Travel Confessions: Writer Sarah Webb on biking around Europe
Tired of living vicariously through other people's adventures, Sarah Webb traded her journalism job to circumnavigate the globe by cycle with her boyfriend, Scott Daniel-Guiterrez, in tow, to capture and experience the world on an epic four-year, round-the-world trip dubbed the 'Long Rode Home'. I caught up with Sarah five months into their tour on their way through Germany to find out about their life on the road so far.
How did the idea for your Long Rode Home trip come about?
To be honest, I've always wanted to see the world and have a bit of a grand old adventure but in the end, it took a stressful job as a journalist in Queensland, a new-found love affair with bicycles and the original simple idea of cycling France. The optimistic side of me chimed in with, "If you're going to cycle France, then why not all of Europe?", and the Long Rode Home idea just snowballed from there. I was unfit, unprepared and frankly had absolutely no idea what I was getting myself in for, but I was lucky enough to have a partner, Scott, who was as game as me.
What are your travel plans?
We started cycling in Inverness, Scotland for no other reason than it seemed a good idea at the time, and from there we peddled across Ireland, Wales and England. I guess we figured starting in the English-speaking world would make life easier but what we didn't count on was the epic mountains, icy headwinds and endless rain.
From Morocco, we will tackle Tunisia and Italy before weaving our way down to Greece, Turkey, Iran and then the 'Stans'. From Kazakhstan, we will peddle to Mongolia and then China before catching our second flight of the trip to Anchorage in Alaska. On the final leg, we'll cycle the length of the American continent down to Ushuaia, Argentina (a.k.a. the end of the world).
How did you prepare for this cycling trip?
Saving up for it was the most crucial part and we lived like peasants for months to ensure we could scramble together a budget of about AU$20 a day each. We then spent endless hours researching other long-distance bike tourers (there's some really informative blogs and websites) and from there, we put together a gear list including everything from bikes, to a tent and the type of clothing, cooking gear and tools we'd need. As for training, well, to be honest - we were pretty slack. We were competing in triathlons when the dream popped into our heads, but towards the business end of the pre-trip preparations we were lucky to get on the bikes once a week. The end result was we tackled the Scottish Highlands with some seriously pitiful fitness levels but some really flashy gear.
Do you have any rules in place for your trip?
Bring a really big sense of humour, learn a few basic phrases before you enter a non-English speaking country, invest in a comfortable pillow, and don't beat yourself up if you're knackered after cycling a mere 30 kilometres (it's not a race and if you treat it like one you'll end up with bruises on your backside and a bunch of bad memories).
What are some of the highlights of your trip so far?
Cycling our loaded touring bikes over London's Tower Bridge in the heart of peak-hour morning traffic was an experience we'll never forget, alongside cycling the west coast of Ireland with a French couple, and wild camping on a deserted Irish beach that would have looked like Antigua had the temperature been 20 degrees higher. But all in all, the greatest highlight of all has been discovering that most people are kind, honest and just want to help - whether it's a German couple bringing over their own set of table and chairs for us in a small campsite just so we didn't have to eat our two-minute noodles on a wet tarp, or even a Dutch man running across three sets of lights to steer us in the right direction just because we seemed a little lost.
Camping on a deserted Irish beach that would have looked like Antigua (it was good at first but then the reality of pitching a tent on sand kicked in and the innocent-looking water almost gave us hypothermia). Also, tackling the epic hills and rain in Wales and being attacked by hordes of midges while camping wild in an Irish forest. Truth be told, however, every lowlight has left us laughing the hardest (once memory of the pain has faded) and with the most colourful stories.
What's been your biggest expense so far?
The initial outlay of the gear cost us literally thousands but since actually cycling, it has mostly been for accommodation and food. Britain was extremely pricey (especially during the high season where, at its peak, we paid ₤25 just to pitch a tent).
What have you learned to live without?
Television, boiling water on tap (I seriously miss my kettle), hair conditioner, a blow dryer and my friends and family. I've become a feral-looking nomad in threat of losing her marbles.
You're a bit of a foodie, any mind-blowing meals you've enjoyed?
A plate of freshly caught mussels on the west coast of Ireland seriously blew my mind, and just about everything I had in France (whether it was the butter, the baguettes, the croissants or the wine) tasted like heaven. So far in Germany, it's been a simple cabbage soup with bacon served in a canteen that made me realise just how delicious and warming this €2 dish could be. On the other end of the spectrum, I tried (for scientific purposes) haggis from a can. I don't recommend it.
Any tips for travellers wanting to cycle around the world?
Don't make excuses - book your flight and worry about the rest later. I've literally encountered cyclists peddling around the European continent with a €50 bike and a threadbare backpack. And don't agonise too much about your route or the gear. The perfect route can be found after chatting to the locals and unless you're cycling to Antarctica, chances are you can buy everything you need on the road. Also, don't worry too much about fitness - you get that on the road too.