What does it take to cycle 900 miles across Central Europe? Well a bicycle for a start. I was brought up in semi-rural Surrey and bicycles were as much a part of boyhood as Airfix kits and Biggles, as fish paste sandwiches and Tizer. Then at some point riding across Chobham Common pretending to be the Cisco Kid lost its appeal and sex, drugs and rock and roll took over. So from the age of 15 until just a couple of years ago, I am now 63, I haven't owned a bicycle. On a holiday in Poland, a couple of years ago, I went for a ride with my brother-in-law and enjoyed it enough to buy a bicycle on my return. It was sturdy, cheap and cheerful, a hybrid, a cross between a trail bike and a road bike. I clattered along local canal tow paths and the country lanes around Basingstoke and thought "this is good". But when it came to this journey I thought it's time for an upgrade. I consulted cycling enthusiast friends who made suggestions and I ended up in a glossy modern shop called 'Specialized' in Newbury where I met several good looking young men who insisted on being on first name terms from the moment I walked in. For a second or two I considered saying "It's Mr Irwin to you, you little shits" but I was distracted by the wonderland of bicycles around me. I explained to the good looking young men that I was planning to cycle the length of the Danube and when I had explained that the Danube was a long river in Europe they were impressed and helpful. I quickly parted with £400 and walked out with a shiny new Sirrus. This seemed to me to be a lot of money but most of the bikes in the shop were priced in the thousands. Was it worth it? Was the Sirrus that much better than my old bike? Yes it was. It's just like buying a new car. Your old car, with an ashtray, stuffed full of soggy Pay & Display tickets and an apple core, with rear seats stained with something from a best forgotten holiday and with a handbrake that you have little confidence in, may seem comfortable and homely but when you get a new car you realise just how good life can be. It all works, there are no knobs missing, the seats adjust and the radio can receive more than just BBC Berkshire. Well that's how my Sirrus seemed to me, lighter, smarter and better engineered than my old bike. Do I love my Sirrus? Yes I do and that's just as well as she(?) is all I have for company on this trip. What to call her?
Indefatigable Irish cycling traveller and writer Dervla Murphy calls her bike Gerald. I broached the subject to the children at supper, Maria suggested 'Doris' but seeing the look of contempt on Jack's face she quickly retracted saying that giving a bicycle a name was stupid. 'Doris' will do for me, if for no better reason than it is quicker to type "I chained Doris to the railings" than it is to type "I chained my bike to the railings".
So with Doris in place the next thing to do was a bit of training. In a book of Hampshire Cycle rides there is a circuit round the outlying villages around Basingstoke which, with the ride out to the start point, totals 43 miles and I have worked myself up to a point where I can complete this in around 5 hours without feeling too many ill effects other than a sore arse, a phrase that I suspect will come up frequently in the future. Again I consulted more experienced cyclists. "Ted you need to get yourself some padded lycra shorts". Lycra shorts. Old blokes don't look good in shorts let alone lycra shorts but they were right and I thank them for it. What to wear under the shorts? I am a boxer shorts person but they are hopeless, lots of seams and they ruck up and chafe. Ordinary briefs are better but after consultation with my wife I tried a pair of her knickers. Excellent, the way forward. Yes folks I am cycling down the Danube in ladies' underwear.
What to take with me? As little as possible obviously. I bought two smart pannier bags and I already had a small saddle bag. Apart from clothes, a few tools, a small first aid kit, a phone, a torch, a Hi-Viz jacket, an I-Pad, something to read on Danubian evenings, all I needed was a guide book. Stanfords have the very thing. Four volumes that cover the entire route, they have immaculate maps, a miraculous level of detail and fit into a map holder that velcros onto your handlebars. From these books I have booked accommodation all along the route based on my daily average of 50 miles. So there we are. All ready. What can possibly go wrong.