Current location: England, Shropshire, Home
Distance: 15,850 miles (25,360km)
Onwards from Albania, my route through Eastern Europe took me up the coastline of Montenegro and Croatia before dropping down into the land locked country of Bosnia. I then enjoyed a brief stint through Slovenia before pedalling across northern Italy towards Turin. Here I pedalled north over the French Alps towards Paris. Finally, I made my way to the familiar waters of the English channel where I boarded a ferry to Dover, England- just a 4 days ride to my home in Shropshire.
Eastern Europe is a truly captivating part of the world in light of its varied history- in particular Bosnia and Herzegovina; My time cycling through this country, albeit brief, will always stand out as highlight on my world tour. Prior to entering Bosnia, I had cycled up the coastal roads of Croatia and Montenegro- equally beautiful, but in high summer, I was so far from alone- much of my time was spent hustling my way alongside streams of tourist traffic, negotiating my way through one teeming tourist town after the next. The pleasure of pedalling along these ocean fronted cliffs was constantly overshadowed by the tiresome daily activity of just being on a bike amidst one of Europe's favourite holiday hotspots. Thus, I opted to head inland into Bosnia. I hiked myself up the steep mountainside separating the two countries before descending into this comparatively silent abyss, Bosnia. A place once synonymous with war, destruction and overwhelming sadness- and as I cycled down its narrow lanes passing from one abandoned settlement to the next, crumbling buildings, run down bus shelters, looted shops, the aftermath of these events never felt more real. Clearly thriving communities once existed in these parts. I spent the entire afternoon pedalling down these endless one tracked lanes barely passing a vehicle, barely seeing a person, the region eerily quiet. And yet again, it never ceases to astound me how one can cross a line on a map and with it enter a land so far removed from the one you were in just half an hour ago- Just 30miles in land, away from the high rise hotels, the tourist packed beaches of Croatia, here couldn't have felt more different. I cycled way into the evening, soaking up every inch of this place, every corner drawing out another emotive scene illustrative of its decadent past. I had never experienced anything quite like it before. Foolishly, I had assumed I would pick up food and water supplies somewhere along my route but no sign of life showed up until I stumbled across a small parish late into the evening. To my luck, I was kindly offered supplies. That night I slept in one of their out buildings. I lay there staring out of the window up at the stars, a moon lighting up the distant mountains and I couldn't have been happier. The hectic chaos of that action packed coastline so far away now. And all it takes is a moment like that to remind oneself of why I'm pedalling my way around the world. Because when its good, its really good.
Anyone for a baby?
Wherever I find myself, whoever I speak to, I often feel like their conversation can enrich my trip somewhat or perhaps shed new light on my bike ride, giving it some sort of purpose. I have to admit, I’d never quite seen it from this point of view before;
Whilst sitting on a park bench alongside an elderly fellow in Montenegro..
“So how long have you been cycling for?” the gentleman enquired
“9 months” I said
To which he matter of factly responded, with an almost disapproving tone; “Oh, you could have had a baby in that time?”
Im not entirely sure what the right answer to that one is…
I opted for something similarly matter of fact; “Ah yes, well, it was either/or”
It was one of those mornings where I woke up at the bottom of a field in Albania (we’ve all been there) and I just wasn't up for riding my bike another 70miles down the same old road (this particularly area of Albania was far from thrilling). I was looking to add some spark to my day, I needed that dose of adventure, even if meant being completely irrational with my decision making, to the point of blatant stupidity. Thus, I did just that. Instead of taking the clear route (the only route) towards my intended destination, I instead opted to take a few smaller roads which would eventually lead to a dozen dirt tracks and ultimately i’d arrive on the banks of river. A river which needed to be crossed. Conventional traffic would of course take the main road to the town where there was a bridge, and I was all too aware that when I arrived at my select point on the river, should it not be a tidily stream (something that I could paddle across), or better still a dried up river bed, then I was going to have to back track 30 odd miles to reach that town and cross that established bridge. With my recipe for failure fully prepared, off I went.
