Berlin to Valencia by bike | week 1.

As I am writing this on my phone please excuse any wacky typos.

Yesterday I arrived in Straßburg where I met a friend from Berlin. She grew up here and came down with her toddler for the summer. Her parents have a beautiful house right by the forest and I can sleep outside in the garden. That makes me very happy. After six and a half days of cycling, today is an off day.

I started last Sunday, July 29th, in Berlin to cycle down to Valencia, Spain. The new set up with the Continental Grand Prix 4 seasons tires and stuff sack instead of panniers turns out to be much more fun and efficient than the old set up. My pack weight is 7kg, which is not ultra light but a vast improvement. I can easily carry my packed bike up and down stairs without having to unload anything. I carry one 22l packsack holding everything except my tent. I decided to put that into an extra sack in case it’s wet. On the handlebars I carry a small camera bag holding a light analog SLR, a power bank and a small tripod I can use for filming and as a phone holder in case I navigate with it. Additionally I have a little food pouch on my handlebar for on the road snacking.

Take off at Brandenburger Tor.

Good bye selfie.

The first day, some friends picked me up at home and we cycled to Brandenburger Tor to meet up with a couple of people from the Lesbians Who Tech Berlin team. Six of us cycled to Potsdam together where we were joined by another fellow LWT member. After the break, two of my friends accompanied me a couple of kilometres further and just before Caputh we parted. It was hard saying good bye to them for over a year and I cycled fast to put some distance between me and my life there and with them. I cycled through the forest fire area and learned, that burned forest does not smell like my oven in winter. I spoke to a fire fighter who told me the fire did not spread as dangerously as feared because of the brand new Euro Velo track which cuts an aisle into the forest and kept the flames in one area. Hurray to the Euro Velo network. The path was great to cycle. I proceeded fast and at about km 80 Thomas showed up next to me; a cyclist on his way home to Leipzig. We cycled together and talked all the way to Lutherstadt Wittenberg where we had dinner together. He continued to Leipzig and I went to find a place to sleep. I thought I could sleep by the Elbe but everything was either private or not accessible. It was getting dark and in Coswig (Anhalt) I found a camping ground. I decided a shower after these first 160km would be nice.

Forest fire near Potsdam.

Day two was incredibly hot with barely any shade and when I passed the lake Edderitz in the afternoon I couldn’t resist but to just stay there for the rest of the day. The lake was not cold but still cold enough to cool me down a bit.

The next morning was an early one, I had breakfast during sunrise and hit the road right afterwards. Another super hot day with an extensive strawberry spaghetti ice cream break in Naumburg. I arrived in Weimar around 7 pm where I met two neighbours from Berlin. They are musicians and have an engagement in Weimar throughout August and kindly offered me a place to sleep. At night they had a jam session and I managed to last until midnight. The previous day I had noticed a clicking sound that came from the back wheel and feared a spoke was loose or cracked. Therefore, after a good lay in and breakfast, I went to find a bike shop. Indeed the spokes were loose and I bought a key to fix it. I was super tired and thought I wouldn’t make more than 20 km that day but the weather and roads were kind. When I started getting hungry I couldn’t find anything but closed down shops and restaurants. It’s shocking how empty the villages in the former east are! Finally, after about 80 km, a women who kindly filled up my water bottles, recommended me either McDonalds by the highway or a tavern in Kälberfeld (Thüringen) another 20 km down the road. I got a hearty meal in the tavern and continued to find a place to sleep as the sun already started set. Everything was deserted but nothing appropriate to sleep. Either too steep or too many dead trees or farming fields or cattle. I cycled past some houses along a slope when I saw an elderly woman whom I asked where I could put my tent down in the area. She referred me to her neighbour and it turned out they owned the fields around the houses. I was allowed to camp on one of the goat and pony meadows. I was on top of a hill and happy to have found a spot just before dark.

Breakfast during sun rise.
Naumburg city.
Well needed spaghetti ice with fresh strawberries in Naumburg.

The three thinkers Kuwahara, Goethe & Schiller.
Poetry in nature.
Highway romance.
Happy camping before the thunder storm.

