Here, you will find a chronicle of our adventures. These trips are the reason we make the products we make, to allow us and you to push ourselves to even greater achievements. Please note that the stories found here depict our endeavors as they happened and without much polish to the rough edges.
From Gibraltar to the North Cape
Like with all good stories, I think with the be Mad chronicle, it is best to start at the beginning.
The journey from Gibraltar to North Cape was not only the first bigger trip of mine but the first time a couple of friends and I took a serious try at making our own gear. In a way, this is the root of our company even though I'm not talking about sleeping bags or hammocks, what we built was a custom design recumbent (a bike which you ride lying on your back) to take me to my destination some 5700km away.
After several months of intense bike building and trip planning I found myself, and the bike, in a plane bound for London. I had a fine plan to spend couple of days there and then catch another flight to Gibraltar. As it happened, during those couple of days a volcano erupted in Iceland stopping pretty much all air transportation within Europe, including my flight to Gibraltar. This is the thing I probably like the best about taking on an adventure. One day I'm supposed to be cycling trough Spain, the next I realize I'm spending one awesome week in London meeting new people and having seriously good time.
Excerpt from the journal I kept during the trip: Start -1
Yesterday I strolled around the town some more in the morning and after that I met Jonas and Alex. Both were really nice. Went to their place and talked bull**** for a while. Went hunting some furniture for them and found a mirror and a drawer. After that we hanged out in the park near Tower Bridge, then went seeking for a nonexistent pub.
In the morning, after a quick breakfast, I got going and took the tube to get to the train station from where I'm now writing. I think I smell bad.
Update: I caused a fire alarm in a hotel.
When the ash, blown up by the volcano, cleared up I finally got on a plane to Gibraltar and even managed to get my bike with me after some lengthy negotiations with the airline staff. Walking out from the airport and unboxing the bike in the parking lot I was finally on my way. I started off pedaling towards south in order to reach the actual south most point accessible by road in Europe. After a few hours it really started to sink in what I had gotten myself into. Already I was exhausted and having difficulties mastering the bike. The problem with the bike was that as it took several months to build I didn't have but a few weeks in which to learn how to ride it before taking off for my big trip. And let it be known that riding a center steered recumbent is not quite what most people would consider easy. After all you have to pedal and steer with your legs at the same time. And yes it's probably not the best of plans to build a bike that is designed to be driven without hands at all times and taking it for a near 6000km trip without learning to ride it properly but then again this story is filed under Be Mad.
Some 10km before Tarifa, the actual south most town in Spain, there is a big winding downhill on a quite busy road I was taking. By the time I got to the top of the hill it was already dark and I was very, very tired. Thankful for the easier going I started to cruise down the hill picking up some speed, and then some more, and then some. At about 65km/h a car passed me and in its lights I saw a tight left hand corner coming up about 50m away. I hit the brakes and got my speed reduced to around 50km/h thinking I should be able to clear the corner. How very wrong was I. Nearly out of the corner I felt my front wheel slip and the next thing I realized was the headlights of a car behind me getting alarmingly bright while I was sliding along the tarmac supported by my right hip and forearms. Thankfully the driver in the SUV behind me was alert and quick in her reactions and she did not run me over. Jumping up in front of the car my thoughts were immediately on fate of my bike. After picking up the bike I got to the side of the road and the people in the SUV started to ask if I was ok. I told them I was fine and then took a look at my bloody arms and at torn rags that used to be my trousers. After I was left alone I took a few moments to clear my head and check the bike, only superficial damage, and started rolling down the hill. By the time I got to Tarifa I had really started to feel the pain. Sliding along the tarmac had peeled about 5cm wide strip of skin running from my wrists to elbows as well as from a round area about size of a large orange in my right hip. It would take more than a week for the bleeding to finally stop. I checked in to the first hotel I saw and went straight to bead. Lying there, bleeding on the sheets I was certain I'd never make it to the North Cape.
