Starting in Haarlem (near Amsterdam) today was our first official day of biking. Our host family in Haarlem graciously took us in, never having met us, through the connection of a mutual friend. Before leaving Haarlem, Andrea (the mom of the family) called her sister and told her we were coming her way. In about 5 minutes we had our next destination decided and tonight we are sitting pretty and feeling full in their beautiful home. Such lovely conversations with both warmhearted families. I know more about the Dutch Santa, Sinterklass than I ever knew was possible. We were also taken to the official start of the Camino de Santiago for many Northern European pilgrims, a spot just blocks from where we stayed in Haarlem. We hope to end our trip riding parts of the camino, so this was a treat, and we have the official stamp to prove it!
Our saddles are getting sore, hands and toes go numb, the slightest hill sends us panting...the Netherlands is the flattest place I have ever seen. "It's all part of training" we say...I sure hope so. After 160miles, this is just the start.
Our first super market and camping experience were full of cultural blunders, proving we can't always rely on people's helpfulness. "You didn't weigh your onion before you tried to pay for it? Are you for real?" "You biked 80km, but all you have is a credit card? We don't take those, sorry you can't pitch your tent here. Who do you think you are? The president?" (Emphasis added) I am reminded to always treat foreigners kindly :)
In three days we managed to cross the small country of The Netherlands into Germany! Feeling proud of this accomplishment, but first we will rest. Tomorrow is a train ride to Berlin where we will meet up with friends Audrey and Trevor.
Tonight we met Engelbert, who is our gracious Warm Showers host. His excitement for cycling and sharing his experience is amazing. 1.5 hours and a few beers later I think we saw every PowerPoint presentation of his trip. Man, this guy loves to bike.
Amersfoort-->Holten =56.5 mi
Train to Berlin €62
Leaving Rheine was nothing short of a crazy hectic dash/sprint to the train station, which we were quite late for. Our host Engelbert was a godsend in the train-boarding process, which needed to happen lickety split. It involved finding the correct bike car, removing all our bags and getting all the bags AND bikes on to the train before it left. We made it, and had some good sitting/resting/reading time on the train. About 3.5 hours later we were in Berlin.
Berlin, what an amazing city. We took a walking tour of the city center which was quite mind blowing. Seeing Nazi, Soviet and American influence everywhere was quite sobering. Germany, and specifically Berlin, is so honest about its past and mistakes they've made. There is a memorial or a plaque around each corner honoring the victims of different events or occupancies. It's embedded right into the fabric of the city.
Our hosts in Berlin were a sweet young Romanian couple who took five of us in on just hours notice! We all slept in a tiny living room on the 16th floor. We even piled in five bikes and all our luggage. We stayed there for two nights and they were insanely gracious. It has been so fun to meet people in each place and get to know their perspective.
Berlin-->Somewhere in the woods near Potsdam-->Wittenberg-->Torgau-->Risea
Our first day out of Berlin was quite a bit shorter than we expected, but eventful none the less. Navigating through the city was rough and I was extremely glad to be out. About 3 or 4 miles outside the city we came to a large reserve area where the air was clear and roads were straight and wet. My senses came back to life as the biking was more of a workout. Slow, low grade climbs and long descents that made you feel like you were flying. I had an overwhelming feeling of gratitude during this day because I felt physically better than I had the whole trip. Just a week before coming to Europe I had an awful cold that laid me out for three days and was having a hard time feeling fully recovered. So thankful to be healthy.
Our first night of stealthy camping went off without a hitch. Just lots of slugs and low water levels.
Skipping ahead a day or two...
We met up with the Elbe River and have been following the bike route which takes us through miles and miles of bike path through farmland. It connects several tiny towns, laden with quaint gardens and old brick houses.
The reality of traveling for three months means money is tight. We try to free camp whenever we can. Coming into Torgau, our plan was to find a spot just outside the city and camp. We settled on a place under a bridge (not ideal). Weather was also not on our side this day, it was growing wetter and wetter and morale was declining by the minute. We decided to head into the city center for dinner before settling in under the bridge.
Upon arriving, we stumbled upon a festival in the middle if town. Turns out it was "American weekend" to our amusement. After a day of soggy biking, let alone the fact that we were the only foreigners in thus small town, we must have looked quite pathetic. One woman, was particularly kind in giving us advice about the town. Audrey ended up talking to the woman for a long time, and when she realized we had no place to stay on the rainy night she took it upon herself to change that. Soon reinforcements were brought in, and now several people were crowded around Audrey, even a reporter taking pictures! Turns out the woman is a big wig in town in charge of power and water for the city from what we could tell. She ended up paying for us to sleep in a hostel. Such an amazing gift and crazy turn of events! In the past, traveling with my friend Lizzy, we have called these times "oh shit" moments. As in "oh shit where are we going to sleep? Eat?" Etc. We've learned that those moments are often followed by some of the most amazing gifts. I've learned to welcome the "oh shit" moments.
