The Danube, August 2013

HobbesOnTour

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Location
The Netherlands
This is a kind of Travelogue of my first ever bike tour, taken along the Danube from Passau to Vienna in August of 2013.

It was organised through a company who gave me a book (Bikeline), supplementary notes, train tickets, hotel reservations, a bike and carried my bags from hotel to hotel.
(No laughing at the back!)

Up to then I cycled a few times a week for relaxation up to maybe an hour at a time. I had no real bike fitness, was very overweight and was genuinely worried that I would struggle with the daily distances - averaging 40-50 km per day! :-)

I’ve recently come across some old emails that I have brought together to compile this. Where I have added or edited the original text I have used italics.

Truthfully, this is not my first ever cycle tour. I actually set off with a friend when I was a young fella of 14 or 15 and cycled for about a week using youth hostels. Given that I was young, fearless and feckless for some reason I don’t see that as a “real” tour. It has something to do with not considering the consequences. With every subsequent tour, I attempt to get closer to that first one!

So what follows is my first adult tour. It was also the spark that lit a fire within me, or revived an old one, that led to many more adventures. I learned a lot from this and have put in a few lessons at the end.

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TIMELINE
Aug 1 Passau - Schlogen
Aug2 Schlogen - Linz
Aug 3 Linz - Bad Kreuzen
Aug 4 Bad Kreuzen - Melk
Aug 5 Melk - Krems
Aug 6 Krems - Vienna


July 31, Arrival in Passau and getting organised.

21:42
Sitting in a beer garden in the centre of Passau....
At least a dozen old oak trees around, just had dinner of baked camembert with cranberries & schnitzel with boiled potatoes, washed down with a couple of local beers! :-)

Last night in Heidelberg was disappointing, because so many traditional places were serving Greek, Indian, Chinese food.... :-( There is something unGodly, unnatural and just downright wrong about a Brauhaus serving pasta or curry!

Drove down here today, about 400 kms, all motorway this time, cloudy & overcast. By the time I picked up Tristan (my Two wheeled Tourer!), the sun was beaming :-)

When I went to pick up my bike, the poor bikeman was very stressed out - dealing with all kinds of requests & some downright silly stuff. ( 4 Spanish people before me really were demanding).

When my turn came, he barked at me in German, to which I apologised in German & explained that I could understand him, but not answer him, but told him that I was on holidays & was in no rush.....Or at least that’s what I hope I said! Immediately he was like my new best buddy, advising me where to visit, how to get back to town, making sure I knew all the things to do if there was a problem with the bike and then he took my guide book and wrote down his personal mobile number in case I had any questions at all! He’s safe enough - My German won’t stretch that far!

Cycled around for a couple of hours, establishing a bond, & getting to know each other before our big adventure starts tomorrow!

Three rivers meet in Passau (a couple of months ago, they all flooded causing havoc!) and it really is a lovely blend of the modern & the old.

Lots of tourists around, but I chose to have dinner in a typical German kind of place- lots of locals.

My waiter knows I'm foreign, but he's not bending over backwards to be helpful... The way I like it! :-)

I'm embarrassed at how little I can speak! My understanding is ok, but when I go to speak, only gurgling noises come out!

This is Bavaria, and the accent is very up & down, very melodic!
 
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HobbesOnTour

HobbesOnTour

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Location
The Netherlands
Aug 1 Passau - Schlögen
10:46 am
At the moment, I'm just shy of 10k down the road, sitting on a little ferry to bring me over to Austria!
I don't need to cross the river, but since everybody else is following the map, I thought I'd be different!
The first 10kms have been amazing! The sun is shining, the wind is refreshingly cool and the scenery is amazing!!!
I stopped after 6kms for my first Radler (like a shandy, but soooooo much better!). Soooooo nice!
Lots and lots of cyclists, of all ages, shapes, sizes & nationalities!
I've seen quite a few father/son or father/daughter combinations.... I think that's a lovely sight!

Update from top of very high feckin' hill ! - There's a reason everybody else went the other way!!!

