The 2015 bike trip

When this card reached me in spring 2015 I replied some­thing along the lines of: 1.) noth­ing con­crete, everything pos­sible, 2.) I’m free end-July till early October, 3.) no clue till you try me, 4.) tell me, fuck­ing finally tell me what your idea is!

Nelson’s reply took a long time cause it should have arrived pre­cisely dur­ing the Great German Mail Strike. Eventually it did come through, and told me how he had that oppor­tun­ity of mov­ing to Kraków for an EVS. I remembered how back in Madrid we com­peted to get a grasp of “W Szczebrzeszynie chrząszcz brzmi w trz­cinie”, while I told him like I told any­body at the time how much I’d like to for­sake air­planes and do a bike trip instead. Now what had made him jump out of bed at 3 in the morn­ing was a sud­den urge to look up the dis­tance from Borghorst to Kraków. “1000 kilo­metres, could be done by bike, what do you think?” —— to which I ran to the let­ter­box, send­ing an imme­di­ate YESOFCOURSE to Madrid. Then I sat there for a while, stared into thin air and thought to myself what stu­pid shit I had got myself into now.

In the end, it took us 3300 kilo­metres. Neither of us has a thing for straight lines.

Weeks went by wor­ry­ing about everything small and big. Route (sketched out in rough terms for the German half of the trip and almost entirely open to more impro­visa­tion bey­ond the bor­der). Risks (to quote from Nelson’s next let­ter: “Rain, haven’t thought about that, good point!”). Equipment: Jesus, he did­n’t have a bloody bike to begin with, and I had no clue of how to pick one!

And yet one bright Sunday morn­ing we cas­u­ally rode down the road to Emsdetten that I’ve taken a hun­dred times before. The great shock of now-it-starts nev­er took hold. To each of the many people who claimed they could nev­er do such a trip we would reply it did­n’t feel like one most of the time. Every day we’d just do our small dis­tance for that day, the unusu­al thing was just how the next day and the day after that and so on we’d con­tin­ue to do the same. But you don’t feel the sum of it all, except in these few exhil­ar­at­ing moments that then really hit you. Like: “What the fuck, why are we in XYZ, how the fuck did we arrive here, did we really cycle 1000km straight?” But in the next moment it’d be over, and busi­ness as usu­al resumes.

The daily adven­tures on the oth­er hand felt massive at the time and not just in memory. We’ve had it all. Rains, tor­rents, deluges. Accidents and fuck­ing moun­tains. Incredible gen­er­os­ity and hosts from hell. Heartfelt con­cord fol­lowed by mutu­al murder attempts. Oats with water for break­fast and lunch in a place like this:

There was some zig­zag­ging. Nelson: “I want to go to Berlin and Warsaw and I also need to meet Julia in Poznań”. I: “Never been to Saxony, I want to go to Leipzig and Dresden”. Former math­em­aticians, we both agreed on Göttingen. Most of the time it was Nelson push­ing the lim­its. Maybe I should just have let him have his swim in some river or pond when the trip was still young – I let him wait though and so dur­ing the really hot days he became con­vinced we should jump into the Baltic. No way!, said I, one look onto the map should be enough to tell you we could­n’t pos­sible go to Gdańsk! It’s at least two weeks from here if we go fairly fast! Of course it’s too far for us.

Yeah, stu­pid young­er me. Took me way too long to fig­ure out that’s his favour­ite motiv­a­tion. Maybe we would have missed the coast if only I had told him how quick and point­lessly easy it is to get there.

Shoudl have figured that out by the time we hovered around the Brocken, really. The (kinda sim­pli­fied, it turned out in prac­tice) rough over­view I gave Nelson before­hand about the ter­rain we’d cov­er went like this: Nothing but plains in North Germany, noth­ing but plains in Poland, maybe some hills in Saxony. We’d cross the Porta Westfalica, the river gorge that marked the bor­der of mine own turf …

… and after which there would really just be one moun­tain left, the Brocken and its sur­round­ing range, the Harz. Nelson, would you like to go around to the North or to the South of it?

He did not like either option.

For two weeks he had com­plained about the pain and lagged far behind and all in all I was­n’t sure we’d ever make it to Kraków. All while he talked non­stop of want­ing to climb over a fuck­ing 1000 metres to see the Brocken’s sum­mit, where the witches are dan­cing. We did man­age to get to the top (lots of sweat and curs­ing involved), and in the night, the foxes told him the secrets of how to ride a bike. Ever since he’s been racing far ahead of me. Even when for once my tyres did­n’t explode every oth­er day.

Cycling makes you dis­cov­er the places in between. We did­n’t usu­ally have high­ways built where there was noth­ing but sand or forest yes­ter­day – rather more than occa­sion­ally, though, part of our route would ori­gin­ally have been the work of some Friedrich or August or Władysław. Not just kings would line up along our way, cer­tain oth­er char­ac­ters fol­lowed our every step, too. On this side of the Odra there does­n’t seem to be a single vil­lage undis­turbed by Goethe, on the oth­er we’ve been spied con­stantly by this Freddie Mercury imper­son­at­or:Don’t get the impres­sion, though, that all that inter­ested us was ancient history.

In spite of what you might think now, there are many hum­bling exper­i­ences on such a trip. If over time this becomes accep­ted as a canon­ic law, please, I’d really like to have it named after me:

There’s always someone doing a big­ger trip.

Meeting oth­er cyc­lists they would inev­it­ably go to Gibraltar. Or China or what­not. I’m cer­tain that if we were to cycle to the moon, halfway we’d meet someone on their way back from Mars.

We approached Wawel pre­cisely nine weeks after leav­ing Borghorst. This here is the most com­pressed short ver­sion of it all – in all those years since I still haven’t yet figured out how espe­cially the last few days before Kraków could pos­sibly be described in a way doing justice to the actu­al mad­ness we’ve lived through there. Well, I guess I should per­haps start fig­ur­ing out how to paint it then!

Germany to the left, Poland to the right. The only fence remain­ing is there to stop you from fall­ing into the river.

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