Pedaled from Gibraltar to start line. Completely exhausted. I'm not quite certain if i'm going to meet my end by crashing, dehydration or by being run over. However I'm fairly sure I'm not going to make it out of Spain. Crashed today at about 50km/h and was nearly run over. There are no cycling lanes in Spain so I took the motorway. Need food.
As you can probably imagine my spirits weren't too high when I started off towards North the next morning. I was so sure that I wouldn't make it that I didn't even bother to actually visit the very south most point even if it was just around hundred meters from the hotel I stayed in. Funny how this small distance didn't seem worth the effort after all the trouble I had gone through to get to this point. I suppose the main motivation for me starting the trip at all that morning was mostly just that I didn't really have anything else planned and couldn't afford to stay in the hotel. After one or two hours of cycling I started to develop a new, rather simple plan. I would keep on cycling simply because I would be too embarrassed to quit so early. As soon as I felt I could return home with some dignity I would do so. That day I had no day dreams about cliffs of North Cape but I was still on the move.
During the following week my thoughts would shift from a sinking feeling of failure towards more practical matters. I started worrying about the distances I had covered or where to get food and water. One thing that I really learned the hard way was the importance of proper nutrition and the dangers of dehydration. On the evening of the second day on the move I ran out of water completely, which did make cycling under Spanish sun quite hellish. When I finally reached a village where I could find water, the best I could do with my nonexistent Spanish was to point at my empty drinking bottle and croak "aqua". Luckily for me, the good people of Valle de Abdalajís understood me perfectly. In the following days as my body got more used to the constant physical strain, my food consumption started skyrocketing. By day six I had covered about half of Spain and was getting used to the life on the road. While I still wasn't satisfied with my progress, I had stopped thinking about how far North Cape was and even started to enjoy the journey at times.
Today I think I've managed to take proper care of my nutrition. Consumed today: 1 l of yuogurt, package of toast, ketchup, 6 cans of tuna, 2 packs of salt crackers, pack of chocolate cookies, 3 l of orange juice and about 5 l of water. All together a healthy 5000kcal.
After taking a full days rest at day 7 I really started to cover some ground. On day 10 I wrote: During the last 3 days I've covered 490km, 160, 200 and 130 and still going strong. Should reach France tomorrow.
In the end I reached France only on the day 12 but this did not dampen my spirits. After crossing the border I managed to get myself a couch trough couchsurfing.org and had really good time in Mont-de-Marsan staying with my host Misha. One of the things traveling cyclist starts to miss the most is good company. When you spend all day, every day, riding alone for a couple of weeks you really start to appreciate conversation longer than typically exchanged when buying groceries. Also staying in someone's home gives you an opportunity to cook proper food and one of the best things in cycling every day is that you're able to consume extraordinary amounts of delicious food! And wine! Oh wait, that doesn't really have anything to do with cycling. Nevertheless if you go through all the trouble of cycling for two weeks to get to France it would be kind of silly to just omit the world famous French cheese, and wine goes well with cheese.
Didn't make the early start I was hoping for yesterday. Had a good taste of wines and cheese. We had a bit of a party at Misha's place with people coming from Guatemala, Norway, England, Spain and Finland =). First day of riding was OK, clocked 155km despite late start. Today things didn't go quite so well. When I tried to open map software on my phone I received an error. An error that wouldn't go away. So I started off without a map. For the first 10km I traveled blindly, until I managed to get my hands on paper map and some food. I moved forward for half a map, no idea what that's in km. When I didn't have to save battery of my phone for navigation I could plug in my earphones and queue the music! I made it into a local newspaper, though I'm not sure if the reporter really understood my French too well.
After this, my cycling changed quite a bit. Instead of following a carefully planned route (which I could no longer remember since it was stored in my malfunctioning phone) I started to navigate with paper maps I bought along the way. This of course meant that more than once I run out of map and had to rely on compass to travel into general northerly direction. It is a fine feeling to ride into the unknown in a foreign country not having a clue what's lying ahead!
