The 2,000-year Bike Trip.

Nottingham to Athens (nearly), 1987

The first of my cycling trips, decided upon in a rash moment. Unfortunately there isn't a map yet for this trip, but there are a couple of photos below the main tab. (To get an idea of the route, just look at an atlas of Europe and draw a straight line between Nottingham and Athens - that's more or less how we worked it out.)

In 1987 I graduated and needed something to do in the summer. At Henley regatta the year before, a mock up of a section of an ancient Greek 'trireme' galley was on display, and a sign advertised for crew members to go to Greece the following summer to carry out sea trials of a full size replica - the first one to have been built for about 1,500 years. Academics had decided that this was the only way to settle a dispute that had been rumbling on for about 30 years about how exactly these ships had been built, and which had generated the longest-running correspondence the Times had seen.

So, 1987 came around and I, together with fellow oarsmen and friends Mike and Andy, were signed up and ready to go to the Med. One detail that hadn't been finalised, though (and quite an important one) was how to get to Athens, but then Mike had a moment of apparent inspiration and exclaimed "Why don't we cycle?" Foolishly thinking this would be quite a cheap means of travelling, Andy and I agreed.

We had to be in Athens at the start of August, and were rowing at the start of July, so we had just three weeks to cover the hastily calculated 2,000 miles. This worked out at an average of 100 miles per day, which sounded like a neat round figure and since none of us had ever tackled anything like this before we weren't daunted by it.

Setting off from the steps of the Council House in Nottingham's main square, we had a couple of warm sunny days cycling to the coast and then headed into Belgium. Cobbles and tram tracks in Ghent were an early obstacle, and by now we were realising that this wouldn't be the cheap option we had hoped for due to the enormous amounts of food we were consuming.

The Ardennes provided some good hills, but with plenty of cooling shade, and then things got hillier still and more open as we moved into Germany. Rye bread, cheese and ham for breakfast was difficult to swallow but as our calorific requirements continued to climb we were soon ordering double.

Things were going well. The three of us were keeping up with the clock and had established a foolproof method of covering the distance. We would ride three in a line, each doing 10 minutes at the front while the other two enjoyed a bit of slipstreaming and in this way we could conserve some energy. However, for this to work you need to be as close as possible to the bike in front, and on Day 5 near Weisbaden on the Rhine I overdid it, touched a wheel and went down, resulting in one broken elbow.

Not having broken anything before, I thought nothing was wrong and got back on my bike. By the end of the day my right arm was doing a good impression of Popeye, but the brave/stupid cyclist still thought nothing of it and endured an extremely uncomfortable night's sleep. Next morning the swelling had gone down and the arm felt better, so the next 100 miles were tackled.

This continued for another 5 days, during which the three young cyclists moved on through Passau and into the Alps of Austria. Yugoslavia (as it then was) was looming on the horizon the next day, and at this point I thought that the bruise extending from elbow to wrist, coupled with the inability to perform various basic functions, could indeed suggest that something was wrong. A trip was made to the hospital in Graz, where an X-ray revealed the truth that I should have realised all along.

Instead of Yugoslavia, my next stop was the railway station to travel back to the UK at the premature end of my first big cycling adventure. Mike and Andy carried on, battling through one of Greece's worst heatwaves to stick to the timetable (longest day: 186 miles), and they arrived successfully in Athens and enjoyed two weeks of rowing the first war galley to be commisioned into the Greek navy since ancient times.

Adventure - Expeditions - Inspiration