New little big adventure

I’ve been home for a while. Did some other things than riding a bike. Although I have to confess I don’t cycle every single day, the urge to ride is always laying in the back of my head, like a bear in hibernation. And the need to go on a bigger trip is laying right next to it.
I can’t describe it differently than a ‘need’. Now that I know how it is to go on such a journey I can get a little restless at times. The joy, the pain, the people, the adventure, the struggle, the satisfaction etcetera etcetera. I can almost say it has become a bit of a part of me.Since my life situation has altered some I have no need to be away for four months, let alone to go on a world tour. I’ve been way up north to the North Cape (Norway) last summer. In February next year I want to go down south. Final destination is Spain. Madrid, Gibraltar, Valencia? I have no exact route yet. Well, there won’t be one either, since it’s part of the adventure to go with the flow. You get some advice about the road up ahead, you hear about a certain place you should visit, there is a Warmshower host you really like to go to. Only by thinking and writing about it increases the longing to be on my way!
So, first I only need an exact date. When I have one, I’ll let you know.
A thing that ís certain at this moment is that I want to keep on promoting Cycling out of Poverty. That charity organisation is worth cycling for!

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In dire need of going out that confined space

The very last assignments

My trip round Scandinavia and the Baltics has now really come to an end, now that all the assignments have been completed (and payed for). Like I wrote before am I not finished cycling. I’ll get back to that after I summed up the three last assignments.

Since she will be a grandmother in the near future, she gave me the assignment to do something with the new generation. I am fague about it, because she gave me space to do whatever I wanted to with that subject. Because I encountered some hosts who take their kids on bike trips and by that teach them the love of cycling and adventure, I chose that as a starting point. Here are three pictures of three hosts. The first two in Sweden, the last one in Poland.

My very friendly host in Bialystok, Poland, gave me the assignment to write them a letter by snailmail. I like writing letters, and I love snailmail, so that was no big deal. Unfortunately I don’t have a photograph to show you, but he already let me know that the letter had safely arrived in Poland.

A friend of mine gave me a rather extensive assignment, which I read to late. He was nice on time, I saw he had written me an e-mail and I thought I would read it later on when I would have more time. And then I forgot all about it. But if I couldn’t do the initial assignment, there was a backup. I could’ve easily done that just before entering Groningen, namely to make a picture of the place sign of Muntendam – small village in the province of Groningen and also his surname. Of course I haven’t read that either, so I went there one day from Groningen. I had a nice trip, because the weather was exceptionally good.

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In my previous blog post I mentioned a ten day trip to Belgium, Luxemburg and Germany. How do things go when you take on work again? Yes, I have the honour to give a course again, so my hands are a little tied. Next week I’m free, because of a vacation. Time to undertake a little trip of two days I reckon. And when the course is over beginning next year I want to plan another trip. I’ve been north, this time I want to go south. A month, maybe two. Needless to say I am not done cycling yet. Ever.

The adventure is over?

When people welcomed me back ‘home’ (read my previous blog post), they also mentioned that it was too bad that my adventure was over. They liked the photo’s and blog entries. It made me wonder why my adventure would be over. Do people think that now that I had my bike trip and I am back again, that I should get a normal life?

Well, there is nothing more that I desire. A house on the corner in Stiens, with a big wooden fence around it, a shiny car on the drive way, which I’ll wash every weekend after I have mowed the lawn. But most of all go to work every single day with a huge fake smile just in order to pay my mortgage. All the while thinking about how I wasted precious time on my bike, cycling through those boring countries and meeting a lot of uninteresting people.
I would smother in no time. I’m living anti-squat again in an old school building. Nice and cheap and very flexible. I am buying my furniture second hand, in order to save money for the more important things in life. In that way I don’t have to find a job right away, so I can work on a translation and write a book about my journey. In that way I keep a lot of spare time and freedom to be able to do some cycling and travelling (of course this time not always alone).
Therefore I had a little trip last weekend. In December last year I was blown back by a raging storm on the Afsluitdijk. I’ve crossed that dyke before, but I wanted to do it again, although it’s quite a boring ride. This time I succeeded, since the conditions were slightly better. I could camp on a farm (acquaintance of my sister) in Wieringerwerf. I didn’t bring my little fuel tank since I had forgotten it. I still don’t know how stupid I could’ve been like that. So I ate my kidney beans cold with some apple sauce. The tap water was so hot, that I could use that for my coffee the next morning. So I had no problems in riding across the dyke between Enkhuizen and Lelystad to the city of Apeldoorn where I visited a Beerfestival on Sunday. To taste new beers and to have a chat with my great sponsor Bernd Beersma of De Kleine Beer Brouwerij.