Update several minutes later; It wasn't the top!!!!

13:28
Sitting in the sun, waiting for my lunch! :-)
Only problem is that this is my final destination for today! Half past one & I'm finished for the day! :-)
I'm not sure if I'm gonna read ( brought books) or go off exploring....
Either way, I'm blissed out! :-)
The good part about the hills earlier was the descent! Absolutely no hills in Holland, so this was an almost child-like experience! I have to admit to letting a few whoops out! :-)
This place was totally under water in June. The good news is my room is brand spanking new! :-)....

16:20
The Josephine is motoring past me.
She's a barge, must be at least 300 ft long and from the unfortunate town of Butthard!!
I'm standing at a lock that's attached to a hydro electric plant. The river is dammed here, do this is how the boats travel up & down.
I've just passed the electrical side (all hissing & crackling!) and now I'm waiting for the boats that are going downriver; there's a queue of them to my right.....
Had a looong lunch & read about 100 pages of my book! More schnitzel and pancakes with icecream! :-)
Felt a bit guilty, so cycled back the way I came, but on the other side of the river!
Sun is burning up now! The sun cream isn't stopping me getting a colour!
Off to watch boats now! :-)

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20:16
Awaiting dinner (more later) but a boat just went by with 4 guys playing music - a trumpet, trombone & accordion! Bizarre!
Was watching boats at the lock for an hour or so.... Totally captivated! Like a big kid! :-)
One was a double barge... A barge with a floating trailer in front... It was over 500 ft long! And maneuvered into the lock with total precision! There was a German Shepherd on board... He was so close I could reach out & touch him! Later, another barge (Dutch) pulled up, also with a dog, and the 2 had a right yap with each other!
After that, I took the slow road back to the hotel, stopping for a radler and a read. Temps today were in the high 30s. - and yes.... I'm lobsterish!
Back to the hotel, tried to nap (failed) & came down for dinner to be told that they finished at 8!!!
So I've had a sandwich, and since it's only ten to nine, I'm gonna wander around this little village and look for excitement! :-) I think I'll be in bed for 10!
 
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HobbesOnTour

HobbesOnTour

Über Member
Location
The Netherlands
Aug 2 Schlögen - Linz

10;46 am. I'm happy! I was on a boat again!
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A typical ferry boat on the Danube

I'm about 6k down the road now, stopping for a radler ( I love my holidays!) and an early lunch (breakfast wasn't great).
I'm going through a whole series of bends on the river.... Tree covered mountains on both sides.... Cycling right beside the river..... So beautiful!
The short boat trip (5k) was glorious! The Danube boats have their own distinctive design.... Narrow & long with an open bow (no waves).
There were 5 of us on the boat excluding the captain.... An older German/Austrian couple were taking turns taking their photos so I offered to take one for them... Cue lots of half-english half - german pleases & thank yous :-)
Later, they offered to take my photo :-) so now I have at least one of me!
I can't believe how arrogant I was not not bring my German dictionary! It's so hard to have a conversation.... I feel really embarrassed about my lack of German.
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Meandering through some of the bends on the river

13:44 Linz is further than I thought!
The land now is flatter.... So less shade... And it is much hotter!
Temps today are in the high 30's.... I think I am the hottest & reddest man in Austria!
I've stopped for another Radler & asked if they sold cigarettes... To be told no!
The little old lady has just come out to give me one of hers! :-)
These little touches are nice! :-)
I think today is the longest ride. But tonight I'll be in a biggish city!

20:46
Oh yes! Today was the longest ride.... And the hardest! It was warm!
To give an idea, an hour ago, as the sun was going down it was 36 degrees!!
As well as the heat, the route was quite open (and a little boring!) and the last 10 k was alongside a busy dual-carriageway (between me & the river).
Found my way to the hotel (thank The Good Lord for airco!!) had a shower & a little nap (yeah...I'm getting old!!).
The receptionist was wonderful, very friendly & helpful. I've been out for a wander for the last couple of hours.

