15
May
13

maas half marathon – how we got there

This had been 2 years in the making and when it eventually happened it was well worth the wait. Tuesday and at 1pm we met at Liverpool St station. Myself, Hauling My Carcass and 2 home made single speed bikes laden 6 days worth of luggage. We got the train to Colchester and then cycled the remaining 30ish kilometres to Harwich. We arrived early, killing time in a pub near the dock, eating, drinking and catching up.

We stocked up on some bits for “breakfast” at the supermarket and then went to the Ferry terminal to wait. I was surprised by the number of other cyclists waiting to board and, although promised that we would board first, we stood in the dark and the cold and were eventually boarded last. Bikes are wheeled on board and then hung by the handlebars in purpose built racks. We found our cabin, which was decidedly plush with some bunks, an en-suite and a massive porthole looking out over the sea. This was the bit that I was least looking forward to – I get terribly seasick but I have to say the crossing was fabulous. Very smooth and quiet and if you did not look out of the porthole, you would not have known you were moving. A quick drink and then I went straight to sleep. I awoke to the tannoy informing us that we would be disembarking in one hour.

In the Hook of Holland, HMC turned on his GPS and we were off, following the route that he had diligently mapped over the preceeding months. I have to say that having the GPS made this trip very easy. So easy in fact, that after an hour in, we decided to take a detour into Rotterdam to see the suspension bridge. Both HMC and I had agreed that this wasn’t just to be a “heads down and get to our destination” trip and that we should stop where and when we pleased to take in some of the places we passed through. A second breakfast of coffee and cake in Rotterdam and we were off for what was to be probably one of the toughest parts of the journey.

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The weather closed in, rain showers and wind and we soon realised that we were hungry and in the middle of Holland with nowhere to stop and eat. At this point I was thankful for the Jack Wolfskin jacket that I had brought with me – it kept out both the wet and the wind and I would continue to use it throughout the 6 days – it became my warm, dry place that I could shelter from the elements whilst still eating up the miles on the bike. A snack bar was found that sold water, Coke, rolls, chips, crisps and chocolate. We basically ordered 2 of everything from the menu and set about re-fuelling. And it was fabulous. We finished up and set off on the final leg to our first destination – a B&B nestled amongst the flat farmlands of Holland. The reception couldn’t have been warmer, the owner even taking pity on us and offering to get us a Chinese take away to save us having to cycle somewhere to eat. Despite asking for vegetarian, I seemed to get food that contained meat, albeit only a little, so HMC feasted and I had some rice and a bit of soup. The breakfast that was laid on for us the following morning more than made up for it with eggs, rolls, home-made jam, yoghurt drink and coffee.

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Day 2 and we set off through the pancake flat farmland on roads and cycle paths so smooth that it felt like you could go for miles without even pedalling. I noticed that there seemed to be a lot of people out and about – we passed a few cycle races and we found out that today was a national holiday in Belgium. Highlight of the day was the stretch alongside the Albert Canal – a perfectly smooth, perfectly flat and perfectly straight cycle path alongside a large man made estuary. Whipping past tankers and enormous canal boats, and with no traffic to concentrate on, we chatted as we tore up the miles. Again, HMC had done us proud, for when we arrived at the accommodation for the night, it was a massive “loft apartment” above a tavern in the middle of a forest. We were warmly greeted by the owners and promptly offered bottles of Coke (“You guys have cycled a pretty long way, I’ll get you some Coca-Cola” is one of the nicest phrases you can here after a day of cycling in the sunshine). We had to find a shop that was open to get something for dinner (pasta, as it turned out), and then settled down with our food to watch highlights of the Giro D’Italia before getting to bed before the 3rd and final full day of cycling.

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Day 3 and we wanted to get a good portion of the days distance done in the morning. Today was the first day that we really had to spend any amount of time cycling on actual roads. We also encountered our first real hills of the trip. Up until now, they had been little more than inclines. A stop for lunch after 60km meant that we had roughly 30k to complete in the afternoon. Once again, the Jack Wolfskin came into it’s own, keeping the wind off whilst sat at the side of the road in a deserted Belgian village feasting on rolls stuffed with houmous, cheese and crisps. This is not my preferred meal of choice but it contains enough carbs to keep you going all day and, after 60 kilometres in the saddle, tastes fantastic.

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The last 30km were probably the hardest of the whole trip – hilly terrain and then hitting Vise in rush hour was a real culture shock. We were back on actual roads and all of a sudden dealing with traffic. Lots of traffic. The final hill to our destination (approx 1km up followed by 1km down) was a killer when laden with luggage and trying to negotiate traffic jams but we made it. We checked in and then went in search of food. Unfortunately, the nearest restaurants were back in Vise so for each evening meal, we had to tackle the 1k up / 1k down hill that sat between us and the town. Saturday was to be our rest day before the Maas Half Marathon on Sunday and was spent getting our race packs from Race HQ, a little excursion on the bikes cut short by a torrential downpour and then an afternoon of watching the Giro. Finally, a cycle into Vise with pizza for dinner because tomorrow was race day…

TO BE CONTINUED…


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