Oh how we are realising the world is truly our oyster!
‘Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?’ – Marianne Williamson
After a cancelled flight, a free bottle of quality Cuban rum, trying to sleep through the loudest sex known to mankind in my hostel room and being rejected from my shuttle bus to the airport because of my bike, I think I am actually on the way to this adventure that has well and truly already begun!
Paris to Stockholm cycle Day 12 Update; I am sitting in an apartment in a tiny German town called Werlte sipping tea in braids and a Peace Is Power cycling shirt. So much has passed in what seems like an instant. It is day ten of a thirty six day cycle from Paris to Stockholm along the coast of Europe that I have been buzzing about for the past few months. After cycling along the Mediterranean last year, I wanted to use this summer at the end of exchange to see more of this culture packed continent. And what better way to see it than by bicycle. After dad advised me against Estonia to Turkey, I decided on France to Sweden and booked a flight back to Australia from Stockholm for the end of July. I am watching Mitch make a sandwich and choosing from the four different types of German bread we have been offered by our beautiful host Annette. Annette is the aunt of the boyfriend of our Dutch friend Marcella from exchange in Spain. We stayed with Marcellas boyfriends family two nights ago in Almere near Amsterdam and have been sent onward to enjoy more hospitality in the neighboring country. G is washing up dishes because we need to get on the road for another day of cycling.
To explain how we all arrived at this point together, I have to lay out three different events.
In April, Mum and dad and I walked the portugese camino de Santiago, strolling through tiny cobblestone towns by day and downing local wine and seafood by night. Along the way, we met an enthusiast young Spanish girl with brown locks and fire in her eyes named G. The second time I saw her, we realised we went to the same university in Madrid, and I quizzed whether she liked to cycle, with plans already brewing in my mind. We added each other on facebook and everything fell into place for G to join the ride, and just a few weeks later I was at her family house enjoying an Argentinian barbecue after a day of riding, chatting with her family friends about options of places to stay in Stockholm.
Mitch is an Aussie boy from the north shore of Sydney. We were both on exchange at the same university in Spain this year, but we didn’t know anything about each other until just a few months ago. Someone mentioned there was another Australian, and then we started to revolve in the same social circles. At montaditos one cheap Monday I went and asked him if he wanted to go on an adventure for the summer, and now he is here. He literally bought a bike in Paris a few days before I arrived with mine, and we set off.
In one week we will meet a polish boy, Rafał. When I was in Iceland checking out a waterfall in the kind of wind that makes you afraid to get out of the car, I spotted a cyclist and became his number one fan. He was cycling across Iceland alone with a fat bike and sleeping by night in -17degrees, carrying all of his food and managing to cycle many ks a day in the wretched wind. You don’t often get to meet a true adventurer, so I stayed in touch and now he will fly from England to Poland to show us through his home country.
The ride has been absolutely awesome so far. I can hardly draw any comparisons with the Mediterranean ride because it is just so different. The biggest hills we have ridden have been over the peaks of man made bridges, and the weather is so soft and smooth for riding that we hardly sweat. We have tents but have also found many friends to stay with along the way. Right now I’m chilling in the fresh morning air in the garden of someone whose door we knocked on and asked if we could set up our tents in the front yard. She was more than happy, and the next minute she came out with a tray of beers and pretzels, chocolate, cake and apple juice for us. Even though I woke up laying on a squished slug this morning, I know that we are truly blessed and that goodness rules in this wild world of ours. A few nights ago in the Netherlands we tried the same thing, and Mitch and G stood behind me holding up bikes loaded down with bright panniers, chain grease smeared on legs and matted hair from helmets. A man in glasses that is the spitting image of our friend David Barbera opened the door and I asked if we could set up in the front yard because it feels safer than wild camping in a paddock. He was so relaxed that he said yes absolutely and come in for a coffee as soon as you have set up. We spent at least two hours inside his cluttered kitchen discussing world issues and listening to the awesome life and opinions of this man with some seven diplomas that we were lucky to spend the night with. He designs amplifiers and sails boats and will soon have his offshore navigation license. I didn’t want to leave because I was learning so much, but we went back to the tents and played scissors paper rock to who gets the single man tent and then fell dead to world asleep, still smiling.
