In about about six weeks’ time, I will turn forty years old. For a long time, I have been thinking about what to do for the big day. Then, last year, on a long, dark drive back from Belgium last year, it occurred to me: what if I cycled from Hungary, the country where I was born, to the UK, my new home country? It felt like the perfect solution for an event that might otherwise be quite contrived and awkward. It would be memorable, it would be fun, it would be a challenge to complete and friends could join me for parts of the journey.
As soon as I got home, from that Belgian trip, I quickly drew a rough route. After a few hours of research, I settled on a route that made sense – but it was 1,800 km long. The most I’ve ever cycled in a year was around 4,000 kilometres, so riding 1,800 km in just two weeks felt (and probably still is feeling) rather ambitious. I know, that in the grand scheme of things, this is not much. Compared to something like the Transcontinental, the Tour Divide or other ultra-endurance races, this is not much of a challenge. But for me, it will take a lot to get there.
The challenge is that I had had a knee injury in late 2016 and that took me out of commission for almost a year. I emailed cycling journalist extraordinaire and cycling trainer Anne-Marije Rook to ask for advice, to find out what I should be doing to complete the journey in August. She said, among other things, that I should be able to ride 6-7 hours a week at the very least, to get enough miles under my belt. At the time, even that was just too much. I managed to ride six hours one week in November and it almost killed me. Things weren’t looking good. But I kept at it and hoped that I would get stronger and fitter slowly.
Eight months later, I still have my doubts and I’m still not sure that I will be able to finish it. But I’ve racked up more miles in the past six months than ever before and tackled more elevation in just six months than I would normally manage in a whole year.
And the route? You can find the details below but I’ve tried to include places that are significant to me for one reason or another. It starts at the hospital in Budapest, where I was born in 1978. I will also cycle past my university and a summer camp I used to go in secondary school. On day four, I’ll be cycling through Tabor, where I fell in love with cyclocross ten years ago. In Schweinfurt, I’ll say hello to SRAM, who were my first big client as a freelance photographer. I’ll visit Heusenstamm, the twin town of Tonbridge, where I live now, and I’ll stay after the antepenultimate day in Sinaai, with Marijke and Wim, my ‘Belgian family’, the wonderful people, who have been looking after me during the cyclocross season for over seven years now.
When I told my parents about my plan, they thought I was mad – which was expected. My Dad, who would do anything for me and my sister, offered immediately to escort me for the whole journey, driving behind me in the car all the way to Tonbridge. I thought that was just silly, but after giving it some more thought, I suggested, that my parents could follow me, but only loosely. Instead of driving behind me, they would drive to the next hotel every day, so they could enjoy the sights and activities en route. It will be nice to spend time with them too.
I’m flying back to Budapest on 9th August and will start the journey on the 11th. I’m planning to arrive back in Tonbridge on my birthday, the 25th August. What’s going to take place in between is what you can see below. If I’m riding past where you live, it would be amazing if you joined me or just said hello. I’m planning on doing a little video every day, but I’ll have to see if I have the mental capacity to do an edit after days and days of long hours in the saddle. And fear not, I’ll be back in time to be prepared for another awesome cyclocross racing season.
Thank you for reading and I hope to see you in August!