We had expected to start cycling from Santander. A last minute ferry strike meant a switch to Eurostar and a start from Paris. At a stroke all our careful planning went out of the window. Worse, we had no France maps for our Garmin Edge 800. We set off with a 2004 edition of a Michelin Road Atlas: as it was way too heavy, I spent hours tearing out pages we would not need. Mostly I got it right!
Without details maps for the Garmin we had to resort to planning on paper. Not such a bad thing perhaps? We devised a system that worked well for us – most of the time. Each night in our hotel we would use the overview map to pick out a town to the southwest of where we were. Then we would take a length of dental floss (yes, we were in improvisation mode!) cut to the length that corresponded to our preferred 80km daily range. We would track this along the detailed map route and estimate the distance to our preferred destination town. We decided anything between 80 and 100km was acceptable. On a few occasions we were forced to make it 111km – but that was really pushing it for us and dangerous if headwinds, hills, or getting lost forced us off track and added to the demands.
If our hotel had wifi, we could add the luxury of planning our exit from the town of departure in detail. This saved much frustration and time the next morning. Better still, we could use the Via Michelin site to get suggested cycle routes and the Map My Ride site to check out the elevations and climbs ahead. This was very reassuring: as was the use of a weather site which told us wind direction and force – more important than temperature and chance of rain. Most days we would use the web to book into a hotel for the next day.
On the road we carried the map pages for the day in Jacqui’s map sleeve on her bar bag along with any detailed instructions she had copied out. I had the Garmin with the base map only, but it was a great help as a compass giving us a check on direction. This saved us from a number of bad mistakes on the road.
Once we got to Spain and Portugal we had the luxury of detailed Garmin maps, but we chose to stick to our paper-based planning system. This worked well once we adjusted to the change in scale! This cut our daily range from a page plus in France to half a page in Spain. A painful adjustment!
The Garmin did come into its own when trying to find routes out of cities and hotels on arrival. Set to avoid motorways, tolls and unpaved tracks the Garmin proved reliable most of the time.
We ended up covering some 2,228km in total and climbing for 21,346 meters over 29 days so I guess the system was pretty well proved to work by the time we were finished! I certainly learned not to over-plan trips and leave some room for spontaneity in future.