It was pleasant to be on the road again, and I will do so again.This month I’m going on a ten days trip to Belgium, Luxemburg and Germany. Other routes are in my head as well. With those trips I still want to promote Cycling out of Poverty as well. With the hope that people will still donate, or that they give me assignments again when I announce a trip. CooP does a lot of good work in Uganda and Kenya, they deserve all the support they can get. So, I’ll let you know when I know more about my next trip.

In other words, don’t be dissapointed, my adventure is far from over in my opinion. It just got started, because I had a little bite of it and I loved the taste.

‘Welcome home’

I have searched and I have tried to find a place where I can be
I love my homeland dearly but never carved a place in society.

Woods of Ypres – Travelling Alone

Via the social media and in real-life people welcomed me back ‘home’. The quotation marks are mine. Why I use them, is the subject of this blog post. I always used them when I decided to go back again and wrote about that. But I prefer the term ‘back’ better. Because what is ‘home’? Is that where you have been born and is therefore that place destined to be your home for the rest of your life? I don’t agree, I don’t see it as a static definition, it’s very dynamic (as life itself should be).

In fact, I’m I still officially homeless, so than it’s quite hard to ride home, isn’t it? When you’re planning to leave The Netherlands for more than eight months, and you don’t have any income, you’re obliged to unregister as a citizen. Well, the first plan was that I would be gone for a year and a half to two years (apart from the initial plan of 3-4 years), so I unsubscribed. Fortunately I have an awesome family, if I couldn’t stay with my girlfriend in Groningen, I could have crashed at my parents place and otherwise I could definitely have stayed with my sister or brother. If they would be fed up with my, there would still be the option of putting up my tent in their garden.
I’ve studied in Groningen, but never lived in that city before. But I do feel right at home here. Isn’t that enough to bé at home? Last weekend I payed a visit to my parents, they still live in the same house as where I grew up. Again I got response about being home again. Would I got the same response when I would’ve cycled back to Denmark, where I lived a year before going on this adventure? I felt more at home there than I ever felt in the province of Fryslân. I would’ve stayed there if I didn’t had the (crazy) idea in mind to cycle around the world. If I haven’t met that nice girl in Groningen, I would have gone back to Denmark immediately after returning from my trip. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind it turned out like this and that I’m not back in Denmark. Quite the opposite, I love how things turned out (and I love not to plan my life for the next hundred years, but to go as the river flows).

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The view from the balcony in Groningen

Since I am really fond of the Scandinavia countries as Sweden and Finland, where I was during my trip, I could quite easily imagine to live there one day, since I felt right at home there as well. After the Baltic States I arrived in Poland. People who are regularly reading my blog posts know that I am lyrical about Poland. Especially due to the kindness and warmth of the Warmshower-family in Bialystok. Since I felt right at home there, I decided to stay a night and day longer with them.
I slept everywhere (I could) in my tent along the way. Everywhere I put my head on my pillow in my cozy tent I was where I should be. I brought my own little movable house everywhere so I could be (at) home in any place I desired – at least if there was a spot to set up my tent. ‘Where I lay my head is home’, as James Hetfield of Metallica sings in the song Wherever I may roam. Doesn’t it make your world very small and narrow to call only the place where you come from your home?
That place where you come from – your Heimat – with its language, culture, values and norms is something you carry with you whereever you go. Above that, it can also be partly taken over by another Heimat. I’ve only spent a year in Denmark. But I find myself still cursing in Danish every now and then. I have the feeling I speak that language better than German, although I have an average knowledge of German, since I first learned it for more than fifteen years ago. When I try to speak German now, Danish comes creeping in like it’s feeling ignored like a spoiled child, so I mix Danish words with my German unwanted. But above all I felt a strange sensation of actually coming home – now on purpose without quotation marks – when I returned during my trip a few months ago to the vicinity of Hovedgård (between Horsens and Århus), where I stayed that year. Can one be Heimatlos or can one simply have more than one Heimat?

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The way I lived in Denmark when I worked on an organic farm (also as a nomad)

Like I said before, I really feel at home in Groningen. When I crossed the border I felt very negative again about The Netherlands, but when I came closer to Groningen, that sentiment blowed away by the strong headwind I had last Thursday. When I lived that half year in Ljouwert after leaving Denmark and before going on the trip, I felt right at home there as well. So I have no problems of registering me again and go searching for accommodation. I just lay my head down over there and I will be right at ‘home’.

