Europe on a Bicycle

Eden Wimborne at a beach in Copenhagen (Denmark) / TIM WIMBORNE

Cyclists and nature lovers Tim Wimborne and Meraiah Folley started a five- month bike trip this past June with their kids, son Morgan and daughter Eden. The adventure began in Copenhagen with a one-way ticket and a tandem bike.

“What are the chances of finding your life partner on the border of Cambodia?” they asked jokingly. On February 3, 1999, both arrived to the Aranyaprathet-Poipet border, between Thailand and Cambodia. “Though our wedding anniversary is in August, we celebrate February third as our anniversary,” Meraiah explains. An American who would go on to become a correspondent for The New York Times in Australia, Meraiah was touring Asia after she finished her degree. Tim, a graphic reporter at the time for Reuters in Central and Pacific Asia, was there because of his job. When they met, the border between the two countries had just been opened six weeks before, so there were very few people. After 93 miles that lasted eight hours by pick-up truck, in which they traveled with a lot of locals, and were accompanied by Joel, a rollerblading instructor from New York that Tim had met in Vietnam a year before, they arrived to Siem Reap. Now a major tourist destination of Cambodia, at the time it had only one paved road and two guesthouses. After arriving in Siem Reap, their first “date” was exploring the temples of Angkor Wat, which at the time were just opening up to foreign tourism after 30 years of conflict and civil war. “We then traveled together around Cambodia for 10 days and decided that we should move in together in Australia,” explains Meraiah. The story has an inevitable conclusion: “Four months later, I flew into Sydney and we’ve been happily exploring the world together ever since”. Nine years later, the family grew with the arrival of their first child, Morgan, and three years afterwards, it would be completed with the birth of daughter Eden.

Husum to Heide. Wednesday, June 22, 2016. 35 miles – Total so far: 418 miles. “Moo & E will find something to play with just about anywhere. Here a puddle at the cycle path junction became a pirate lake with treasure, sunken ships, forests and a story line to match. All produced with sticks, grass, stones and a puddle.” / T. WIMBORNE & M. FOLEY

“I started touring by bicycle when I was 15 years old,” explains Tim, who would go on to tour much more with Meraiah. The longest trip took them to New Zealand for three weeks in 2001 before Morgan and Eden’s birth. “You have a lot of freedom; everything you need you can carry on the bike”, they clarify in unison.

In 2013, Tim was transferred to Singapore to become a graphic editor for Reuters in Asia. Although he would have an intense work schedule, at least he wouldn’t be traveling constantly. Meraiah, Morgan and Eden left behind their life in Australia to accompany Tim, with whom they would be able to spend more time. During their stay in Singapore, they became members of Warmshowers, an organization similar to Couchsurfing but for cyclists. With this organization, they would host more than 50 excursionists from all over the world who were travelling through Singapore. In 2014, inspired by the stories of their guests and after a period without travelling because of their respective professions, they regained the confidence to go on a ten-day, 248-mile trip through South Korea with the kids. “It was a revelation. If we could do two weeks, we could do two months or more. We just had to do the same routine,” the journalist recounts.

In October 2015, Tim decided to quit the news company for which he had worked for 20 years, and Meraiah completed her PhD in motherhood and the workplace. Tired of living in Singapore, they decide to go on a new adventure. “Tim had always had the dream of taking a long bike trip and it seemed like the moment had arrived,” Meraiah explains. They waited until the following summer, and after countless preparations, on the first of June 2016, they landed in Copenhagen.

Meraiah Foley and Morgan Wimborne on route from Aarhus to Skanderborg (Denmark)

With an itinerary that included six countries –Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, France, and Spain –and five months ahead of them, they arrived to Copenhagen with two tandem bikes, in boxes, that once assembled would be fully equipped. “We had the tandems made so the children could ride on the back,” the couple explains.

During the 2,237 miles traveled, they spent most of the nights in campgrounds and the rest of the time with hosts like Warmshowers or Airbnb. “Travelling with the camping gear is very liberating because no matter what happens, you can always find somewhere to sleep,” Tim says. This way allowed them to travel without schedules and more comfortably.

