFTEEN KILOGRAMS that I will be lugging around Europe up steep mountains for hour after hour after hour. God Almighty!

I read the list one time and I think, “Damn, that’s way too much.” I read the list a second time and I think, “Damn, I don’t have enough.” It looks like I’m f$#@ed no matter what I do.

One of my new backup plans is that I’ll mail stuff back home if I decide I have stuff that is too heavy that I do not need. Another backup plan is I’ll just buy more stuff along the way, assuming that my legs might get stronger as I keep going.

I decided against maps because I’d need too many of them and they would add extra weight. If I need a paper map I’ll buy it when I’m there. Otherwise, I’m depending on modern technology. If the battery runs out of my GPS before I get to my destination, I’m f$#@ed.

I’m doing this on my own (I couldn’t find anyone to join me who could take enough time off of work), so to add an element of safety I bought a high-end GPS that allows my husband to track my movements live. I haven’t even started the trip and I’ve spent a ridiculous amount of money on all these preparations.

I’ve had to figure out travel insurance, personal possession insurance, detailed routes, places to stay each night, money, emergency phone numbers, which SIM card gives the best pan-European deal so I can always keep my phone on for emergencies and necessary calls, and airlines’ procedures for transporting sports equipment. I’ve had to decide to avoid visiting some towns/cities along the way because I couldn’t find suitable camps near them. I’ve already decided to hate the Little-Person-in-my-GPS-system because I know now from using it in the UK that it will take me on the most back of back-roads where no humans exist and on the most hilly and windy roads it can possibly find. We will not be getting along.

I’m f$#@ed I tell you. Who does this sort of thing? Who thinks up ideas that are way beyond their abilities? Why I am like this?

The only thing that puts me at ease is that I know that anytime I feel that I am out of my depth and that I want to come home, I can. I’ll be in Europe. I can hitch a ride on a train, get to the nearest airport, and fly back to the UK whenever I want to. I do have an overambitious plan. Who cares? What’s the big deal? Maybe I actually can achieve this particular dream. But if I can’t, I’ll have tried. And I won’t have something big to regret. I’ll just have something I’ll know I need to be better prepared for the next time I try. And I’ll then have the experience to prepare better for it. So what the heck? Let’s give this overambitious crazy dream-plan of mine a chance.

Damn, I’m f$#@ed.

(As long as I have battery power, a free wireless Internet connection, and mental energy, I’ll be sure to post updates about my trip on my blog, on my Twitter account @Nadia, and on my public Facebook profile.)



  1. My very best wishes to u Nadia
    i decided to be supportive
    u can DO it
    i know u can!!
    take good care of urself
    Wil be watching out for ur updates
    Wish u ve got us a satalite gps connections and we all keep following u day and night
    be there for u whenever u need. Good luck Lady.
    @Colin : u r the man (y)

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