In this guest blog post, Climate Kitchen co-organiser Kirsty Turpie tells you all about her summer cycling around Europe in 2022.
Last summer I set out on a trip that I’d dreamt about for a long time… well kind of. I’d always hoped of going on a multi-country trip or spending a long period of time abroad. But I imagined I would inter-rail with friends, work or volunteer abroad, or travel in a camper van.
At the beginning of last year I started dreaming about the trip being in a camper van. I had it all planned out in my head how I’d decorate the van inside and out. I was going to use my creative skills to pimp it up to the max. It was going to be a vision of love and peace on four wheels… I would take all of my art materials with me too and be able to work on projects on the move. I would be as they say ‘living the dream’. So, I went ahead and bought a van. But all the time that I was plotting and planning and buying, there was a niggling voice in my head that said ‘What about the environment, what about climate change!?’
Being part of the Climate Kitchen organising team and being at our events amplified this thought in my head. At the Climate Kitchen we’re always exploring how we can be kinder to the planet and minimise our impact on climate change. In addition to this, I’ve always believed in Gandi’s message, ‘Be the change you’d like to see in the world’. So, I bit the bullet, sold the van, researched everything I’d need for long distance cycle-touring and spent my savings on a beautiful cycle-touring bike and all the gear! It was time to be the change!
I definitely felt nervous… ‘what was it going to be like being a solo-female cycling abroad?’, ‘what was it going to be like being a solo-female camper?’, ‘would I be able to fix the bike if something broke?’, ‘what if I got stuck at the top of a mountain with no signal and a broken bike!?’.
I was slightly consoled by the fact that a friend of a friend had completed a similar trip around Europe. I read his blog and was able to speak to him on the phone about some of my concerns. I was also now determined to do it by bike as it was going to be more sustainable, kinder on the wallet, much better exercise and I’d be in the sunshine all day everyday! On top of this, my aims for the trip were to see more of Europe, visit a friend in Croatia, go to festivals that I’d wanted to visit for a long time, meet new people, learn about different cultures, visit the European Baha’i temple, be inspired creatively, learn new songs and be surrounded by beautiful nature, all whilst travelling sustainably.
So, I set off from Dumfries on Monday 23rd May and spent two days cycling to Newcastle. I then got the ferry over to the Netherlands to begin my European adventure. I planned to be away for three months and to visit nine countries. Because I had numerous countries I wanted to visit I also had to use some
trains and buses on top of cycling. But, a third of the trip and 1526 miles to be exact were done on bike. 😉 Quite the achievement for someone who’s longest previous trip was fifty miles!
So, what was it like being a solo-female cyclist and camper in nine different European countries? Well, extremely pleasant! I only felt unsafe once, and that was when I decided to wild camp in the South of France as I was fed up of paying campsite prices. I was actually wild camping in a safe spot, so the feeling of being unsafe was most likely just in my head. But the rest of the time, I felt fine. I could rely on the Komoot cycling app or Google maps to get me to where I needed to go. I could look up campsites online and phone ahead to book, or rock up and book a spot for the night.
I also used the Warm Showers app, which is like couch surfing for cyclists. People all over the world that are also keen cyclists offer up a space in their home for the night for free to help fellow cyclists out. I stayed with couples in Toulouse, Carcasonne and Biarritz in France and they were all super lovely. The couple I stayed with in Toulouse were very experienced cycle-tourists and gave me loads of great advice and maps for the next leg of my journey. It was an absolute pleasure to meet and learn from them!
Everywhere I went on the bike people were really friendly and curious to speak to me about my trip. They would offer me advice about routes or great local spots to check out, and people would help me out if they seen me trying to lift my bike and heavy luggage on or off a train. If I’d been driving through towns in a camper van I definitely wouldn’t have spoke to as many people or had as nice interactions. All I would have seen would have been roads and service stations. I still had to cycle on roads sometimes but I also got to view some spectacular landscapes from field and tree lined cycle paths.
Cycling definitely helped me to achieve my goal of spending the summer being surrounded by beautiful nature. When I was cycling in the South of France I spent four days cycling next to a canal. It was so idyllic cycling next to the blue water, dotted with interesting canal boats and floating homes. Myself and the fellow Spanish cyclist I was cycling with at the time, would stop for lunch next to the canal and go in for a quick swim and cool down each day before cycling in the hot afternoon sun. It was absolutely delightful!
As well as chatting to locals as I cycled through quaint towns, I also bumped in to fellow cycle-tourists. On some occasions we were going the same way so we’d travel together for a day or two and make fast friends. I cycled with a German couple over the Ofenpass from Switzerland to Italy. It was my most gruelling day of cycling so I was very happy for the company and encouragement. I spent time cycling in France with Belgian, Swiss, Argentinian, Italian, Spanish and French cyclists. It was so wonderful to share stories and tips. It was also quite funny to be chatting away and acting like a pro after the first month, even though it was my first trip!
And, I never got stuck up a mountain with a broken bike. Actually, I didn’t even get any punctures in the whole three months! So I only needed to stop for sandwiches and not to pump up my tyres… what a relief! So big shout out to Schwalbe Marathon tyres ;-). The only issue I had with the bike was the discomfort of the saddle and height of the seat post on the first two days of cycling. Luckily a friend in Newcastle gave me her Selle Italia gel flow saddle before I got on the ferry and when I got to the
Netherlands I went in to a bike shop and they shortened and lowered the seat post for me. Finding a comfortable position and saddle really did make all the difference. So, I definitely recommend getting your bike set up properly before going on a long distance trip. Padded shorts and chamois cream,
won’t go amiss either!!
So, I could talk forever about everything I learnt, seen and experienced but I don’t want to bore you all to tears. If you’d like to hear a bit more though and find out my top cycle-touring tips, then come along to Climate Kitchen next Friday 16th June at The Stove Cafe. A free community meal is provided at 5:30pm and then the event is from 6:00pm – 8:00pm. Climate Kitchen organiser Katie will also be talking about her experience of cycle-touring and we’ll have some great activities going on including how to fix a puncture and a chance to give it a go, route planning advice, reading corner and a chat about cycling infrastructure.
And, finally. I would 100% recommend seeing the world by bike, if that is an option for you! It’s such a wonderful way to travel and with a little bit of determination… anything is possible.
Kirsty Turpie is a co-organiser of Climate Kitchen; one of our Open Hoose projects at the Stove. A community artist and graphic designer, Kirsty has a large passion for many areas of creativity and especially enjoys working on purposeful projects that can enhance a space or help others in the community to learn new skills and express themselves.
You can learn more about Kirsty by visiting her website HERE.
Open Hoose is a project at the heart of the Stove’s community venue. Ideas are given the space, time, resources and support of the Stove Network to launch ambitious projects to galvanise and gather our communities together. From climate cafes to bread clubs, jam nights and creative writing groups, Open Hoose offers an eclectic mix of different activities for everyone to take part in.