Week 26 Lasne, Belgium to…The Brandenberg Gate, Berlin!

Day 176

After a late finish yesterday it was hard to get an early start from the cottage and we decided not to wake ourselves up with the cobbled section and pottered down to the metalled road. Weaving our way back to the route the weather was decidedly damp and with intermittent light showers we were to be on the soggy side all day. A slow route on an off bike paths and up and down short climbs had us stopping for coffee and waffles sooner rather than later.

Feeling a bit warmer we carried on along the bicycle lane only to have a car honk and pull us over… a man got put and flashed a police ID at us before talking rapidly in flemish. “Do you want to die?!” He exclaimed when he realised we were English…we looked at each other confused but it turned out we had missed a red light and ridden over the junction of a side road on the cycle path. We apologised for our mistake but he was not impressed “Next time I hope the car hit you so you will learn!! You have money? It cost €272 for this mistake!!” Funnily enough we weren’t carrying that amount in cash and (guessing he had better things to do on a Sunday afternoon) he sternly waved us on!

At the next junction we figured out the bike traffic light was at normal traffic light height, well above eye level. But also that the bicycle and main traffic lights changed at the same time so we were still at risk of right turners, and probably safer when we had accidentally run the light!

Moving on it was a long slog to the border with Holland and a closed road diversion has us backtracking and going around the lanes. The brakes needed adjusting too due to the horrible weather and by the time we reached the border it was dark. Holland lived up to it’s reputation though and wonderful bike paths with sensible traffic lights had us flying alongside the main road. If anyone is in doubt whether we are on a sightseeing holiday or a record attempt: we rode the whole of Holland in the dark (sorry not many photos!) only stopping for a late evening kebab before another late arrival at our apartment in Germany.

In the last country now, but it never gets any easier…

Day 177

If you follow strava you’ve probably noticed today hasn’t gone to plan…

We dragged ourselves slowly out of bed, tried to cobble.together breakfast from last night’s takeaway and whatever remained in foodland and brush the mud off damp clothes to try and get on the road.

It rained from the off. We negotiated cycle paths and unfamiliar junctions, get shouted at in seconds of putting a foot wrong for not being in.the cycle lanes. Wet leaves and raised tarmac from tree roots were a horrendous combination and numb hands from.sodden gloves just made matters worse. Towns and traffic lights slowed us down.and routing wasn’t always straightforward. We stopped at a pharmacy to pick up supplies and then at a petrol station to sort out the brakes again… the rain never stopped and we felt exhausted with the effort of trying to push through the slow riding with sodden clothes and aching bodies…

We checked the distance.

We’d done 13miles.

Coffee and bockwurst at the petrol station helped a but it was still miserable. We tried and tried to ride fast, smoother, more efficiently. We were so determined.

Another coffee stop. 45miles by 3pm. Dark in less.than 2 hours. 70 planned miles to go.

Braving the damp again it.wasn’t getting easier. We managed to ride past a hotel. But then a few miles uo the road Stevie has lost his hands again, all the gloves making no difference and he is shaking and cannot hold the bicycle true. SteLa the Tandem is complaining as well, ominous clunks and grit grinding constantly in the discs.

We stop.

The hotel is less than a mile back. Darkness, danger and disaster is forward. We grit our teeth and turn around.

55miles. 330miles to go.

We’re not out of the running, but our 180 day dream seems so far away… but if we run over can we last on the road. Today it felt like the three of us were falling apart on the road, coming apart at the seams like Stevie’s shorts have. How much longer dare we give it as the light diminishes and the weather gets worse.

Or do we rest recover and reappraise. Then go big, go hard and go for the 180 at the Gate!

It’s too late and we’re too exhausted to know the answer tonight…

Day 178

Welcome back to the rollercoaster ride that is SteLa Tandem…

We made a really positive start: up early packed and ready to go before breakfast and then stocking up on the buffet and smuggling extra supplies out in our bulging pockets!! On the road just as it was getting light we were delighted it wasn’t raining and starting to feel more positive. It was definitely warmer and Stevie even took his newspaper out (..if you know…you know…!🤣)

The going still wasn’t fast though as we continued to navigate towns with ever changing cycle paths and crossings. A brief McDonald’s stop for hot drinks and we pressed on through the busy streets.

We were more than a but surprised when a man waved us down and asked if we would like a cup of tea in English. We didn’t know ot at the time but Scott had made a 680km round trip to meet us and not only supplied tea, but also snacks, dry lube and the loan of a waterproof set of gloves for Stevie! The icing on the cake was a set of STELA chocolates! 😍

Feeling motivated by the amazing support (although we have no idea how he managed to find us with the number of route diversions we took today! ) we hit Bielefeld, which turned out to be a major city. Dodging trams and the Christmas Market slowed us down more and we even didn’t have time for a gluhwein!

The going continued to be tough into the night and it started to rain again. Disheartened at our slow pace it was hard to remain focused and calm. The evening shift dragged on and on, especially as we had some noises from the bike we’re not happy with.

Arriving in Hameln without any rodents in tow we set about checking the bike and wondering what on earth to do about the remaining 200+miles…

Day 179

After Stevie had been up to 2am checking the bearings and greasing then it was a groggy start and we were faced with big decisions:

– Stop in Hamlen, wait for the bike shops to open and see of they had the bearings losing riding time.

– Ride on and try bike shops along the way

Ride on and just hope the back wheel holds out for the last 200+miles….

