A million drops of sweat, 2 million thoughts and 4000km from Portugal to Germany
It's been a week since I reached the Cologne Cathedral, my destination. Since then, I went on a little extension around Cologne and have now clicked over the 4000km (4096.6km to be precise).
Like a lightning bolt, I roved through Germany. I was welcomed by relentless rain until I reached my old grandparents home; Freiburg. Even if it has been more than half a lifetime since I was playing horses with my sisters in their rose garden, hunting for Easter eggs and my sister telling us scary bedtime stories, I found the house, my way to the playground, the cathedral and cemetery to say G'day surprisingly easy.
A couple of rather stormy days and nights and it was time for the tent and me to break our bond; from now on, I would spend nights at friends and families' houses. I knew I was gonna miss my comfy (and admittedly a little leaky by now) burrow. Unbelievable how close I was to reaching my destination. One thing I noticed in Germany was the absence of little village stores selling local produce. Many of the big supermarket chains known around the world come from Germany, and they must have taken over every little aunt Emma's shop (or milk bar, or however you call your Epicerie's where you are).
I pedaled along boring and busy roads, never-ending asparagus fields (I would argue it is the German's favorite spring vegetable - the picture above is not asparagus, those are strawberries by the way), pretty half-timbered houses, the river Rhine and beautiful, enchanted forests, until I reached the metropolis of Frankfurt, home of Annika. We have laughed our ways around the world since we met in New Zealand over 10 years ago, and it still worked while staying on her couch for the best part of 2 days.
Next stop my aunt and uncles in Mainz. He worked as a wine salesman for most of his life, so I knew I was going to be in good hands. It was lovely staying with them, watching old German crime movies and talking for hours - must run in the family!
My highlights riding through Germany were the fairy forests in the south and the romantic Rhine valley between Mainz and Cologne. I have seen it many times on trains, out of car windows and also from inside a canoe many moons ago. The weather was on my side and I spent a wonderful couple of days rolling past vineyards, fairy tale villages from medieval times, castles and ruins, ferryboats and other cyclists.
For my last stop, I fell into a micro time warp. I visited Moka, who said goodbye to me in Portugal the day I started my journey. I slept in her van that had been parked right next to my caravan for 6 months. It felt right seeing her then, being able to share stories from both ends of the journey. We talked and laughed, talked and laughed and talked and laughed. Finally, after seeing many people's veggie gardens over the last 2 months in Spain and France, I also spent a few moments weeding tomatoes and felt very much at home at Moka's wonderful place, that she has been creating for herself, her daughters and the people who live in her house; a place where everyone can be creative, free and just belong.
The last day, the last rain shower, the last pair of clean socks. The nicest way to cycle the last kilometers was with one of my oldest friends Katja who is like a sister to me. She met me just outside the city, we sang the old Colonian classic on our way in ('Heimweh nach Koeln' - Ich moecht zu Fooss nach Koelle jonn - 'whenever I think of my Cologne, I wish I could walk there straight away', that speaks to the nostalgia those of us that are born in the city and live elsewhere know so well), stopped at a pub for a celebrational ' Koelsch' and I crashed on her sofa like I always do, feeling as if I was never gone.
What was it like, my journey, the ride form Portugal to Germany over just under 4000km? Did it meet my expectations? What did I expect?
I expected to sleep in the sand dunes in Portugal, to sip Whiskey at Finisterre in Spain. To cycle through vineyards and the canals in France, along the lakes under towering mountains in Switzerland and through forests and over falling leaves in Germany. To make use of the two luxuries I currently own; space and time, to hear my thoughts, spend time with and appreciate myself, and trust in what I have and can do with my future.
The journey offered me so much more than that.
I now understand better what freedom means to me. That it includes taking responsibility for my actions and thoughts. How important it is to listen to myself, trust in my decisions and remain flexible and curious rather than judgmental. The journey has given me another crash course in how many ways there are to shape a life. There is no 'normal', as there are so many circumstances and limitless options to live and be happy.
I am getting better at accepting and letting go, stop fretting the small stuff and letting things happen as they come (like cycling the hills in Galicia). I see how much kindness there is around me, and how much others want to give back, be hospitable and create a sense of belonging.
When I started this journey, I thought if there was one thing I could share with others from my experiences on the road, I would want it to be the feeling of empowerment. In my mind, everyone of us has the right to feel empowered to do what makes us and others happy. In learning about the things I mentioned above, I have laid out again what 'happy' means to me.