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I lived in an old classroom in Ljouwert last year (photograph was taken when I needed to get rid of everything before my journey)

 

From Groningen and back again

Before and during my journey a lot of people said, that they admire it and have respect for my trip. I always shrugged my shoulders and tried in my best English that it’s all not that big a deal.

And I still think it is. In the morning I got up, packed my sleeping bag and air mattress, boiled water for my morning coffee and poured the rest in my thermos for my afternoon coffee. In the meanwhile I ate a slice of bread or some yoghurt with cruesli. Then I packed it all and broke down my tent. I put everything on the bike and was back on the road again. Cycled a couple of kilometers, had a break, cycled some more, another break. In the afternoon I filled up my waterbottles, bought some food and sought a place to camp. Set up my tent, pumped up my mattrass and unrolled my sleeping bag, cooked my five star restaurant worthy meal, had a tea, smoked a pipe, wrote in my diary, read some and went to sleep. The next day was quite the same. The day after that as well, and the day after the same ritual again. Day in day out, week in week out. There is really nothing to it.
I got the reaction: ‘I couldn’t do it’ as well a lot. That’s bullocks, everybody can do it. You just have to want to do it. I mean, I sat all day and just peddled a bit. Enjoyed the scenery, when I was lucky I had a little chat with someone. Thought about how to solve the world problems, philosophized about my own life or just figured out a plot for a new story to write while listening to some music.

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Being on the road is a lot easier and more simple than what I am facing now that I am back again. I have to find a job, keep (and enjoy) it, find a place to live (since I am officially homeless, because I am unregistered), switch my insurance, pay my family a visit etcetera, etcetera. And that in a country I have left a few years ago to go live in Denmark, since I was and still fed up with The Netherlands. It’s overcrowded, people are really fixed on career and earning money (Danes are much more relaxed), it’s overregulated, it’s so tedious flat etcetera, etcetera.
When I rode through Germany this week I just wanted to go immer gerade aus in order to be ‘home’ again. There was not a thought about the country I dislike. Therefore I made longer days than usual. It’s stupid in a way. What does one or two days matter on such a trip (and my girlfriend won’t be home till next Saturday!)? It’s pure psychological. A few days ago I talked to a British cyclist living in France about going homewards. He has done a trip that took two years and on the last day he cycled 260 kilometers just to be home. You can reason with yourself in all rationality, but you just can’t convince yourself to slow down, to be a day more on the road. You just want to be home. I did enjoy cycling through Germany – it’s so damn easy with all the good cycle paths and the fact I speak the language – but I couldn’t stop thinking about being back again.
But when I got really close to The Netherlands yesterday after leaving the city of Leer I did felt a reluctance crossing the border. It felt almost a bit smothering. My mood went way down, I wanted to crush it under my tyres. At that moment I couldn’t stop thinking about being back again in the country I’m so tired of. Why not another little detour? For example Spain or Greece. Silly thoughts, I kept on cycling in westbound direction. The very depressing outskirts of the province of Groningen didn’t help in any way.
But again a switch turned all of a sudden! Coming closer to the city of Groningen did help in any way! It was like the clouds drove from my head into the sky, because my head cleared and the weather turned worse.

I had to wait a few hours, before I could pick up the key in order to get into my girlfriend’s room, where I can stay for the time being. My cousin works in Groningen, so he helped me waiting by drinking a beer on a terrace (very noble of him). Sitting there and seeing all those people bustling along, while we chatted and laughed, it was like I’ve never been away at all. In the weekend I plan to pay my parents a visit. There I can air my tent and clean out the camping stuff, show them the photographs and have a coffee. I plan on doing some writing next week, pay some friends a visit and before I know she’ll be back again. So, in short I guess it’s actually not that bad being back again…

The joy and the longing

“What do you like best about Poland?” When I answered in all honesty that it would be the inhabitants themselves, she laughed saying that she was surprised that I didn’t say the alcohol. When I said that the booze comes in combination with the people, she laughed even more and we toasted with our metal cups filled with red wine cheering na zdrownie.

It is indeed the Poles that I like best about Poland. In previous blog entries I praised the country in all its facets and the Poles in particular. I won’t do that again. Oh, I can easily sum up all the terrific things I experienced in this country since the last blog post, but I’ve drunk off my vodka and being at the brink of leaving Poland and entering Germany it is now time for some reflecting.
That I like Poland so much is also an intrinsic element. I have finally slowed down a pace. In Sweden I just wanted to reach the North Cape. In Finland I wanted to go south to get a bit of warmth. In the Baltics I started to relax and I’ve perfectioned that here in Poland. So, now I take it all in much more than before. I cycle less per day and I’ve made a ‘detour’ going north to the city of Elblag (I wrote Elbing before, but of course I should use the Polish name) in order not to go through Warschau. Again, I won’t repeat myself how lovely that route was (read my previous blog post).