After an enjoyable morning pedalling through Albanias rural communities I eventually neared this river praying with every pedal stroke that this was a piddly obstacle that my bicycle and I could navigate our way through. Nope. Instead we were faced by something the size of The Amazon, complete with raging torrent. Its usually at this stage I give myself a good ‘talking to’- “Oh why Katherine Liver, why?! You sodding well knew there wasn't a bridge here, but yet you still insist on trekking your way here, just to be bloody sure!”
-I guess its one of those situations in life where you just have to check for yourself- every one of us has been there- standing in line for the ATM only to be told by the person in front that its not working, but yet still, still, you insist on trying it anyway, just to be sure. And you too will advise the person next in line of the systems malfunction, but they too will bat your advice into the afternoon air and try for themselves anyway -
So I stood on the banks of this river weighing up the difficulties of dragging my bicycle, myself and my gear across these waters. I was mostly concerned the iPhone 5 wouldn't make it though. Upon purchasing my iPhone several years ago, I distinctly remember the shop assistant urging me to take the iPhone out of the box, out of the paper bag and into a secure dry interior pocket…because it was, well, spitting outside and the iPhone was “incredibly vulnerable” in such conditions- and It only took the thought of his pained ‘no, no, no, not in the river?!’ face to decide against wading my gear through these treacherous waters- plus I'm not entirely confident that the warranty covers encounters with raging torrents and river weed. So with the swim off the cards, I started looking for more intelligent folk to help me out. Fortunately a farmer passed by and upon acknowledging my dim situation, he started yelling out to people on the other side to bring a boat over. Sadly no-one was there to hear his calls though. Eventually he left, forced to return to his farm work. I sat there a little longer, hours passing, twiddling my thumbs (*Clubbed thumbs), looking at drift wood, dreaming of rafts…..when eventually, to my luck, a kind young man, my knight in shining armour, my captain in canoe came to my rescue and happily took me and my bicycle across. Once again, that friendly network of support was there to help me out, and as always, I'm so very grateful.
It wasn't long before I made it into northern Italy and I don't think I have visited anywhere quite so effortlessly sophisticated before- the city streets filled with stylish shops, stylish people, beautiful cars cruising down these cobbled alleys. Weathered stone walls displaying sporadic pieces of art- in fact, cycling through some of these towns, it felt as If I had just stumbled onto a movie set. Having been so long away from England now, part of me wondered whether I’d get that same feeling cruising down the A20 into Dover too. I didn’t.
The final leg of my trip from Turin to Paris, I had the pleasure of pedalling alongside a friend from home, Rosa. Together, we took on the stunningly beautiful Alps- the land of lycra- it was like i’d taken this global pilgrimage to the home of cycling. The place was swarming with two wheeled enthusiasts. For much of my trip, I knew I was likely to cycle the Alps during the european summer months- a thought that had always excited me and they didn't disappoint. And with the Tour De France just around the corner, this whole area was hyped up for the big event. A number of villages we passed through were decked in bunting and banners gearing up for it the weeks ahead. It wasn't long before Rosa and I began to feel like we too were part of this great event. After all, we were taking the same route, we were both sporting a pair of matching Lycra's, I was donning the essential wrap around sunnies….to be honest, we could have fit right in…….I could almost hear that British commentary box supporting my race “Liver’s stepped up her game, easing her way to the front of the pack…..”- though sadly, this whole facade came to an abrupt halt as I peered behind to see my laundry flailing in the wind on the back of my bicycle. It escapes me why Chris Froome is rarely found drying his smalls whilst racing along? I gather thats just not the ‘done’ thing on the Tour. Give it a few years….Goodbye Team Sky, Hello Team Daz #TheSoapYouCanBelieveIn
Cycling through France en route towards Paris was just beautiful, in fact France stands out as one of my favourite countries. The luxury of being in Europe is the rich history that comes with this region, evident in every settlement you pass through however small or large. And Europe is a part of the world where nothing is too far- the landscapes occasionally dramatic, yet manageable at the same time. Our days through France were spent cycling through an endless array of petite, hidden villages, complete with their laid back coffee shops, the local baker a stones throw away, and all against the soothing sounds of the french language. Because it has to be said, having cycled through 20 odd different languages, not all are quite a so kind to the ear…..- thats the thing, when you don't speak the language, it just becomes a constant background sound. Its like you’ve been failing to tune in to BBC Radio 2 for several months, battling against a constant crackling sound and then ‘hurrah’, one border crossing later and its tuned in, it never sounded clearer, a gift to the ear, and better still they’ve secured an afternoon with the philharmonic orchestra- thats the pleasure of listening to french all day long.
