BIKE THROUGH EUROPE
might especially help if the ‘detour’ is on lightly traveled numbered roads, since following short sections of unmarked roads will invariably mean stopping to look at your map and ask directions all day long.
Putting it all Together Each of these components should be an element in your final itinerary planning. After you put the whole trip together, ‘walk’ through your route to make sure everything works. Make sure you haven’t bitten off too much mileage for a day early in the tour when you aren’t in touring form yet. Have you allowed enough time for attractions that you want to visit in an area? Try to plan in at least one noncycling activity every day: a major museum, a hike, a boat trip, perhaps a leisurely two-hour lunch in a good but economical restaurant. Have you considered elevation changes for each day to ensure you can cover the necessary miles in the allotted daylight?
Lodging Hostels I must admit that whether I use hostels or not depends largely on if I’m traveling alone or not. When you are touring by yourself, there is certainly no less expensive way to go, and the hostel can provide company after a day on the road by yourself. Some European hostels do have assigned chores, which may be a surprise if you’re used to big city hostels with professional staffs. I used hostels for about half the nights I was in Holland and Belgium - basically, whenever there was one where I wanted to be. It was a very mixed experience. The locations varied from enchanting stone and brick ‘castles’, to inner-city contemporary. Some were neat and clean and relaxing,
other poorly-run, crowded and noisy. Perhaps the worst was being in a room with 16 other ‘singles’ of mixed gender, while the best was being the only person in an 8 bed room with a private bath. A number of the hostels were joint operations with budget travel housing, although often the rooms were identical. What was different (besides the cost), was the quality of the food and sometimes how you were treated by the staff. Since the budget travelers, often bus loads staying for the night, or some sort of overnight organizational ‘retreat’, paid more than the hostelers, I frequently felt like a second-class citizen. If you’re going to be traveling in the high season (June-August), you should try to get reservations in hostels (many countries have a system for booking ahead the next night), especially in the most popular cities. There are also international reservation postcards you can buy to make reservations before you leave for Europe. However, this means you need to know in advance when you’re going to be where. You can contact Hostelling International - American Youth Hostels in Bostonat (617) 735-1800; they’re located at 1020 Commonwealth Ave near Boston University.
Hotels This category includes a wide range of lodging choices, again differentiated by the country you’re traveling in. The large popular guides (Let’s Go, Frommers) are very helpful here, but with the proviso that they generally stick to the large and/or ‘touristy’ cities and towns, and may not have listings for every burg you plan to stay in. You can frequently get info on B&B’s and hotels from the tourism boards of your chosen country, most of them are located in NYC. Lower-cost lodging is often combined
Alps October 2010
with a restaurant which has rooms for overnight guests. This combo is particularly helpful when you’re forced to stay in a lightly populated area, since it means you can satisfy your two basic needs under one roof.
Camping About all I’m going to say here is that I’ve never camped on an extended bike tour. One bias I have against it is that you have to carry at least 10 pounds more gear, and even more if you plan to cook. As I said, I like staying in the center of the city so it’s easier to explore. Also, camping will mean you have to get to your destination an hour earlier than you would otherwise, and will also require more time to depart in the morning. If you’re not cooking for yourself, you’ll probably have to ride to town to find a restaurant or eat in a miserable campground snack bar. European campgrounds tend to consist of a single large grassy area, with cars and caravans set up for the week or summer next to you. There may be some with spots reserved for bikers and hikers, but I haven’t researched the matter. However, the authors of my favorite European bike touring guides appear to have camped exclusively, and campground locations are featured in their tour descriptions.
Packing for the Road I’m not going to provide a packing list here (it may be a separate handout), for a number of reasons. Firstly, since I invariably overpack, I’m the last person you should listen to. There are countless lists in any number of publications. Finally, what you bring is very much a personal choice. Perhaps the best way to fine tune this is to pack your projected load and go on a two or three day training tour. Of course, you won’t go through as many sets of underwear and socks as you would on a longer trip, but you should consider anything you don’t use on the short trip as something to reevaluate for the longer tour. Although I won’t provide a list, I will mention a few key items. Bring at least two, and possibly three pairs of cycling shorts. I can’t wear anything besides the tight style of shorts, although other folks do fine in the looser touring style of shorts. Whatever type you wear, wash each day’s pair that evening so it can dry overnight. You will also want a pair of tights, and/or leg warmers. I have tights that look like lycra/spandex but are actually 90% Polypro, which I think handles wind, cold and moisture better. For cool weather top layers I prefer Polypro or some of its relatives. Actually, I find the EMS Bergalene product to be more comfortable and wear better over time. You can buy sneakers specially designed for bike touring, but many people find that some sort of running shoe works just as well. The bike shoe will have a stiffer sole so the pedal doesn’t bother your June 2013 Quest 27