Apart from the fact that I enjoy riding through Poland from east to west, doesn’t mean I want to stretch it more than I do now. Yes, I have long breaks, I take a swim when there is a lake or river, I eat an icecream, I’m not packing up my tent as fast as possible in the morning and I cycle less kilometers per day. But since I’ve made up my mind to go home (for a very good reason!), it is like a switch has been pulled. Therefore I do long to get home as well, even though my girlfriend won’t be home when I expect to arrive – yes, the sweet, sweet irony. When I am in the saddle, my feet peddle on the rythm of the leaves waving in the trees, a Pole on his roadbike waves and the sun is trying to tan my arms even more, there is not a care in the world. But when I found a campspot (have I mentioned before how easy that is in Poland?) and I am boiling my pasta, the longing comes creeping in my head like the bugs in my tent. Having eaten the simple dinner and lit my pipe, I start to calculate where I can be tomorrow, the day after and next week. How long does it take me to reach Germany and how fast can I ride through that country to the city of Groningen? I look at Google Maps, dividing the kilometers between days of riding and I can’t deny that I feel a strange sense of relieve that it won’t take that long anymore.

My girlfriend was right (as always she would say) by pointing out that I don’t have a deadline, so don’t rush. I don’t and I won’t, but nonetheless I ride to the west day by day. Therefore I just enjoy every meter, every ray of sunshine, every drop of rain on my tent and every smile as long as I am still on this trip.

‘Wie ein Traum’

The three words a German cyclist I met in the center of Finland said came back to me when I spent a few days in Poland. ‘Wie ein Traum.’ He loved the country, the landscape, the people and for us ‘westerners’ the prices. Before meeting him I was already very curious about the country, after speaking to him my curiosity was only aroused. And now that I am in Poland I have experienced that he didn’t say a word too much. Cycling through the Polish country is indeed like a dream.

One of my best hosts I had in Bialystok. Intending to stay one night, I quickly decided it became two, because I felt so at home there. Jakub and Karoline thaught me a lot about the city, but most of all about Poland, its history, its people, its virtues and its problems. Since I was really fed up with big cities after Vilnius, I decided to skip Warschau. Jakub agreed with me and adviced me on my route that would take me more northernly – to the city of Elbing/Elblag. That would be more pretty to cycle than the vicinity of Warschau and so great is the city neither. That decision was the right one in my opinion, the road to Elbing was most beautiful. Good roads (good cycle paths in the cities and bigger towns), just a few gravel roads, nice weather, friendly smiling people, an occasionally smalltalk.

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Those smalltalks and friendliness of the Poles is like a warm bath. I get a lot of smiles, people try to make me something clear when I ask something. No surly faces like in Lithuania. When their German and English is as bad as my Polish, we try the universal language of hands and feet. A woman wished bon appetit (at least I thought she did) and another one pointed motherly at her bottom to say that I shouldn’t sit on the cold ground. A mushroom-seeking lady tried to show me which to take and which not to take. That was a bit unclear, I didn’t wanted to take the wrong ones and end up like McCandless, so I let them be. Those small encounters are very welcome for the lonely traveller.
But I encountered for the very first time on this trip four cyclists who didn’t make any connection. Not by smiling, not by waving, to say nothing of talking. When I asked one where they were from, he shrugged his shoulders and looked the other way. My conclusion was that they were definitely not Polish, because Poles are far too friendly for that kind of (almost rude) behaviour.
The hymn of praise isn’t finished yet. Wild camping is as easy as finding a cross alongside the road. I had the pleasure of some very nice places. But I took my refuge at a camping as well, since on Friday the weather wasn’t that great anymore and I wasn’t 100% fit, to be honest. A warm shower and a rest was very welcome. The next day a ‘less lesser road’ (if you know what I mean) took me on under windless clouds over hills and alongside fields of grain and grass between trees and sleepy villages to just before Elbing. In the middle of nowhere I found a perfect campingspot again.

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I had another great host again as well, in Subkowy. We grilled, we drank beer and vodka, had very nice conversations and a lovely evening. You can imagine that the black coffee this morning was quite welcome. Not only did I leave with a little heavier head, but also with heavier panniers, since they’re now full of apples from their garden, homegrown tobacco and homemade wine!
Although it might not all sound that spectacular, I have had some terrific days in the saddle. Now after Elbing the road takes me to the border with Germany. Too bad I can’t skip that country and cycle a bit longer in Poland, since I really love this country and I’ve been in Germany before.

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