When suddenly you have all the time in the world
We've been on the road for a few days now, slowly making our way across Europe towards the North. We are cycling through Germany and let ourselves be guided by the advice of the people we meet along the way. We don't realise yet that our agendas are empty, that there is no end to this world trip and that from now on we have all the time in the world.
European Divide: too ambitious?
March 25, 2022 - We give one last look at Cologne's magnificent cathedral, a beautiful structure towering over the Rhine. The previous evening we had our (for now?) last family visit of Niels' dad and plus mom, so in the morning it took some time to give these goodbyes a place. Now it's really only the two of us, no family or friends nearby and ready to take on the world.
It takes a while before we reach the outskirts of Cologne and we already have to push the bikes for a first time over a steep pedestrian bridge. Not much later we are at the first nature reserve, a beautiful forest where the ground is covered with colourful flowers. It is here that we would like to start the European Divide that heads into Norway. An unpaved bicycle route that goes from the North Cape all the way to Portugal.
Soon our physical condition is put to the test with serious climbs through loose sand. We give it our all but we can't seem to make our way to the top by riding. We push our heavy bikes through the different surfaces hill by hill. Stefanie gets tired quickly (in her eyes, she had been riding a bicycle all day already) and Niels helps her by adding some force to reach the top. A reality check that, in our opinion, comes a little bit too early.
We feel this route is too difficult for us at this stage of the journey. Our bodies are not yet adjusted to the daily routines and miles on the bike. When we arrive at our Warmshowers host he thinks we are crazy and quickly advises us to take another route. This part of the European Divide turns out to be a tough mountain bike route, which we noticed throughout the day when yet another electric MTB flew past us.
Listening to the advice of local people is something we always try to do. The best tips and the most honest advice usually come from those who know a region inside out. We still have to get used to throwing our own plans overboard, but in the end it's mostly all worth it. We have all the time in the world to adapt, we don't have to be anywhere and this flexibility is simply necessary for a world tour by bicycle. The next day we decide to leave the European Divide for a while and train our legs a bit more on the more accessible paved roads.
At first we are still jealous with the mountain bikers whizzing by on their electric bikes, but now we think it's very brave of ourselves to be out on the road with our bikes. During a climb we are cheered on by an elderly couple. "Ohne motor?" they shout in surprise as we slowly but steadily climb up the hill. Certainly, without a motor!
Hospitality in Germany
We noticed that there are an incredibly large number of Warmshowers hosts in Germany. The nights in the tent are cold and wild camping is not allowed, so we decide to make more use of the network. When our hosts in Dortmund welcome us with open arms, we are spoiled from the first moment. A fresh glass of water, being treated to an Indian dinner, a walking tour to the BVB Dortmund soccer stadium and lots of interesting conversations. They even give up their only bedroom to provide to us it as a "honeymoon suite". We feel a little uncomfortable, but still very comfy crawling happily into the bed.
Are we traveling or are we on vacation?
During a lunch break we ask each other if we already have the realisation we are now gone for an extended period of time. The short answer is 'no, we're not', it seems like we are on a short vacation and that we will soon return home to work. We ask ourselves the question constantly, are we aware that this will be our lifestyle for the upcoming years?".
We enjoy the first spring sunshine which warms us during long lunch breaks. And a good thing too, because the strong northerly wind makes our legs cold while cycling. When we are stretching our legs, a local farmer comes over to have a chat with us. We love to make time for this because it always leads to very interesting conversations. Farmer Johannes is impressed by our undertaking and talks about his own life. "I retire in two years and hopefully will travel again. I will never be as crazy as you are, but to Vancouver Island I would love to accompany you." he says with a smile. At another moment, out of the blue, we are invited for tea by Bruno who is waiting for us on the side of the road. We want to accept people's invitations at any time!
Would you invite a stranger into your home?
As we are writing this blog we are in Lemförde in the home of yet another Warmshowers host. We are sitting in their living room, but without the hosts themselves being home, which is quite special. People are even willing to give us the code of their gate and the secret location of their house key. Up until two years ago, we would have never thought this to be possible, but what a pleasure it is to experience such hospitality.
Every culture is different and about Western culture there is still a misconception we think. It's true that we are more reserved and everyone lives a bit more in their own cocoon. But still... if you look around well enough and keep your eyes open for opportunities, you will come across so many possibilities and plenty of people who are only too happy to get to know you. "Most people are decent," we are both of opinion.
We ourselves would like, when the time comes for a place of our own, to live in this way as well. To trust people, even if you have never met them. Welcoming or at least helping everyone, regardless of origin, skin color, political or sexual preference.... There is nothing more beautiful than accepting people for who they are, you get an awful lot in return.
What would you do if we showed up unexpectedly at your door with our bikes and asked for a place for our tent or a warm bed? Would you open the door, welcome us in, offer us a spare room? Or would you rather distrust it, leave the door closed, send us to a campsite? We are curious!