Europe has an international network of cycling routes, EuroVelo, that facilitates passing from one country to another for those who do it by bicycle. Thanks to EuroVelo, Google Maps and a GPS that occasionally decided to stop working, the family could organize their tour combining different paths and avoiding the danger and stress of traffic. “From Rotterdam to Basel we followed a EuroVelo route, a totally separated cycle path, nowhere near the traffic. We were surrounded by cyclists, there were camping grounds everywhere and the ground was relatively flat,” Meraiah enthusiastically says. Tim added, “Possibly it wasn’t the most challenging choice, but as we were travelling with Eden and Morgan, we didn’t want to add more obstacles to our trip.” Some of the difficulties the family faced were related to the climate. “In the north of Germany, while we were in one of the tents, it wouldn’t stop raining. Meraiah and I were desperate not knowing what to do, but Morgan and Eden were playing cards laughing out loud, without noticing the chaos outside,” Tim remembers.

With the kids, the biggest challenge while doing cycle touring is not physical, but mental and emotional. “The difference appears when you have to make decisions because you have to put the kids first. When Tim and I travel alone and we’re tired or hungry, we can hold on for 12 more miles, but we can’t do the same with them,” Meraiah explains. The original plan consisted of doing 3,107 miles, but they ended it at the 2,237-mile mark so that Morgan and Eden could enjoy the trip more. “We had to be more flexible and adjust the itinerary to the preferences of the kids. We would have liked to have done a trip in a more rural environment, but when we included more cities to the tour, they were happier,” they clarify. In that moment, Morgan joins the interview with a Lego house he has just designed to confirm what his mother has said. “I liked cycle touring, but I liked the trains even more. And my favorite place was…Lego Land in Denmark.”

Arnhem (Netherlands) to Bonn (Germany), Sunday, July 31, 2016. 102 miles – Total so far: 1,095 miles. “Nearing the end of the day these two very wet little monkeys still smiled and fooled around outside a supermarket while Meraiah stocked up. I’m not saying they don’t complain or bicker a lot but not one word of complaint was heard from them about the weather or the long distance in the saddle today. At one stage while it was just pouring down Tim checked that Eden was ok behind. She was singing and happily asking questions about cows.” / T. WIMBORNE & M. FOLEY

Now that they have finished the trip and are resting in Seville, where they had arrived by train from Barcelona, Tim and Meraiah considered themselves satisfied. “This trip marks the passage from one stage of life to another.” When they return to Australia, during the southern hemisphere’s summer, Meraiah is going to join the teaching staff of the University of Sydney – one of the most recognized public universities in Australia – as a researcher, and after that she’ll continue with the interview process in search of new professional challenges. Tim is going to start cultivating crops for the family. “Yes, I’m going to be a farmer. The shift is towards living a simpler lifestyle focused only on what we need and care about,” he concludes without hiding slight pride.

Eden y Morgan’s education has remained unaffected even though they weren’t able to attend school. “Australia has a long distance education system, which allows the students to be absent to go on a trip or live on the outskirts without missing out on schooling. Besides, the kids have learned more traveling than in a classroom environment,” Meraiah explains, satisfied. Morgan and Eden, overwhelmed by their curiosity every time they arrived to a new place, asked their parents questions of all sorts. “They wanted to know why the Berlin Wall was constructed, how World War II began, etc…” At the end of the trip, both ended up with a collection of stories and drawings of many of the places they had visited.

“One of the benefits of saving to do cycle tourism and actually doing it is that it makes you conscious of what you really need. Every euro you waste is a euro less for the tour.” In this way, saving becomes an attitude and ultimately a lifestyle.

After five months across Europe by bike, Tim, Meraiah, Morgan and Eden landed in Canberra, Australia at the beginning of November with another dream come true. Meraiah tells us that as they were driving home from the airport, Morgan looked out at the green fields dotted with grazing kangaroos. “This is just paradise, isn’t it?” he said. Needless to say, he was happy to be back home.