The day we entered Dresden, the sun came out and I knew this was going to be an enjoyable city. We had lunch, aired out our tents and decided our next steps overlooking the Elbe river running through the middle of the city. We stayed in a hostel that night, which gave us a chance to remove about 50lbs each from our bikes. We were super human flying around town on our bikes that night.
Our quest for wiener schnitzel brought us to a restaurant across town. Upon walking in, we noticed that the median age was about 65...we definitely stuck out. We weren't sure if it was a family reunion or just the Monday night crowd. We all ordered the Monday night special which was a liter of beer and a tiny pretzel. We enjoyed some great conversation after that.
Dresden is an amazing city. After experiencing the hustle and bustle of Berlin. Dresden's smaller, more graspable feel was a welcome change. We stayed in the city the next day and had breakfast and a lingering coffee shop experience. We learned that most of Germany does not wake up for your typical 9am breakfast. Walking the streets it was hard to find even a coffee shop open before 10.
We left the city around four, dodging rain and cycling along the river. The cliffs growing on either side of us made the ride ever more beautiful. We ended the night making dinner in a tourist vestibule hiding from a down pour and waiting for the small river village to go to bed before stealthily camping in one of their fields. We got a chuckle from a woman the next morning who asked if we stayed there. It wasn't as big a deal as we thought.
We followed the same river all the way into the Czech Republic. In crossing a border, there is always an adjustment period in relearning the signage and bike routes. It can be quite hectic. The Czech Republic does not value bikes quite as much as Germany so it was a rude awakening. We spent the first night in a strange bike camp on the side if the river with trains wizzing by on either side of us. We all wore earplugs and slept beautifully.
The next day we were able to follow some well marked bike routes, even hopped on EuroVelo 7 for the end of the day. Our weary legs did not appreciate the four flights of stairs which constituted the bike route over the river. Sheesh.
I sit here writing from an empty apartment in Linz, Austria. It's rainy out, our bike clothes are drying on the heaters and coffee is being poured. God provided a little sanctuary.
The nature of this journey by bike is a crazy one. Nearly every day we set out not knowing where we will sleep, how many miles of uphill or downhill we will encounter or what the skies have in store for us. My California nature is not used to this cold rainy weather, but by Minnesota roots come alive at the sight of fall colors and the smell of rotting apples. We experience extreme highs- the euphoria of cresting a long arduous hill to the sight of the valley below. And the lows- being dirty and wet from camping, and town after town has nothing in it but a smokey bar to get a cup of instant coffee. But we order them anyway for something warm to drink. The pedaling in between is full of time to think, to notice and to reflect. We often burst into song, mostly Gregory Alan Isakov.
Yesterday encompassed many such emotions. The morning was a gorgeous flat ride out of Cesky Krumlov along the river. Around lunch time, the weather got quite a bit colder, wetter and more windy. There was a tough climb and long descent into Austria, which was cold but enjoyable. Coasting downhill, it's hard not to think of the uphill climb that will most likely follow...which it did. A long uphill battle with limbs like molasses. What we were not expecting was the 14km high speed descent into the city of Linz in the pelting rain. I don't want to be dramatic but, I had to sing at the top of my lung to keep myself for bursting into tears. One of the most terrifying and thrilling experiences that left us all shaky and in need of a cappuccino-which we promptly indulged.
Coming into Linz, we still didn't have a place to stay. We ended up following a tip off to a bike kitchen, where we got a recommendation for cheap food. Cold and soggy and a little discouraged,we made our way to a tiny falafel shop. In about 30min we had met a young French Syrian dancer who offered us his empty flat (he was in the process of moving). In no time we were dry and warm and so extremely thankful.
I want to give a little insight into our days on the road...so today I will give hour by hour updates of our journey. Location, thoughts, emotions etc. We have no idea what is next, other than we are headed toward Zurich. Should be a fun day!
We have just spent the last two nights in Winterthur, Swizterland with a family who we have been connected with through the 24/7 Prayer community. They have been so lovely and hospitable. We are overwhelmed, and taking away so many blessings. The day is beautiful, and we are having coffee in the sun before leaving.
Our packing systems are getting more dialed in everyday.
Not many things make Trevor happier than a clean, dry tent...
We set out for the day having no clue where we will sleep, just a list of contacts in Zurich that haven't responded yet...
PERFECT biking weather...cool air, warm sun. A general feeling of contentment.
Trevor called a few contacts, but many people are either too far from Zurich, or on holiday. The next couple weeks in Switzerland many people will be on vacation...May not bode well for a place to stay, but we'll see...
I have had no injuries so far, except for a pain in my big toe that came up a day or so ago. I can't really explain what caused it, but biking feels better than walking, so that's a plus.
