Twin sisters, Charlie and Lou Rowen, are cycling from Hartford to Hong Kong. Their story could just be the kickstart your adventure needs
Adventurer Al Humphreys says that the hardest part of any journey is starting. His advice? Just start. Start small, start big, but just start. It's that simple.
Our big two wheel adventure from England to Hong Kong officially started when my twin sister Charlie and I cycled away from our family home in Hartford. We'd chosen Hong Kong as our destination because we had lived there for two years when we were seven.
Growing up in Hong Kong (Rowen family archives)
We both have fond memories of our time there, going to school, learning Cantonese, riding on the Star Ferry to Hong Kong Island, visiting the Temple of Ten Thousand Buddha's in Sha Tin, and the butterfly house in Ocean Park. It seemed a logical place to end our epic ride. Also, Hartford to Hong Kong has a nice ring to it.
How did I feel? Excited. Disbelieving. And, to be honest, a little bit scared. Navigating a fully-laden bike on to a main road, wobbling and creaking under the weight of the panniers, is not for the faint-hearted. Nor is what lay ahead.
The Rowen sisters, about to hit the road (Rowen family archives)
The first day, we cycled from our home in Hartford to Didsbury along the Trans-Pennine Trail (TPT). The TPT, as I immediately took to calling it, runs from coast to coast, Liverpool to Hull, and we followed it for the next five days. In Didsbury, we stayed with Charlie's old housemates, who cooked a delicious veggie meal and let me roll around on their foam rollers to ease my achy legs.
Our second day was a 25-mile ride to a campsite in the Pennines. Charlie's bike broke down and mum and dad drove over to fix it. I'm not sure they'll be so keen to do that the closer we get to Hong Kong, but the guy who ran the campsite gave us a good luck charm to hang off my pannier, so I don't envisage us needing their help again.
Day three involved crossing the beautiful, wild and peaky Peak District. After a steep incline, and a terrifying encounter with the lorries of the Woodhead Pass, we got back on the TPT and the countryside morphed into rolling green hills and shady woodland. At the next campsite we met a lovely couple who offered to make us a cup offer coffee the next morning. We had 44 miles to cycle, so sadly we were off and back on the road before they got up.
Stone wall cycling (Rowen sisters)
44 miles in one day. That was practically double the distance we had ever cycled before. I don't include the time we did the Manchester 100 mile bike ride for The Christie, one of Europe's leading cancer centres, because we had to be picked up by the stragglers' truck.
The first half was along the TPT, which I loved and Charlie hated. We lunched in Doncaster and then essentially followed the A18 the rest of the way. It is not a particularly nice road to start with. Throw in insane head/cross winds and I'm still having nightmares about it. Give me the TPT any day.
We rocked up at the BNB in Scunthorpe and I stood with the bikes on the street while Charlie went to check-in. Those 10 minutes I was outside felt dodgier than the whole 18 months I spent in South Sudan as a volunteer. We ordered Chinese delivery for dinner and my fortune cookie said a romantic encounter was on its way, which was fine, as long as they like smelly, make-up-less cyclists who are so tired at the end of each day that they're asleep by 9pm.
Eating up the tarmac (Rowen sisters)
So, we've begun. Five days before in Hartford we pedalled away and it was emotional and scary and exhilarating and it still doesn't feel real. We're now on the ferry heading for the Netherlands and this also feels like the beginning – our first new country. None of this would have been possible without mum and dad who have been wonderful every step of the way and brought us up so we can even attempt something like this.
Two years of planning.
140 miles down.
Hello Europe, it's me. I've been wondering if, after all these years, you'd like to meet?
The Rowen sisters, Charlie and Lou, are currently cycling from Hartford to Hong Kong. You can follow their adventures on their blog, A Wheely Long Journey.Main image: On the road to Hong Kong (Rowen sisters)