Just over the Dutch/German border I spotted the first (and last) other long-distance cyclist. We were passing in opposite directions, but exchanged a brief smile and nod, as if to say ‘at least I’m not the only one crazy enough to be cycling in this weather’. I took comfort in the sight of his load which looked almost twice as large as my own. I wondered where he was heading…
My first stop in Germany was a funny one, staying in the middle of nowhere on a dairy farm near Leer. My host, an 18 year old living with his family had messaged me the evening prior warning me that we were going to go out partying. I was shattered when I finally made it to his place and the last thing I wanted to do was head out into the early hours – but I try my best when travelling to say yes to everything. We were picked up by one of his mates and headed to another of their pals’ for pre-drinks. I can handle my drink but I still had to keep up with three big German lads who had now moved from beer to a mixture of spirits (including some foul local ‘korn’ stuff) and numerous shots. Far away from home, in a foreign country and with a bunch of people I hardly knew, I was a little conscious of not being ‘that guy’ way too drunk. Fortunately, that role this evening was taken by my host, who within half an hour of arriving in the club (which could only be described as East Frisia’s version of Oceana) had reduced himself to slumped heap in a corner head in hands, barely able to respond to his own name. We sat him down outside, forced a litre of water down him and eventually he puked it all up. Alive again, we grabbed a taxi home. We’ve all been there, but at least it wasn’t me on this occasion! Bless him, he was pretty embarrassed about what he could remember the next morning.
Fairly hungover, I cycled east from my youngest Couchsurfing host of the trip to the oldest – a 58 year old chap who also lived in the middle of nowhere with his wife. I thought I’d be safe from another night out on this occasion, but that was not to be. After dinner we cycled into the nearest village to visit my host’s favourite disco/bar, which he’d apparently been attending for over thirty years. Luckily the night wasn’t quite as wild as the one prior, and the following morning he accompanied me the first 40km to the coast. It was on this section that I crossed my first 1,000km milestone! Before we parted ways we stopped for coffee and cake at a busy cafe, where the owner – upon hearing that I’d cycled over from London and just crossed my first millennium in distance – insisted on giving me extra free cake and more coffee, so I left considerably bloated and sugared up.
Stopped for a night in Bremerhaven and then cycle north to Otterndorf. There I stayed with a great couple – a German girl who had met her Sudanese/Egyptian boyfriend while she was volunteering offering support to asylum seekers. He’d been trying to travel to Italy, but hadn’t been allowed to transfer in Germany. Instead, he’d been put into refugee ‘purgatory’ (as Germany was the first European country he’d been checked in) and relocated to Otterndorf. Now, three years later, they were expecting their first child together. What a colourful world that kid will be born into.
I made one more stop on the way to Hamburg, in a small place called Nottensdorf. I arrived quite late, just as it was getting dark. At one point I needed to cycle alongside a highway briefly, where I noticed a camper van parked alongside the road slightly lit up. It looked just like a burger van in England. I was starting to get a little hungry, so slowly cycled past to see what they were selling. Alas, there was no food on offer, the beckoning red lights were fairy lights, but there was no driver inside. Directly on the other side of the road was another identical camper van, also decorated in red lights. In that one the driver’s seat was occupied by a woman smoking a cigarette, the curtains behind her drawn and what looked like candles lit behind. Me, the naive cyclist pedaled on, disappointed to be continuing with a grumbling stomach and slightly baffled by the two vans. It wasn’t before I’d cycled another 100m that I realised these were road-side hookers! (Prostitution is legal in Germany). Now I felt really stupid for expecting to find a burger vendor inside.
I took a day off in Hamburg, which was a good idea in hindsight as I came down with a nasty 24 hour cold. I’d been battling with my brakes the last few days but they’d finally stopped working on the previous day, so I took the chance to get them fixed in a local bike shop. I stayed with a great family just out of town so, bike-less, I took the local boat down and across the Elbe. As I walked towards Hamburg center a woman came out of nowhere marching towards me holding up a severed head. I jumped uncomfortably to one side and walked away as quickly as possible (wondering what was wrong with Germans) before another guy ran over to me explaining that they were filming a hidden camera prank for Hamburg Dungeon – so perhaps you’ll see my rather boring reaction on YouTube soon!
I struggled a little in the cold not cycling, and felt quite unwell, but otherwise Hamburg made a good impression on me. Feeling better the next day I began the long day to Luebeck. After a fortnight of pancake-flat cycling, hills had emerged out of nowhere for the first time just before Hamburg. Accompanied by a nasty head wind, they continued to grow on the route north. Luebeck had a nice vibe – I went for a couple of drinks with my host, so started the next day a little sleep deprived. Now the head wind was even stronger from the north, making every meter a real struggle and I had 90km to cycle. Just when I thought it couldn’t get much worse the rain started to join in – mocking me further. All of a sudden I noticed a very familiar symbol accompanying the cycle path signposts – a small yellow scallop shell set against a blue backdrop. I recognised it immediately as the sign of the Camino de Compostella pilgrimage, of which I walked 700km a couple of years ago, from SW France to Santiago de Compostella on the west coast of Spain. It would take over a couple of months to walk from there just to Spain, so kudos to anyone who walks the Camino that far. Seeing the shell gave me that little boost of inspiration I needed so badly, probably not because of what it meant to me, but because I would far rather be cycling in this weather than walking hours in the rain!