Wow wow. Zurich has an amazing vibe. Amazing architecture, gorgeous river and lake.
But we are hungry, and need to find a grocery store. STAT. I have loved shopping every other day with Karly. There are many more options here in Zurich than in other places, but a lot more expensive...we might lose a little weight...
Trevor and I share a love/obsession for bikes, bike parts, bike components, bike blah blah blah...we went on a quest to replace Trevor's broken front rack. Leaving Karly to bask in the sun by the lakeside.
The quest brought us to City Cycles. A small bike shop with a few very nice guys working there. Hesitant to drop so much $ on a new rack, we went to the next store which ended up being a Swiss outdoor store. REI, you have met your match, and you lost big time. You just can't compete with clean European marketing and Alp-hiking clientele...
Back to City Cycles to buy a Tubus front rack. German made. With two more months left on the bike, Trevor was convinced that it was worth it. A lifetime investment. Let's hope.
I went back to the water to get Karly. We had fun looking at the super fresh bike apparel...
We're still not too worried about where to sleep despite no leads at all. We plan to ask the guys who work here if there are good places to sleep...often the undertone of that question is "Can we sleep in your yard?" And we hope if we bat our eyes enough the answer will be yes.
The only thing is that my foot is hurting and if we have to bike far for a place to sleep that might be a bummer.
Trevor finishes putting on his new rack as he says loudly to Karly "Hey, any idea where we're gonna sleep tonight?" Loud enough for employees to hear...
We finally ask the guys at the bike shop where a good place to spend the night would be. They explain that there are camping places about 30 minutes away. Moments later, as if a light bulb went off in his head, one guy says "You could just camp here!," motioning to the rear parking lot. "It's safe and, private and blocked off to anyone else. No junkies." Excited glances back and forth. We had a feeling Zurich was a good place, now we know it is.
One guy even offered us a shower to use and about 30 minutes later we were squeaky clean and cooking rice and beans in the parking lot. We had some good belly laughs telling stories of the weirdest places we have slept. Trevor has a few gems. Karly and I are adding to the list. We can't wait to tell the stories in person.
Now, we are all snuggled up in the bike shop doorway, headed to sleep.
Thanks everyone for following our journey. We love and appreciate all the support and miss you all!
If I could name one thing that has been a continual theme though out this European journey it would be, hospitality. We have experienced the warmest of welcomes in so many different places and homes and people and parking lots and picnic shelters...in all places we have felt met, and taken care of and safe, and we are so extremely thankful.
Every day I add to the list ways that I want to learn hospitality. By being a guest, I'm learning how to be a better host. I have learned that the best ways to be hospitable is by being yourself and nothing else. The very act of bringing someone into your home is an act of grace and vulnerability. Having a genuine spirit allows the guest to feel free and comfortable and know when you say "make yourself at home," you mean it.
To be able to go on this journey I had to make a handful of sacrifices. Some monetary, some extra work hours and a busy summer schedule and leaving friends and family. But what I have gained in the past five weeks have been some of the greatest gifts.
A quote from The Artists's Way, which I have been reading and loving on this trip,
"Leap, and the net will follow"
has rung true time and time again.
The picture is a postcard note that was left for us upon our arrival in Bern, letting us know there was coffee, tea and beer in the fridge. A little gesture that made us feel so welcome.
Almost immediately upon entering Switzerland, our pace slowed WAY down. We went from biking 40-50 miles a day to about 20. We almost couldn't help it! The landscape is so beautiful and the people so warm. We have since been told, "That's not typical Swiss" when we told people about the bike shop owners letting us sleep in the lot and another man stopping to talk to us as we ate lunch and then offering us a place to set up our tents on his back porch. Maybe it's the fact that we're traveling and look a little pathetic and helpless sometimes, but we're not complaining =)
Another reason we have slowed down and now come to a screeching halt in Thun, has been that my foot has been inexplicably painful. Thun was already planned as a resting place and connecting with the community who lives here, but I didn't know how important this time would be. After the pain woke me up in the middle of the night, we decided going to the doctor was a priority.
That was an experience in itself, trying to talk medical terms with a doctor who spoke little English. I couldn't understand why he wanted to do a blood test instead of an x-Ray. Trying to make an informed decision and really understand what was going on, I was quickly googling what he was diagnosing. I am already skeptical of doctors and frustrated by having to pay so much for a tiny bit of information.
In the end, it was so helpful. Most likely the pain in my toe was from gout (a terrible sounding word). Makes a ton of sense from the huge shift in diet I've had since traveling (more meat, less vegetables, dehydration etc.) Go figure! I'm already feeling much better. And what an environment to recuperate in!
We keep saying, "we will miss this." The truth in that is almost palpable as we careen down mountain passes, or share a bottle of wine from the exact region we find ourselves in. Life is good as a bike traveler.
