DENMARK 2ND – 9TH OF NOVEMBER 2016
November morning darkness still sneaked in through the windows. The air was damp and heavy from the sleeping bodies in the cool room. A slow, deep breathing sounded softly from Chris by my side. My two-metre tall brother Johan and his laughing-in-her-sleep girlfriend Sasha had vanished under the duvet, impossibly cuddled up on a single person mattress on the floor. Everything around me was still, resting in the night’s blissful sleep, oblivious of all that had preceded and all that would follow this moment of peace.
I was awake with every corner of my mind.
The last evening in Copenhagen with my siblings was over. The sleep-over in my brother’s flat was over. All the scheduled days and weeks that had led to this moment was over. Now was it.
The morning when Chris and I would begin our life on the bikes again.
I had been longing desperately for this moment ever since the amoebas had raged my eye and things had gone out of my control six months ago. All I could do was halt the flow of doing what I dreamed of and instead try to be a patient patient in an awkward pause. I had felt trapped in the place dearest to me, at home surrounded by good friends and family, where I had to be settled for my treatment. It was painful that I didn’t wish to be there. Now I could finally press ‘START’ again.
The anticipation to begin our travels again had burned in me every day, sometimes giving me strength, sometimes breaking me down. This morning it finally left me in peace, as reality instead knocked in. I had imagined feeling excited, anxious, happy and sad, feeling ready. But the meaning and consequences of this moment were far beyond what I could comprehend. My emotions became insufficient and faded away. Instead my mind zoomed in and exposed the single details:
The thought ‘impossible!’ when trying with all my power to stretch my cheap, crappy bungee cord around the too-big bundle on the back of my bike.
And getting it hooked.
Looking at Johan as he took our picture in front of the bikes, realising his presence that would soon vanish behind me.
The first hundred metres of wobbly cycling in the morning traffic while my body again remembered how to balance the heavy bike.
Then losing my balance every time I looked back to wave goodbye to my friend Anne as she stood next to the bike path and disappeared in the distance.
It felt real, nothing more, nothing less and nothing else. It was a saturated moment of reality that I will always remember.
Johan and Sasha rode with us the first kilometres on the popular Green Bike Path used intensively by the keen Copenhagen commuter cyclists. The sight of them and Chris cycling in front of me, our slow pace and odd appearance on the loaded bikes surrounded by the everyday morning rush, made me smile. The freedom was tickling in me. We were taking part in a well-rehearsed scene, but our manuscript was different. We would keep pedalling when the other cyclists would stop and go to work. They would return home tonight, we would return sometime we didn’t even know. Our ride began here, but the end of it was only a vague imagination.
Saying goodbye to Johan was a final relief. We smiled and hugged and knew that this wasn’t sad, this was great. And then we cycled off. It was just Chris and me, on our way. It had begun.
The cycling was in no way spectacular as we followed the long, busy main road west out of Copenhagen. But it didn’t matter, because the thought of what we were doing was exhilarating. And Chris soon invented a game giving us points for spotting different supermarkets. Being a Dane and also the faster cyclist of the day, I had an advantage.
We soon felt our bodies weren’t used to the cycling anymore though. We were slow, but disciplined ourselves to do long distances between our breaks since we would be staying at my cousin’s place in Sorø 80 kilometres away that evening. The cycling in the cold weather was also different from what I had tried before. Showers, the wind and going up and down hills affected my body temperature more than usual and I would have to figure out how much and how little to wear and be ready to change clothes during the day. My aforementioned cheap, crappy bungee cords didn’t make this easy as they were already stretched beyond their maximum so it was almost impossible to squeeze a jumper or waterproof trousers under them. Taking breaks was also less pleasant in the cold and they automatically became short, which would help us in getting distance through our wheels in the few hours of daylight. It was another rhythm we had to find.
That day we ended up cycling the last 15 kilometres in the dark, fortunately on a bike path. My front light needed new batteries though and it didn’t illuminate the path in front of me which twisted my perception. In the dark I couldn’t sense my speed and the dimensions of my surroundings, so I felt like I was moving through a strange world of unknown forces. In the sweeping lights of the passing cars the world I knew briefly returned only to dissapear in darkness again. I frantically switched between panicking and trying to calm myself while I kept pedalling. I had been keen to get my first experiences with winter cycling and here they were.
I was relieved and tired when we reached the street lamps in Sorø and my cousin’s home. It was of enormous proportions as he was the head of the old academy and lived in the big, old, beautiful buildings. In the gigantic kitchen and sofas we were treated so well, sharing stories with the family over spaghetti and having apple dessert by the fire place.