Paris to Stockholm cycle update day 16; There are so many things to tell. There are so many people to describe, places to go back to, events that are insanely lucky and beautiful and hilarious and ridiculous. It has taken us a week to cross Germany from holland to Poland. I didn’t have any expectations, so I was blown away by the generosity of people, the farmland tied to the East Sea, the amount of sausages they eat and the beauty encased in this country that we were able to mainly transverse using small bicycle paths.
I have been enchanted by dappled sunlight laneways (hiding the tree roots that shock your core) while streams of light reaching in like gods fingers make the trees dance.
Glistening grean corn plants pregnant with golden riches, brush tail yellow wheatfields have tractor tracks leading to nowhere, fairy floss clouds make me convinced we have been swallowed by a whimsical painter. This painter just keeps drawing us into new scenes and I just can’t pick my favourite, I want to buy them all so I can savour them in the walls of my mind for an eternity. It’s not just the views but the feelings that run through my veins, shouting at me not to slow down for too long in this short short life inside this big wide world. We learn from absolutely everybody, young and old. We learn what we want to emulate and what we definitely do not.
I am waiting out the front of a supermarket in a resort town on an island in the far north east of Germany, just a few kilometres from the polish border. We want to drink one last beer from this country as a goodbye and thankyou for the Goodtimes. But we want to sleep in the polish campsite because it’s way cheaper, so we will take our Weiss beers over that funny little line that changes currencies and languages and architecture, (but very little else) for the next adventures.
Paris to Stockholm cycle day 19 update; Oh Poland you are making me smile. Old men oiled to the receding hair line in budgie smugglers that should have been thrown out before I was born riding down the full blown high way on a creaking bicycle with their grandchildren in tow. Perfect roads that suddenly degrade into cobblestones so vicious they shook my wisdom teeth down. Coastal towns booming with summer tourists hoards, kids dragging beach toys across the road, people playing ping pong alongside, ferris wheels and bright lights and ultimately flashy, trashy souvenirs and absolutely everything you could need for the central star of the scene- the North Sea. We make our way down to the sea at lunch time with supermarket goodies and find a slice of shade amongst the chaos. Everyone is there, drinking beer and googling the girls, dipping themselves in the super fresh sea that is swirling with little green seaweed and the sweat of thousands of people revelling in their glorious summer holidays. Girls selling bright hair braids remind me of Bali, and everyone pegs a sheet around their beach space so you can’t walk through it. The young guys are muscular and have blond hair, making G and I whip our head around occasionally when we spot local talent. But this coastal land is ruled by the annual family holiday.
We rode from Swinojouscie on the German border a few days ago and we will meet Rafał tomorrow night in Puck near Gdansk. He will take us through Poland to the Lithuanian border, mainly inland camping by lakes and using small roads. We have just pulled over on the side of the road 75 km into the day for some coffee and apple cake. We took some wrong turns but ended up finding these most gorgeous forest paths, and apart from the adrenaline shocks when my back wheel gets dragged in the sand and threatens to push me off and get trapped under heavy panniers, it was just perfection. In my mind, tall thin forests that have been bleached at the tips are the quintessential polish coastal scene. The leaves that have fallen are tinged with a deep red and you can see magic dust flying around in the light under the canopy. We will sleep in a camping sight in Leba tonight.