We are having a ball here in France. And that is not an overstatement. Amazing, given the fact that Karly and I were the most nervous about traveling through this country because none of us speak even the tiniest bit of French, and we were told (more liked warned) that no one spoke English...
We have found that to be quite the contrary and have stumbled upon the most incredible, tender hearted people you will ever meet. Earlier this week, we were flying high and setting up camp after a sunny day cruising down the Rhône River, when we met two lovely ladies, Sabine and Frederique, fishing with their kids on the river. We chatted for a while, and said our goodbyes, only for them to return 20 minutes later with wine and an invitation to stay with Sabine's family that night in the small village nearby and another invitation to stay with Frederique's family in Lyon a couple nights later. We had the most amazing time sharing stories and culture with both families and loved our time with them. Such a sweet time of connection and over the top generosity that won't soon be forgotten. We biked away from each home feeling equally inspired and encouraged with smiles plastered to our faces. Thanks again to our lovely hosts!
The last few days we have followed the "Via Rhona" bike signs for some of the most incredible days of cycling and wild camping. It seems as though we have been rewarded for our decision to head south as days have been sunny and warm. Through Germany and Switzerland it felt as though winter was clipping our heals. Now reaching the Mediterranean climate, it feels like we're in the clear. We hope to hit the ocean tomorrow or the next day and I couldn't be more excited.
I don't know if I will be able to convey the expanse and depth of emotion that we experienced this past week. Most of the stories deserve an in-person rundown, complete with action and inflection. But I'll be real here, last week was a rough one.
Upon leaving the luxurious "Via Rhona" cycle route, we were thrust into a landscape unfit for the traveling cyclist. Busy highways with trucks so loud we could barley communicate even though we were just feet from each other and an uninspiring landscape- not the "South of France" we had anticipated. We thought if we could just make it to the Mediterranean coast, things would be different. We gritted our teeth, gripped our handlebars and made an incredible 30 miles in 2 hours. Arriving on the coast we were hard pressed to find a campsite open in the off season and industrial areas stretched for miles in either direction. The only place we found that was open warned us profusely of bike theft. Not the warm coastal welcome we were hoping for.
The next few days were a tiring mix of unclear bike routes, and the dizzying feelings of go go go. We longed for the luxurious cycle paths we had experienced days before and the comforts of knowing where we would sleep next. We stayed in hotels two nights in a row.
One of the hardest things that added to our discouragement, was not being able to connect with people who lived in the area. We realized that simple interactions and home stays are so important to understand an area of the world and feel welcome. Even a dual-language, miming, charades conversation with a bike-shop owner can turn our attitudes around in an instant.
And turn around they did. The last three days we have had some incredibly beautiful coastal cycling, a warmshowers host and some rest days in Barcelona that we are eagerly awaiting. And more than a few "oh shit" moments to share upon our return :)
Our weary legs have brought us to Spain. We realized we have not had a rest day since Thun, Swizterland. Thats almost three weeks of constant biking. This fatigue and lack of rest is one of the main reasons the last few days along the coast were so difficult. We are all learning (especially me) that is it so important to be listening to your needs (physical and emotional), even while traveling. It's important to stop, slow down and take a train if you need to. There are no grades in bike touring, no one who's going to say "You're doing it wrong." I am my own biggest critic, and I'm learning to combat the negative voice in my head pointing out my weaknesses. It's a nasty little voice who deserves to get stamped out. Thankfully there is a stronger, more powerful desire to live in the truth that what we are doing is beautiful and worth all the challenges.
So, we listened to our needs and hoped in a rental car and drove across Spain, from Barcelona to Badajoz. Nothing like riding a bike for 3 months to get your to appreciate the speed of a car....and be dumbfounded by the cost of gasoline. Yikes.
We have arrived at our final destination of the trip. We will part ways from Lisbon in a couple days and the feeling is surreal. It's time to reflect and relax and meet up with friends. But we hope that this way of life is not final at all. We are all coming away from this trip with an invigorated love of biking and a desire to keep connecting with people all over the world.
It's been fun to explore Lisbon by bike. We took the "Trevor Borden" tour which consisted of a visit to his old school and one of his childhood homes (and the bike route he used to take home from soccer practice). I love seeing people and places that are woven into the fabric of my friends. It helps give a bigger picture of their lives and a deeper connection is formed. Find Trevor's journal here to get another perspective of our trip :
He has a brilliant way of bringing all the details to life to feel like you are included in the journey.
Lisbon has an incredible depth of creativity. Music and art are everywhere. We have gotten to hear some incredible concerts and seen some amazing street art. This is the perfect place to host our conversations about the next steps we will take once we return to the US.
We all hope to live lives that are not the status quo, and be co-creators of beautiful things in this world and do this all in our own individual ways.