Claire Horrex
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Cycling every EU country to raise funds - the adventure continues

Claire Horrex
Posted by
06 Jun 2014

Six friends embark on an adventure once a year to cycle through as many EU countries as possible - this year it was the Balkans and the crazy adventure it took them on to raise over £2600 for LLR!

Geraint Rowlands from Cardiff decided a few years ago that he wanted to cycle through every European Country to raise funds for Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research after losing a friend to lymphoma and suffering from leukaemia himself as a child.

Over the last six years, Geraint and various friends have cycled from Galway on the west coast of Ireland to Ljubljana, the Capital of Slovenia.  This has taken them via Dublin, Cardiff, Paris, Monte Carlo and Rome.  They've had some amazing adventures and met some incredible people.  The most recent leg being the most challenging, and at times, epic of journeys!  Here's a rundown on what the guys got up to on the trip from Geraint:

"Day one was beautiful and we all picked up a lovely tan on our way from Slovenia to Croatia. The roads were quiet and the navigation went well. We topped one climb to find snow on the road side but that was about as eventful as it got on a cracking 90 mile day.

We awoke in Zagreb to find a heavy rain storm had settled in and would follow us for the majority of the 110 mile Day 2.  We had some tough miles as we left Zagreb, the roads were straight, flat, wet and very busy.  Mile after mile of grinding a cog on a wet day is not the most pleasant of thing to do.  In the afternoon we hit the Bosnian border and left the rain behind.  Bosnia was notably less wealthy than its neighbouring countries and we were met with much bemusement from the locals.  It was a challenging day that saw us having to re-route and add 20 miles due to a road simply stopping! It was on the map as a road but in reality, it was little more than a grassy path which lead to a garden with a big dog and grumpy looking chap, who took much pleasure in sending us on a 20 mile detour.

Day 3 was the single most crazy day I think I have ever lived through!  We were on the road by 7am and followed the river on a flat route out of Banja Luka.  Once again the rain had returned but there was an added chill in the air to go with it.  We huddled around a fire stove in a café at the 20 mile mark and tried to converse with the locals about the road ahead.  Their feedback was all in Bosnian but from what we could figure out, it wasn’t good!!  We climbed for over an hour before, once again, the road ran out.  This time the road was in the process of being built, and was a gravel and mud track for the next 10km.  By now, we had climbed the equivalent of Snowdon and at 1,400m, we entered the cloud base.  The temperature plummeted and we were starting to struggle physically, not from fatigue but from exposure.  As we turned a corner on the mud road we spotted some workmen sheltering in a bombed out house (of which there were plenty) on the road side.  We managed to negotiate a lift in their flatbed  truck, to the next bit of tarmac but little did we know what was ahead of us.  As we clung onto  our bikes with one hand and the truck with the other, we bounced about like peas in the back of this truck.  It was at this point that Andy spotted the yellow tape that marked out 12ft x 12ft boxes scattered across the hill side and verging onto the roadside.  The yellow tape was inscribed with the words “MINE DANGER!” and small red pegs were staked randomly into the ground within each of the yellow grids.  We were on the back of a truck, taking a trip straight through a minefield…  Eventually, after much nervous laughter and mine related jokes, we reached the tarmac and thanked our workmen guardians profusely.  We began to climb again and were beginning to feel the effects of the coldness.  At a petrol station, while we clung onto our cups of tea in the hope of generating some warmth, a driver popped in with perfect English.  He explained he had just crossed the top of the climb we were attempting and the summit was 2c with sleet and high winds.  He told us he could not stop us but there would be no way he would attempt to ride over in that weather.  The decision was made to ride back to the river bed and look for a train or other alternative to get us to Sarajevo.  As we descended our bodies got even colder and Dave was now bordering on hypothermia.  We stopped at a truck stop and acquired some soup. After an UN style summit meeting with the local “fixer”, we ended up in a 1980’s VW van which took us back to civilisation.  Eventually, we were back at the hotel we had started the day at and after more haggling, managed to organise a minibus to take us to Sarajevo.  We arrived at 3am, absolutely shattered, with soaking kit and partially warmed bodies!

Day 4 was a late start at 8am!  The rain persisted to hammer us as we left the chaotic Capital of Bosnia.  We managed 10 miles before a spoke broke on my wheel.  After a patch up job, we were only able to put a few more miles in before it became obvious that the temperature was dropping and the rain was getting worse, we stopped.  We were able to sort a minivan to take us over the next pass and on our way to Mostar.  The scenery was stunning on the other side of the climb and we made good progress, though still being heavily rained upon, to get to Mostar where an extremely kind chap in a bike shop, fixed my wheel for 40p!  Mostar was a strange city that had seen a great deal of destruction during the civil war.  On one side of the street we saw a bombed out block of flats that was peppered in shrapnel scars, yet on the other side of the street a brand new bustling cinema complex stood out as some kind of beacon of normality.

Day 5, a few snaps at the historic Mostar bridge, and  an 88 mile day to Dubrovnik.  It promised to  be a fairly long blast down a river valley, before cutting south along the Dalmatian coast line. We managed some seriously good mileage in the morning and averaged 22mph for over 30 miles. We ride unassisted and thus, carry absolutely every ounce of kit we need for a week on the bike, so hitting 22mph consistently, is no mean feat! The border from Bosnia to Croatia was hassle free but we picked up a puncture in no man’s land, which we took as being a final good bye gift from Bosnia. Due to the political situation after the war, Bosnia was given an arbitrary amount of coastline, so after 20 miles Cycling in Croatia, we crossed the border, back into Bosnia for a random 10 miles before re-entering Croatia! The going was good in the afternoon and we even cruised past some Americans who were on a fully supported cycle ride down the coast, with a van carrying all their kit for them… amateurs! We finally reached Dubrovnik at 17:30. The sun had finally re- appeared after deserting us at the end of Day 1. A stunning place to finish and a well-earned pint on the docks of the old town!"

The lads recently lost a close friend to Lymphoma and at 16 years old, Geraint survived Leukaemia.   These life changing events have been their inspiration to take on such a major project and not having been put off by the most recent trip, the plan is to cycle unassisted through every EU country by completing week long 500 mile rides every year.  To date, they have raised over £16,000 and are planning their next adventure.

If you’d like to support the team then you can by visiting www.justgiving.com/balkans

Comments

09.06.2014

One word for all of this, Claire, and that's AMAZING! Such a good idea to raise money and what a great way to see the world at the same time. Do you know where they're planning to cycle next? Would love to join them if I can get myself fit enough! 

Sara T
09.06.2014

What an adventure!  Not sure I'd like to take a ride through a minefield though....

Anonymous
10.06.2014

The guys are already thinking of where to go next and also how to fill in the parts they couldn't cycle (due to minefields etc!) so ill keep you posted!

11.06.2014

Brilliant stuff! I'm with Sara on the minefields though!!!