As I crept towards the Belgian border the weather got progressively worse. This was bad news for me as I was relying heavily on camping for my accommodation. While sheltering underneath a small tarp is in general not that unpleasant while hiking in the wilderness it doesn't seem that attractive option when you're constantly surrounded by people taking warm showers in their homes. Also as camping is not allowed anywhere you want in France, or rest of the central Europe for that matter, finding suitable camping spots that would provide some cover both from the elements and people passing by was sometimes very difficult. The difficulty of finding a place to sleep soon became one of the regular topics in my journal.
Didn't make it to Belgium. Whole day of rain and 5C warm and I've managed to catch stomach flu. Yay. As the night got closer it was looking alarmingly like I was going to be left sleeping on the roadside again. At around 8pm I was riding towards next town some 15km away when I spotted a sign "Chambres d'hotes" on the left. The place was fully booked but hearing my story they let me sleep on the couch for free! How nice is that.
I made it to Belgium. It's a small country but evidently there's a lot going on.
On the first night in Belgium I couldn't find a place to sleep in and in the end checked into a hotel which was a bit too costly for my taste. However nowhere near as costly as the next day. The day started promisingly with a good breakfast and as it happened to be some kind of public holiday and nothing was supposed to be open the hotel keeper gave me some can food to carry along. The day went real nice on good Belgian bike lanes and I was happy to say I had finally reached civilized world as people didn't seem to pay too much attention to my recumbent. Someone even tried to sell me his at traffic lights. However the stress of this journey was too much for my brave ride and after a particularly violent bump the frame of the bike broke apart.
Unable to ride the bike I was feeling rather hopeless. As the day started to turn into night I decided to find a place to stay and decide what to do in the morning. Problem however was that I had no idea where to stay. By the side of the road there were some vending machines and a bloke buying something from the machines. I approached him and asked if he knew a place I could stay, a cheap hostel or a place to camp maybe? He started to tell me that he's sorry but he can't invite me to his home as he had wife and kids and all. I reassured him that I'd be fine and started the search on my own again. After some 5 minutes the man from the machine shop, Andy, drives by my side and tells me he had a talk with his wife, Sylvie, and that they'd like to invite me to stay with them.
The next day I bought a second hand bicycle for 50 Euros and spent the rest of the day working on it in Andy's garage and so I got myself a new bike! In the end I stayed with Andy and Sylvie for two nights enjoying their generous hospitality making full recovery. When I started riding again towards North I was filled with more determination than ever. For the first time since I started I was really certain that I would make it to North Cape.
...I'm pretty certain that I'm going to make it all the way to North Cape. When even frame failure, big accidents or strains of half the journey weren't enough to stop me, I don't see what worse could be lurking behind the corner. I must say that without Sylvie and Andy my journey might have been over. Not just that I got a place to sleep a couple nights but they also helped me to get my new bike together and simply having good company gave me a huge moral boost. The neighbor got my extra set of wheels so I'm happy to have been able to give at least a little something in return :)
Over the next few days I spent my riding time worrying about saddle sores and trying to remember how to ride an upright bicycle again. This was not as simple as it sounds since when riding my recumbent I had gotten used to the habit of not removing my feet from pedals when stopping, since I could just put a hand down. Combine this with clipless pedals and you've got the ingredients for maximum embarrassment.
Netherlands and Germany were both remarkably uneventful countries and in some way they are the best case studies on what cycling trough a continent really is. It's a huge challenge and a lot of memorable moments and ups and downs, but for the most part it's just cycling, boring, uneventful, cycling. After four weeks on the road you don't really appreciate the changing landscape in the same way as you did at the beginning, you don't stop to take pictures and your biggest rewards come from whatever social contact you get from the people you meet. On the other hand at this point, having ridden more than half of the overall distance you start slowly thinking about reaching the destination. At first you're thinking that you're going to make it one day, then you start to make estimations how long it's going to take and then you start to get all obsessed about it and start designing ways to improve your pace and the nature of the whole trip has changed completely. From now on I was racing.