Holy guacamole this afternoon was reeeediculous. Today was going way smoother and faster than normal and we were all set to do our 100 k before 6pm. We had 33 left when I last wrote, and the first third of that was like an effortless strike and we were there. A man even raced us and couldn’t keep up! Anyway, the little town we arrived at was a dead end, which meant the only path we had to choose from was the one that said gladzcow 8km, where someone had written ‘hardcore’ in texta underneath and crossed out the KM to turn it into hours. We started this track carefully, and a bald guy wearing long pants and shirt told us to keep going left when we hit a fork in the road. We did so, getting into long thick grass with mud and the tractor tyre marks slowly faded to nothing as we contemplated our complete lack of GPS awareness at almost 6pm in between the middle of nothing and nothing. I put my shirt on because the polish version of a March fly kept landing on our skin and drawing blood and making us swear loudly. We slapped and tried to ride without getting bogged until the track came to a complete halt while the sweat dripped and then turned around to follow the other boy. Under serious levels of concentration and holes in the ground and cleats that don’t allow room for error and a swamp to the ride so riddled with human eating insects it made me shudder, we sang our way through the polish wilderness towards who knows where and promising that cobblestones were no longer the bane of our cycling trip but this track. The bald boy came into view and I went right next to him to show him my little screen shot of a map to find out where we were. He was smiling way too broadly and in a place that no one should be on a casual summer Sunday afternoon. He had a strong red tattoo of a kiss on his neck and his hands were dirty with grime, and then I spotted that he was clenching a knife. I started to think that he had led us to him in a way, he had definitely confused the hell out of us with his absurd directions. Now that I was hanging out with my potential murderer I wasn’t really listening to directions and was keen to get going further into the swampy and bug infected abyss. Later on G told me she had seen the knife and pulled her bike back a bit, ready to stampede into him with the bike if he tried anything murderey. We continued on as fast as possible, which was incredibly slowly. After an hour and a half we spotted houses and thought we could swap to some bitumen. With the worst luck ever, we hit sand. Fifteen kilometres of it, thick and taunting us with wobbling wheels and a severe lack of control. I have skinny hybrid wheels and pushed my bike half of the way, heaving with my right leg step by step through the devils blood. Whenever we slowed down, fat Mosquitos were delighted by our presence and came to take the blood that was left after the polish March flies. This continued until my vision was blurred and the music in my ears kept me moving, and I almost lost it when some mountain bikes came by and said we hadn’t hit the worst of the track yet. The sun was setting low when we finally emerged from the beautiful and rugged wilderness and into the most extreme contrast of a coastal town named Leba. The first thing I saw was children riding robotic horses along the Main Street, need I say more. We shook hands and bought some beers and sat on the beach to watch the sun burn the water. I took a dip to wash off dirt and sweat and blood and squashed Mosquitos, and then we came to find a campsite. Mitch and G just went out to find another beer and some food, but it’s 11pm and I am just going to crash on my soft air bed with a bag of clothes for a pillow- What a memorable day!
Paris to Stockholm update; Today marks four weeks on the bike and one week left to get to Stockholm!
I am laying in a bright hostel bed in the capital of Latvia, and the smell of mcdonalds is wafting in through the windows because it is literally underneath us. So much has been happening and I wish I had been putting it all into chronological order, but that is not the way my brain wants to remember it. On day one we camped between houses and woke to a man in his dressing gown opening his lavish bedroom shutters to two bike riders and their tent. On day two we rode in the typical French countryside and I kissed my bike and my legs and my eyes thankyou. The next day we rode into the magical city Ghent and got caught in the middle of a night marathon, watching shadows dance eerily on the walls of the buildings alongside the canal. One day we ordered a half chicken each on the side of the road in Belgium and devoured it with sticky fingers before welcoming G to the crew. One day we ran into a festival of giants walking down the street that only happens once every four years. One day it rained so hard we had to drink hot chocolate in the summer. One day I went to a cafe to buy marijuana with my friend, and walked through the red light district with my eyes wide open and my ideas of life being torn at the edges. Some days we rode against wind so hard it tortured our minds, and later in the day we would go with the wind and I have never felt closer to heaven. One day we saw wild horses. One day a fox stopped and stared at us a while. One day we all had our bikes serviced by an Albanian in Germany for the price of chips. One day an Italian man in Germany brought us out a plate of icecream and berries just because that is how beautiful the world is. One day a woman paid for our ferry tickets and bought us coffee and cake. One night I was shouted the best Belgian beers in a caravan park and invited to come and stay In Northern Norway. Some days we rode in idyllic fairy floss clouds and some days we rode in the most threatening thunderstorms