Linz is very stylish and even though the Danube flows right through it, quite disconnected from it. On the way into town there's a few places where people were sunbathing & swimming... But that's it! The river is pretty much inaccessible from the city. One side has a 4 lane road, the other buildings.... So no river walk for me this evening!

On the plus side, I did get to have my wurst tonight! :-) Loads of kiosks selling wurst & beer! :-) I found the perfect one to come back to.... But when I did.... It was closed!! So I ate at his competitor! :-) No need for a fancy meal when I can grab delicious food at a kiosk!
I might just wander off again in a while so I can work up some more appetite! :-)
Finished my book today, at one of my Radler stops.... So new one tomorrow! :-)
 
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HobbesOnTour

HobbesOnTour

Über Member
Location
The Netherlands
Aug 3 Linz - Bad Kreuzen
18:05
Where am I? I have no idea! Grein, I think, waiting for a taxi to bring me to my hotel..... It appears that night 3 of the Danube trip will be spent in Bad Kreuzen - away from the Danube!
(As it turned out, the taxi was a minibus with a trailer specially designed for bikes. It collected people from different tours, loaded them up and brought us to our respective hotels).

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My view from a roof terras while waiting for a bus/taxi. A real day of contrasts.

Today was tough, visited a camp - more later. My first smile came about an hour ago.... In a little cafe beside this bus stop.... I staggered in, sweating, panting.... And speechless... Into a bar with 4 or 5 locals.... Everybody stopped talking, looked at the damp, panting fool.... Until the sweet old lady behind the bar said (in German!) you look like you need a beer! :-)
For a minute, in a strange bar in a strange country I was a local! It felt nice! :-)
Now, I'm at a curve in the river, in a scenic town, waiting for my taxi-bus and the camp is far, far away....
I'm smiling again! :-)

Here’s a funny story from leaving Linz…..
Linz has trams.
Trams have tracks!
I have a simple rule... I don't drive where there's trams - they freak me out!
I have a new rule!
I don't cycle where there's trams! :-)

This morning, after a hearty breakfast of bacon & scrambled eggs, myself & Tristan set out on the next leg of our journey.
To find the river, we had to travel along the main shopping street of Linz, lined with elegant stores, and surprisingly, for such a sophisticated town and upmarket shops, market stalls right outside these stores.
So even though it is early, there are quite a few people out and about, so we are cycling along the middle of the street, perfectly bisecting a set of tram tracks....
Tram comes along, myself & Tristan pull over... No problem! And then we continue.....
But.... At a market stall, we spy a vision in a red, backless dress, tight fitting, accentuating the most perfect figure in all of Northern Austria.....
I blame Tristan, but within seconds we have pulled left (in the direction of this vision) and encountered the embedded tram tracks, which, as luck would have it, are the perfect size for Tristan's wheels....
When I spy an upcoming tram and casually pull right, Tristan refuses to obey (our first quarrel!) and continues straight on...
When I pull harder, Tristan rebels against me and we both fall flat on our faces.... On the busy street.... In front of the tram.... Providing amusement to all the early Saturday shoppers.... Except the vision in red!
I'm not sure to be glad she didn't witness the harm she caused, or to be sad at the loss of the obvious (if slightly desperate!) chat up line!

Bad Kreuzen, 21:34
Tiny town, on top of a mountain.... Lovely hotel.... Lovely evening of dinner & dessert & beer on a terrace, reading my book.... :-)

I have to comment on my greeting at the hotel. I misunderstood the taxi-driver’s instructions and got off with everyone else. Unfortunately, this wasn’t my hotel! Mine was up at the top of a damn big hill (that was already on a big hill!) - the perils of budget accommodation!
Being a prideful sort, I assured the driver I could cycle that little hill and set off. The result? I arrived into reception, gasping for breath, covered in sweat and with quivering limbs that barely kept me upright.
There was a big, big, stern looking man standing behind the combined bar/reception desk looking at me in an inscrutable manner. He reminded me of a bartender I knew once in Hamburg, a former shipyard worker from Poland who looked as tough as nails but was as kind, generous and patient as could be.
In my (by now a little practised German) I explained that I wanted to check in.
“No!” he said, almost breaking my spirit! Was I in the wrong hotel? Was I too unkempt for his establishment?
He reached under his counter and I had visions of some kind of a bat being introduced to the conversation to encourage me to move on.
But no, he was reaching for a glass which he then filled with a local cider from a tap.
“First, a drink”, he smiled.

