Maybe it’s too early to write this post. Maybe not. I’ve been home for eleven days now and things have been quite busy. I went to a three-day music festival last weekend and I’m already planning something new. In other words, since I arrived back home I haven’t really had time to think about and reflect on those (almost) three months on my bicycle.
However, I feel like I have to write this post and close this chapter, before starting an entirely new one. After this post there will definitely be some more about my experiences though and I also have a lot more pictures to share.
Before I left on this trip I spent hours, if not days, daydreaming and imagining what it would be like. Doesn’t everyone do that before going on a vacation, a RTW trip, backpacking,… travel tout court? I had an idea about how it would be on the road, the things I was going to see and the route I was going to follow. At least I thought I had. Isn’t everyone always wrong about their expectations?
That’s something I’ve learned after three years of traveling; that nothing ever is as you expect or imagine it to be. No matter how many books you read, travel guides your browse through or documentaries you watch, you still won’t know anything about the place you’re going to until you’re actually there and have spent some time in that place. I love that. I love how prejudices and stereotypes are always wrong. (Example: not all Swedes are tall and blonde. Not even close. Sweden is actually one of the most culturally diverse countries in Europe.)
You can see how ‘naive’ I was in this post that I wrote a few months before leaving.
I basically said that I was going to cycle all the way there and back again and not pay for other forms of transport. I was going to cycle 6.500km in total as well, averaging 100km per day for 65 days.
Ambition is a positive thing, but that absolutely was overly ambitious… Here are some numbers that prove this.
I was away from home for 85 days and in the end I covered 10.831km in total, using all kinds of overland/sea transport. That’s 127.42km per day on average.
In total I spent 64 days on my bike and I cycled 5.382km. That’s 84.09km per cycling day.
It’s good to aim high though!
It’s hard to describe everything – experiences, though times, happy moments, people I’ve met, landscapes,… – with words. Actually… it’s impossible. When someone asks me how it was I never know where to start. Do I start by explaining how it felt to be on a bicycle all day? Or should I say something about the Arctic? Or talk about crossing the North Sea on a cargo ship or steaming through the Arctic Ocean on a cruise ship? Or maybe about the phenomenal landscapes in Scandinavia?
Luckily photos help a lot when trying to explain how it was. There are four different albums on my Facebook page.
The entire journey was divided into four legs, roughly of the same distance. This helped me to stay focused by having something to work towards to: Stockholm, the North Cape, Oslo and home.
There is a difference, though, between the first two and last two legs. The way north to the North Cape kind of felt like a ‘mission’ or ‘expedition’, although those words are obviously too big for what I did. The North Cape was a goal and I was extremely, maybe even almost maniacally, focused on getting there. Every day I chose to ride on the shortest and fastest roads, or at least try to. There were little stops, I didn’t linger in places and there were no detours, except for the one through Finland.
Once I reached Europe’s northernmost point – that day was one of the most challenging, yet best, days of my life by the way – the journey became more of a cycling holiday. I allowed more time to enjoy all the natural beauty around me, I spent a week in southwestern Norway with my parents, traveled more by public transport and made a gigantic detour across England.
I do have to say that the weather played a big part in this. The way north was chilly, rainy, even freezing at times, but with some sun as well. When going south it was warm, even hot at times, and sunny almost every single day, which was very surprising.
In a nutshell, going north was a chilly cycle expedition and going south was a pleasant cycle holiday. And that’s awesome. I’m glad it wasn’t the other way around.
Those 85 days flew by. I wasn’t bored for a single second on the road. There was always something to do, in the morning, during the day and in the evening. Things had to be planned, I had to keep myself fed, directions had to be found, the bike had to stay clean and well-maintained, clothes had to be washed,… The list goes on and on. I call it a cycle holiday now, but it didn’t feel like a holiday at all. It’s certainly not the same as laying on a beach all day. And of course there were times of stress, worries and complaints too, but those are definitely outweighed by the moments of sheer happiness, joy and plain fun.
All in all I’ve been very lucky. I didn’t run into any major problems. Sure, my derailleur completely broke off and I had a broken chain one time, but even after thousands of kilometres on every type of road I didn’t have a single puncture. I also got sick only once, for a few days, in 85 days of cycling in all kinds of weather.
But the most important thing was: every evening in my tent, bed, kitchen floor or wherever I was sleeping, I was looking forward to the next day, because I knew that there were going to be new things to see and that I was going somewhere I had never been before. That’s the way to live.
This was the biggest thing I have ever done, by far. And looking back at it, it really wasn’t that difficult to do. I absolutely and honestly believe that anyone could do something like this, if only they really want it. Determination and creativity are the keys to success here.
I feel like I can keep writing now… Maybe it was a good idea to write this post today after all! I could go into a lot more detail – I still have some things to say about wildcamping, planning or not planning, cargo ships and the Lofoten Islands for example – but I will save that for future separate posts.
Last but not least, I want to thank everyone for following along. All your comments, emails and words of support meant a lot to me and were very helpful when times were difficult. Thank you so much.
This is where this particular chapter ends, but don’t run away now. There’s lots more to come! And very soon too!