We’d put our plea for help out and we ate massively grateful for everyone the offered advice and tried to help- sorry we didn’t get back to you all at the time!

We decided to make a start and headed for Springe where a bike shop opened at 10am, riding the grinding wheel on the way.

The shop did not have the bearings but by this time the amazing Hope Technology Ltd had come to the rescue again and found that one of their retailers My Bike Time in Hannover had then in stock and ready to fit!

But they were over the far side of Hannover to the North of our route and crossing a major city would lose us at least half a day’s worth if distance.

The wheel was rolling but still noisy at this point so we decided to continue riding hoping there was a strong chance we would make it to the end and if not at least we knew where new bearings were.

The going was tough and cold with a biting headwind and we soon stopped at a McDonald’s to warm up and fuel up. The daylight was already slipping too fast and it was hard to stay positive and focused, riding on what felt like a ticking time bomb of a rear wheel disaster.

At around 60 miles we couldn’t ignore the fact it was definitely getting noisier as the bearings ground down more and we could feel the riding resistance increase, a bit like riding through metallic gravel.

We literally ground to a halt a few miles later. Pur gamble hadn’t paid off and it was too much to risk the axle and the entire wheel integrity to continue.

We were about 160miles from Berlin.

Laura had a small meltdown and then we started looking for somewhere to stay as it was now cold and dark. Finding a guesthouse 2miles up the road we decided to limp there, but then on the off chance Laura checked the bicycle shop opening hours-they were open until 7pm and it was only 5pm despite the dark!

We sprung into action! Getting to the guesthous it was closed and dark but used to these sorts of accommodation disasters by now we made our priority getting the wheel to the bike shop. We called mybiketime to let them know we were coming and see if there was anyway they could fit the bearings despite the late hour and they immediately agreed and put the workshop on standby for the wheels arrival!!

One set of bearings were seized on and took one getting off but they stayed late to help us and amazingly got the wheel fixed and back to where we had stopped by 8pm. We were just about to set off again when Andreas Andreas who we had met earlier if the day appeared again-he had seen our plea for help and found us with the tracker!! We were so grateful for the offer and also the offer of somewhere to stay but we had already made a plan:we would ride through the night to our original destination for the day about 40miles down the road. We had a hotel to stay there and having made such a bit effort to fix the wheel wanted to do whatever we could to stay in track. Riding into the night, the roads were empty and it was quiet…finally! A sense of peaceful determination settled in and we arrived at the hotel around midnight, eating our emergency rations before getting to bed and setting our alarm for less than 4 hours time. We had 120miles to Berlin and with our night ride we had a chance to get there on 1st still…the 180th day!

Day 180

The alarm went off and we pretended we had had a full nights sleep, putting in layer after layer of clothes for the last time. It was a chilly start and the headwind felt like it was pushing us away from Berlin, but after our momentous effort last night we were determined not to let it phase us.

The cold soon seeped in though and it was still dark when we pulled in total the first garage for coffee and bockwurst. But we had done over 20miles before dawn and less than 100miles to go!

The down booties came out again against the cold headwind and instead of the celebratory ride to the gate we had imagined we we pushing hard into the wind, wrapped up and having to keep stops minimal. Another garage for hot drinks at over 70miles and we had around 50 to go…the fixed 50 is one of our standard training rides and we could scarely believe that is we had left!

We managed to stay rural through parks and countryside until about the last 20miles when we had to navigate bike paths running from one side of the road to the others and up and under bridges and road crossing. Darkness descended and our ambitions of getting to gate before dark had long since vanished. It started to sleet and then to snow and with a bike path on the wrong side of the road with oncoming headlights Stevie was dazzled by the stars wars effect of the snow in the wind. Visibility was poor and we were relieved to hit streetlight roads, but then having to be more vigilant at junctions as the traffic got busier and more cyclists appeared too scooting around us at the lights on speedier machines.

10miles to go.

It seemed to get colder and colder for the last miles and they seemed to drag, roundabouts and traffic lights slowing our progress and frustrating our attempts to stay warm and power on through.

A long straight stretch made it hard to judge distance and feel like we were making progress, the road seemed never ending…and then Laura looked up at a set of lights and there it was!! Lit up in the snowy sky the gate towered in front of us…one last junction…one last push…the lights changed from red to green…

And we road through it!! Back through the Brandenberg Gate!!

Even though we knew they would be there it was a shock to suddenly be surrounded by family and friends we hadn’t seen for so long. Over in a flash our moment of triumph was quickly turned to practicalities of getting witness statements signed and photos taken as the snow fell around us. We were both shivering and cold and the snow encrusted on the front of our panniers shows that the conditions were far from ideal.

Not the end we had imagined but we had done it…18,078miles in 179 days 12 hours and 25minutes arriving at 18:25hrs on 1st December.

We had done exactly what we had said we were going to do, despite all adversity right up until the end. Our ride is over but we will be living these moments for a long time yet.

4 thoughts on “Week 26 Lasne, Belgium to…The Brandenberg Gate, Berlin!

  1. You are really both such an inspiration to me.. well done on all you achieved.. Your mental toughness knows no bounds

  2. Amazing journey and adventure, I, we my friends who I am sharing this journey with are so proud of you both. Congratulations from the little town of Orono in Ontario 🇨🇦

  3. Congratulations!!! I’ve been following you from before the start – never had a doubt you would make it! You are both AMAZING!!!! Thank you for bringing us all along on your trip around the world.

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