that felt like tidal waves chasing us. Sometimes we chased our own shadows and other days they were long and slow beside us. We have seen windmills and churches and elegant universities and we have seen dilapidated apartments, collapsed farmhouses and crumbling edges. One day we made German hotdogs for lunch in a park, and one night we had a barbecue at our campsite. Once we met a man with an electric bike who rode with us for hours through deer filled paddocks and tiny pathways. One day we finished riding at 9 and drank beer until 3am in the morning right next to the bikes. One night we stayed in the garden of a lady who makes tooth caps. One day we hitched along a crappy dirt road with a Lithuanian truck driver who lived in Ireland and gave us lectures about geopolitics. One day we met a man walking from Germany to Santiago in Spain. One day I saw a homeless man sleeping on a chair in a field and he looked so much happier than most. Once we rode so hard into Hamburg that we were overtaking cars. Once it rained so hard on us that all we could do was laugh as we looked at the blue sky that seemed so close but so far. Once we stalked a cyclist because he looked cute from behind but not when we caught him. Once we rode on a sandy track so beautiful it brought tears to my eyes. Sometimes we saw fields littered with blood red poppies and sometimes with purple flashes. One day we went strawberry picking in Germany and ate more than we bought. For five days we were whisked through Poland by an inspiring man. One day we were stopped by the Russian border police for an hour and G was questioned for fraud over confusion about a lost passport. One day in Poland we picked blueberries in the forest. One day Mitch saw the sun set over the ocean for the first time in his life. One day we rode through a swamp and were attacked by March flies. Some days cobblestones gave us migraines. One day in holland we took a lift made for bicycles and cycled in a private tunnel underwater. One day we broke our record and rode 140km. One day we collected a snail and him named Stockholm and he will stay with us until the end. One day we celebrated a polish birthday. One day we ate hot soup with stomach in it. One day we bought three litres of Spanish wine in Poland. On many days I felt my brain meditating and cleaning away all of the rubbish. On many days I smiled and reflected what it means to be alive. The past days have been spent riding with strangers come life long friends through so many experiences that it feels like another lifetime.
I’m laying in my tent alone because I won scissors paper rock and didn’t have to share last night. The sun is flooding the tent and making my skin look extra terrestrial and also reminding me that another day has begun. Today we will cycle from Haapsalu to Paldiski, which is our most northern point in Estonia. From there we will leave mainland Europe on an overnight ferry to a port well north of Stockholm in Sweden. It’s a bit overwhelming that we have just cycled across mainland Europe in a month using our legs and two wheels and food for fuel, so I will break down the past few days into colours. Purple was the colour of my beetroot and goats cheese risotto with grilled portobello mushroom last night in a grand house on the sea where we celebrated before Sweden (because we won’t be able to afford celebrations there). Red was the colour of the chair of the pianist who sat in front of us performing his recitals in the evening sun, bringing everyone in the room to a standstill for an hour. Green was the colour of the five euro bill that it cost us for dinner because we were allowed into the show for free from a winking waitress, despite our thongs and crinkled clothes and strange tan lines (or maybe because of them). Dirty white was the colour of the sky when the lightening strike was right over our heads and we heard the whipping crack of thunder and a fizzle in the air like sherbet. Khaki green was the colour of the mustard on our hotdogs in the petrol station when we were starving. Pink was the colour of the lips of the extremely obese man who let us sleep in a shack in his front garden for our first night in Estonia. Pastel green was the colour of the abandoned house we slept behind the next night after devouring the whole chicken I had been carrying on my bicycle with an occy strap. Purple and yellow are the colours of the flower droplets that litter the sides of the road and fill my stomach with happiness. Soft brown is the colour of the perfect wheat fields that spread all the way to the horizon in this country of just one million people. Rainbow is the colour of the Pink Floyd shirt of the polish archaeologist cyclist who rode with us for a day and will make his way up to the arctic circle. Mottled brown is the colour of Stockholm, the snail we have kept since Poland (we are thinking about painting him though). Pastel green and red and yellow and blue are just some of the colours of the thin wood strips used to make the cottage style houses here in eatonia, where wood work and art is highly regarded and every house has some twisted and intricate wooden design to name their house next to the flower pot mailbox. In one of my favourite European scenes, brown is the colour of the hundreds of tightly rolled hay bales in the yellow paddocks and a blue and white sky swirls overhead. I will miss that one so much when I go home. Estonia has been many colours, and so was Latvia and Lithuania and Poland and Germany and the Netherlands and Belgium and France. It’s time to go to the last country on this adventure.
After thirty five days, three thousand five hundred kilometres and nine countries worth of adventures on our bicycles we have finally reached The End- we made it to Stockholm!!!!!