I should reach Denmark tomorrow. Already saw the Baltic today. I've been having a few beers in Germany and what's with the having as beer flows for practically free. I think I'll push to Roskilde tomorrow and day after that to Sweden, and then no longer having to worry about where to stay the night I could start working 14 hour shifts for the final "sprint"...
Four weeks on the road, didn't quite make it to Roskilde, was left 20km short but no matter, going to make it to Sweden anyways tomorrow. I think this might be the last night in real bed for a while. If I can find an extra sleeping bag I think I'll be all covered for pushing towards North as hard as I can. It's strange how at this point I don't really feel any need for taking a full day's rest, I'm starting to get so used to some soreness in the muscles that I hardly notice it.
After making It to Sweden and doing some repairs to the bike and rest of the gear in Helsingborg, I started to ride longer days and working really hard towards the goal of North Cape. But even though I started to cover more ground, the main difference in my riding was mental. When previously I had had a vague idea that I'm going always north at my own pace I now had a clear destination and even a schedule. I set myself a date I wanted to reach the North Cape and after that all my thoughts were consumed by this single idea. Naturally during the long riding days my mind wondered on its own account and I started to enjoy the scenery again, though I think this was mostly due to the fact that I happen to like wild places and inhabited parts of Scandinavia can be truly beautiful, but when I stopped all I could think about was the, now almost magical, cliff of North Cape by the shores of the Arctic Ocean.
The riding got progressively harder on my body as time passed and the days from the last proper rest started to pile up. The small period of R&R I took at Andy's and Sylvie's place on day 23 was in fact the last one during the whole trip and it started to show towards the end.
Morning. Found a good camping spot by a lake, went for a swim. Toni asked if he should pick me up from Norway. I should be out of here in less than two weeks! YAY!
A good day of riding, about 1200km to the North Cape as the bird flies, should drive it in 9 days
Riding's a hellish battle, should move 140km a day as the bird flies but feeling too damn tired. Washed my hair a moment ago, not enjoyable. The thought of freezing stream and cold air doesn't really inspire me to leave the cozy sleeping bag. The mornings are the worst. All I really wanted to do at the moment would be to lay here and never get up. So it's time for breakfast and then some riding. Last 1000km to go. As the bird flies =(
Been raining for two days in a row now. Broke my rack today, duct tape and improper use of gear for the fix, hopefully it's going to hold.
980km along the road, 4 days to go. A badger tried to eat my food. Not that I had too much, evening meal for today is cheese with some salami. Not that good.
Morning. When I woke up the muscles in my both legs cramped. Hurts. Should ride 200km today.
In Norway it's light and cold and brown. It's not really brown when you take a closer look there's really all kinds of colors in the ground but from far ahead everything looks brown. Chased a reindeer herd, didn't catch it but it was a close call. Usually when you forget unclip your shoes when stopping it's because you're not used to clipless pedals. Today I just forgot that one should put a feet to the ground when stopping with a bicycle. Broke a spoke from the rear wheel.
Woke up, cramped, vomited, went back to sleep.
Rear axle snapped. Stuck on a road 70km to Alta. Hitch-hiking seems really hard. Can't understand why people won't stop when they see someone signaling for them in the middle of nowhere. Pitiful 300km to the North Cape but still so far. Frustration!
42 days, closer to 6000km, I think I've never been this tired. Got a free waffle. Feeling pretty damn good! A bit hungry but no matter. The rain didn't stop by the way. Last 200km in the rain by the shores of the Arctic Ocean makes your toes go slightly numb, but made it to the roads end! Last 25km were absolute hell. Riding up the hills in 50m sections. And there were plenty of hills. But I got to open a beer at the roads end. Pretty damn sweet tasting beer.