You definitely don't have to go on a 4000km cycle trip to find this out for yourself, you can do whatever makes you clear your head, to find out what's important to you and how you can live it. There is no better or worse in how or what others are doing and we are not (because remember, it's so much nicer not to judge!).
Speaking of others, many people who asked me what I was doing more or less reacted with an expression of disbelief which sometimes blended into compassion for going on a monster journey like this. I want to assure you that most of the times, I try to travel through life with another very important companion - Fun. Believe it or not, I had mountains of it on most of the kilometers I cycled between Portugal and here. It was laughing with my hosts, the ecstatic feeling of reaching the top of a hill or flying down long winded roads for ages; playing silly games to pass the time, speaking to myself in dialects or to animals in their respective language, cuddling dogs and donkeys, cooking ridiculously delicious meals on my tiny stove, my end-of-the-day beer, my Spotify playlists, my love for cycling and my Kona Rove and so many other things.
Despite all the fun, one thing remains clear; even superheroes need sympathy: someone to ask are you ok sometimes, a shoulder (or ear) to cry on on a bad day, and of course to share the positive stuff with as well. Even though I am getting clearer about the above, it is important to mention that I am of course also still learning, and will never be perfect! Thanks a million for those of you to be there for parts of my journey, for checking in, cheering me on, or sending me your thoughts or energy. I definitely received and appreciated them, and it was an absolute pleasure to share my journey with you!
I am also thankful for Komoot almost always lead me along the right ways, for Europe to provide some amazing cycle routes (that I can recommend for everyone to check out), for Kona to build my beloved Rove, Marco and Bruno from Ericeira Bikes for tirelessly providing me with online tutorials about fixing my bike, my future colleague Marcus for planning some of my routes through France, my sleeping bag for keeping me warm and my legs for keeping strong.
What's next? After a few weeks in Cologne and surroundings with friends and family, I will return to Portugal. I am working on some projects that, with a good dose of optimism mixed with my skills and experiences and what I learnt on my trip, will become fruitful next year, and I will continue working on Robins' land - I literally cannot wait to get my hands dirty again! If you want to find out more, contact me! I would love to connect, keep in touch, and would like to know if you enjoyed reading my stories and think I should keep going!
Here the final stats of the journey:
64 days travelled
51 cycle days
13 rest days
298 hours cycled
75.57km average a day (does not count rest days)
85031 kcal burnt on rides
47 nights in tent - through wind, rain, thunderstorms and cold
16 nights in bed
1 night in car
1 new chain after 2555km in Uzes
2 new sets of back break pads (1 after 882km in Galicia, the other after another 1274km in Toulouse)
3 flat tires (2 in Spain, 1 in France)
2 click-pedal falls
EUR29.50 average per day spent
Some of my favorite places to sleep: Praia da Costa Nova (Portugal), Praia de Estorde (Galicia), Playa Espana (Asturias), Playa Oyambre (Cantabria), the backyard of Aitor's brother-in-law in Artzentales (Basque), Saignelegiers (Jura in Switzerland)
Some challenging experiences: tendon aches on my left Achilles from day 2 until the flats of France, the steep inclines in Galicia, sleeping at the caves of Ramales in Basque Country, feeling my rear brake fail on my way to San Sebastian, getting caught in a thunderstorm at night near Puicheric, all the mosquitoes in France, the ant bite on my left eye in Gruissan, the torrential rainfalls and cold near Grenoble, climbing the Tete du Ran in Switzerland and Monte do Rano in Galicia (must be the name!), searching for the right cooking gas everywhere
Some wonderful and unexpected surprises: the Ovos Moles that the Ericeira Bike boys organised for me at Mira, the delicious seafood lunch on my way to Porto, my quest of searching for my friend Glenyce and Dawn's friend the restaurant manager in Santiago, all of Galicia (in particular the cycle between Caion and Betanzos and my stops there), the little shop/ bar with cold beers after climbing the Monte do Rano in Galicia, bumping into a bunch of donkeys on a ride in Asturias, bumping into two cute dogs and a pulperia on my way to Rinlo, the campsite and bar at Oyambre with cold beers and a wonderful chat with a fellow biker, the ride through the hills of Basque Country, the kiosk with delicious cold drinks at the top of Tete du Ran near Neuchatel, my own fire place at Saignelegier in the Jura, the forest outside of Karlsruhe, the few new people I met along the way and all the other times and little things when the universe was listening to me!
Thank you, Peace and everyone go Cycling!