Rising like a phoenix from the ashes: let go of the person you are to become the person you are capable of becoming. Transformation can happen at any time. But at certain times, it is easier to let go of emotional baggage and redefine who you want to be. Be it during a caesura like these days – or when heading into high altitude deserts by bike, all by yourself. Enjoy the new episode of my podcast!
It is hard to believe that I am back in Berlin these days, starting my self-employment as an author, speaker and photographer, narrating the stories of this cycling expedition. The goal of cycling the next continent is on the horizon, so I am maximally motivated to get things going. Just as last year, I selected 13 of my favorite photos from my journey, one per country I cycled through. 13 moments that meant a lot to me, both while I was taking the photo and now, in hindsight. Ready to follow along for a little mental journey?
First things first: I have a little New Year’s surprise for you. And I am very excited about it! When I first arrived in Thailand, I realized that this is the 12th country I will be exploring solo by bicycle. This felt like a good time to look back on where this journey has taken me so far. The thousands of kilometers, the challenges, the joys, the epic landscapes, stunning culture and the many people whose kindness I will never forget.
(Or: knowing when you’re ready)
First things first: the next leg of my journey is coming up really soon (hopping onto my bike Emily tomorrow)! After a long preparation phase with Kafkaesque struggles, I am finally ready to hit the road again. Well, not a road in the sense most of us know roads. The next two months will see me crossing Mongolia by bike, where the way will be unpaved for large sections, both following GPS coordinates and navigating with my paper maps. I will then continue into Northwestern China, cycle via the Karakorum highway into Pakistan and then onwards to the Indian Himalayas. At least, that is the plan. Plans are as volatile as life (in a good way), but that is the plan I have visas for, at least.
Everybody faces her fear sooner or later in her life. The real one. The big one. Not the small ones that we believe are so important – be it being humiliated, failing in front of others, showing emotions when we are vulnerable, … These are the kinds of fear we are used to in our everyday lives. No, there is an existential fear that is a completely different matter. It is a fear that teaches you what fear really is. An instinctive fear. A primeval fear. A fear you might feel when you are running for your life. A fear that many of us are only facing when we are on our dying beds. I believed that death would not scare me and maybe it actually doesn’t. Still, leaving alone for the Pamirs, on this wind-swept day, on this empty road, towards those towering mountains, I felt as if I was jumping off a cliff. I decided to trust the universe to catch me. To accept that everything beyond this jump is beyond my control. To hand myself to these mountains and accept whatever the outcome.
How do you prepare for the biggest challenge of your life? In retrospect, I would say that the Pamir highway was exactly this. Maybe this whole journey, but this stretch was where all my fears where concentrated. The second highest international highway of the world. Compared to nothing I have ever attempted before. It was borderline insane for a number of reasons: my start very late into the season, with snow on my heals. My cycling there solo. And the fact that I had pretty much zero experience with cycling and camping at high altitude (the first mountain passes I ever tackled in my life had been the ones of the two weeks prior when I crossed Kyrgzystan).
When you are travelling alone, nobody sets any rules for you. Still, some travellers decide to set rules for themselves, in particular when they are on the road for longer. One rule I encountered among cyclists is to cycle every inch of the way, for example. Others set out with the aim to only hitchhike. And really, it is totally up to you which flavor you want to give to your journey. Or maybe which challenge you want to tackle. Maybe even more so when you are travelling solo. Upon encountering other people’s rules, I started to think if I wanted to have any. The inner debate did not take long.
My main rule is: there are no rules.
Wrapping up those first two weeks is a tough job. My fear at the beginning was justified and not. A very boring, rainy first day got me to Kara Balta, a small city with a remarkably run-down gastinitza (hotel) from Soviet times, but also with a (similarly run down, but wonderfully hot) banya next door. A banya is a Russian style sauna, featuring not only hot water (hot AND water, both really precious), but also a hot surrounding for washing yourself. The last weeks have seen me become addicted to them – there is nothing quite like the smell of hot water in a metal container! Sometimes, I just stick my head inside the bucket and enjoy this particular smell…
When deciding what I should post first, I was tempted. Tempted to start with the wonderful landscape vistas, the photos of smiling people who helped me on the way, of the dog that chased the wolf away from my tent at night. About how my leap of faith into the world of cycle touring worked out rather well.
Leaving Berlin was as awful as it could get. A flight postponed twice due to sickness and issues with gear deliveries. The most stressful 60min of my life checking in at the airport (had I not had help by Christian who bravely tackled the challenge of packing my bike Emily, there would habe been no chance for me to make that flight). A night spent in flight and in airports. Arrival in Kyrgyzstan totally sleep-deprived and with sinking heart: would my bike Emily have made it? And if so: in how many pieces?