Out of its calm bigness and blackness of night to the subtlest change, behind the horizon.
This was a trip, through half of Europe, by muscular power. Starting on the 19.06 in Palermo, Italy and ending on the 04.10.2016 in Cologne, Germany. By bicycle, foot and kajak.
Palermo, Sicily, June 20, 2016 - We arrive at their home, an Airbnb by Palermo, and immediately upon arrival, I get a cold. Some kind of flu. I stayed there for two days. Really kind people. We watched the last episode of Game of Thrones together, I had a nice big bed, and we could walk down to the sea. I just wanted to stay a bit longer, enjoy the place, the good food, and spend some more time with these nice people. But I knew I really had to go.
Silently I was freaking out.
No matter how sick or tired I felt, I had to start. I had passed a point of no return. I had rented out my city flat to someone else for the time being, in Germany. I assembled the new and unridden bicycle, luckily only one of the disc brakes was damaged during the flight, and I could easily repair this. Repeatedly the outside voice in my head would attack my good ambitions. “How can I ride this distance if I actually have no idea of cycling or have never ridden more than 15km in my whole life?”
Caltagirone, Sicily, 25 June 2016 -
About half a kilometre before you pass them, you can smell it. The dead rotting body of a dog, cat, rat or any other less lucky creature.
IT’S OFTEN SMASHED, CRUSHED OR AN OPEN BODY, LYING THERE. THE HOT TAR BURNING FROM BENEATH, NO SHADING, SEPARATING THEM AND THE BEAUTIFULLY PENETRATING SUN.
12 HOURS A DAY, STUCK, INACTIVE, MOTIONLESS. DRYING AND OOZING FROM THE INSIDE OUT, BY THE SIDE OF THE ROAD. EITHER LOST, FORGOTTEN OR NEVER KNOWN.
I am in a full aero-position, tucked in tight, piercing through the air down the street like an arrow. Enjoying the downhill. It feels like I am going somewhere around 50kmh plus. I never really knew because I didn't use a speedometer. The perfectly smooth tar and the straight stretch is most welcoming, and I am happily cruising on the big excess length of tar to the right of the road, firmly gripping the handlebar, on a highway. I cut the bottom right peak of Sicily from Gela to Catania, resulting in a massive downhill back to the coast. I had two big downhill descends during this trip, this being one of them. This wasn't really planned, to cycle along a highway, I just kind of ended up on one. This stretch went on for about 50km and it felt like it would go on forever. I was nervous that someone would call the police, stopping me and telling me to get off the road. But as a police car overtook me to my left, and clearly seeing me, it did not stop, there didn't seem to be a problem.
Itri, Italy, 21 July 2016 - I could not sleep. I'm too excited and anxious because of the long ride ahead. Everything is packed, everything is waiting for the alarm. It’s an hour before the alarm goes off at three in the morning. I probably dozed off around 2:55. I get up, sneak into the kitchen. The Airbnb Host is snoring as I make coffee as silently and quickly as I can. He was so friendly during my two rest days here in Itri; not to mention his self-made wine which made me beautifully sleepy during the days of resting. Coffee coffee coffee shower. I slip into my fresh body-hugging cycling clothes and strap my bags to the bike. And I am off into the darkness. I switch on the lights and start spinning on a high cadence until my legs warm up. I'm riding through a forest, a slight uphill. The dark trees surround me, the street is highlighted by rays of the moon. As I approach the top of the mountain the trees lighten and I look over great fields and rocks, down to the ocean. The full moon is beaming and hanging heavily over the ocean. A gorgeous pale shimmer of white rises to the moon, and there it is - the diamond sea. The slightly bumpy road turns into a perfectly flat tar and I start my descent to the ocean. There is no one to be seen and there is absolute silence except for the wind and my speed as I swoop around the corners around the rugged cliffs.
I can't believe that there is only me here to soak up all this beauty.
The sun begins to set and the street gradually flattens. The smell of marina gets stronger, the seaweed and other sea life. Riding through the small towns the markets are busy being built up, selling fish and mussels. Bakeries start to open, spreading their smell of fresh bread and igniting the thought of filled pastries. I continue riding for a few hours, not really concentrating for a while until I am forced to stop and step to my right on a small patch of pavement. The road turned into an expressway without me noticing it, and now there was a long tunnel in front of me with no clearance distance to the wall. The thought of riding into this tunnel was dangerous and scary. Being enclosed in an expressway tunnel, with no space, cycling on the street in morning traffic. No way. Going back was no option either because I had just passed an access road onto this expressway. There is just not enough space for me to reverse or ride in the opposite direction. To make the situation a bit trickier the street is enclosed by railings on a kind of bridge leading into the tunnel about 4m above the ground. The traffic was picking up like crazy because everyone was driving to work, so crossing two lanes and going back on the other side was no option either. Luckily there was a field beneath the bridge. So, I detached the bags off my bike, dropped them off the bridge, lifted my bike over the railing, climbed over the railing and lowered the bike as far down as I could and let it drop. I did the same and did a sort of judo roll, only backwards. I reattached everything and rode past the farmer into whose soft field I just had plunged. He smiled and greeted me with a “journo”. It is incredible that my bike did not malfunction once during the trip. I wonder what the farmer thought.
Granit ,Val di Mello
Cori, 21 July, Italy, 2016 - After some time the light hits the trees. Not long after that, I can smell the pine roasting in the sun. I'm on my bicycle and lost in its perpetual motion, on and on and on. I concentrate on the street.
Hours go by and I am drenched in sweat. I enter the tunnel. I start thinking about the most beautiful things and the saddest things. Memories surface that I considered long forgotten.
