The last stage
The end of a bicycle journey around half the world
Many travelers say that the arrival after a long journey is more difficult than the departure itself. And the longer you are on the road, the greater the difficulties.
This journey of mine will now end after eight years. Eight years? How could it have been so long? At the beginning the plan was to cycle only as far as India, but I had doubts that I would be able to make it at all. What if my bike would break down? What if I would get mugged? There were countries like Iraq, Iran and Pakistan on my route. What if I would get homesick? But once this “first stage” had been completed (in itself already a big journey of 10 months and 10,000 kilometres and no stage), all self-doubt had vanished and I was really gripped by the cycle bug.
Another year in Southeast Asia passed quickly and as money was running low I started to move towards Australia. From Sumatra to East Timor I cycled, from where it is only a stone’s throw to the north coast of Australia. There was not much to see except the city of Darwin and so I cycled the 3000 kilometers across the desert of Australia to look for a job in the south to make some cash. Another year passed by, another trip to Southeast Asia and the Philippines followed and finally a year in New Zealand. Then I finally went to South America, from Argentina to Alaska I wanted to cycle, so that only Africa would be left, but it turned out differently.
During the last years I realized more and more that it was time to do something different. After six years of being on the road constantly, I noticed the negative consequences of long-term travel. There is a lack of deep social contacts, of a fixed and stable environment. The desire for habit, routine and stability. Riding a bike was not so fulfilling anymore, often I just cycled bluntly down the kilometers to arrive at one place and then set myself the next goal. After seven years I returned to Germany for the first time, on a short visit for two months, and after another year of travelling in South America the decision was made: This journey will come to an end. I will go back to Germany. I had chosen the spring, a good time to come to Europe and cycle for a few more weeks to finish. From Madrid I was going to cycle back to Germany, a worthy conclusion to a journey that started with the bicycle and was to end like this. It was March 2020 when I wanted to book my flight from Colombia to Spain. But the Corona virus thwarted my plans. A strict lock-down was put in place and all flights got canceled what left me stuck in Colombia for the time being.
Then in July I had the opportunity to fly to Germany on a private evacuation flight. There was no question that I would at least cycle the last kilometres home from Frankfurt Airport.
Germany – a cyclist country?!
The glass sliding doors move to the side, I push the luggage trolley with my bicycle box outside and at the same moment remove the annoying mask. Twenty hours of compulsory mouth protection, that’s how long the flight had lasted, with stopovers in Panama for refueling and on the Canary Islands to change the crew for the last part of the flight, who had exceeded the maximum flight time due to other waiting times. But no matter what – I am in Germany. Ready to cycle the last stage home. It is pleasantly warm, almost like in Colombia, and I look for a quiet corner at the airport to assemble my bike. It is not in good condition and hasn´t been used much last year. Some rust spots are painted over, one of the gear levers only works as it pleases and one brake has more or less stopped working due to rust. All signs of my decreasing motivation for cycling in the last year of my trip, but it will be enough for the last kilometers home.
The cycle path to the city centre is quickly found. Germany seems unusual usual to me. The huge massive houses, wide streets, sidewalks and plants, everything very well thought out and tidy. On the Main promenade people in summer clothes are strolling along or sitting in small groups on the meadow, on the water people on paddle boards, it seems to be a new trend. No trace of Corona as long as you don’t enter a shop. And there, people also keep a disciplined safety distance. Me too I´m disciplined and move myself towards home immediately and without unnecessary contact, as required by the official german Coronaschutzverordnung. A little over 200 kilometres lie ahead of me, nothing compared to the almost 50,000 km that have accumulated in recent years, often under much more difficult conditions.
And Germany seems to have become a cycling country in 2020. Not only have I been able to follow signposted cycle paths almost continuously since the airport, but even on the road I feel almost like a king and courteous treated. I am perceived as a cyclist, neither cut nor dangerously overtaken, and often I am even given right of way by patient motorists that I wouldn’t even have. Many car drivers seem to think ahead how I might behave and I very quickly start to feel quite safe and unconcerned cycling in city traffic. Before anyone complains here: My statements are of course to be seen in the context of my international experiences. In most countries it is unfortunately so that as a cyclist you have no rights at all, you are on the lowest level in the pecking order of road traffic and sometimes even seemingly murderous intentions of individual road users can be assumed, especially by the bus drivers in India! I always had to be very careful, to expect everything and not expect any consideration, but the situation in Germany is much better.
