The learning curve of those first two weeks spent riding across northern Europe was far steeper than I could have anticipated. I continued to wrestle with the wind, rain and constant need to make decisions. Settling in to life on the road was taking some time, and the prospect of finding somewhere safe to camp at the end of each day was an increasingly stressful propostion. Tiredness was creeping in but I felt the need to endure this bedding in period, hoping – though not certain – that a more sustainable rhythm would develop.
I persevered for several days longer with the R1 route, learning to keep a keen eye for the small signs which mark the way. The route was truely interesting and I had managed to find gardens and trailer beds to sleep in along the way thanks to kind hearted German families. Still I was growing increasingly frustrated by getting routinely lost, at least twice a day, and making very slow progress as a result. Both of these things I knew would easily be remedied by switching back to following the road network.
Three days out from my 25th birthday I could feel my grip slowly loosening on the prize of a few days off in Berlin to celebrate. A thorough look at the map suggested that if I dispensed with following the R1 that morning then I might just give myself a chance. I had already lost the trail the previous evening before camping so the seperation was made. Setting off down hill on the Easter Monday felt good, a new start almost. Yet somehow, within just 5km of setting off, the road had intersected once more with the R1. Astonishing. After days of trying to follow it and losing it so often, now that I had tried to purposefully leave it – I had found it again with ease. Tragically like a moth to a flame I was drawn into giving it one last chance. I confidently powered up an offroad ascent, eventually leaving the forest and taking lunch up on a ridge overlooking the road I had negected to follow. This was the life. I set off once more. Hopeful.
Shortly afterwards the path hit a cross roads, and to my dismay (but not surprise) there was no indication of which way the R1 continued. An “educated” guess with the compass only resulted in losing an hours progress and gaining an extra 3km climb. The time had come to leave the R1 for good. Buoyed by finally taking this decision I blasted along tarmac roads for several hours further, at times benefitting from a considerable tail wind – comfortably surpassing 100km for the day. Finding a spot to tuck the tent in to that evening was more of a challenge; inevitably the list of criteria for what counted as suitable dwindled as my tiredness increased. Eventually I took my chance as the road went quiet; taking a sharp 90 degree turn and careering up the track to the base of a wind turbine. I quickly stashed the bike behind it, then crouched down in the grass, breathing hard, my heart pounding in my chest from the sudden effort – I watched for any sign that I had been seen. A few minutes passed with no movement from the surrounding houses, my breathing slowed. Safe. I began to cook, leaning back against the immense steel collumn, completely hidden from view and sheltered from the heavy rain that was falling. The stage was set; around 180km north east of me was a warm bed and good friends in Berlin. Would I make it the next day…