At about 4am I was awoken by bright lightning but no thunder nor rain. I was way too tired to move, so I turned around to sleep for another round, just to be awoken again; but this time by thunder and rain. I checked the satellite images, they showed two separate thunderstorms. One to my left, one to my right and me and my steel bike in the middle. I didn’t know what to do. In my mind, I went through the equipment and which metallic parts were around me. My tent has aluminium poles, so are the pokes. Also I had a power bank right next to my head and my steel bike was lying right next to the tent. I was still half asleep and counted the seconds in between the lighting and thunder. I decided it’s moving away from me and to go back to sleep. But it was more like fearful snoozing, and finally, around 7am, there was a rain break. I quickly jumped out of the tent and packed everything I could, then the rain came back. Whilst waiting for the rain to pass I had my last power bar for breakfast. About an hour later, the rain stopped and I finished packing up. I was way too hungry to wait for everything to dry. I found some rice pudding in Eisenach and got my tent out to dry.

Strange Germany merch in many parts of former east Germany I cycled through.
Typical village, Dankmarshausen.
Heringen (Werra).
The best museum idea ever. Unfortunately closed.

It was a super hard day to cycle and I didn’t understand why. I blamed it on too little sleep and non existent head winds. People were unfriendly and I got into a bad mood. A cook at a closed youth hostel in Hilders finally took the bad mood from me: she explained to me, so far the trail went slightly uphill. Not seeable but obviously notable when cycling it. But from Hilders on for the next 30km it’s downhill! Awesome, I swung back onto my bike – the hostel allowed me to camp in their garden but it felt more like a prison and I needed to go down this hill right away. No way to wait till the next morning. It might have shifted by then! I rolled down there, through an old and freezing train tunnel and into the setting sun. I passed an old man and his dog and, after checking back with his girlfriend, they invited me to sleep in the garden of their multi generation house. They had a pig and rabbits and bees in the garden. The grandsons helped me putting up my tent and we had a nice dinner together. What a fantastic end to a day on which I really doubted my capabilities and went through moments of just wanting to lay down and never get up again.

Day six was another super hot day and I decided to sleep at a lake that night, no matter what. Turned out the lakes I passed in Hessen were either private, rented to camping grounds or protected landscapes. I decided to look into getting a fishing permit, because then I could legally sleep in fishing areas which are often located in protected landscapes. But for that night I had to either continue to Hanau and check in to a hotel or stay at one of the horribly crowded camping grounds – but at least on a lake. I opted for number two and checked in to the campground at the Bärensee. I really missed my Berlin friends and thought a lake called after Berlin’s mascot helps.

Warning in the Darmstadt forest to stay on the path due to danger of explosives. Why?
Darmstadt crew.

The next day, number seven, was an easy 60 km ride to Darmstadt where I stayed with a friend I haven’t seen for over 11 years. I came in just in time for lunch and we had so much to talk about, the day just flew by. She and her mom made delicious samosas and for breakfast the next morning she served Indian eggs with naan. It was supposed to be a +40 degrees day and I wanted to catch my friend in Straßburg before she took off to the Atlantic coast. So I planed to take an early train to Baden-Baden and cycle the 60 km from there to Straßburg. Well, the DB (German railway) did not support my plan, and I had to take a later train. This later got stuck on the way because kids were playing on the tracks. So I ended up taking the train all the way to Offenburg and cycled from there to Straßburg. Which is where I am writing this post whilst dipping my toes into the pool of the toddler. So far I cycled plus 800 km and tomorrow I will proceed to Basel to tackle the Jura mountain range.

Longing view out of the train window.
Happy re-union in Straßburg.
View from my tent in the garden.
Grapes, apples and …
… kiwis!
Good bye selfie. T with my Rapha cap.

Fast facts:

Day 1: Berlin – Coswig (Anhalt) 161.77 km

Day 2: Coswig (Anhalt) – Lake Edderitz 69.87 km

Day 3: Lake Edderitz – Weimar 144.96 km

Day 4: Weimar – Kälberfeld/Kahlenberg 110.62 km

Day 5: Kälberfeld/Kahlenberg – Hedersberg 129.49 km

Day 6: Hedersberg – Bärensee 108.12 km

Day 7: Bärensee – Darmstadt 57.56 km

Day 8: Darmstadt – Strasbourg (via train to Offenburg) 21.52 km

Continue reading here: week 2, week 3 or week 4.