The wind was like nothing I’ve ever experienced before, and I’m not exaggerating. By the time I reached the long bridge to Fehmarn it was blowing insanely hard from the left. As I crossed my cheeks were shoved to the side, my left ear was deafened and I could hardly see properly. My bike was leaning so far to the left to stay upright it seemed to defy all laws of gravity. A third of the way across there was a three meter long wall on the left side, and so for a moment the wind speed was reduced. I hadn’t thought to take in to account what a difference the wind shield could make, so when I passed and the wind momentarily paused I crashed head first into the railings. I’d been leaning so hard to the left compensating for the wind that when it stopped I toppled straight over.
In Fehmarn I stayed in a house of three guys in their early twenties, all studying to become boat-builders. Again, it was the weekend and I was invited to a party. I was wiped, but again I try to say ‘yes’ to opportunity. We bundled into the back of a van and drove across the island. Halfway there our driver suddenly shouted – ‘Shit! Police!’, and we glued our bodies in as far as we could to the sides of the van. Those of us in the back were squatting on makeshift stools out of pallets, speakers and other boxes that were fairly obviously not designed for carrying passengers. After a couple of awkward minutes the cops following us flashed and we pulled over to the side of the road. We jumped down from our makeshift seats and onto the floor, folded on top of each other to look as hidden as possible, sliding our beer bottles out of sight. It felt like an eternity that I was lying uncomfortably tangled up on the floor, hood up hiding in silence. The situation was comical, but I didn’t fancy a fine or having to walk back home in the middle of the night. As the police walked around the car a flashlight casually peered in to the boot, somehow not spotting us. Not understanding any German, I didn’t have a clue what was going on, so my mind drifted to a similar experience…
A couple of years ago I’d been hitch hiking in Turkey with some hippies along the SW coast. The girl driving’s car was a rusty box on wheels, but that didn’t stop her speeding down the motorway. Half an hour into our ride one of them rolled a joint, lit up and passed to the driver who proceeded to puff away. I wasn’t sure how comfortable I felt about touring Turkey in a hot-boxed car with a baked driver, but I was getting a free ride so was hardly going to complain. Shortly after they rolled another, and after that another too. The Turkish psy-rock band blasting through the speaker was suddenly interrupted by ‘Shit! Police!’ getting shouted – I guess those two words are probably the same in every language. Up ahead there was a police check point, pulling every car through. Bollocks, the last thing I want to get is caught in possession in Turkey… Windows down, goods lobbed out the car and deodorant sprayed all over. When the officer pulls us over we’re all choking on strange concoction of Lynx and smoke but fortunately he waves us through without any hassle.
Anyway, back in Fehmarn everything had gone a little more quiet after a good 15 minutes of conversing and the police car could be heard pulling away. We piled out of the van and I finally could ask what had happened. Despite our driver testing sober they’d wanted to do further drug checks on him, so had driven him to the police station for testing. We had spare keys for the van, but it wouldn’t look too good if the car had disappeared when the cops brought our driver back. We waited around in the freezing cold for a good while, but when it became apparent he wouldn’t be back any time soon we managed to arrange a lift from someone else to the party. At about 3am our poor driver finally turned up. The police (probably the only two on the island and most likely bored stiff) had kept him until he could wee in a cup for them to test for drugs. They’d found a tiny trace of THC (from a day prior apparently), but not enough to cause him any trouble over and had eventually released him.
I had to get up early the next day as I’d planned to cycle over 100km. I hadn’t drunk too much but on four hours sleep I felt less than fresh and the head wind was ready to welcome me with a powerful embrace. It took me an hour to cover the first 10km to the coast, by which point I’d just missed a ferry so had to wait another hour in the cold. I’d imagined arriving in Denmark to feel amazing – my home away from home (I’m half Danish), but instead I started cycling north in a foul mood and struggling in the wind. By the time I finally arrived in Neastved it was almost 8, making the day one of my longest and almost certainly the hardest. I’d always thought Denmark was flat but the last couple hours in the dark to Neastved were really hilly and my legs were starting to cramp. I was exhausted, but at least I was only a day away from Copenhagen. The final push north wasn’t so bad now the end was in sight. Yes, there was still the head wind to deal with, but blue sky welcomed me and the road flattened out near the coast. When I finally arrived at my Mum’s flat, my Grandparents and Uncle’s family were all waiting ready to meet me. I couldn’t wait to do nothing the next day.