I said goodbye to Rosa in Paris and continued my final few days across northern France towards the English channel- and with each pedal stroke closer to home that cloud cover thickened ever so slightly. The last night of my time in continental Europe was spent camping on the rugged coastline of northern France. That evening I stared out at the White Cliffs of Dover, 20 odd miles of water separating me from that soggy island, my soggy island. I had come so far, and at last I was almost home. Fortunately for me, accompanied with my EU passport, the journey from Calais, to Dover was effortless, but for others, no doubt their intrepid journeys from far off corners of the world were likely to be less easy. On the other side of this channel, I knew I had a home to return to, a family, stability- pillars of a comfortable existence. My life in a tent was a finite one- unfortunately, not the case for many others.
Arriving into England was a damp affair, but fortunately I had just the gear to take on these climes; The cagool, the anorak, the macintosh, the wet weather poncho- call it what you will but its a garment first brought to our attention on the school field trip check list, aged 7, and has since remained a staple item in most British wardrobes. Some deem it unfashionable. Some say they’ll only don it in extreme situations….like the log flume at Alton Towers, but I hear Mac in a Sac and I think practical, I think prepared, I say panic not, put on your poncho! Because a British life without weather gear, well, quite frankly, its no life at all.
It was good to be back on English soil again though- finally I was in a part of the world which I was truly familiar with- I didn't need an adjustment period to get the hang of how things work here- I knew that milk was going to accompany my tea as standard, not a special request. I knew that here an interesting anecdote about the weather could create the foundation to a lasting friendship and finally, here I could bid a farewell to the metric madness of ‘km’s’ and welcome home those age old ‘miles’- the distance markers spoke my language again! For someone who’s always been mathematically challenged, after 10months of km signage, I can confidently say I have nailed that conversion calculation.
Four days later, having cycled through the delights of the British countryside, I was soon taking those final pedal strokes down my lane and up the driveway to my home. Seeing my house and family waiting for me was utterly brilliant- a surprisingly emotional affair in fact. I had pedalled all the way from Melbourne, Australia and I guess there was an overwhelming sense of relief that I had ‘made it’ more than anything- I have lost count of the number of days where I have sat on the roadside beaten by the weather, beaten by the relentless routine of riding a bike, feeling exhausted, feeling low, feeling alone, yearning to be in the comfort of my home again but knowing full well the only way to get there was to board that bicycle, turn those pedals and ride on into that never ending horizon. And here I was at last. I’d done it.
It has to be said though that my trip was only really made possible by the constant network of support around me along the way- people readily available, willing to help me out whenever I was in need. I never felt unsafe, I have never really felt vulnerable, I have not had anything stolen. I trusted people. Because I never encountered a reason not to. And having spent 10 months pedalling across a good cross section of the world, I think that puts this place in a pretty good light.
Life beyond the bike
Its amazing how quickly you slot back into ‘regular’ life again- very little has changed in my absence- aside from Zayn Malik leaving One Direction of course.
I guess priorities begin to change; I don’t spend my evenings staring at the gradient of the ground wondering which end to rest my head in my best efforts to avoid waking up with a nasty rush of blood to my head. Nor do I look at public places simply as facilities for charging, washing, bottle filling and soviette stealing. Life has taken a more ‘civilised’ turn.
Of course there are still plenty of moments when I wish to be back on my bike, particularly when I think back on those late evenings when its quiet, the business of the day is over, the weather has calmed and i’m in this far off place, in a stunning landscape, on this tiny two wheeled vehicle slowly making its way across a gigantic landmass. And I cant help but smile to myself because Its been incredible. Waking up excited about the day ahead of me, jumping on my bike doing something Iv wanted to do. Nothing beats that.
So whats next?
Good question. I was wrong to assume 10 months on a bicycle would be long enough to suss that one out.