The second day the weather had improved and we set out on a stunningly clear sunny morning through the countryside of Zealand. The autumn colours of the orange-brown leaves were burning intensely in the sunlight and camouflaging us gently with the scenery. Merrily we picked apples from a tree and ate them at the roadside, marvelled by the generosity of nature.
Passing some stables, we saw a dead horse being lifted into a truck. It was an unpleasant, but also fascinating sight, reminding me of the inevitable and natural aspect of life, the end of it, that can be so sad to think about, but also can raise the awareness and appreciation of the living. And fortunately, life has a habit of balancing things out, and we soon after met two curious and very lively horses. They sniffed my hand with excitingly vibrating nostrils before turning around with a mighty kick in the air of joy. Then they proudly trotted away with elegant lifted tails.
It definately had the potential to qualify as ‘a great day’, but actually I felt terrible. I had been suffering from a mysterious, nightly migraine for a couple of nights and now I also began feeling feverish and dizzy. I was frustrated about feeling sick at the very beginning of our trip and forced myself to continue, hoping I would cycle it off.
We had only cycled 36 kilometres towards Kalundborg, where we wanted to catch the ferry to the island Samsø, before darkness began to wrap the edges and corners of the landscape. We stopped to camp in a patch of forest that was perfectly hiding us and inviting us into its own secret world full of animal sounds. It was great to be camping in the forest again, I had missed it a lot while living in Copenhagen. Chris took good care of me and made us some hot food. Then I tucked myself up in my sleeping bags, badly hoping I would sleep without any headache that night. Chris energetically went out for a run in the dark as his most recent symptom of the wonderful craziness he was suffering from was that he wanted to train for and run a marathon while cycling the world.
To my frustration the headache came back again and I was not feeling much better the next morning, but managed to cycle the 20 kilometres to the ferry in Kalundborg. We had three hours to spend at Samsø before the next ferry to Jutland, but after a little trip around the island to find a permaculture garden that some other passengers had told us about, I collapsed in the shelters in Tranebjerg with no intention of getting any further that day. There was a community centre where we could sit inside and use the wi-fi and bathrooms, so it was not the worst place to spend the evening. But it really wasn’t the beginning of the trip I had dreamed of.
The next morning on the ferry to Jutland I gave in and decided to take a train to Haderslev where we were heading to visit my sister Sara. There were still 30 kilometres to the train station in Horsens and it was cold, windy and raining. But it was a beautiful ride.
When I finally sat in the train next to my bike and a pile of bags I felt relieved for several reasons.
First of all, because it was warm and dry and I didn’t have to cycle any longer.
Secondly, we hadn’t been hit by the hunter’s bullets that had roared around us in the forest.
And finally, I had nervously repeated “Don’t go on the train” to Chris as he helped me with my bags. I was afraid the doors would close and it would start moving. This once happened to my mum when she helped a ten-year-old version of me going on a train ride alone for the first time. To most people cycling around the world, going on a train by mistake would have been an inconspicuous incident that could easily be ignored. But Chris isn’t like most people. He means it literally, when he says ‘I am cycling around the world’. It is spelled out in the words, there are no implicated ‘but’s or exceptions. And that can actually be hard to truly understand for most people, and even for me sometimes. Being taken just a few meters by a motorized vehicle would ruin the wholeness of his continuous bike ride. One mistake and it would all be lost. Like it did that one time at the Russian-Mongolian border. It is a project he has been fully dedicated to for the last 3.5 years, and the longer it goed on the more crucial it seems to finish it successfully. The higher grow the stakes. And even though it is his project and not mine I am deeply involved in it too. Both because it influences my life and our trip in various ways. But mostly because it forces me to approach our life and way through the world in a different way. To think new thoughts, to go alternative ways. It is provoking and inspiring. It is just another of his many games, and yet it is so seriously undertaken, so heartfelt, that it reveals the particular purity in him that intrigiues me.
He had only just handed me the last bag through the doors when they closed and the train started to move. There had been no time for a goodbye kiss.
I spent the next four days under the duvet in a feverish blur with the only clear memory being the morning of the 9th of November when we received the news that the citizens of the US had chosen a man with the world’s silliest toupee as their new president. It was unbelievable. So unexpected, and yet exactly what we had feared. It felt like anything could happen now. Nothing was certain anymore. And I became aware that I’ve always found that sentence ‘anything can happen’, a thrilling positive. It was what my idea of travelling was based on. I realized how luckily naïve I had been. How fragile the positive perspective and belief is. And how important it is to hold on to it.
With Trump as the president-elect the cracks in the world order we knew grew deeper, changes seemed inevitable and it would certainly have consequences for us too. What would we meet out in the world and what would we find when we came back?
Copenhagen – Sorø – Samsø – Horsens – Haderslev
193 kilometres cycled together, 83 kilometres travelled seperately by train/bike