April does what it wants
Unpredictable weather on a cycling vacation! During our first week on the bike, we were still cycling in shorts, now we are all wrapped up to face the cold and wet days. Read all about our adventures of the past weeks in this blog.
Cycling in the snow, fun or not fun?
April 1, 2022 - In Belgium this date is known for playing pranks on each other. Stefanie wakes up and immediately thinks Niels is starting the first joke of the day. "Look outside, it snowed!". Stefanie's smile quickly changes to a concerned expression when she sees the white carpet , because if there's one thing that doesn't get her excited, it's snow. It reminds her of the slippery tracks in Ghent where she used to fall in the tram lines multiple times by bike. She has yet to experience a magical winter moment, but will it happen today?
In the morning we look at the possibilities of putting our bikes on a train. Also our Warmshower hosts suggest we stay an extra day. No weather to spend outside on the bike, they say. The strong, northern wind is not in our advantage, but still we decide to go for it. Olivier and Zoë from WeLeaf send us a message: "Enjoy it, before you know it the snow will be gone." Bikes ready, warm cycling clothes on and off we go.
Despite the gutting wind, Stefanie has to admit that the white landscape creates beautiful sceneries. We feel pretty cool when we flying through the snow with our mountain bike tires and are enjoying this new experience. Unfortunately, beautiful songs don't last long, because when the wind picks up after an hour of cycling, it is simply too cold to look around and enjoy the views. On flat roads our average speed drops to 7 to 8 km/h and we suppress the cold pain in our faces. We can both handle difficult circumstances quite well we think and a cycling trip certainly has plenty of these moments, but this is just a bit too much for us. The temperature drops to a few degrees below freezing point and we have to admit that we are simply not ready for this and probably don't have the right clothes.
After about 25 km we arrive in Diepholz, where we can have our lunch in a nice store that only sells package-free stuff. We get warm inside with a hot cup of chocolate and a coffee and take shelter from the harsh weather. Here we decide to do the second part of the day by train and then cycle the last 7 km to our hosts Susy and Sönke. A wonderful stay where we sleep in Susy's beautiful yoga room. We get offered a delicious meal and have very interesting conversations with a couple that 20 years ago went on a world tour by bike for 4 years themselves.
The wind is our biggest enemy
The next morning the sun is lurking around the corner, but it is already 10 o'clock when the bikes start rolling. That's what happens when you stay in good company and keep on chatting. It is a lot less cold than the previous day and cycling at 13 km/hr suddenly seems lightning bolt fast. The wind keeps blowing to our disadvantage all day and when we reach Bremen it feels like our bodies are tired already. We recognise this kind of wind from our trip to Switzerland, but then we got a beautiful view in return, something we miss a bit at the moment.
When the cycling itself isn't very interesting, we seek our pleasure in something else, namely the moment we often look forward to the most: lunch break! Once we arrive in Bremen, we choose a spot out of the wind, in the sun at a gas station. We are just ready to continue our cycling day when a local cyclist approaches. "Do you still need a place to sleep for tonight?" he asks us. We try not to turn down any invitations, but this way our cycling day will be very short we think. The local cyclist, named Nils, gives us his number and some time to think about it. We don't need long, because, as always, we are honest with ourselves and with each other and we have to admit that if we ever want to have a short cycling day, now is the time. Said, done! We send Nils a message and half an hour later he is waiting for us in front of his house. He explains that it is a recently bought house in full renovation, but a small part is rented through AirBnB. Today no one is in it, so we may simply use it for a night.
Most people always think we are tough cyclists and unconsciously we often feel that we have to comply with this image. We must not lose sight of the fact that this is oúr journey and that we can do everything our way, even if this sometimes means that we don't have the most exciting stories to tell. Nothing is obliged and everything is possible, that has always been our approach and it should stay that way. Not everything has to be done by bike for us and not every cycling day has to be 75km to 90km long. In this way we remain open to spontaneous encounters and surprises along the way, the biggest reason why we do this trip by bike.