The ebbs and tides of energy come and go. The empty streets get filled with cars and after that get relatively quiet again. So much passes me, it is impossible to take it all in. Scenes fly past, I remember seeing two horses standing under a bridge, prostitutes in bright clothes sitting on a chair in the middle of nowhere, long distant plains, riding along a river, scaring up a flock of birds, the sound and sight of a porcupine dragging his spikes along the asphalt. I am over 5 hours into my ride now and on my last climb to the village where my Airbnb guest house is. The shower, the bed, and the food. Often it is a real battle to eat before I lie down for my afternoon nap. Because if I don’t, I wake up after a half an hour, feeling as if I had been out drinking heavily, craving anything salty and nutritious like a zombie. I am starting to hurt. My legs hurt, I feel tired, my hands and arms hurt, the saddle hurts. My breathing gets stronger as the road steepens. Every time I hope the village is behind the turn, there is another one ahead. This goes on forever.
As I start to forget why and what I am doing, I arrive.
Now the actual difficult part starts, I have to really concentrate on trying to communicate with the person who is housing me. You know to say who you are and cover the basic small talk and so on. But by this time, I am speaking a new language. It is a mixture of Italian, which I don't speak, and the Spanish I never bothered to learn in school. Add in heavy breathing and a bit of drooling. At this point, I feel everything except human. It’s actually a wonder anyone recognized me as human. I must say that the new language, in general, worked really well. The host showed me the house, which is a mansion with the most exquisite view over the city and surrounding landscape. I immediately fill the bath with cold water and have an “ice bath”. All the endorphins kick in and I am happy.
To say that I feel alive is an understatement.
I buy food at the nearest place possible, get back home and rest. I am so tired I fall asleep in my dreams a second time.
Pass Procellizzo, Italy-Switzerland, 30 August 2016 – 60 days of cycling later, I lay down my backpack, to which my bicycle is neatly strapped to, resting. Standing on the border of Italy and Switzerland. On the topmost blades of the Alpine Pass Procellizzo 2961hm. Looking back over Italy, the wind picking up and the whiteness of clouds surrounds me. Coating me invisible and visible, on the damp rock beneath. Everything leaves me, and
I feel like the simplest being between the dust, stones, and sky.
Indistinct in the distance lies Sicily. I cycled around that island, transitioned to Italy by ferry and cycled up along the west coast into the alps. It ́s all invisible now and the memory is starting to fade, but I know it exists. I am sure because I drew the line physically with my body. Over and after the next two mountain passes lies Switzerland with its lake Konstanz, advancing into the Rhein-River flowing by my hometown Cologne.
Man, what a view… I could have never imagined this idea turning real, it is the most surreal feeling.
Somewhere along the trip - Humans are highly adaptable beings. Able to transform and react to a new and complex situation, surrounding and reality. With the constant repetition and ease, the buildup of confidence culminates a certain strength and precision allowing us to move more elegantly in the given medium. Which one could then define as success - this ‘thing’ everyone seems to be chasing.
But if you boil it down, success is the most boring thing.
It ́s just a constant repetition of action while knowing, or having a vague idea, of your strengths and weaknesses.
By Strasbourg, Germany, 14 September 2016 - More than once I did some kind of miscalculation and paddled into the night. Due to overambitious planning or simply underestimating the current or waterways ahead. After paddling for quite some time in the dark, I noticed just how tired I was. And that I was starting to get cold no matter how hard I paddled. How my clothing was wet because it had rained that day and how I was feeling wasted. Wanting to stop and get warm. I paddled to the nearest capable looking area, a little island/nature reserve. I could barely get out of the boat due to exhaustion and knee pain. Walking and wobbling around on stones the wet fabric on my skin moved a bit, giving me the chills, shivering uncontrollably.
GIVING ME A SHORT FRIGHT, RELEASING ADRENALINE INTO MY BODY, RELIEVING ME OF MY KNEE PAIN.
This is the time to get warm as fast as possible. Tying the boat to the nearest tree, getting the stuff out of the boat and laying down my camping mat and sleeping bag in the nearest bush/ semi wind-protected ditch in the ground. I hadn't eaten that day, but luckily, I had a beer and chocolate in my bag from Switzerland that I was wanting to take home to my friends. I ate all the chocolate right there at that moment. Slightly drunk and slightly shivering I fell into a comfortable dream waking up to a misty sunrise the next morning.
Just before Cologne, Germany, 4 October 2016 – I didn't know if I was going to cry when I arrived or start crying right at this moment in my boat. I was on an absolute emotional rollercoaster. Being all excited and having this weird feeling of being in a recognizable surrounding again. A feeling of home. I started the day paddling early, at about 4 in the morning, witnessed the whole day on the water and arrived at about 7 in the evening during sundown. Giving it all I got, pulling this big thing of a boat as fast as I can now, feeling heavier than ever, racing towards and around the last corner before seeing the skyline of this city. Riding towards its five bridges, the big cathedral, and all its characteristics. Remembering its structures and all its features, all cracks and corners. I truly know this place like a lyric, off by heart.
CRAZY HOW ALL OF THIS DISTANCE JUST LEADS UP TO THIS POINT. TO A POINT OF A PLACE. SET IN A SUNDOWN SURROUNDING, BY A RIVER.
I get into bed and pass out. Looking forward to the city, and its routine. Till I get excited again to leave.
After 2 attempts over the last 3 years, in different variations, a knee injury and an operation, I am still amazed that it all worked out. All the money saved and spent. The months of preparation and days of 12h+ physical work. The mental strength to transform the way of things, I arrive in Cologne, having drawn an invisible line.
A streak of nothingness, physically not existent. Like a dream, turning into reality and fading away again.
To see what we are - a beautifully complex system - with the option of changing.