(This was supposed to be on my other blog - the Open University one - but they don't seem to be replying to my emails...)
I'm excited. By the time you read this I will be either preparing to leave Austria or already on the road to Budapest on the final leg of the UniCycle50 tour. And unless something amazing has happened to the weather between writing this post and you reading it, it's all going to be a bit snowy. The whole point of splitting the ride into three stages, from April to September for three years, was to avoid the cold stuff. Oh well.
So far, over the 22,500 kilometres I've cycled, I've been spectacularly lucky with the weather. Over the twelve months of actually moving through Europe I have probably had less than three weeks of rain, and six days of that was trying to escape England right at the beginning. And if the rain wasn't as severe as expected, neither was the summer sun. August 2011 probably wasn't the most intelligent time to be cycling through Spain, but then again neither was it ideal to spend the whole of July 2012 in Turkey. Luckily for me, the temperature rarely exceeded 35C (95F) in either place and that's bearable on a bike as long as you keep moving. As this year is the Northern European stage I can't imagine it's the heat that's going to be the problem.
So it looks like, statistically, I'm due some rubbish weather. Fortunately, the countries that I'll be cycling through during the coldest period of 2013 - Austria and Hungary - get a good dumping of snow every year. Surely they will be able to cope with it better than the UK does. I'm expecting clear roads, although the campsites might be more of an issue. That is, if they've even bothered to open at all by the time I pass by.
I'll be presented with a bigger challenge if this year's winter continues into the second half of April. The only hills of any decent size this year are the spooky Carpathian mountains that rise up shortly after I cross the border into Romania. Romania is known for its dodgy roads even at the best of times. If there's snow at the bottom of the hill, climbing up to a pass at 1200 metres will be interesting. Still, no one said it was going to be easy.
So, six months of cycle adventure and study is spread out before me like a slightly scary duvet, taking me through some of the most rarely visited places in Europe. And if you happen to live in or around Budapest, Bucharest, Chisinau, Kiev, Minsk, Warsaw, Vilnius, Riga, Tallin, Moscow, St Petersburg, Helsinki, Stockholm, Oslo, Copenhagen, Cardiff, Dublin, Belfast or Edinburgh, I'd love to meet up for a beer or, more likely, a giant mug of steaming coffee and a warm blanket. You can reach me at steven@UniCycle50.com once my computer has defrosted.