The Greatest Privilege

The Greatest Privilege

Last summer when I was working to save up for this trip I’d sometimes go to the bakery and buy some bread for lunch. Instead of going back to the office to eat it however, I’d simply sit down in the dirt right next to the road; pretending to be traveling again.

Now when I do get to travel again, these moments really are my favorites of the day. Especially since I caught up with spring (spring!? The past weeks have rather been like the hottest days of summer to a Swede haha!)

Anyway, I guess it slowly began in Czech Republic – the warmth that is. I bought sandwiches and chocolate from the petrol stations and then I’d sit down on the asphalt leaning my back against the wall, enjoying the sun’s heat upon my face. Really, to a Swede who’s been working indoors during those few hours of sun the whole autumn and winter, it’s like reuniting with an old friend!

Now, I never went to Prague as I figured it wouldn’t be much fun biking into and out of the city – instead I simply steered my way to Kutna Hora to see the legendary bone house of Sedlec. Sure thing, in a sense the thousands of human skeletons decorating the interior of the church were breath-taking. But for me however – due to the many tourists (oh I was one myself, I know) – it demanded a lot of imagination to grasp the fact that these were real skeletons and not just some fake ones for a movie-shot.

Kutna Hora really is a tourist magnet, and in that sense I guess I liked Olomouc as a city better, where I met up with my Czech friend Jakub. I hadn’t really made conversation to anybody since I left the hostel in Berlin – the people so far had been as reserved to strangers as Scandinavians – and it was nice to finally have a real chat with a friend and try out some beer at a local brewery. It was Easter time, and Jakub told me about this odd Easter tradition common in the former Soviet countries:

Every Easter Monday each year, all the men carry sticks around the streets and hit the women with it (not like a real hit though, more like a pat), and not just that – throw buckets of water at them! As they perform this act, they will be given Easter eggs and other gifts from the women. To me, it sounded like the weirdest tradition ever and I asked myself: “Would I have to look out for these men tomorrow?”

By the next morning I had almost forgotten about the tradition – when it struck me that the men on the street were indeed carrying around home-made sticks (they wouldn’t touch me however). I even got to talk to one of them. He approached me as I was turning back to Olomouc since my gears had started malfunctioning (I’m not much of a bike mechanic – I can fix a flat sure, but fine-tuning gears? No… so I thought I’d take it to a mechanic).

The man was riding a mountain bike and told me further about their tradition and explained that he was currently on his “Easter Monday tour”, going around the city to his sister, mother, and all his female friends to collect gifts. He carried a stick just like everybody else and showed me the painted Easter eggs he’d already gotten from his wife that morning. When I told him about my gear trouble he directed me to the nearest bike mechanic he knew of; it was a private property and the workshop was simply in the garage. The mechanic wouldn’t open at first as he, just like anyone else that day, was off from work. As we stood chatting to each other outside his window however, he decided to open in the end and bring my bike inside the garage to have a look at it.

Ten minutes later maybe, he told me it was fixed and wanted 100 CZK for it. I thought it was so incredibly cheap (like 30 SEK or 3 EUR) that I just handed him the money without actually trying the gears first. They turned out not to work. Did the mechanic just trick me off 100 CZK? Ah very well then – three Czech beers on me (that’s how cheap beer was) to the mechanic who didn’t want to do any proper work on his free day, I thought and let it go. The guys at Decathlon would fix it properly as well as giving the bike a basic service however, for twice the amount which is still a lot cheaper than in Sweden – a main reason why it’s so neat being a Swede in Czech Republic.

When crossing borders to Slovakia my spring feelings were woken for real. I wasn’t in the mountains, but the road would constantly go up and down in slopes of 10-17 degrees, and I still had a terrible cough adding up to it. Thus those moments resting in the grass were just the best; I inhaled the sweet scent of blossoming flowers mixed with the musty smell of dirt and dust, the birds were singing and the first bugs tickled my no longer covered legs and arms. For once I set camp early that first day in Slovakia, and I got to enjoy the evening sun as I was cooking and writing in my journal.

The next day, when I was biking another uphill, I noted a racer cyclist coming up from behind in my mirror. Now I always get a little frustrated when I see these racer snobs as I call them (snobs because of those slimmed clothes they are wearing), since whenever I’m pushing my bike real hard – it looks so easy for them! This one didn’t just pass me however, but actually stopped to talk – in English. His name was Eugenio and he wasn’t Slovakian, but from Bologna in Italy. We were both heading in the same direction; to Nitra, and we ended up making each other company for a bit. To him I was a snail I guess, and damn was I frustrated when he said “hold on I’m just gonna put on an extra shirt” and increased his speed to bike ahead for a bit, letting go of his handlebars with both hands as he put it on and as I… struggled to catch up, haha.