So simple. So effective. And so welcome!

Today was tough.
I took a detour to a concentration camp at Mauthausen. Not one of the biggest or most famous camps.... But what a place!
Set up in 1938 & built by the inmates, it was mainly for political opponents & resistance fighters as the Nazis spread their wings.
I signed up for a tour, led by Josef, who happened to be from Hitler's home town. At first it was the 2 of us - I joked at how special I felt!- but we were joined by a family who soon got bored and wandered off again.
I know my second world war, and am reasonably well read on Germany, Nazis, the end of the Reich, but to go to a place where you could see (and almost feel) such abuse, such cruelty, such inhumanity was so much more powerful than anything I've ever read or seen.
When the Americans arrived in May of 1945, they found up to 20,000 bodies. I saw pictures of maybe 20 bodies piled up in carts... And that was horrific. But 20,000???
I have to admit, for the first time I wondered what it must have been like for the Americans... Arriving into this, and many other places of Hell on earth. How did they cope? It must have been horrendous.
Josef was very politically correct throughout. He made several references to how the locals must have known what was going on.... But did or said nothing.
The camp is at the top of a mountain (bloody hard work to cycle up!) and was visible as far away as Linz.
The site was specifically chosen because of granite deposits.... Granite that Hitler wanted to rebuild his favourite cities.
It was a work camp, as opposed to an extermination camp- people were worked to death, but they still had a small gas chamber, execution room (special construction to allow the SS shoot people in the neck) and 3 crematoria - the last opened 3 months before liberation! (the second crematorium was dismantled by Czechs & brought back to Czechoslovakia to "prove" that they were not collaborators!!)

It was appalling!

You visit the huts that up to 800 inmates lived in.... See the stairs in the quarry that they had to carry rocks up .... The cliffs they were thrown off....
And you leave.... And walk out to the sun, you see the farms, the towns nearby..... And I just got soooo angry!
Angry that this could have been done. And that life went on.
And the other thing that annoyed me (not as much) was how dumbed down the whole presentation was.... Assuming that people did not know that much about WW2.

I rode like a demon afterwards.... I wanted to get as far away as quickly as possible. ( not clever in high 30s heat!)

*Something I didn’t take note of at the time, but that has stuck in my head since was a bike in the attached museum. It had been stolen by a Polish inmate of the camp at the end of the war and used to get him back to Poland. It was a typical bike of the era, nothing like what we tour on these days. Not to mention the environment he was travelling through, or the condition he was in by that time.
He had kept it for the rest of his life and after he died, his family had donated it to the museum.
I don’t mind admitting that I felt more than a little guilty at the cursing and swearing that accompanied my climb up the mountain to that camp.

Another thing that strikes me as I read over this years later is that my thoughts were focused on the liberators, as opposed to the victims of the camp. I think at the time I was just overwhelmed at the sheer inhumanity that was on display - it was there as tangible as the stone walls. I don’t think I was able to process the complete picture presented.


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The not so Tramtastic Tristan, The TwoWheeled Tourer
 
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HobbesOnTour

HobbesOnTour

Über Member
Location
The Netherlands
Aug 4 / 5 Bad Kreuzen - Krems Via the Mile High Castle

I don’t have a lot of specific info on this leg, just some impressions.

I do recall going off route to visit an old ruined castle, one that was used to levy tariffs on passing boats. The perfect view of the river allowed observers to identify likely targets well in advance and activate a huge chain that they stretched across the river. Pay and pass…. Or not.

