When we began this journey we had not planned a route. A vague bit of Google-ing had ear-marked a few interesting places to check out on the way (such as Doel in Belgium) but in general our aim was to allow spontaneity and our own sense of adventure to take hold as we weaved our way across new landscapes towards our goal.
This has proved a fantastic way to travel – keeping the sunrise at our noses and sunset at our backs as we travel eastwards, filling in the gaps by picking wild blueberries or just slowing down to appreciate the simplicity our our journey. This was our mentality in the beginning and certainly saw us in good stead.
However, as we entered our third week of cycling an interesting dilemma emerged. As we prepared to cross the German boarder we had set our sights on Berlin: the Cold War embodiment of West meeting East, the halfway point in our journey and a city we have a strong affinity to. In essence, a perfect place to take a few days off from riding. Our homing pigeon instincts were drawing us towards this important milestone; a gravitational tug too strong to resist.
At this point the dynamic of our ride had changed. We were no longer free spirits guided only by our sense of exploration but two increasingly weary cyclists with 500km between us and our chosen goal. Such a distance is not a problem for an inquisitive mind free of deadlines and schedules but for a mind that is wrestling with the desire to slow down and not turn this journey into a race and a burgeoning eagerness to get arse on saddle and cover some serious distance, this scenario proved tricky.
Impatience won through as we picked up the pace, abandoning our care-free meandering for a much more direct line heading east, recalculating averages each day as we pushed on towards our halfway point. Reaching Berlin was growing into an obsession as we broke the 100km mark several times. Our fitness was fantastic and covering such distance was a great morale boost but I knew we were sacrificing our enjoyment in order to reach such peaks. Despite this realisation, it took a strong message from my body to jolt me out of this ‘Tour de France’ mentality and back to reality. After our longest ever day in the saddle (127km), my body sent me a very clear message that it was time to slow as the kilometres caught up with me and forced us into a rest day.
This day of exhaustion was an important jolt, reminding me that we had been allowing our desire to make geographical progress obstruct our enjoyment. Berlin wasn’t going anywhere. Whether we averaged 100km a day or just 10km, I’m pretty sure the German capital wasn’t going to do a runner overnight. Prompted by this wake-up call, we decided to add a few extra days to our projected arrival date, slice our daily average and instead head for the green areas on the map. Consequently, we glided into Berlin through dirt tracks in the forest, across farmland and through some amazing quiet countryside roads.
So what have we learnt from our first three and a half weeks on the road?
Firstly, there is no harm in having an end goal. Berlin provided fantastic motivation to set an early alarm each day, get out of bed, eat a good oat-based breakfast and hit the road. We had focus that were able to channel towards physical achievements that we never thought ourselves capable of. 127km in one day is certainly a first for me!
However, we have learnt that there is certainly a compromise that must be made between ‘control’ and ‘spontaneity’ when it comes to bicycle travel. A destination provides the direction of a journey with a clearly defined beginning and end but without spontaneity and a keen nose for exploration there is no story. We are here precisely for these stories. London to Estonia is the ‘A-to-B’. The experiences and achievements in between are the reasons we keep going.