[A little context: today is Thursday the 17th of November. After two days spent with our friend Christine in Regensburg, Germany, we are meant to be back on the road. The apartment is clean, our bags firmly closed, Christine is away at work and the sun is back after two days of persistent rain. We have only to load our bikes and leave. We weren’t counting on my legendary clumsiness… Adam had held the door open with a panier, I decided to help him taking the luggage out. I let you imagine. A swift draft, a slamming door, and here we are sitting on the floor in front of said door, keys inside alongside the remainder of our bags and my shoes. In short, here is how to find time to write a new article!]
But what an idea!
To understand how we got to cycling in winter in Germany, we must return to the start of our project.
Winter 2015. Chamonix-Mont-Blanc. France. It’s -20 degrees celsius (-10deg Fahrenheit for those of a certain persuasion). The van is enveloped in snow. Climbing and traveling is, as usual, the topic of conversation. Yosemite, Joshua Tree, Mexico … Why not go back together? By bike? Without taking a plane? Where to go? From Europe, we could reach Russia then cross the Bering Strait to Alaska. It would then seem only sensible to descend southwards. Then what? Why not continue on to Latin America? Learn to sail en route and return to the old continent via ocean? Seeing as we’d be away a while, why not go to Africa and pedal North this time. Adam gets carried away. We should buy a kayak, add some wheels, drag it behind us. This way, we’d have room for our skis. Snap back to reality, a kayak and skis, it’s a little too much. The rest is just about conceivable.
The idea is unleashed. A few afternoons surfing the Internet at the library are sufficient to understand that the Bering Strait is but a pipe dream. No way to cross this passage in a way that satisfies us. It has been a long time since the ice between the two continents is reliably solid. For a long time relations between the Americans and the Russians have been more icy than cordial. We’ll have to take a boat. A container ship with a hefty price-tag or perhaps a private sailboat in exchange for a hand. The solutions exist, we’ll improvise once there.
How long will it take? Quick calculations occur thanks to google maps. Approximately 15,000 kilometres to Asia. A year. More or less the same for America, from North to South. A year more. And for Africa, from South to North, perhaps a little less. About three years. 36 months. With a budget of 500 euros per month. We need 18,000 euros. Let’s say 20,000 to have a wee margin. At the worst, when we have no more money, we’ll look for a job. Three years without working, it makes you dream. When you live in Chamonix, it’s to enjoy the mountains. It’s out of the question to work too much without the incentive of something to save for.
The best time to pedal in Europe is spring and summer. If we plan to leave in the spring of 2016, that leaves us only two seasons to fill the bank account. Too ambitious. Could we start in the spring of 2017? Hmm, it’s a little too far. Good enough, we start in the fall of 2016. After all, we survived a winter in the mountains in a van with no heating …
Reality has caught up with us.
Yes, that’s what we thought before. The reality is a little different. The month of November 2015 had been hot and dry. We hoped to take advantage of the same meteorological conditions. This was the case until Cologne. Until the first of November. Since then, winter has arrived. Temperatures oscillate between 5 and -2 celcius, the rain argues with the snow for control of the sky, the wind rows with the clouds rather than pushing them back. In short, it’s winter in Germany. And we are nomads by bike who spend their days pedalling OUTSIDE and their nights sleeping OUTSIDE. 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
I know what you’re going to tell me. You don’thave the gear? If so, we have big down jackets, comfortable sleeping bags by -10 degrees, waterproof jackets and pants, a tent designed for arctic expeditions … A few minor issues, Adam cycles in sandals with waterproof socks and our gloves are very light – absorbing the rain like a sponge. We’ve invested in new gloves. Adam now dons waterproof footwear over his naked feet. But nothing works quite well enough. The cold continues, it’s exhausting. Everything takes on an air of mission impossible.
Packing away the tent for example. It has rained all night. Because of the cold, we’ve barricaded ourselves inside and the condensation is considerable. Everything’s wet. We’re wiping away the biggest drops. Our hands are frozen in less than five minutes. We put them in our pockets, wait for them to warm up and we return to work. At this rate, packing our gear takes three times longer than in “normal” conditions. Of course, it is night at 16:30. From start to finish, we only have about six hours to advance. When counting breaks for snacks, meals and coffee, it’s a little less than four hours. Suffice to say, celebrating the new year in Greece moves away a little more each day.
And yet solutions have been found!
The first of these genius ideas was to look for shelters to sleep under. With a roof over our heads, it’s easier to ventilate the tent and to pack it when dry in the morning. Cemeteries, churches, sports halls, bridges … We’ve even managed to spend a night in a chapel. No need to put up the tent nor to fold it.
The second change, we cook in the evening for two meals. At noon, it is enough for us to leave our lunch box, to eat and leave without taking too much time off from the saddle. We also take advantage of the evening to make tea and get well hydrated. Drinking when the water is about to freeze is not so appetising.
Third innovation, washing up gloves. With a budget of less than 1 euro, they’ve transformed our springtime gloves into a small jewel of technology. Waterproof, windproof and rather fetching. Almost. Once you start to sweat, everything is damp. Now they serve us to clean our bikes without getting our dirty hands and to do the dishes without getting our fingers wet.
All these solutions are not quite enough to give us the rest we need. It’s good to pedal but it’s also necessary to relax and enjoy. Simone, Lisa, Hannes, Christine, thank you. Without your welcome, we would not have arrived here. What a pleasure to meet you on the road. What a chance to enjoy your heated rooms, your washing machines, and especially your support and friendship. From Amsterdam to Marburg to Regensburg, the journey was long and full of emotion. And that’s just the beginning! 🙂