Even though the castle was in ruins there had been walkways built that allowed us to walk around the entire structure in safety and they even had a simple kids’ playground installed - something for all the family. It was a tough climb to get to the castle and still chastened by my experience at the camp and my head full of images of the bike used to flee, instead of whinging and complaining I thought about the descent when I was finished my visit. Unfortunately, the descent was so steep, with so many s bends and the traffic had increased significantly, a lot of it on the wrong side of the road, I ended up walking most of the way down!

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The Mile High Castle (Some artistic exaggeration may have been used in the naming of this castle!)

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Waiting for a victim!

A also recall some rather salubrious accommodation - I had a rooftop swimming pool all to myself. I remember being a little disappointed at the relatively short distance I had travelled until I checked in and discovered the pool. Disappointment gone!

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Relaxing by the pool - This cycle touring lark is a tough life!
 
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HobbesOnTour

HobbesOnTour

Über Member
Location
The Netherlands
Aug 6, Krems-Vienna

What a day!!!
Krems was last night.... Lovely little medieval town, but getting out of it today was hell!!

Dead ends, detours, incredibly poor signposting, tiny little paths through fields, forests, orchards & vineyards meant that my first 2 hours were spent getting out of the place!
The floods from a few months ago had destroyed parts of the cycle paths. I discovered this when I set off and after an hour or so hit a dead end - literally. Back to town, across the river and set off the other side.
At one stage I was cycling across a field! After about 2,5 hours I was about 2k outside the town! In 38 degree heat!!
As it turns out, I had a train ticket to bring me 40 odd kms down the road.... But nobody told me!! I was not a happy camper!

*This was entirely my own fault for not having read the supplementary notes supplied along with the guidebook.

Turns out today, the last day is the longest - almost 90kms (longer now because of all the detours!) In fact, it turned out to be over 100 km - my first ever century ride!
The sun is still splitting the stones and there is no shade!
Vienna tonight, though! So I hope it's worth it!
Getting in to Vienna & finding the hotel was a nightmare too! Another 2 hours to find the hotel from the city centre!

The approach to Vienna was interesting to say the least! Locals were taking advantage of the fine weather to get a suntan everywhere. When I say everywhere, I mean everywhere on their bodies! There was no shortage of totally naked people lying on the riverbank, barbecuing, playing volleyball and just about anything you can think of.

Since Vienna was by far the largest city of this trip and the hotel was in the suburbs, I had great difficulty finding the place. The small map supplied, the heat, my tiredness and hunger did not help the scene. To top it off, the hotel was trendy and modern, so different from the other hotels. To say I arrived in a foul humour was an understatement.

Quick shower & grabbed a U-bahn into the centre..... And everything changed! :-)
What a wonderful city! I arrived late, so rather than try to see all the sights, I just wandered.....
Had a delicious kebab on a bench watching the world go by...
Walked around the shopping district (closed) but with street terraces serving coffee, ice-cream and loads of buskers playing everything from Classical to Gypsy to U2!
I sat and had coffee & torte opposite the Opera building. My waiter was not impressed - he wanted to close up!
Came across a church with a little lake in front of it and a little square....
There was a kiosk serving drinks and someone had set up a portable dance-floor - about 40 couples were ballroom dancing! :-)

It was soooo civilized and so relaxing! It was the first time that I felt alone - such a lovely spot should be shared.
The city really needs a few days to do it justice, but my one night was magical! :-)

Looking back, it’s hard to overstate just how enjoyable Vienna was. I had wanted to visit certain places as any tourist would do, but my late arrival and extreme hunger displaced those notions. I’d had enough of maps after struggling to find the hotel. Instead, I just followed my nose. I’ve no photos of Vienna at all - I had a real sense that it was to be experienced, not recorded. Today, years later I don’t miss photos. I can still hear the music, feel the warmth and float in the atmosphere.

To this day it is still my favourite place and is the only place that I’ve ever felt lonely. It was so perfect, so magical that it seemed it had to be shared.

One thing I found was very interesting. Long after my visit, I read a journal on CGOAB of a solo cyclist who cycled into Vienna and he absolutely hated the place! Couldn’t wait to get through and out the other side! We’re a funny bunch, touring cyclists!


