Harrogate to India cycle: Latest from Germany

Tom Cartledge and Rhys James in Amsterdam
Tom Cartledge and Rhys James in Amsterdam

Harrogate friends Tom Cartledge and Rhys James set out from Hookstone Drive last month, aiming to cycle from Harrogate to India.

They are raising money for charities The Railway Children and St Michael’s hospice.

The Harrogate Advertiser is keeping up-to-date with their progress. The pair have reached Vienna, and sent this report charting their adventures in Germany.

This year’s epic cycling trip to India is well underway and the hospitality has been unbelievable so far.

Couchsurfing has allowed us to meet a vast amount of exciting strangers from all walks of life, whom I would now be happy to call friends.

Couchsurfing is a website that allows travelers to join a community dedicated to providing hospitality and a safe place to sleep wherever they are in the world.

It is often mistaken for a cheap alternative to staying in hostels but this does the spirit of the site injustice. Its greatest application is to allow explorers to meet locals and truly experience the area they are visiting.

The honesty, energy and kind heartedness of people really instills your confidence in how amazing individuals really can be.

Departing the wellbeing of our friends Loes and Sjans’ home in Amsterdam we embarked on a semi-planned route towards Oldenburg, Germany.

This destination would take us a few days to reach and the conditions were already perilous.

On the second day of actual cycling we managed to find ourselves riding into the eye of a blizzard with a tremendously strong head wind, the energy and hope slowly being sapped from our psyche.

The idea of plodding on through the storm wasn’t that hard, as otherwise we would be stuck in the middle of the monotonous Dutch flatlands of Flavoland in -5° conditions: not so favorable.

Wind screaming around both sides of the helmet created a claustrophobic atmosphere, where visibility reached at best a few meters.

The awareness of what we were doing and what time of year it was started to dawn on the both of us. Maybe it would have been better to set off a month or so later.

On entering the historic city of Zwolle we had both received a good beating from the elements and were needy of a warm shower and a bed for the night.

The long distances which we were covering on a daily basis were fraught with obsession, single mindedness and little else but adventure.

Upon leaving Zwolle we spent the day pushing on towards the northern border city of Emmen and eventually leapt over into Germany just as a fantastic sunset diverted our interest away from the road.

This is the splendour of touring by bike, having the time to notice the everyday beauty of landscapes which surround you.

We both agreed that we should be looking out for a place to camp, and approximately 30KM past the border line a location was scouted.

The next challenge was to erect our tents, which hadn’t seen the outside of the bags they were delivered in, made harder by our unforeseen lack of lights.

Camping in the snow with all of our clothes on, desperately trying to fight off the -7° temperature was to be the most difficult trial of the trip so far.

Oldenburg, northern Germany, is home to Dietmar; a brilliant ex-pastor aged 74 years.

We had the pleasure of couchsurfing with him last summer on our hitch hiking adventure to the saga lands.

After informing us that he liked the concept of our trip and the idea of doing it for charity he invited us to return to his striking city.

We jumped at the chance of spending a few days catching up with a tremendously remarkable man. Technically Oldenburg is a long way off course, but with another friend living in the same region it was not a hard decision.

Bad Fallingbostel is the new home of our good friend Christian Hooper whom is also a fellow Harrogatonian.

We have been friends for years but not seen much of each other in a while. This was to be the next destination on our adventure so we planned a rough route and sauntered off on our way.

The early morning section of the cycle to Bremen was both relaxing and exhilarating. Surrounded by frosty fields and minimal traffic the time flew by.

After such a nice morning’s cycle we were both really excited to continue and couldn’t wait to get out of the city and back to nature.

This is the point that we often find the most frustrating, getting out of cities can often be a long affair.

Crossing the beautiful municipality of Bremen quickly turned into cascading through Achin, nothing but stretches of traffic and bad cycling surfaces.

The weather conditions were great and we made good time, however the distance on the map never seemed to decrease and at one point even sent us on a wild goose chase into a snow covered forest. This added an extra 20KM onto the ride but it was such a childish adventure that it was more than worth it.

The light began to fade dramatically and once again we weren’t prepared for the ensuing darkness. Christian had called me a few times and rang back once more to ask for our location. He was coming to find us like a Knight in a shining car. It had appeared that we had somehow become lost again after leaving the forest. After 20 minutes Christian found us and took our bags into the car like any fine packhorse would. He then drove with us into Bad Fallingbostel, keeping the headlights on the road and shadowed us safely into the town.

It felt strange to be cycling without the back panniers on, but it also felt nice and light, giving our legs a semi-rest for the last 20 KM.

The adventures have kept on mounting and no day has been boring so far, or similar. We ended up staying with the Hoopers for three nights and the hospitality of our friend and his wife Jo was once again second to none. We felt immediately at home which is important when completing journeys like this.

On long travels like this, where you may be away from your family and friends for extended periods of time, the kindness and hospitality of those you meet can really make a huge difference to both your emotional and physical energy. More often than not we have been blessed by these encounters. At first you may be apprehensive about trying something like wild camping or couchsurfing but when you dare to venture slightly out of your comfort zone the rewards can be vast.

Find links to donate to charities the railway children and St Michael’s hospice at www.saddlesore.moonfruit.com