Friday 9 December 2011

Viva La France

I meandered my way out of the very comfortable stay with Jos in Holland and turned the corner off the high street to be greeted by an old friend. The wind whipped the warmth from my cheeks and did a swell job of holding back the raging Doris the tank engine from chugging too fast down the tracks.
chocolate fondu, camping style
Lucky too as I was trying my best to get some good ks in to maximize my London visit which of course would have been much too straight forward if the conditions were friendly. In fact any day since that point would have been straight forward in friendly conditions. But there were things to do and places to see so I made my way south and west to a smallish town of Breda to connect with some recently met but instantly liked Dutchys. It was all the way back in Mostar,  Bosnia where we chatted over watermelon and dirty dirty plum brandy, casually making a decision to try to arrange a meeting should I come though Holland. It was again a short stay, just the night but when one lives out of a tent then a bed is nothing to scoff at, not to mention the hot shower and the good conversation. Thanks Jos (from the red cliff in Te Anau), Laurens and Natasha for keeping me well.

Sleeping on the decision to head mostly north to London or south and west again to Paris the thought of eating good food in the sunshine beneath the looming Eiffel Tower tagged a note on my imagination and guided me to the French capital. Despite the heavy rain and biting wind during the day it became one of the most memorable and exciting two hours of the entire trip.

Route de Paris

Houses and towns became more frequent as I neared the city as the congestion started to tighten and constrict the streets, people cars, scooters and mopeds all shooting for the same non existent gaps. Somehow everything kept moving with horns blearing and bells ringing from a city alive with the movement of its people. It was a steep learning curve but a fantastic realization emerged when it became apparent the cars would not give you an inch but they are looking out for bikes and will stop at least a few horse hairs before making a mess. With this knowledge it was possible to duck and dart, weave and wiggle, slide and slip my way through the hoards out in the festive atmosphere of a saturday night. Through the heart of Paris I cruised the high end shopping districts before taking in the city lights crossing the canal. It all climaxed when I entered the gritty sculpture gardens outside the Louve and headed straight for the spectacular Arc De Triomphe at the other end of the Avenue Des Champs Elysees. The cars where out en mass and the painted road markings where simply adding to the art nouveau style of the area, not the systematic organisation of cars on a road. It was amazing to be swept up in the people and lights and not become a bug on the grill at the same time. Needless to say I did not venture into the round about but I stood on the corner a long time contemplating the prospect.

Meeting some more touring bikers at the camp ground I had a needed day off before pushing the two big days towards the coast and the ferry ride to England's Newhaven port. The idea of sleeping in a bed in a warm house got me through the long day arriving at East Ginstead just after 2 am with my little lights leading the way. England was interesting, off the boat and into the familiar rhythm of spinning my wheels I was struck by a feeling of sorrow that the trip was nearing its end. It was deep in the bottom of my gut, the unshakable feeling that I had come upon the destination of the journey, that soon the fun of being on the road and meeting new friends and seeing sights would be over and real life could take over once again. These thoughts were soon enough eclipsed by the even more disconcerting feeling of biking on the left had side of the road. Thank goodness for light early morning traffic for I may well have been a pancake on the road given the amount of times I ended up on the wrong side of the road out of a habit built up over 7 months.

Found Ya
Arriving at Siobhan's, a friend of a decade and meeting her adorable young daughter was justification enough for the early morning push and it was a sad departure this morning on my way to London. Yay for Jd and coke, m'n'ms, ice age 3 and black eyes.

Excellent Bunji jumping platform
It was supposed to be uneventful, slipping into London under the radar and meeting up with a couple of friends, but then when has Doris ever let me get away with that. 18402 km's wear and tear had finally come to a head and I could no longer put pressure on the peddles without the chain slipping. I had the good fortune of making my way to a brand new cycle and outdoor store that was quiet, fully stocked and had great staff. I explained my issue and what I wanted to do but they suggested I bring it upstairs and get it on the rack for a better look. It was worse than I imagined. I had almost completely worn out the small chain ring on the front to the point where it would no longer grab the chain and drive the bike forward. Hence the slipping.

The de-railer was had it, the jockey wheels almost perfectly round with just small nubs where half centimeter teeth should have been. The chain did not even fit the chain tool, designed to measure stretch because it was like a fat person in a leotard and stretched beyond reasonable lengths. Finally, the brake pads were past worn and the cables could not be removed from the housing for all the grime and scum that had accumulated. The tecs were impressed the bike was even still running in this condition and suggested there was nothing I could have done that I had not already. The bike had worn out all its components.

Now in London, my wallet in feather light but Doris and I are in good health and ready for a couple of days RnR before the next phase of the trip, Australia. So here's me clinking my glass to Europe and the adventure of a life time.

Nelson - Auckland 915 kms (572 miles)
Istanbul - London 17487 kms (10929 Miles)
18402 kms (11501 miles)
27 Countries (NZ, Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Albania, Montenegro, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Slovenia, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic, Germany, Lithuania, Lativa, Estonia, Sweden, Danmark, Netherlands, Belgium, France, England)
19 currencies
7 months + 14 days
4 flat tires, broken spokes, cranks, racks, bags, bolts, chains, cogs, cassettes, cables, housing, seat, flag pole, tent pole, Peddle and a bottom bracket. (dont buy a rocky mountain bike)
For every Kiwi who took the effort through the two previous world cups and stayed loyal in 2011!!
This ones for you.


  1. *+*+*+*+ CONGRATULATIONS BEN!!! *+*+*+*+*
    What an amazing journey and a wonderful blog. Good luck for the australia leg :) Pip

  2. Benjamin McDowall, you are WORLD HERO!!!
    I congratulate you sincerely, because you went through entire Eastern Europe by bicycle.

    le papillon Maja

  3. not too shabby for a JAFA!.. choice bro... promise to pull an elephant as ur plane departs london.


  4. Damn impressive BenJamin!!!!

    Good on ya for doing so amazingly well. Loving the stats and keep adding to it as you dominate Auz. Hope you have a sun umbrella with mist spray to hook onto Dorris.

    Good luck bro, take care out there


  5. I love the last picture ! :D