The Cyclist Who Went Out In The Cold: Adventures on EuroVelo 13 - Iron Curtain Trail
EuroVelo: When we last caught up with you it was in the weeks leading up to your departure and you were starting to realise exactly what you had signed up to. Was it as challenging as you feared? And how did it compare your previous trips?
Tim Moore: I can honestly say it was the most terrible challenge I have ever undertaken in my entire life, and by a fearsome margin. Those weeks crawling through snowbound, desolate Finland will live me with forever. Whose stupid idea was it to start in winter? Still, I made it, and must therefore rank as a towering figure in the pantheon of endurance shopping cyclists.
Those following your Twitter account (@mrtimmoore) were treated to regular and often very funny updates of your progress from the road. Looking back now, over a year after the trip, what are the memories that stand out?
Being alone for large parts of almost every day – the Iron Curtain ran through a pretty broad exclusion zone, and 25 years on it’s largely remained empty. I did a lot of loud and very curious solo singing, and generally went a bit funny. That said I met some wonderful people along the way, though not very many of them were in Russia. Random images burned into my cerebral cortex: sleeping in a bank in rural Finland; riding through washed-up stacks of pack ice on a Baltic beach near St Petersburg; having to mime an intimate saddle-zone complaint to an Estonian chemist… in fact we could be here all day, so here’s a link with access to a more complete rundown of memories.
For anyone that does not have the time to follow in your footsteps and cycle the EuroVelo 13 – Iron Curtain Trail in its entirety (!), is there a particular section(s) that you would recommend?
The Baltic coast was wonderfully flat and offered a ride-by experience stuffed with old-school resorts and decommissioned Cold War stuff, if that’s your bag as much as it was mine. A bit blowy in spring, mind. Germany is one long velvety bike path. Serbia was a great find: nice people, food and towns, no tourists and thrillingly low prices. For scenery and a bit of an offbeat vertical challenge, the section from Macedonia to the Bulgarian hilltown of Dospat is pretty unforgettable. In fact I’d happily recommend most of the route bar Finland in winter, and Russia (ever).
One of the aims of EuroVelo 13 – Iron Curtain Trail is to give people the opportunity to retrace and experience the Iron Curtain, which divided Europe into East and West for almost half a century. Did you gain a new understanding of that important period of the continent's history?
Absolutely – it was a fascinating and sometimes sobering experience from that perspective. I cut Russia some slack in the end, deducing that their general embitterment was probably linked to the Soviet empire’s downfall and its motherland’s associated slump in status. Riding past all those derelict military surveillance sites and heroic social-realist statues I vacillated between terror and admiration: here were the relics of an astonishing social experiment that at its peak encompassed a third of the world’s population, a theoretically laudable ideology that curdled horribly, stirring up such potent hatred on both sides of the curtain that it very nearly destroyed our planet. What I didn’t expect was just how reluctant people would be to discuss the old days – particularly in the former GDR, aka East Germany. When I visited the factory where my bike was made – remarkably still in business – they changed the subject every time I asked about the ‘socialistic era’. It made sense when I learned that in line with the GDR average, one in five of the older staff would have been Stasi informers. I rode into Germany in a replica GDR cycling jersey, thinking that 25 years on it might procure a little fond nostalgia. What a thoughtless idiot. I was nearly pushed off my bike on the first day I wore it, and thereafter covered the offending logo with two strips of gaffer tape every morning
We understand that your 1970s GDR-manufactured MIFA single-speed folding bike did actually survive the trip! What has happened to it now?
There were times – sometimes as long as a month each – when I cursed loud and long for burdening myself with such a hopeless machine. Cycling up mountains on a fully laden shopping bike is no fun, though possibly more fun than riding down them on one. I never did master that coaster brake. But in the end my plucky little MIFA really did me proud: one clause of my admittedly sketchy mission statement had been to prove that the bicycle, even in its humblest incarnation, was a go-anywhere, do-anything machine – a shopper would always get you down the shops, even if they were 9,000 kilometres away. Incredibly, in all that time on often iffy surfaces, it only suffered a single puncture – though I did round off a crank, and eroded my headset bearings so impressively that by the end every bend had to be tackled in a series of short straight lines, like the perimeter of an octagon. Anyway, it’s still in the shed and I use it once a week. It’s coming on a modest national publicity tour with me next week! In the long run we’ll see if the eccentric millionaire who now runs the MIFA factory lives up to his pledge, and has my bike installed in the new cycling museum he’s building.
Your book based on your experiences on the Iron Curtain Trail - The cyclist who went out in the cold – is published this week. Do you already have an eye on your next adventure or are you still recovering from the last one?
Having now put on slightly more than the 10kg I lost during the ride, I should really think about ending my convalescence. At this stage I’m vowing never to undertake another bike journey, on the grounds that I cannot possibly top this one. But then I’ve said that before.
The Cyclist Who Went Out in the Cold is published by Yellow Jersey and is now available for purchase here.
And to get a flavour of what Tim went through there is a promotional video on YouTube.
The ECF notes that some of the more ‘extreme’ sections of the EuroVelo network can be challenging out-of-season. Contact the relevant National EuroVelo Coordination Centre or Coordinator for advice when planning your trip.