The situation is similar with the cycle path network. Of course the inner city structure is in need of improvement and development, but hey, it’s great that there are cycle paths at all and that they are increasingly separated from car traffic. I look for my way north. From one signpost to the next, because there are always signs for the next villages in a maximum distance of 10 km. Thus, a view to the map is inevitable to find out which village I have to go to next, as the long distance destinations are nearly never signposted. But most of the times, the cycle path leads in the city over low-traffic roads and outside the city separately beside the main roads. The fact that I have to share a busy road with cars only happens for a few kilometres, and even there, there would have been alternatives, given the dense road and path network in Germany. It’s unthinkable to cycle on a German motorway, but in some countries I couldn’t avoid it, the last one being Chile where I cycled for almost a week on the hard shoulder of the motorway from the south to Santiago and spent the night at motorway service stations.
Giessen is quickly reached and already on the way I recognize the charm of Germany from the perspective of a tourist. The small villages with historic centres, their winding alleys and medieval buildings. Half-timbered houses with flower boxes and the well-kept front gardens must simply make an impression on visitors from other countries, especially from other continents. And outside the villages, hilly field landscapes. Golden wheat swaying in the wind and green corn standing upright in a row, colourful wild flowers at the edges of the fields, where pesticides cannot reach. Here and there a small pieces of forests scattered, the trees only surmounted by high voltage lines or radio masts which stand on every rise.
My inner clock is messed up anyway and I want to make it as far as possible today. It’s getting dark late here in the German summer, the sun won’t set early and before nightfall I look around for a place for my tent.
This is no problem at all. Fields and meadows look inviting enough and there is always a forest. The only difficulty is to be so far away from a road to be really quiet at night.
The next morning I continue towards Marburg. The Lahntal cycle path seems to be popular. Not only with recreational cyclists, but also with many people with panniers, apparently on larger tours. Young, old, solo cyclists, father and son, whole families with toddlers with fancy cargo bikes and trailers, groups of older women – it seems that all of Germany is on the move here and cycling holidays are very much in fashion. There are more touring cyclists than on the famous Carretera Austral in Patagonia, where I met up to twenty cyclists a day. Well yes, the scenery on the river Lahn is admittedly not quite the same.
Marburg is quickly crossed, with a short stop at the bike shop for a new inner tube and at the supermarket for some food. From here on it becomes more hilly and wooded. Sometimes dry groups of trees or even larger cleared areas. Bark beetles and summer heat as they tell me. Catastrophic for the German forest. Well, rather for the forest owners who now have to fear for their profits. Who has once seen the Amazon burning is not too impressed by such “smaller” damages of a commercial forest.
I find former railway line converted into a cycle trail, rising up to Winterberg. This is already Sauerland here, it is a home game. I’ve also been to the Ruhr spring before, together with my father I did the Tour de Ruhr by bike as a teenager. I don’t remember how many days we planned to spend there, but today I know that I will still manage the 62 remaining kilometres to Arnsberg, my home town, even if my legs are a bit tired. It is always downhill, the signposting of this 4 star cycle path is excellent and not to be overlooked. I know every place name from here anyway. Olsberg, Bestwig, Meschede, Oeventrop. A lot of forest road, in between always the steadily growing Ruhr and small villages. Half-timbered houses and black slate roofs. There must be a building code for, there is not a single house that differs from the others. But it also fits more to the solar systems that I see more and more here.
A strange feeling to cycle through the landscape where I grew up, to see it now, after my eyes have seen so many other things, again, with different eyes. Arnsberg is coming closer. From here on I know every road, link every turn with a memory. It seems like a dream and I fly along just like that. Since I started cycling in Frankfurt, I have only one destination. Arrive! In the place where I grew up, where my parents are. That’s where I’m at home. Isn’t it?
But now the doubts come. I realize how irrefutable this step is. Once done, once the circle is complete, to end this journey where I started it, that cannot be undone. This circle can no longer be opened, this journey and the free life of the last eight years connected with it will come to an end. Of course something else will come and of course I can go on a journey again at any time, but this feeling of closing and ending something long and unchangeable is at least now, at the last moment, accompanied by doubts. Final spurt. The last kilometre. It goes through the city. Hopefully nobody will recognize me. What would they ask? What would I answer? I just want to go home. Turn the last corner, this time the other way than I did over eight years ago. Ring the front doorbell. My mother opens it. Tears of joy on both sides. Arrived! Home! At least physically. Because the real arrival, the settling in, is still to come and will probably be much harder. Because I don’t have a plan for after that, for after the journey, which means, Now.
The last stage has been cycled, but the last article has not yet been written. The continuation of the Amazon adventure with the boat caravan is still missing and I would like to report in detail about the last half year during the Corona crisis in Rainbow Crystal Land, an anarchistic hippie community in Colombia. As well as a follow up about my arrival here in Germany and how it goes on and where to next
Also if there will be a (last) photo calendar this year is not yet certain.
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