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HobbesOnTour

HobbesOnTour

Über Member
Location
The Netherlands
Epilogue

The next day was back to Passau on the train to pick up the car. (Car park closed at 5 pm!!! So I had to race back!)

As a first cycle tour I thought it was a great success! I didn’t love every second, especially parts of the last day into Vienna where I was lost, but the overall experience was fantastically positive. There was tremendous freedom, even though my hotel reservations were made. The days were so long and the distances so attainable there was a lot of time for exploring or just relaxing.

I’d recommend such a tour for anyone thinking of getting in to bike touring, especially if not used to cycling as it is a safe, structured way to experience all the positives of bike touring and gives the opportunity to identify some of the pitfalls if you use your imagination.

There were lots of cyclists like me, on an organised tour, but I saw more than a few self-supported cyclists along the way. At the start I was definitely in awe of them and felt very much like a cheater. By the end I was looking at them and thinking, “Yeah, I can do that too!”.

The tour company was quite well organised, even if there was a bit of a delay getting the travel info to me. The bikes were well serviced, if well used. I had zero technical issues. Different people followed different schedules, I presume based on accommodation availability. So, while there might be people in my hotel tonight, I may not see them again for a few more days. A train ticket was included for me and the bike to get back to Passau at the end and also tickets for any necessary ferry crossings.

Facilities for a touring cyclist were excellent! There was no shortage of places to eat or drink along the way.

The bike was perfectly adequate. I can remember practically no details about it, except it had gears. (For some reason I have remembered it as red.... but in the pic earlier it is clearly green!) I presume that was a good sign! My struggles uphill were possibility the result of poor gearing, but equally likely to be my lack of fitness.

Whereas previously, I cycled for relaxation and to get out in the fresh air and the cycling was the important thing, when I travelled from place to place the bicycle became less important - it was a tool to get me from A to B - the enjoyment was in the experiences between A and B.

I doubt I would ever have had the courage to pack up my own bike and head off without having done this trip. If I had, I would no doubt have spent a fortune on a new bike (as was strongly suggested when I brought my own bike to a bike shop to get fitted with racks for my next adventure). My limited experience with the basic Danube bike and the lesson learned from the stolen bike, taught me that the bike was less important than the motivation of the cyclist.

Having not paid too much attention to the itinerary information and suffered for it on the last day, I overcompensated on my next adventure, plotting each day in extensive detail, aware of the fact that I didn’t have a guidebook to fall back on. The result was far less enjoyment, constantly checking I was still “on track” in terms of route, distance, time. A couple of days in, I binned that idea and went back to wandering. Forward planning only goes so far. Deciding to go left or right sitting at my P.C. on a cold January night is not as effective as deciding on that warm, sunny July day.
That suits me best.

I've just checked and the basic package from the company I used is from €389 p.p. (June 2019). I'd definitely recommend it as a sound investment for anyone thinking of getting into bike touring but is unsure if they'll like it or be able to do it.



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Good quality, separated bike paths made cycling safe and easy

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Little ferries were fun and gave choice about which side to ride

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Tourist sites along the route were often busy. This is an old Bishop's Palace

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Wandering off course is to be encouraged!

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Scenery was spectacular!
 
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HobbesOnTour

HobbesOnTour

Über Member
Location
The Netherlands
Thanks @HobbesOnTour

Fantastic write up.

It brings to mind that the bicycle can be anything you want it to be, but it’s more about the journey than having the best/latest.

Keep up the good work
Thanks for the kind words. :blush:

It absolutely is all about the journey for me. I remember well the anxiety when I was booking this trip and the fear that I wouldn't make it. It seems funny now! ^_^
I believe that without this tour I'd never have had the guts to go for a solo tour. Just getting out there and doing it I learned so much. The sheer enjoyment and satisfaction fuelled the motivation for more adventures - far more, I believe, than a new bike or the latest gear ever could.

For anyone on a budget, like myself, I'd always say to get out there with whatever you have rather than waiting to upgrade. Spend the money on experiences, not things.
 
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