8 days, 1560km, one Christmas.
The first big news for day eight is – I made it! I am home in Schwobfeld in one piece and arrived just in time for Xmas dinner at 7pm, after one of the toughest days I had on the bike so far. I don’t know if I would write this wouldn’t it not have been Xmas eve. Clearly the goal was set by this, I had mentioned that many times before. 1558km after starting in Edinburgh last Saturday I finally saw Schwobfeld sign-posted with only 2 km to go last night, and all the effort was worthwhile for that moment when I arrived home. After eight days of racing against the clock, rethinking, motivating myself and some wonderful encounters with humanity I am off the bike for two days, and will be making my mind up how to get now. The ferry from Zeebrugge to Hull is booked already, so things will not end here. But in the meantime this is a great chance to say thanks to all of you who followed so far, I hope you take some inspiration from the journeys. Even after eight hard days I cannot think of any better mean of transport than a bicycle. And as you can see, there is no need for any posh stuff, the simplest of bikes can do. I only have one gear, and this time I did not push a single time.
If a piece of music would set the mood for yesterday’s events, it would be Mozart’s Requiem. I couldn’t think of any more dramatic piece for the moment, and I can’t think of any more dramatic day on the bike than day eight cycling from Bad Waldliesborn to Schwobfeld. I had wished for a quiet ride home, but I knew that I was in for some big hills and some rain. But I was woken up by a storm in the morning; the rain did come as an extra. There was no way I could cycle at least 160km in those conditions with one gear over some of the hilliest stretches I could imagine in Germany. There was an iron will in me, but there was also the harsh reality that some things simply don’t fit. The early start I wanted to pull was out of discussion, and I updated the blog instead, waiting for the winds to ease with the dusk. Fortunately they did, and by 8am I was finally on the bike for the last miles home. Being a bit too optimistic I still called mum and said to wait with the afternoon tea a wee bit. Later in the day I had to call again, to get some motivation to make it home at least for dinner. So what happened in between?
Starting with heavy rain pouring down, I decided to take minor roads instead of the planned Bundesstrassen to cut short and avoid traffic. I should have known that those roads are in a much worse condition to the almost highway like Bundesstrassen, but mostly still in better condition than the average Scottish road. But the real glitch was the fact that the main roads avoid the biggest of hills, minor roads go over them. So off I was navigating myself towards home. Another glitch was, in the absence of a proper map holder, I had to stop every time to look at the map, which happened almost every 15 minutes. After a while the map was soaked as well, and in parts unreadable. As I was climbing higher towards Warburg on an almost empty road the snow was back on the roads. Not a lot, nothing serious, but enough to give me a short moment of fright when the front wheel had its own plans, different from mine. I could balance the bike and the decision was made, it was time to switch back to main roads. In the meantime I had yet another puncture near Alfen, which was now fixed in record time with all the practice I had in the past week. I also managed to pump the wheel up to correct pressure with a mini pump, quite an achievement. Back on the B7 the plan was to head towards Hann. Muenden and then alongside the Werra home to my parent’s place. The drama: Most of the morning it was pissing with cold rain, around 2 – 3 Celsius, which was constantly spraying into my face. It was the amount of rain waterproofs can’t handle any more, at least my gloves couldn’t. In addition to that the wind was still strong, which made it difficult to balance the bike with gusts blowing in from the side. Under those circumstances it was a wisest decision to head for minor instead of major roads, as the traffic was lighter on those. In addition to that I was constantly checking the route, trying to avoid the worst of hills, in the end I was on a singlespeed. The planned 155km were the shortest way home, but avoiding some areas added to the distance. Near Kassel I opted out of my planned route and headed back to the B7 into Kassel. I was back on the shoulder of a dual carriageway, trying to gain some time back. As the shoulder disappeared I was on the right lane when I suddenly saw tram tracks crossing the road, which crossed the roads in a very flat angle. Going downhill I was too fast and went over them at almost full speed when my front wheel slipped over the tracks, with me sliding down the road sideways. There was no traffic behind me, I was damn lucky. All I had to remind me was a hole in my two pants, a bruise and a slight shock. After all it was Christmas Eve, but after resting on the grass near the road for a couple of minutes I decided to go on. I had been lucky for a reason, despite things hadn’t gone well so far, but I was so close to home, too close to bail. After 1500km in sometimes harsh conditions I only needed a little push. I remembered Tom Simpson’s famous last words ‘put me back on my bike’. That was the same for me now. Funnily the cycling track started right after I had crashed, avoiding the tram lines. After Kassel I had the hills in front of me and the rain was back in the face after a slight relief. As soon as I saw the sign for a 14% climb, I took another diversion through a valley and prayed for no more punctures.
As darkness was setting in on Christmas Eve I cycled though lit up villages, windows decorated with shiny lights switched on. The roads were, understandably, empty. By this time last year I had been home already, but then again I had twice the time to do so. Even in cold and damp clothes the last hours were an experience I will not forget. I greeted the random people I passed with a Merry Christmas. Crossing the Werra I passed the former border between former East and West Germany. I stopped for a wee while to remember. I had spent eight days cycling through a Europe without any borders, enjoying the kindness of many strangers, not even speaking their language. Could there be any better Christmas presents than this? I doubt. I pushed on for the last few miles. The last stop was a coffee and a Merry Christmas at my aunt and uncle’s place, before putting the lights on full beam for the last three big hills. Two kilometres before Schwobfeld I called my parents to get the camera out. I was home, it was Christmas Eve. And I was happy as Larry to be with my family. For that very moment 1560km on the bike were worthwhile. Merry Christmas to you all, and thanks for all the support so far.