By the time the alarm sounded at 6am I felt as though I had only just fought off the cold, damp conditions and achieved sleep. Weak willed as ever I snoozed it until 6.30am. Erecting the tent in a far from expert manner as the rain fell the night before meant that I was sharing the tent with some rain for the night. Seemingly not content with the amount of water inside it continued to rain heavily outside, eventually saturating the fly sheet. I was forced to cover the sleeping bag with my waterproof to shield it and me from the worst of the rain. It had been a great tent a few years back. Summer. Summer will come, I thought.
Finally I forced myself to emerge from the warm cocoon of my sleeping bag, fully aware I had no food for breakfast and that forward motion was the only option. As I had come to expect, by the time I had rolled up the last part of he tent my fingers were searing with pain from the cold. I was only too glad to roll away and generate some body heat.
Only two weeks in I was still proudly hanging onto my coffee addiction, so I was extremely happy to find an open bakery in the second village I arrived in. Clutching the little cup with both hands to thaw my stinging digits my eyes poured over the map. I calculated the distance would be well over 160kms to reach Berlin; that’s a solid days ride without 30 odd kilos of luggage for company. No matter, I thought if I could reach Potsdam by evening then I could crawl into Berlin. Most likely anyway.
Shortly after leaving the call of nature inevitably sounded, leading to meet possibly the most upbeat petrol station attendant I have ever met. It’s well known that petrol stations provide an unlikely yet vital refuge for many a long distance cyclist. So I can say I have made the acquaintance of my share of attendants at all times of day and night, and in varying states of physical and mental well being. Often one finds a surly, expressionless character; unwilling or unable to offer much by way of communication. Perhaps they simply mirror the condition of the rider? By compare this woman was alarmingly cheery and communicative. I will admit to deliberately eschewing her route advice, but nevertheless this was surely a positive start.
A combined sense of great optimism and a light tail wind meant that the first 80kms flew by. Even the portly gentleman I spoke to whilst waiting at a small river crossing thought that Berlin was a reasonable target. Surely he should know. As far as 140kms into the day the legs were feeling strong, and around this time I saw a sign for Berlin saying just 27kms. “…crushing it.” I reported to Jack in a text message. And yet an hour and a half later the signs for Berlin Mitte were reading 30kms. Time for me to be crushed.
Late in the afternoon the ominously dark clouds which had shadowed me all day finally unleashed their payload. Twice I was hit by tremendous downpours of hail stones, but somehow I arrive in Potsdam to bright sunshine.
At this point I was teetering on the edge of bonking, having run out of food, but at least I was lucky enough to find a man riding a mountain bike to navigate Potsdam for me and put me on the road to Berlin. Thank you that man. I can only think he was late for an appointment though as he set the most furious pace. Sprinting away from the lights, then darting and diving through groups of pedestrians on the bike path. I just about clung on to his rear wheel, struggling to see straight, body demanding calories and sugar. That awful light headed feeling washing over me.
After creeping my way up two small hills on the road to Berlin and suffering a further deluge of hail stones I collapsed through the doors of a McDonald’s. Having inhaled a meal and recovered a little I consulted Google maps to see what the damage would be. Shit. Still far more kilometres remained than I’d have liked.
An unfortunate wrong turn saw me take the hilly scenic rout around Lake Havel, but by the time I had realised I had gone too far for turning around to be an option. At last I hit the road dead straight road for the centre. It was dark by this point and my concentration was all but gone, not the best part of the day to hit a bustling city centre. Bike paths meeting and leaving the main road at random, with the occasional appearance of wet cobbles -slick and shiny- to keep me on my toes. I didn’t quite fit in with the tourist crowd at Brandenburger Tor, but eventually bagged a few snaps.
I wove my way through the final kilometres of Berlin traffic with one brake and only partly aware of my surroundings. I knew it was almost done. Up the small ramp on Petersburger Strasse and hit the buzzer for the flat. 184kms, I was done.