Together with his friend Giacomo and their host in Nitra we had pizza and beer later on that evening. Their host would even order a popular drink called “tatratea” for me (referring to the Slovakian Tatra mountains) which normally contains 72 % alcohol (!) Now, I didn’t need to worry – for he’d ordered the beginner’s version, only 52 % alcohol. Damn. I had a zip from it before giving it away to Eugenio (weak drinker? I guess I am…) We made toasts in all languages present; “Cheers, Skål, Na Zdravie, Saluti!”

The reason for Eugenio’s and Giacomo’s stay in Slovakia was a glider competition in which Giacomo participated. Always dreamt about flying, it sounded like the coolest thing to me and I had great respect for what Giacomo was doing, but he was very modest about it. I visited the air field the next morning, and as Eugenio and I rode across it he told me to “pay close attention to all directions in case of gliders coming”! We’d make each other company for a few km more, and I found it funny that normally all he thought of on the bike was cadence. Cadence cadence cadence. Now, what I thought of on the bike was more like… Ohhh deer in sight, deer in sight! Shoot it shoot it (with the camera)! Oh oh bird, bird! Ohh nice landscape, nice view! AAAHHH BUMBY ROAD AHEAD, BUMPY ROAD AHEAD! POT HOLE POT HOLE!! Damn I’m so tired, fuck this uphill… OH OH! GRASS, GRAAASS I’M GONNA LIE ON THAT GRASS!! Well, let’s just say I do hope I managed to pass some of my liking for grass and ground onto him. (Oh and btw, he’s my sponsor of beer and pizza. Now could Marabou please sponsor me too, or Milka maybe?)

I didn’t spend much time in Slovakia (next time, Slovakia!) and before I knew it I was in Hungary, setting camp next to the Danube river – the city of Esztergom being just around the corner. I found myself and my tent to be right in the intersection point of two opposing forces; The loud, buzzing city and the calm woods next to the waterside – with droning cars, party music and barking dogs on my one side, and bird singing and water purling on my other.

And then it was time to head to Budapest, in which I met up with my mom and sister – what could possibly have been a greater birthday gift!? It wasn’t the easiest task to find the apartment in which my mom was already staying in however. I don’t know how many people I stopped to explain “excuse me I’m looking for my mom” as I rode down the streets. I even managed to get inside a building in which I thought she’d be and parked my bike inside – only to realize it was the wrong building, and somehow ending up exiting from the other side of it. Which meant that all of a sudden I was outside on the street again… with my bike and all my belongings inside the building, and there was no way for me to open the doors and get into it (I had sneaked in along with someone else before)! Luckily, a girl my age would eventually enter the building and let me in to my bike as well.

Now, I did have a great time in Budapest with my family – but nevertheless was I longing to get outside again. An apartment simply was no place for a dirt-covered bicycle and its rider. I felt a great emptiness as I left the city however, once again having to say goodbye to my mom and sister. It was hurtful, just like any goodbye to someone close. And my mood was low, as I spent the whole day on a heavily trafficked road. But then, as evening approached… I found my way back to one of those amazing moments again. To one of those perfect roads I won’t have to share with noisy cars but only with deers, rabbits and birds. With cherry blossoms and flowering bushes next to the road side, with the sun setting in the horizon and the only noise coming from a pond nearby; inhabited by numerous birds and frogs.

I pitched my tent feeling so cheerful and at peace, and I thought of that moment earlier when I’d sat down on the ground next to the petrol station enjoying a sandwich, with legs all covered in chain oil and dirt. A whole family had been staring at me from their car window; The parents and the older sister looking quite amused, meanwhile the younger brother looked all amazed, all impressed.

And I was wondering if the boy had been thinking just the same as I was.

To be sitting on the ground with the sun shining upon you, with naked skin all covered in dirt and dried blood from scratch-wounds, with little spiders and ladybugs and such crawling over your body… And yet have enough to feed and provide for yourself,

That might just be

The greatest privilege there is.

Perfect strangers

The first eleven days of my trip. The first eleven days of what, 300 days? The first 1000 km of my trip. The first 1000 km of… 15 000 km? 20 000 km?

I have reached Berlin. Now look at the distance between Stockholm and Berlin on a world map, and then compare it to the distance between Stockholm and Beijing. The distance between Stockholm and Berlin is indeed negligible. Negligible… and yet – a step forward. In a sense, a huge step forward. The girl I was two weeks ago was not on her way to China on a bicycle. She did nothing but getting herself ready for it. The girl I was five years ago wasn’t even getting herself ready for it – she did nothing but dreaming about it. The girl I was ten years ago didn’t even know about it.

