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