It has been a week since Chris rolled out of summer hibernation and his wheels turned once more in the direction of Beijing.
This was a significant moment, but one most notable for its banality: there is little remarkable about a single pedal stroke, and our first-cycle wobbles – swerving past a road barrier – didn’t exactly lend a stately air to the proceedings.
Chris, heavily-laden with bags – and my Dad – was not the lithe riding machine I had become accustomed to whilst back in Bristol. It took me several days to adjust to the new way of riding: being aware of the balance of Chris at all times, my arms working a bit harder to keep the handlebars stable, lowering my expectations of what “fast” felt like. As Dad will attest to, I was not a bundle of fun in this period. It was fascinating to observe in myself that although I could tell my attitude towards these difficulties was not a positive one (i.e. I whinged), I could not find it within myself to pull myself out of it.
It took me a while to look up and begin enjoying the terrain we were passing through: lush green pasture, gentle hills, forests trails and sturdy farmhouses, spread wide, as if its walls were like legs planted far apart to make a statement: “I am here and I’m not moving”. This solidity seemed typical of the region: strong houses; extended families drawn close; and a pride in being Bavarian (such our American tour guide in Munich told us).
There were other adjustments beyond reacquainting myself with Chris: my beloved oatcakes are not sold in Germany, and in their place pretzels have crept in. Perhaps this is a way of sampling Germany culture, but it has been difficult to eat the food I love – pulses, legumes and lots of veggies – whilst on the road, with a few too many trips to the Backerei creeping in. Diet has been an important pillar of my way of living to make sure my body is in as good and healthy condition as possible, so finding a balance between delicious (though less healthy) German dishes and my cucumbers and tomatoes is important to me.
I also forgot what it was to have less autonomy over my own time – sharing the journey also involves compromise (surprise surprise!) – and that means that “Luke time” has sometimes been harder to find. As a few days of camping and solo riding beckon, I think I will shortly be well-saturated with my own company.
The joys of this journey also emerged this week. Bossie, a friend of a friend who I had met once before, joined for a day into Munich. As the miles passed Bossie told me about his experiences of growing up and living in South Africa and his recent move to Germany (apparently in each country there is an ingrained love of the outdoors, and following rules). The beauty of the unexpected encounter also arose: as we paused by the shore of Lake Starnberg, a lady greeted us and said she and her husband lived in Bristol, and “I saw Bristol on your bike and couldn’t just let you carry on”. That led to an hour of paddleboarding on the lake as I became a water taxi service for her young daughter.
The challenge of restarting at such an unstable time was driven home this week. Over the weekend, I found out that Hungary was closing its borders on 1st September. This cut off my path down the river Danube after Slovakia. I quickly formed a plan B – heading east through Slovakia to enter Ukraine directly, leaving the Danube but keeping the ride on the road. Flush with satisfaction of having formed a plan B with little fuss, I checked Ukraine’s own border policy. It had closed its borders the day before, for a month. Plan B was out.
This isn’t going to be easy.
Upon restarting, I noticed I hadn’t been looking forward to it with great anticipation – happy to be back riding, but I hadn’t exactly been counting down the days. Now I recognise that part of the reason for this is the uncertainty attached to the restart. Had I restarted thinking that I would reach Beijing on this attempt with a pretty high certainty, I think I would have been more excited. But as it is, I am more cautious. Yes, this is the restart, but I am too aware that there are many factors beyond my control which could derail things. I will cycle as far and as best as I can, but I don’t know if that will be enough to get me to Beijing.
For the time being, my plan is to continue east as planned and only when I reach Bratislava take stock and decide on my next direction. So much can change in a week that it is not helpful to continue making alternate plans for the future based on the current situation.
Regardless, each passing day I am lucky to be alive and it is up to me how much I make of, and take from, each day. With that attitude it doesn’t matter if I’m in Landshut, Bratislava or waiting in some border village for restrictions to ease.
Right now though, it’s time to enjoy making distance as I head along the Danube.