The girl I am today is riding her bicycle towards China. I however won’t be the girl who crosses borders to China in the end. Neither will I be the girl who embarks on the Pamir Highway in Tajikistan, nor make sign language to the nomad tribes of Mongolia.

And neither, am I the girl of these past eleven days. I glance back at them however, and I remember.


“Are you vaccinated?” I nodded, knowing he was referring to the fatal rabies disease. “And are you bringing a stick?”

“Not yet. I will do once I reach Romania.” I replied, surprised that he knew about this matter.

“The dogs in those areas are crazy I tell ya, bring a stick.”

“You’ve been there yourself?” I asked.

“No, but a lot of cyclists pass this way. A man from Nepal passed last year – he’d been on the road for eight years. And, you know… what’s his name… Erik. Erik Olhson. He passed here as well, when biking to Singapore!” I knew very well of Erik – I had had beer with him and an Australian cyclist just last summer.

The ferry ride didn’t last for more than a few minutes. “Ok so take road 219, it’s beautiful and got lots of camping spots! In Vagnhärad there’s a supermarket if you need anything!” He prompted as I made myself ready to roll ashore. I felt as if that weren’t enough. As if I needed more advice from the man working on the ferry – from the man who hadn’t even been on a tour himself. But that was it. I was back on the road again, no more advice.

I shoveled away as much snow as possible with my feet, only to realize the ground beneath was made out of sharp pebbles. I threw one away after another, though in the end I just gave up and covered the whole area with snow again.

The snow crystals were glittering, the sky was pitch black with millions of stars nesting in it and the atmosphere was fiercely crisp. I could tell that the night was going to be cold. And I was right. 4 am is the typical time to wake up because of the cold – the sun has been gone for hours and has yet to rise, leaving the earth behind its cradle. I didn’t wake up at 4 due to the cold. I woke up at 1. But there is always a morning, and I endured.

140 km to go and by 12 o’clock I had only done 25 of them. The sun would start setting at 5 pm. Being stressed I picked the bigger roads – which was a mistake. About 25 km from Växjö, the shoulder in which I had carefully kept myself onto disappeared. The road sign said 100 and the road became four-laned. Any bike lane in sight? No. Any optional road to diverge to? No. Not wanting to turn all the way back, I decided to give it a go. The trucks and buses roared by with little but no margin and my focus stayed on one hundred percent.

And then finally, a man walking his dog in the woods in sight. I ran up to him, asking him if there was absolutely no other way to get into Växjö. There was. He showed me “the bike lane” – no more than a trail in the woods that I’d never noticed without him. And then… it disappeared. What next? There was a house at the side of the road, obstructed by high doorways through which I shouted “excuse me, excuse me! Is there any other road apart from this?” The man behind the barricaded doors opened.

We talked for pretty long, and as we talked I forgot my earlier stress and felt more at ease. He said he’d love to do something similar to what I was doing, but that he was bound to his job and duties. He did however travel quite a lot, and had for instance been road-tripping the states and visited Israel. “The taxes are shit high in Israel, nobody drives. Everybody takes the buses or trains.” He invited me to drink coffee on my way back, and I had to explain I wasn’t actually taking the bike back but the plane… For I was heading to Asia.

The dark fell hours ago already and I was parking my bike in the entrance of the supermarket, when a woman rushed to approach me – her husband coming after. “We can watch the bike for you if you’d like! We know how much of a hassle it is to leave your stuff unwatched!” They excitingly told me their son biked from Sweden to Teheran a few years ago. I told them I’m heading there too. They were relieved to know I planned to stay in a hostel over the night, and wished me luck before we parted.

“People ask me if I like Sweden. I do. And I could not complain, for coming here was my choice. Just like biking is your choice. We must not complain about the choices we make, and we always have a choice.” Ersan was a 23 year old guy from Konya (Turkey) who’d been working at his brother’s burger restaurant for the past four years. The rest of his family, which he spoke warmly about, he hadn’t seen for three years. “I will go visit one day, but now is not the time.”

He told me about his two sisters; the elder one was studying to become a teacher and the younger one, who was 14, wanted to become a military. “But you know, it’s not common in Turkey with female soldiers”, he continued as he showed me a photo of his family. There she was. The 14 year old girl with the wild, dark hair grinning into the camera lens. I wanted to know more about this daredevil little girl, to meet her.

Ersan asked me to be careful and watchful on my trip, and I asked him in return to go visit his family.

