So after my adventure from Berlin to Stuttgart, I thought I would compile a summary of my impressions, my experiences and my conclusions. This trip was something I had planned in my mind for some time. Having moved to Berlin to live with my beautiful wife, Ingrid, my three children living in Stuttgart and my love for traveling and in particular biking, this trip seemed like a natural. But there was another, maybe egoistic, driving force inside of me that made it happen.
When we pass on from this world into the next, we leave what we call “our soul” behind. This is, in my view, the memories for others who are still here. They recall how we were and the things we did. That is certainly true of my parents as their soul lives on inside of me and I remember how they were and what they did for me. I believe it is so easy to get caught up in a dull day-by-day lifestyle where the days disappear into the weeks and the weeks into the months and before you know, it is too late. So I thought I would do something original. I know my children will always remember the month that I biked nearly 900 km to see them. Not many dads do.
A big part of any such journey is not the journey itself but the planning in advance. I did a lot of research with Google to find out if anyone had done this already and had any tips of the things to do and those to avoid. No such luck. So I am really not sure whether anyone had done this before. That left me with the task of planning everything from scratch including the routing, where to stay, what to take with me, how to handle riding 100 km/day, every day, and how to sustain my fitness and my energy level.
The only thing I had no control of was the weather and I must say that for most of the journey I had the luck of the draw. Only one day was completely washed out and when it did rain it was more showers than endless downpours. On the last day it did turn very cold and at one point my hands were so cold I couldn’t even change gears.
I planned the route around the connections between well-documented bike trails, with the majority of them following rivers. This kept me off any main roads but also took me through many quite desolate areas. I managed to acquire most of the biking maps that I needed but these then weighed almost more than the rest of my luggage and weight was a factor I was watching closely, as was advised in many articles I had read. So I just kept those that I needed the most and took copies of the relevant pages of all the others. This reduced the weight and I was able to throw away the ones I no longer needed.
My bike was booked for a complete check-up and I upgraded the tires to a true touring grade that are virtually puncture proof. I had no idea how complicated that would be and what a huge business biking is. There were literally thousands of alternatives and my final choice put me back more than 50€ and it could easily have been double that. I also had to make sure I had all the tools and spare parts I needed just in case something went wrong in the middle of nowhere. I made my checklists which included three changes of basic biking clothing and rain gear that folded up into almost nothing. My best investment was an inflatable pillow that matched the ergonomic pillow at home. This helped me sleep well everywhere.
Then I went on my merry way not really knowing how everything would go and, in particular, how my body would react. The first two days were pretty much plain sailing although the landscape was not that inspiring. Mostly fields and forests and at some points I didn’t see anyone or anything in some very remote areas for almost an hour. It then crossed my mind, what would happen to me if I had a serious accident or if I had a health problem? No cellphone coverage and no humans for miles. On the second day the trail was also particularly bad in some places and the trail signage left a lot to be desired.
So what does a person think about when on such a trip alone. After all, we are talking about more than 80 hours on the bike with nothing else to do than peddle and think. For me it was about enjoying the nature around me, seeing how other people live in some remote areas and thinking about my family. I was in constant contact by text messaging with Ingrid so she knew where I was and if everything was OK. She followed my journey on Google Maps every step of the way. My children were also a little concerned and sent me text messages to make sure things were going well.
On the question of my physical fitness and how my body would react to such a long journey I had read a lot and heard from a couple of people how things might go. The first two days were fine but on day three I really felt tired in the morning. I never had muscle pain or cramps but I was physically very tired and didn’t feel like biking another 100 km. I struggled through the first couple of hours and then suddenly my energy came back and enjoyed the rest of the day. It was either mental fatigue or my body was really regenerating itself. This problem never occurred again.
My rest day I had on Day 7 and if I were to plan the same trip again, I would have included that a little earlier, say on Day 6. Another adjustment regarding my hotel arrangements would be to make sure the hotel room has a bath tub. I only had one and it was heaven to be able to soak in a nice hot tub after a hard day biking. It was the perfect way to relax. A hot shower wasn’t just the same. I should also have paid a little more attention to the location of the hotels in respect of exactly where they were located. Some were in the city center but some were not and they were also difficult to find. In some cases it took an extra 30-45 minutes to find the hotel, something that is no fun after biking all day and all you want to do is reach the goal and relax.
I must say during my trip everyone was extremely helpful. Complete strangers would stop and ask if I needed help when I was looking at my map and if I would ask the way they would hear my accent and start a conversation. I did not see many long-distance bikers over the 10 days. This was probably due to the fact that it was still very early in the holiday season. However, when it was time so stop for a rest or refreshment then it was customary to stop where other bikers had stopped and exchange some experiences and stories.
During Father’s Day on May 9th I discovered how the many German men celebrate this holiday. They fill a handcart with beer and maybe a boom box and go for a hike in groups of 10-20 men and get gradually merrier. It was apparently mandatory to greet them as I biked past, otherwise they would be very unhappy!
What did I learn during this trip? I learned that the time I spent preparing for the trip paid off. I learned that determination and mental strength were more important than physical strength. I learned that love and support from my wife and my children were a key to my successful journey. I learned a lot about the geography of Germany, how all the rivers are connected together, how there are many completely isolated places and that the people here are reserved but genuinely friendly. I learned that being alone gives one plenty of time to reflect on one’s own life and values and that it is healthy to get away from the deadliness of routine. I learned that there is more value getting close to nature under your own steam than speeding down the autobahn.
But I also learned that making such a trip also helped me appreciate what I have. A beautiful, supporting wife, fantastic children and friends around the world who also followed my tracks and gave me support. I am glad I completed what I had planned but am absolutely sure I will not do it again! Thank you, everyone.