By the Ocean we Unite: Day 1-2

WhatsApp Image 2018-07-30 at 10.01.41.jpeg

Day 1

I pretty much have no idea what I’m doing. A set of panniers, a puncture repair kit and some solar panels which I’m unsure actually work. It’s Saturday and the heavens open, 8 weeks after one of the hottest summers on record. I have packed the bare essentials plus some mascara, just in case the Danish men are as great as I keep getting told! 

I’m off to Denmark via Rotterdam. I was offered a free spot, as an impact maker, onsailing ship Fantanstiko, sailing from Rotterdam over the top of Denmark, around to Copenhagen, through the canal in Kiel, Germany, and back through and down to Rotterdam. The problem was, I could only join the first and last part meaning there was a 12 day gap between Skargen, north Denmark, and Kiel. I saw a great opportunity to check out my cycling skills and ability to wing it (again) so decided I’d cycle To Rotterdam, between sailing legs and back home. 

Fantastiko is a ship that is sailed by an organisation called By the Ocean we Unite. It researches and educates on ocean plastic - an awesome opportunity to learn more about it all, in preparation for my next challenge (yet to be announced)

Sunday, it’s pissing it down with rain and my adventure begins. My bike is so heavy I’m concerned I won’t be able to cycle it. I can’t lift it, that’s for sure. I think I have everything including my sailing stuff which isn’t ideal as a whole load of extra weight. I don’t have to worry about my medication this time as was signed off last week - no leaving that and having to back to get it (Atlantic row!🤦🏻‍♀️). And yep, I’m recovered! Apparently very unusual for a second time in a row. Genius pituitary gland.

Raynes park, cycling alongside the RideLondon crew, a little slower and slightly heavier laden! Waterloo, Waterloo East then onto Dover. All good so far. I queue for the ferry and meet this man and his two kids. I can tell he’s been keen to talk as we’ve been having those awkward who’s-going-to-speak-first looks. He goes for it and we get chatting. Him and his two sons 8 and 10 have just cycled Brittany to Whitstable on mountain bikes! No excuse for me now doing 100km a day.

WhatsApp Image 2018-07-30 at 10.02.40.jpeg

Dunkerque arrives and nothing exciting. I went out on deck earlier and had a look out into the windy channel, just thinking about my little boat and me in the Atlantic on my own. Was I mad?!

So I guess I just follow the map, conscious I have to save my battery, I turn it onto aeroplane mode. My wrist and elbow are aching. Weird and I wonder if it’s something left over from rowing. Also realised that my bike probably isn’t designed for touring and have to constantly readjust my body. God I wish I didn’t have a rucksack. I’m starving, I suddenly remember falling for the Haribo deal on the ferry and plunge my hand and take a fistful of sweets. Every cell in my body screams with relief, and I break every endurance athlete’s rule! I don’t care because they taste sooo much better than any healthy energy bar that is ‘long lasting sustained energy'! 

I’m tired and aching so have decided to stop. Conveniently in what appears to be the only cool local beach bar in the area. 20km south of Ostend. This could go one of two ways so before I potentially have one too many, I should check my sleeping options. The sand dunes or the tent that is part of the bar. 

I return from finding my spot, unpack and change and have a beer. Instantly I realise I’m too tired for fun so have one more and subtly try to take all my stuff over the dunes and find somewhere. I set up my ground sheet that will double up as a shelter if it rains, and the sky’s are definitely looking ominous. On top of that comes mat, sleeping bag liner and Bivvy bag (waterproof). Some clothes and a DFDS blow up travel pillow (I did forget something) and my snuggle rug make for a delightfully comfy head rest. It’s warm enough not to need the snuggle rug on my body (I’m using that instead of sleeping bag as more versatile and smaller. I quickly fall asleep to the sound of Belgium North Sea waves and the chiming of a fleet of school catamarans.

Day 2

WhatsApp Image 2018-07-31 at 11.16.04.jpeg

I survived! My first night alone, in the sand dunes, with all the snakes! Well, not sure about the snakes but I lived to tell the tale no matter what. No aches from the 44km cycle (would be worried if I did!) so all good for a 100km day. Having never done this, I don’t really have any idea how far is possible and baring in mind it’s flat, it’s difficult to know as so different from uk.

I pack everything up, de-sand it all and make a quick dry peanut butter sandwich (I have no idea how people do it without lashings of butter - dry and sticky). Using Google Maps, I head off with what I hope is enough battery life on my phone, to make it to Ostend for a coffee and recharge.

I stop at the first place I find. Perhaps not the best option as it seems to be full of men drinking beer at 11am. I start charging my phone, and writing the blog for the day before. That longhaired creepy guy sitting at the table won’t stop staring at me. Is the middle finger a universal sign? I give him my best death-stare and shake my head in distain. Does he actually think he is going to pull? Really! Turns out Ostend is the prostitute capital for sailors!! Picked the wrong chick I’m afraid - bit pickier than he’d hoped.

On I plod. Along the coast, following to google maps to dead ends, I chat to locals about where I should actually be going, catch ferries, eat local cherries and hide under a bridge with 5 young lads as we wait for the rain to pass. I get a thumbs up by a couple of MAMILS for my ability to keep up with them fully laden. I smile and let them pass as I can keep that pace forever. I chat to another (older) man at the traffic lights and he offers to take me on a route along the beach! Just had to point out he was older before people got too excited! I stop for a couple of beers to wait for my phone to charge, and find myself a potential evening camp spot by zooming in on google maps and looking at online reviews. Sand dunes and bar. Again, perfect. It would be another 37 km putting the days total at 144! I’m stubborn enough to make, I think, so off I go.

The grey clouds return. This time 5 minutes before at least 10 km of exposed hydroelectric dams and wind turbines. Such fun, soaking wet but thanks to my new kit from Aussie Grit, I remain relatively dry. The clouds clear and the wind turbines stand majestically humming above me, rainbows positioning themselves between the trees, horses madly running around their fields, my shadow moving over golden corn and green vegetables singing with joy for the rain they haven’t had in months. All glowing in the evening rays, back dropped by the dark storm clouds moving on.

At 9.20 I make it to the bar, 20 minutes late for food but still open for ciders. The sun is setting directly in front of me, over the north sea horizon reminding me what joy the rain had bought. I change into dry clothes, contemplate whether the outdoor section will be accessible once everyone has left, but realise it may have to be the sand du es again. I’m just not sure I’ll make it through without rain. I snuggle down with the sound of parties in the distance, the moon rising over the dunes and pray for no snakes and no rain. I close my eyes and realise I need the loo again. Goddamn ciders!

Kiko Matthews