Wet, wetter, wettest!
After Bremen comes Hamburg, where we stay for three days with Heike and Völker, whom we want to thank again for their hospitality. It's been three incredibly wet days, not the best cycling weather, and we are given the freedom to work on our blogs and photos while they go about their daily lives. We also take the time to explore the city, which by the way is a highly recommended city trip.
After three nights, it continues to rain enormously, the forecast getting worse and worse. We jump on our bikes and suddenly the wind turns in our favor. That's ago of our cycling day from Ghent to Antwerp (seems like an eternity) and the rain doesn't bother us. We fly forward and cycle over 72km in this harsh weather. Along the way we see many people with their hot coffee or from behind car windows looking at us strangely. We feel great despite the wet cold and enjoy every minute.
One drawback to the heavy rain (during the past few days) is that the meadows and many campsites are soaking wet. Not ideal camping weather, the woods are full of mud and plains flooded. We need a moment for ourselves and went to Neumünster to spend the night in a hotel. Often we are so preoccupied with our budget, but there are times when we have to put this idea to the side for a moment and simply enjoy a warm hotel room. Our bikes, bags and ourselves are completely covered in mud upon arrival. The owner is already there with a bucket of warm water and helps cleaning the bags and carrying them upstairs. "I have a good cleaning lady, so don't worry if things get dirty." she winks at us. For this hotel also a big thank you to Niels' mom, who gave us 1 nice hotel night a month as an original wedding gift!
After rain comes sunshine.... right!?
A common saying that also seems to be true for a little while during our cycling trip, although that joy is only short-lived. Now it's time for hailstorms, still accompanied by (by now blowing again to our disadvantage) wind. Stefanie cycles with one hand to protect her face as much as possible. We have never seen so much hail in just a few days. The cycling route we are currently following in Germany is very beautiful and leads us through beautiful, open nature, but also offers few opportunities to seek shelter. More than we would like, the hailstorms fly around our ears and at one point it's scary when a one hits us while cycling on a big road without a separate bike path. No other option than to keep on going until this moment passes and we can enjoy a few minutes of dryness again.
Skin care is not really on our to do list but after a few days of wind and hail, our skin feels like sandpaper. Time to properly take care of ourselves with a moisturising face cream for the next few days.
Mentally, these cycling days should not be underestimated because they feel a lot heavier than in "normal" circumstances. It is a bit naive of us to think that, because this is the beginning of our trip and spring is coming, every day should be sunny cycling weather. Sure it isn't, but somehow we had that image in our heads and we have to get over ourselves at some points. Not always easy, but we quickly learn a lot about our abilities and ourselves through this, we become stronger! We also notice that we can count on the goodness of people. Sleeping with a Warmshowers host who hosts five refugees from Ukraine makes us realise how lucky we are being able to choose for this way of life ourselves and have all the freedom.
Denmark is in sight
The last days in Germany and we enjoy the views more and more. It has to be said, the routes are worth it, especially the more northern ones are really our taste you! More info about the routes we followed can be found in this blog. At the time of writing, we are 10km from the border with Denmark. We are really looking forward to discovering this country by bike. New nature, new culture, new encounters, new ways of camping etc.
So, enough complaining about the weather ;) It teaches us not to grumble too much about it on the bike. That soaks up too much energy but writing about it in this blog gives us space to vent and put it into perspective, so thanks to everyone for helping us this way. The mind usually has to do more than the body and that is a difficult and 'ongoing' process. Who knows, we might read this afterwards and think, oh, it wasn't so bad after all. We do think it's important to address this to the outside world, a cycling trip is not always 'a walk in the park'. Often online and on social media only the beautiful parts of these adventures are portrayed. In our opinion, everyone can start a world trip by bike on human power, but you have to get your mindset right. Give it some time and things will fall into pieces!
What do you think? Would you have booked a last-minute trip to the sun? Or maybe you think we are just too big of softies on bikes? We are curious to hear your stories. What are your biggest challenges during a (cycling) trip or vacation? Leave it in our comments!