I couldn’t resist leaving the road to follow the sign pointing right into the woods saying “Gröna Lund” referring to the theme park in Stockholm – despite the fact that it was already getting dark and I yet had to reach Trelleborg before twilight.

All of a sudden I found myself in Jurassic park.

Screeching noises reached me from above and giant birds circled the trees, hiding in the canopies in one moment and revealing themselves in the next. Herons. Tens of herons nesting in the tree-tops. There was only one thought present in my head: Wow.

“You could park your bike here”, one of them said as he lit another cigarette.

“Ah no, I’ll park it there at the window so I could watch over it from the inside… I don’t want any of you guys to steal it!” I jokingly replied as I locked my bike and entered the pizzeria. I had promised myself that when I reached Trelleborg – the first if yet extremely small victory of this trip – I would celebrate with a pizza instead of the common pasta on campfire stove-dinner. The big men followed me inside. I placed my order, and the pizza guy was making a cardboard box ready to bring.

“Ey no, she wants to eat here!” One of the men yelled and I nodded whilst I occupied an empty table in the corner. “Where are you from?” He then shouted from the other side of the room. “Stockholm? My wife is from there as well!” We kept shouting like that to each other for a while, until he decided to sit down at my table for further conversation. His name was Aziz, and he was the owner of the pizzeria. He got very interested in my trip and kept asking questions about the countries I were to visit, how I slept, what I ate.

“Kazakhstan is dangerous I heard. Be careful. But Turkey is beautiful, I was there with my wife last year!” He enthusiastically pulled his phone from his pocket and started swiping photos from the vacation. “We rented a motor bike… but going on a trip like yours, I could never do that… I need to be with people, I can’t be alone. ” He wanted to go to Thailand or the US next, but he was too scared of flying. “Don’t think it will happen in the nearest future.”

I asked him about the song he kept singing to himself. “It’s Kurdish”, he told me, “I’m from Kurdistan.” I felt as if I were balancing on the edge of what’s ok to ask and what might be sensitive to him as I kept asking questions about his homeland. “I haven’t been there since… since everything happened, you know.” And he wasn’t optimistic about Kurdistan’s future. “It’s in the middle of everything; of Syria, of Iraq, of Turkey, Iran… I don’t think it will ever gain independence, and as long as the war goes on – I’m not going back there.”

“Ok so good luck on your trip and take care!” He shouted as I hopped onto my bike.

“Thanks dude, and you go screw that flight fear of yours and go see Thailand and the US!” I shouted back with a huge grin and headed off to the port.


– ~~~~~~~~ –

The south east part of Germany seemed in some ways very much like Skåne. Huge open fields, interesting bird life and lots of deer grazing the grasslands. The roads however, were in much worse conditions. The asphalt was uneven and bumpy, and would frequently transform into cobblestone – even worse! I gave up on the paved roads, and headed off onto the dirt roads in the woods instead. Since I had barely slept on the ferry from Trelleborg to Rostock, I urged for some peace. The woods were perfect. No cars, just silence sporadically interrupted by birds’ screeches and a few deers crossing my path before vanishing into the bush.

But then… The road disappeared – blocked by a stream. There didn’t seem to be any way around and I bluntly stared at the river, thinking that maybe I could wade across it? There were two building workers at the end of the road however, and one of them spoke a little bit of English. “There is a bridge… but too small for bike”, he said and pointed towards it – I didn’t even notice it before.

“But I gotta pass”, I insisted, “is there no other way?”

“There is but you have to go back, far, far…” He mumbled and squinted his eyes in a troubled grimace. Then he gestured me to follow; “Come come, bridge.”

I detached my panniers and carefully led the bike across the bridge. The issue was I had to climb down a ladder to exit. I struggled to lift the bike over my shoulders, and then the building worker, who stood ashore, took it in his hands. Careful, I thought, don’t drop it, don’t drop it… It went fine, and we then proceeded with the rest of the equipment.

“Enjoy your tour!” He shouted before he turned back to the other side; duty was calling.

And then… back to now. Back to the hostel in Berlin in which I’m trying to recover from a bad cold and cough – already restlessly climbing the walls wanting to get on the saddle again. Thinking back of those eleven days, aware that those I’s are no longer me, for I am today. Aware that those future I’s will not be me, for I will be yesterday. Wondering what is going to happen next, just like my past was clueless of my now. Who will I meet? What will I see? What challenges will be laid upon me?

Those strangers I met these past eleven days, they all transformed into something else. They became people I could reckon, rely on, and somewhat define.

But we; my past, present and future…

We must remain

Perfect strangers