planning & preparation

I learned the lesson of the Esbjerg trip: there's no point in spending hours and hours creating detailed route plans as they get mutilated when transferring to the GPS, and as we're booking accommodation on the fly, we don't know in advance the precise destination for each evening. Indeed, last time we didn't always know which country we'd be in ...

What seemed to work well was sorting our accommodation online over breakfast and then sticking the address into the ridewithgps site and asking it to sort out the route.

I thus simply downloaded the official Ronde van Nederland route from a Dutch cycle touring site, loaded it into Basecamp and roughly chopped it up into 50-mile chunks. I assigned a date to each chunk and called it good.

Neither Eric nor I had done anything in the way of training for the trip. Indeed, utility cycling on the Brompton aside, I'd done exactly one cycle ride of 33 miles in the preceding couple of months. For that reason, I figured that particularly after an early start from the ferry and the train ride to Groningen, we might want to take it easy on the first day, so I planned to start with a half day of 25-ish miles.

It was looking a little tight to complete the official route in 12 days, so I slightly adjusted things for the final couple of days, to ensure we didn't end up on the wrong side of the Nieuwe Waterweg staring forlornly at our overnight ferry heading back to Harwich without us.

I booked the outbound and return ferries - overnight crossings with a cabin both ways - and forwarded my booking confirmation to Eric so he could do the same.

I'd used last year's trip as an excuse to buy a secondhand MacBook Air 11 which I was going to sell afterwards. Which I kind of did: I sold it and bought the latest model. That counts, right?

Eric figured that any excuse valid for me ought to work for him too, so he bought one too.

The georgeous TwelveSouth BookBook case I used last time meant I had no worries about it getting dented or scratched in the soft panniers on the trike.

I'd also upgraded my GPS to the Garmin Edge 810 - which was smaller, lighter and more sophisticated than the Vista eTrex HCx it replaced.

I'd also replaced my bikecam with the Garmin Virb Elite. (Since this photo was taken, I've added a second handlebar mount facing backwards so I can simply swap the camera between the two to shoot front or rear footage - something I'm able to do while cycling, sometimes without crashing.)

Eric was bringing two Contour Roam cameras, one set to video, the other to time-lapse stills, so we ought to be well covered between us.

As last year, I put my iPhone in an Otterbox Defender Ion powered case. This hasn't won any awards for aesthetics, but provides reasonable protection against being dropped from a trike - always good when I'm taking photos while cycling - and supplies enough extra power that it gets through the longest of days while being used as my only still camera.

I did still need an AA charger for my Dinotte lights, but with the entire ride on either cycle paths or roads populated by cyclist-aware Dutch drivers, I wasn't expecting to use them much. I couldn't find mine, but Eric was bringing one so I figured that would be good enough should it be needed.

I again created an A4 map to tape to the fairing. The observant will note my fluent use of Englutch.

As before, all my luggage needed to fit into 25 litres of sidepod bags, approximately half of which would be filled with bike gear: waterproofs, lock, spares, etc. That left me with 12.5 litres for everything else, so I was again taking three days' clothing and aiming to get laundry done along the way. With a bit of handwashing here and there, that had worked fine last time.

Here's what luggage for a 12-day cycling holiday looks like Ben-style, with a paperback book for scale (no room for the book - I was planning to read ebooks on my iPhone, but in the end managed to squeeze in my iPad as well):

I'd be going on holiday, but the bags would be visiting home:

Having taken care of the vague route-planning, and promising to book our first night's accommodation, I successfully delegated to Eric booking the train tickets. He reported back that the Dutch rail site refused to have anything to do with our filthy Johnny Foreigner debit cards, but he was able to buy Dutch rail tickets with a British debit card from the Belgian rail site. Obvious in hindsight.

For accommodation, we'd found to be a great site last time. It wasn't finding any rooms at the inn anywhere near where we wanted to be for our first night this time, probably because there was an Autosport Festival on at Assen that day. did, however, offer a reasonably-priced hotel in almost exactly the right place. It didn't include breakfast but did include free wifi, so at least our MacBook Airs would be fed.

Eric was considering cycling from London to Harwich, with an overnight stop with a mutual friend who lived close to me. I assured him that if he did this I would wave to him from the train. On later consultation with a weather forecast, he abandoned this foolhardy idea.

day 0

Sunday was a little busy initially, as I was doing a 528-feet abseil from the roof of the Broadgate Tower (33 floors up) at lunchtime.

There was then time for a few hours of lazing before topping up the tyres and cycling to the station. Being a Sunday, and with engineering works to boot, the train journey was a fiddly one, with four legs and two sets of stairs, but the view coming into Harwich was not too shabby.

Eric was waiting for me at the station, and we cycled round to the port entrance. The passport & customs people didn't seem very interested in cyclists, so we took a shortcut behind their building.

I'd got chatting to two pairs of cyclists on a couple of the trains, most of whom had a go on my trike while we were waiting to board. ICE, if you get some orders next week from Brits calling from the Netherlands, I want 10%.

They found me an out-of-the way spot on the car-deck for the trike, and I liberated some chocks. Note the innovative anti-theft system): surroundings so garish cycle thieves would be forced to avert their eyes and fail to see the trike.

I'm a big fan of overnight ferry crossings (well, apart from the blaring PA announcements trying to sell you breakfast at 6.30am): go to sleep in one port, wake up at your destination one. The cabins are very comfy.

I had four gadgets charged via USB, so bought this cute little four-port mini-hub from Maplin for a fiver, and plugged it into one of my vast collection of USB plugs. It turned out not to charge the iPad, but the MacBook Air would do that.

Netflix chose this weekend to put the second series of Orange is the New Black online, so I instructed my panniers to breathe in so I could squeeze my iPad in there too, in the hope that Netflix in the Netherlands would accept my British login.

With perfect timing, a cute wooden slip-case for the iPad Air that I was reviewing had arrived a few days before the trip.

Eric had eaten, and I was happy with buffet food, but the buffet wine was ... rough. We retired to the bar in the hope of better luck there.

We did indeed find a very drinkable bottle of Spanish Shiraz. Drinking in the bar until 2am is probably not the ideal plan when we'd be woken at 6.30am, but hey, that's tomorrow. (Ok, true, but let's not quibble about technicalities.)