Why cycling 1,200 kms was the best thing I’ve ever done

By Alice Gillam,
Alice Gillam by a river

It was, hands down, the best thing I’ve ever done.

Eurovelo 1 in france

Tackling challenges on my trip gave me my self-confidence back

Bike rests against fence by beach

I camped and my bike was loaded with everything I would need (and many things I didn’t)

Before I left for France I cycled frequently but never very far. I was lucky to live just a few miles from work and heading down the 13 mile Bristol and Bath Path once or twice a summer was the furthest I cycled. So when I headed off to ride the length of France I was a little unprepared to say the least.

It was, hands down, the best thing I’ve ever done.

 Riding a bike makes me feel free and confident in a way almost nothing else does.

- Alice Gillam

Remembering it now has me itching to get a map and start marking out potential routes. The trip was totally freeing. I cycled along the French section of Eurovelo 1 (also known as Velodyssey) which is around 1,200 kilometres. The full route goes from Norway to Portugal and includes sections of National Cycle Network in England (the Devon Coast to Coast), Wales (the Celtic Trail) and Scotland (Lochs and Glens).

Getting out of my comfort-zone

While it was an excellent route, well-signed and mostly flat, it was still challenging at times. I camped and my bike was loaded with everything I would need (and many things I didn’t). The beginning of my trip took place in a full on heatwave and when the weather eventually broke it was in spectacular fashion with thunderstorms, torrential rain and wind that brought trees down on some of the paths. In some places the storms brought thorned greenery onto the track and was, I’m fairly certain, the reason I got six punctures in five days.

Not only were the bad times more than made up for by the good times (spotting a deer running through grape vines, smelling fields of wheat baking in the sunshine, gliding through thick pine forests and past Atlantic beaches) they were an important part of the trip in themselves.

As a kid we’re happy to try new things without worrying about being bad at them. Unfortunately once we’re adults it can be easy to lose this confidence. By staying in a comfort zone I’d fallen into the mindset of thinking that I couldn’t do new things. I spent far too long saying no to things, saying ‘I can’t’ or ‘I won’t be good at that’.

Challenges helped build my confidence 

Tackling challenges on my trip gave me my self-confidence back. I travelled alone so map reading, finding campsites, fixing my bike and conversing in a foreign language were all down to me. Doing these things alone reminded me that I can master new skills. I can fix a puncture (with a little difficulty and a lot of swearing). I can put up a tent. I can’t really map read but I can ask for directions in French. And most of all I can propel myself over a thousand kilometers from one end to the other of one of the largest countries in Europe. If that’s possible then what next?

It also reminded me that while being self-reliant is a great skill to have you’re rarely truly alone. Every time I was fixing something on my bike or changing a tyre people would stop and offer to help. They checked that I was okay and that I had all the tools I needed. Strangers happily filled my water bottle when there were no public fountains and went out of their way to show me the best places to camp.

Master of your own destiny 

Riding a bike makes me feel free and confident in a way almost nothing else does. When you hop on a bike you become the master of your own destiny. You get to know a place at the perfect pace and can enjoy the feel of the wind rushing past your face as you glide along.

I’ve always thought that a bike is the best way to travel in the city. You feel like you own a place when you traverse it by bike. You get to know its quiet corners, its backstreets, its shared paths running along old train lines. Zipping through city streets, arriving with a smile on your face. But last summer I discovered that it’s also the perfect way to explore a country, all the way from north to south.

So what’s next? I’ve found it. The route I want to do next starts in Nantes and ends in Romania.That sounds like a long way but after my first bike trip I know I can do it. I feel like I can do anything.

Interested in a long-distance bike trip? Check out the maps and guides in our shop

Want to start cycling but need to get your confidence back? Check out our tips for getting started

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