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Pedalling Across Europe

So there I sat in my bleak little chamber in Portsmouth, England, in the middle of winter, in quite a gloomy state of mind. Although I had met a couple lovely Spaniards who cheered me up with their sunny attitude when it was raining again, studying abroard had turned into something of a routine. Long had I pondered on another bike trip and I thought cycling all the way from Germany through France and Spain to Gibraltar, one of the British overseas territories, was going to be the next adventure I was so desperately longing for. The more I thought about it, the more the idea morphed into a compulsion to escape the paralising routine yet again.

Crossing the Alps while cycling 1700km to Venice three years back was a strenuous adventure. However, extraordinary accomplishments have always motivated me to take new challenges. So the following year we passed through eight countries and cycled twice the distance to Istanbul, Turkey, literally to the boarder with Asia. Those two trips made bikepacking my new love and favourite way of travelling. As my friend who cycled along with me on the past two trips got married, had kids, and established a design label in the meantime, in this iteration I was on my own. Since I had not yet confronted my own physical limits, I thought I might push it even further and cycle to Africa in even less time. Once in Gibraltar, only a 15 km ferry ride would separate me from the other continent.

After I had finished my exams in England, I flew back to Germany, packed my bags, oiled my chain, and pedalled off. This one was by far the toughest bike journey I've ever embarked on, as was planned. I got up at 6:30 in the morning, took down my tent, stuffed it into my bag and cycled, except for a few breaks for food and rest, the entire day until 8 pm, when I pitched up my tent again and fell asleep. Anywhere, in a green field, a dark forest or a vineyard, on the edge of town or on the side of the main road. Though most of my camp spots were remotely located, somewhere in the heart of nature.

By pedalling continuously throughout the day, I made it to an average of 173 km per day. This painful procedure lasted for 22 days, until I had finally arrived in Gibraltar after a total of 3800km. I admit, this is pretty mad and it doesn't allow for a lot of sight seeing or extended chats with locals but that was part of the experiment. I wanted to know what I can accomplish when I only concentrate on my goal. Wild camping all the time, my greatest luxury was a shower at a local gym, public swimming pool or sports ground once a day. Challenges like these help me to regain my focus and sharpen my mind, to take a step back and reprioritise my life.

Nowadays, we are constantly bombarded by contemporaneous inputs and multitasking is endemic to our culture. Many of us have lost the ability to truly focus on one task alone. Contrary to the common assumption, human beings are not made to walk and chew gum at the same time. In fact, multi-tasking slows you down and makes you less productive. Much like with computers, task-switching comes at a cost in performance due to (computational) overhead. Doing multiple things at the same time, they simply become futile as they lack your full awareness. Thus, it is all the more tragic that in the modern societies we live in it becomes increasingly difficult to stay focused and invest ones time and energy intentionally into things that really matter, one at a time.

Cycling helps me to get away from most of those omnipresent distractions. I only carry the bare necessities and I have plenty of time to give my thoughts to things worth to be thought about. The pedalling itself happens subconsciously so that I can devote my undivided attention to soaking up all the bits and pieces of information that this plodding process tends to deliver. Once the initial excitement about the lack of electricity and WiFi and its resulting fear of missing out wears off, I become remarkably calmer.

The temporary seclusion plus the foreign environment and culture I am exposed to are truly eye-opening at times. Maybe the well-lit path I've treaded upon for most of my life isn't just the right one. Maybe there are alternative lifestyles worth considering. I'm so grateful for the painful but invaluable experiences I have made along the way and the many warm-hearted people I have met. Standing on the rock in Gibraltar, looking over to the African continent, knowing that I've come all the way cycling, caused an unutterable, lasting fulfilment. The 10 000 km that I have cycled across Europe at this point are certainly not my last ones on two wheels.