Turning up at another house, an 8-man flat-share in Dresden after a day of rain and wind. Another taste of life without toes, another few hours craving warmth. But this time the joy of the ride has grabbed me.
As I ride down the Elbe the distance I’ve travelled since Stockholm on my own power hits me and the satisfaction of setting out with just yourself, a bag and two wheels is overwhelming. There’s a buzzing in my very blood and as the pedals turn I get surges of excitement running down my neck. I’m crossing a continent on a bike, seeing the world in it’s freshest form and I never know what lies ahead, never even know where I’ll sleep that night. Living in the moment, every concern a real one and every metre gained a consequence of a pushed pedal. I now know when I need heat, food and company, know when the bike needs it’s own set of caring criteria and can ascertain if either are sick. And as I race the ebb and flow of the current in the river an ecstasy runs between us and I feel high on life…or maybe it’s just the Big Mac I ate earlier.
What I can say is that this form of travel is satisfying beyond comparison. You’re out there, crossing wild lands where the locals use different words and know strange things; where the weather is fierce and the temperature fiercer. Where the night sky is your duvet and the wind holds your hand. There’s nothing else like it!
I arrive at the flat-share and a chatty Masters student runs me through the flat, bathroom to wash the layers of dirt off and a kitchen to fuel up. There are anti-fascist posters on the walls of the open-plan lounge and a home-made wooden mezzanine holds a tent on top of it, a step ladder leads up. My host, the brother of a previous host, is absent but has kindly let me stay for a few days. My joy at a roof and a warm shower may well never be fully known by the student who shows me round but I try to convey these feelings of gratitude in my exhausted state. This is not the first time I’ve said thank you, covered in roadside muck and sweat, with what feels like dismembered toes and fingers, to a kind stranger.
I have felt for a long time now that a big cycle tour is essential. When I was seventeen a friend and I cycled to Italy and since it has always felt like a necessary rite of passage. Something that needs to be completed before I can become an adult. Or maybe it’s just a worthy excuse to postpone joining that esteemed group of individuals.
But this type of travel does bring with it a certain child-like quality. Your view can take in distant foggy mountains, crashing waterfalls and ancient cities within the day and you cycle through these landscapes as part of them, smelling it, tasting it and feeling it. But when everything is new the feeling that you’re seeing things for the first time is common, and a child-like wonder is the result.
The joy of the ride doesn’t always hit you, in fact I have spent days craving the mundane normalities of life: warmth, food, a car to race to the next destination. But occasional moments of bliss run through the whole experience, even the darkest moments, and reassure you that you’re doing the right thing. Seeing the world as if for the first time.